From The Dora Case to Hunky Dory

Probably the most famous case study by Freud is the Dora Case (case from 1900 and published in 1905) and rereading it recently I couldn’t help feeling that one can see key elements of the Dora Case as representation of the hysteric structure in contemporary life. I realise that it’s maybe somewhat vulgar to point towards iconic figures and make overgeneralised statements about their psychic makeup but nevertheless it is interesting to see possible common attributes. The hysteric structure is, in some ways, the most interesting structure which is why so many become the focus of attention in entertainment and although the analytic distinction is predominant in women, the psychoanalytic structure is also adopted by male hysterics and maybe an example might be the wonderful David Bowie? The Hunky Dory album cover image was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie took to the photo shoot and it could be like a fabulous hysteric’s take on an hysteric. Hysterics are endlessly fascinating because they have a sense of unrest and need to question themselves and the culture and society they are immersed in and comedy too (look at Eddy Izzard) is the language of the hysteric.

The first of Dora’s two dreams was centred around a jewel box and it is the box which is significant, not necessarily the jewels that are contained. Take Lady Ga-Ga who will go through huge excesses to create herself as the object as container but there is always the sense that the container will be questioned. Am I a woman is the big question for an hysteric and it takes a lot of effort to create herself as woman.

The second dream of Dora represents the hysteric’s desire to be desired but not in fact to be the object of the other’s satisfaction and there is the famous Dora scene by the lake, when Mr K kisses her – and she runs away. Freud questions why a girl of eighteen would refuse the advance of a man, who apparently looked not unlike a 28 year old Oliver Reed. In respect of the desire of the desire of the other what about the exotic Bathsheba, in the scene from ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ where Farmer Boldwood sends her a Valentine Card. She enjoyed being the object of desire but was horrified by the advances as object of the other’s satisfaction, a typically hysteric position.

Sexuality for the hysteric structure is central and Dora was introduced to sexuality by one of her governesses and also the family friend Frau K who kept a selection of ‘funny’ magazines and the route of discovery to the knowledge of sexuality must be hugely significant – today it will probably be through the mediation of internet porn sites, or more recently the increasing popularity of sexting and one wonders what impact that this will have on the future psycho-sexual world? The consensus seems to recognise a fall in real flesh sex as the internet world is turning the tide from neurotic structures to psychotic structures.

There is also the aspect of a love triangle with the hysteric subject. In the Dora case; Dora and the father and Mrs K but an hysteric partner will often orchestrate a situation where she or he will be in rivalry with another woman/or man that the partner is attracted to. This is a crucial part in the identity and identification and can cause endless confusion and complications leading sometimes to relationship breakups.

The Dora case was where Freud first introduces the concept of the transference. The idea that we project onto the other that of another relationship and in the Dora case Freud was convinced that Dora was relating to him as Mr K or more fundamentally as her father and this was probably the point at which Dora suddenly announced that the next session would be her last and to Freud it seemed that it could be a punishment directed at her father. This idea of transference, or projection, is very much in common parlance today but the Dora case is also testimony as to how it can be misjudged …


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