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A Case of Hysteria?

The Letter, Issue 3, Spring 1995, Pages 1 - 20


Rik Loose & Gerry Sullivan*


In 1896 Freud proposed the theory that hysterical obsessive neurosis was caused by an actual sexual encounter between father and child.[1] The first hint of a movement away from the seduction theory came on 8 February, 1897 in a letter to Hiess. His change of heart becomes explicit in the well-known letter to Fliess of 21 September, 1897 in which Freud presents his reasons for revising his hypothesis, although it was not until 1906 that Freud publicly renounced his seduction theory.[2]

A general dissatisfaction with Freud's stated change of heart and his reasons for repudiation of the seduction theory have led to a number of alternative explanations. We will briefly mention two and include some additional comments relevant to the paper we are presenting:

One prominent thesis claims that Freud abandoned the seduction theory as a result of his self-analysis, which gave him an insight into his own fantasies of incest and eventually led him to formulate the Oedipus complex.[3] Lacan's remarks from Seminar XI are of interest to us, both within this context of Freud's self-analysis and the broader context of the theme of this conference. He says:

"So hysteria places us, I would say, on the track of some kind of original sin in analysis. There has to be one. The truth is perhaps simply one thing, namely the desire of Freud himself, the fact that something in Freud was never analysed".[4]

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