Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces Tribute to Freud Analysis
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 985
“This is obviously not an historical account of . . . a new branch of psychological research and a new form of healing called psychoanalysis,” H.D. reminds her readers. Tribute to Freud can be read as a case study of H.D.’s attempt to rid herself of her psychological burdens, but as she searches to satisfy this aim by seeking to interpret her visionary experience on Corfu, it also becomes evident that she looks to Freud for support and confirmation of her previously held belief in the healing power of the imagination and of art.
In her Freud-inspired and-directed search, H.D. recovers threads of her life to discover personal and universal patterns: “It was not that he conjured up the past and invoked the future. It was a present that was in the past or a past that was in the future.” She found her own personal pattern to be bound with Freud’s, professing further, “The years went forward, then backward. The shuttle of the years ran a thread that wove my pattern into the Professor’s.”
H.D. and Freud shared a love and fascination for the antique world—its art, culture, and mythology. They discussed the rare artifacts collected in Freud’s study as great appreciators of art as well as interpreters of symbols and universal patterns of the collective unconscious.
Freud’s theories about the unconscious, or H.D.’s interpretation of them, helped her clarify ideas which she had been developing in her poetry and fiction and which she attempted to codify in 1919 in a brief psychological tract she titled “Notes on Thought and Vision.” In this work, which she alludes to in Tribute to Freud, she distinguishes different states of mind; her state of “over mind” comes close to Freud’s notion of the unconscious. She also distinguishes between temporal events, which she defines as occurring in “clock time,” and universal experiences, which occur in moments “out-of-time,” a state similar to Freud’s universal consciousness.
In the memoir, H.D.’s most direct homage to Freud emphasizes these ideas and Freud’s personal integrity in expressing them:He had dared to say that the dream came from an unexplored depth in man’s consciousness and that this unexplored depth ran like a great stream or ocean underground. . . . He had dared to say that it was the same ocean of universal consciousness, and even if not stated in so many words, he had dared to imply that this consciousness proclaimed all men one; all nations and races met in the universal world of the dream; and he had dared to say that the dream-symbol could be interpreted.
As H.D. explains it, Freud believed that by exploring this great ocean of dreams, humanity could better understand itself and save itself. Understanding her own dreams and visions, particularly her Corfu vision, was H.D.’s way to recovery.
To understand her vision, H.D. strove to discover how her individual pattern related to those universal patterns. Seemingly unrelated events or details, she claims, “make up a group, a constellation, they make a groove or a pattern into which or upon which other patterns fit, or are placed unfitted and are cut by circumstance to fit.” Her childhood memory of her brother, without her father’s permission, playing with his magnifying glass to set a paper afire with the sun’s rays, fit the pattern of Zeus and Prometheus. Freud was cut from the pattern of great healers: Thoth, Hermes, and Asclepius. H.D. identified her own search with the Egyptian resurrection myth of Isis and Osiris. She gathered memories as Isis gathered the scattered limbs of her murdered and dismembered brother Osiris. For Isis and for H.D., these efforts effected a physical healing and a spiritual regeneration.
H.D. and Freud had different views, however, regarding rebirth, resurrection, and the immortality of the soul. Freud believed in an afterlife only in the sense of his life being carried on through his children and grandchildren. “It worried me,” H.D. states several times, “to feel that he had no idea—it seemed impossible— really no idea that he would ‘wake up’ when he shed the frail locust-husk of his years, and find himself alive.”
Although Freud helped H.D. steer herself to and through her Corfu vision, each interpreted its meaning differently. Freud interpreted it as H.D.’s desire for a union with her mother. H.D., again recognizing a mythological pattern, saw the indistinct figure in her vision as Nike, the winged goddess of victory. For H.D., Nike symbolized the triumph of the soul and, since she believed that the past was also found in the future, forecasted survival of her troubles and spiritual rebirth. In a parallel fashion, in clock time, Nike symbolized the triumph of good over evil—Adolf Hitler’s defeat in World War II.
H.D. dramatizes this spiritual affirmation and, despite her independent analysis, acknowledges her indebtedness to Freud in the final entries of “Writing on the Wall.” In this climax to the memoir, she interweaves allusions to many of the experiences related earlier with lines from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s lyric poem “Mignon” (1794). Here H.D. seems to cut the poem’s pattern to fit her own, asserting that “the whole poem in its symbolism follows the soul’s progress.” Throughout this fantasia, she uses the lines from “Mignon” to highlight and confirm her own salvation and healing, by poetry as well as by psychoanalysis. “We are dealing here,” she informs the reader, “with the realm of fantasy and imagination, flung across the abyss, and these are a poet’s lines.” The final lines she cites, the concluding lines of “Mignon,” serve as her final homage to Freud and suggest that through his guidance she has at last found her way: “There! There/ Goes our way! O Father, let us go!”