Comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening': 1907: Sigmund Freud

by Julia Evans on February 13, 1907

Frank Wedekind ‘Spring Awakening’[i] published at Wedekind’s expense in 1891

(See also Spring Awakening: 1891: Franz Wedekind (here), Freud & Reitler comment on ‘Spring Awakening’: work-in-progress (here),  Comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’: 1907: Sigmund Freud (here),  Spring Awakening: September 1st 1974: Jacques Lacan (here))

Scientific Meeting on February 13 1907

Present: Freud, Adler, Federn, Heller, Hitschmann, Kahane, Reitler, Rank, Sadger.

 

Minute 13[ii]

 

Presentation: ‘Spring’s Awakening’ by Wedekind

 

Discussion

 

FREUD characterizes Wedekind’s book as meritorious but not a great work of art. It has lasting value as a document relating to the history of civilization. We must assume that Wedekind has a deep understanding of sexuality. This is shown by the mere presence of constant sexual undertones in the manifest dialogues. However, to assume a conscious intention in the creation of all of this is no more justified than in the case of Jensen[iii].  One can produce the most beautiful symptomatic act without having any knowledge of the concept or nature of symptoms. Freud mentions a slip of the tongue in Wallensteins Lager[iv] which Schiller certainly could not have explained. After the discourse between Questenberg and Octavio (and Max), Octavio answers, “To her”, but immediately corrects himself to, “To him.” During Questenberg’s speech it occurred to him that Max’s trip with the princess had been arranged only for the purpose of making him fall in love with her, thus tying him to Wallenstein’s party. That is why he says “To her” when he is about to go to the general. (He is thinking of the intrigue with the princess.) This motivation of the slip of the tongue is then expressed in the scene between father and son.

 

The sexual theories of children constitute a theme well worth an independent study: namely, how children discover normal sexuality. In all of their misconceptions, there lies a core of truth.

 

In considering the dream in which the boy sees legs, clad in tights, stepping over the pulpit, one must not forget that, to the boy, school is partly a means of keeping him away from sexuality. Behind the school tyrant he sees the woman.

 

Diaries can with equal justification be called a means of repression [just as well as expression]. Freud has at present a patient who used to write zealously in his ‘ diary’. Now that the diaries can be examined in the light of psychoanalysis, we discover that the essential, the unconscious of early periods, is consistently omitted from the entries.

 

Concerning atheism, faith in God regularly coincides with faith in the father. Freud mentions a woman patient who lost her faith in God when she lost her trust in her father.

 

The ill treatment of children in the sack reminds him of the punishment customary for masturbation.

 

He considers it fine bit of observation that Wedekind depicts the longing for object love without object choice in Melchior and Wendla who are not at all in love with each other. The fact that Wendla, the masochist, is not beaten by her parents also demonstrates that Wedekind has not followed the usual cliché: otherwise he would have had her beaten in childhood. On the contrary, Wendla complains that she has not been beaten enough. Children who have been severely beaten do not become masochists.

 

Freud believes that Reitler’s interpretation of the fantasy of the headless queen is incorrect.[v] He wants to mention only a few elements: the poetic source [of the fantasy] points to Moritz’s later fate; Moritz himself later appears as a “headless” person.[vi] With his suicide he follows an old fantasy (what Adler once claimed to be true of all suicides). The organic source of the fantasy is the anonymity of the fantasied woman; he is still too timid, one might say, to love a specific woman. Women frequently indulge in fantasies about headless men (masks). The fantasy of the two-headed king is reminiscent of Plato’s sexual fantasies.[vii] Lastly, a “headless” individual cannot learn and Moritz is tortured precisely by his incapacity to learn.

 

The last scene acquires its grimly humorous character with full poetic necessity. The humor of the last scene means only: all of this is basically childish nonsense. The two characters should certainly be understood as two current in the boy’s soul: as the temptation to suicide and as the temptation to live. But it is also true that suicide is the climax of negative autoeroticism. In this respect, Reitler’s interpretation is correct. The negative of self-gratification is suicide.

 

The inquisition to which the Masked Gentleman is subjected is not simple humour. Deeper thoughts are behind it. The demon of life is, at the same time, the devil (the unconscious). Life is being subjected to examination as it were. This questioning is a regular characteristic of the anxiety state. For example, in an anxiety attack, an individual begins to examine himself, allegedly to find out whether he is still in his right senses. Oedipus’s examination is also linked with anxiety. Behind the Sphinx lurks anxiety (Sphinx means the strangler.)[viii] The question at the base of all these examinations is probably the question raised by the sexual curiosity of the child: where is it that children come from? The Sphinx puts the question in reverse: what is it that comes?[ix] Answer: the human being. Quite a few neuroses begin with this question.

 

Freud reads to the members a letter, written by an eleven-year-old girl to her aunt. The little girl asks her aunt to enlighten her about the origin of children. When she was twenty-three years old, this girl became ill with a severe obsessional neurosis.

 

Page 115 Rank’s, Kahane’s, Heller’s, Federn’s, Adler’s & Hitschmann’s comments are omitted.

 

Page 118

REITLER adheres to his original interpretation of the final scene (autoerotism – normal sexuality), whereupon

FREUD remarks, concerning the concept of autoerotism, that Havelock Ellis uses this term when only one person is involved (thus, for instance, also in relation to hysterical symptoms), whereas Freud uses it when there is no object; for example, those who masturbate with images [Bilderonanisten] would not be considered autoerotic.



[i] An English translation of Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ is available here.

[ii] Quoted from: Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Volume I: 1906-1908  edited by Herman Nunberg & Ernst Federn, translated by M. Nunberg, International Universities Press, Inc. New York, 1962  Page 112-116

 

[iii] Julia Evans adds: Sigmund Freud discusses Jensen’s Gradiva in ‘Delusions and dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva’ (published 1907 [written 1906]). In James Stratton’s introduction, he notes (pfl p29 Vol14): This was Freud’s first published analysis of a work of literature, apart, of course, from his comments on Oedipus Rex and Hamlet in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) ,

Penguin Freud Library: Vol 14: Art and Literature, 1985. First published in English in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud by the Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London: Vol IX: 1959

The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) is published in Penguin Freud Library: Vol 4: The Interpretation of Dreams

[iv] Original footnote: The passage mentioned here appears in the drama Piccolomini  (Act I, scene 5) and not in Wallensteins Lager. Max Piccolomini, colonel and son of the lead of Wallenstein’s enemies at the Austrian imperial court, has just accompanied Wallenstein’s daughter on a trip. In a conversation with his father he extolls enthusiastically the blessings of peace. This seems suspicious to the Count Piccolomini since his son was an ardent soldier. Schiller, here, makes use of the fact that the imperial court accused Wallenstein of peace negotiations with the enemy and therefore planned his murder. Freud quotes this example in his Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) Standard Edition vol 6, p 96-97

[v] Dr Reitler’s comments are available here: Lacanian WorksComments on the play ‘Spring Awakening’ by Franz Wedekind

[vi] Original footnote: The German text has:  “… die poetische Quelle ist der Hinweis auf sein späteres Schicksal; Moriz selbst trete ja dann als ‘kopflose’ Person auf.” The literal translation is:  “The poetic source is the allusion to his later fate; indeed, Moritz himself appears later on as a ‘headless’ person.”

The meaning seems to be: the fantasy of the headless queen has two sources, a poetic source in the poet’s anticipation of Moritz’s later fate, and an organic source in the anonymity of the fantasied woman.

[vii] Original footnote: Plato’s belief in the bisexuality of man is expressed in the form of a legend in his Symposium.

[viii] Original footnote: According to Robert Graves (The Greek Myths, 2 Vols. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1955), the question of the Sphinx is: What creature with a single voice has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most feet? Oedipus answers: Man, for he crawls on all four a a baby, stands erect on two feet as a youth, and supports himself on his cane as an old man.

[ix] Original footnote: In the unconscious, causality can be represented only by a sequence. The development of man is expressed by a series of people beginning with the infant and ending with the old man: each engenders the next.