Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 777
Memory is at the heart of any psychoanalysis, and hence memory and the problems that it brings with it—the problems of the past in the present, the influence of the past on the future—are major themes in H. D.’s account of her own analysis. “The years went forward, then backward,” she writes. “The shuttle of the years ran a thread that wove my pattern into the Professor’s.”
Specific memories provided the occasions for H. D. and Freud to explore together the peculiarly defensive, allusive, and finally creative character of memory itself, and so of a life’s story—H. D.’s own—constantly rewritten. The visions in “Writing on the Wall” constitute one such memory, leading back into others from H. D.’s own life and also into that great reserve of memory that is world culture. Another was the memory of a strange visionary shipboard romance in 1920 with one Peter Van Eck (Rodeck) who was or was not physically present, was or was not somehow her father, was or was not somehow D. H. Lawrence, too—this last discovery being made only after her analysis had ended, her book written. It is the allusiveness of her tone that captures this shuttling of years backward and forward, of memory into analysis and so back into life and forward into the written word.
Yet H. D. is not only an analysand but also woman and poet. Therefore specifically feminine concerns are also thematic in the work, though largely subsumed in her search for an authentic voice and vision. “I do not like to be the mother in transference,” Freud tells H. D. He sees her bisexuality and constant recourse to ancient mythologies as resulting from her desire to return to the mother: more specifically to the mother of her early years, before gender complicated her life with its identification of her as a girl, while she could still be the boy-god of one of her analytic dreams. While attempting to provide a more positive alternative to her cold fish of a father, Freud is careful never to criticize H. D.’s lesbian aspect. He maintained simultaneously a warm friendship with H. D.’s companion, Bryher, who was herself a major supporter of the psychoanalytic venture.
Freud was in some sense the completion of H. D.’s experience of family. “I am on the fringes or in the penumbra of the light of my father’s science and my mother’s art—the psychology or philosophy of Sigmund Freud,” she writes. This leads immediately to creation: “I must find new words as the Professor found or coined new words to explain certain as yet unrecorded states of mind or being.” With new words come new forms: H. D., ever the classicist, was also a constant innovator and experimentalist, in prose and poetry alike. It is not surprising that Tribute to Freud can be read as an experiment in autobiography—a capturing of the allusiveness of the psychoanalytic method of free association—or as a set of extended prose meditations, akin to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations (1908) in modern idiom.
Finally, Freud himself is the theme central to this work—that is, H. D.’s Freud. She writes that theirs was “the most luscious sort of vers libre relationship”—and Lisa Appignanesi and John Forrester, in their monumental exploration, Freud’s Women (1992), suggest that for Freud too the relationship had a special, even amorous quality. As they write, “Only perhaps with Lou Andreas-Salomé, his other literary patient-pupil, did Freud display a similar tone—a loving care, compounded with respect and imaginative interest.” He is virtually deified in Tribute to Freud, which is dedicated to him as “blameless physician”—a phrase classically used to describe Asclepios, Apollo’s son—and views him in turn as a Moses, a guardian of sacred treasures, a magician, and Faust.
Yet H. D. is rewriting Freud as she goes: “He has to stick to his scientific guns, but I have to stick to mine too.” What he sees as a dangerous symptom, she sees as mystical vision. Characteristically, immediately after her phrases about finding new words, H. D. turns to alchemy: “We retreat from the so-called sciences and go backward or forward into alchemy.” Alchemy is hardly popular among psychoanalysts of the Freudian school, although Herbert Silberer’s Probleme der mystik und ihrer symbolik (1914; Problems of Mysticism and Its Symbolism, 1917) deals sensitively with it. As a territory, it has largely been ceded to Carl Jung and his followers, the analytical psychologists. Yet here is H. D. speaking of her work with Freud as alchemical. “He is Faust, surely,” she writes.