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Little Hans' real father

The Letter, Issue 2, Autumn 1994, Pages 125 - 139


LITTLE HANS’ REAL FATHER [*]

Helena Comiskey-Texier


Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange. Shakespeare. The Tempest. (Act 1 Sc. 2)


Lacan, in his seminar of 1956-57, La relation d'objet, tells us that the phobia emerges as a consequence of a shortcoming, a deficiency on the part of the father.[1] The story of little Hans, which is in essence and form the story of a father and a son, is a god-send when it comes to trying to explore this statement of Lacan's, - and something which is sent from God has a very particular importance, as is shown to us by Freud when he eventually intervenes in this drama of filiation. In particular this story of father and son is a witness to the fact that it is not enough that one be a nice man in order that one be a good father, - which brings us to the question around which psychoanalysis turns: what is a father?


It must be noted from the start, that Herr Max Graf is a very nice man. He is concerned about his children. He cares about his son and is interested in his growing up. He brings him to the zoo and takes him with him every Sunday to Lainz. Well before the outbreak of Hans' phobia he has been bringing Freud little snippets from the boy's life. He is an enlightened man who welcomes Freud's teachings, being a member of of Freud's Wednesday group. It appears that the Graf household is a liberated one in which the psychical life of the child is taken seriously and is not inhibited by any prudishness. Little Hans is free to talk to his father about genitalia, and his parents get great amusement from their observations of the various little 'crushes' he has on pretty little girls. It would seem that this is not a household in which children are seen and not heard...or so it would at first appear.


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This issue of The Letter opens with a paper by Julien Quackelbeen which addresses the question of what answers psychoanalysis can provide to

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