Monday, March 17, 2014

Late Arrivals

In an earlier post, addressing quite a different problematics, we mentioned an anecdote from Die Traumdeutung (1900), in which Freud “offers  a curious general psychosociological observation, of the sort that is rare in his writings”.  The formulation may seem paradoxical, but indeed his strong-suit is depth, not breadth;  in the judgment of his own admirers, he was an acute analyst, but not a Menschenkenner.

The anecdote concerns his entering a railway carriage, and being frostily met  by a couple already “in possession”.   He does not mention anti-Semitism as a possible undercurrent in the incident, though it was in the back of my mind as I read it, owing to another railway-carriage anecdote, in which Freud  recounts finding the compartment stuffy, and opening the window (“Du weißt, daß ich immer nach frischer Luft lechze  und immer bemüht bin, Fenster aufzureißen, besonders im Waggon”), whereupon he was berated by the other passengers, in distinctly judeophobic terms.  (Brautbriefe, 16 Dezember 1883.)

Anyhow, I just now happened upon a passage in an extraordinarily well-written and psychologically insightful book, by another Jew of Mitteleuropa, Arthur Koestler, which suggests that the psychological observation can be made more general yet.  Koestler is remembering his long internment in a French camp during WWII.   The conditions (to the eternal shame of France) were those of utter deprivation, in which the men, simply to fit in the cramped space alloted them, had to sleep  all on their left side, or all on the right, and where sitting around a table was like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  Hardly a milieu in which to put on airs.  And yet -- such are the workings of our subconscious, of which Koestler is a keen observer :

All the time I was in Vernet, new prisoners kept on arriving.  We looked down on them  with the same patrician contempt for the newcomers  as travellers in a railway compartment have  for the people who get in at a stop in the middle of a journey.
-- Arthur Koestler, Scum of the Earth (1941 -- p. 129 of the 1991 reprint)

And indeed, in an entirely an-ethnic, humorous context -- Upon a stranger entering his largely empty railway compartment,

Claude gave him the brief unfriendly glance which the traveling Briton gives to the intruder on his privacy, and then ceased to recognize that he was there.
-- P.G. Wodehouse, The Purloined Paperweight (a.k.a. Company for Henry) (1967)


The problem is with us still, and that in acute form, at the level of the metaphorical ‘railway carriage’ of our own national existence:  the homeland.   The crisis is growing sharper;  we have treated it in our essay  The Rise of la Racaille”.

What will not be obvious to Americans and Europeans today, worried about influxes from the Third World, how tightly the borders can be drawn.   Freud’s friend and biographer recounts how, in 1938, as Jones was aiming for an exfil, Freud and his family seemed “bent on staying in Vienna”, despite the long-gathering and by-now-imminent Nazi danger, since “he pointed out that no country would allow him to enter.  There was certainly force in this argument.”  For:

It is hardly possible nowadays  for people to understand nowadays [dbj:  And this, written back in 1957, less than twenty years after the events!] how ferociously inhospitable  every country was to would-be immigrants, so strong was the feeling about unemployment.  France was the only country that would admit foreigners with any measure of freedom, but on condition that they did not earn a living there;  they were welcome to starve in France if they wished.
-- Ernest Jones, Freud: The Last Phase (1957), p. 220

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