Telepathy, the SPR's (see P. 1) Literary Committee recommended, was a term which could cover "all cases of impression received at a distance without the operation of the recognized sense organs." The Greek coinage by Myers intended to bring together an array of resources-an urgent task, given that the immediate material for theorization was initially a mix of popular therapy, performances of music-hall thought-readers, and a parlour game carried to somewhat obsessive lengths.

In 1921, the precise nature of Freudian thought, let alone the doctrinal differences between Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung's analytic psychology, was arcane. For the Freudian vogue was seen of a piece with other passing waves of quackery: Table-tapping has become suburban, respectable ghosts have gone to University or to the antipodes with Sir A. Conan Doyle, and astrologists and crystal-gazers have discovered a sad falling off in fees. Trances and spirit-photographs are no longer the mode; the far-seeing occultist has abandoned the necromantic arts, and now poses as a psychoanalyst. ("Psycho-Analysis -la Mode," Saturday Review, 21 Feb.1921, p.129.)

Psychoanalysis was seen as part of "a flourishing popular occult 'counterculture'." (Richards, "Britain on the Couch," p. 189.)

The integration of psychoanalysis into broader, eclectic syntheses reached the widest audiences. This situation was even more open in the 1910s. Ernest Jones spent the years 1908 to 1913 in Canada, forced out of medical posts in England over scandals concerning his 'sexual' discussions with young patients. When he formed the London Psycho Analytic Society in November 1913, it had nine founding members, only four of whom could practise. This made it far less successful than the more eclectic Medico-psychological Clinic, part-funded by May Sinclair. (See Vincent Brome, Ernest Jones: Freud's Alter Ego, 1982).

More often than not, though, psychoanalysis and psychical research were entwined. James Strachey, it transpires, had been led to Freud via a footnoted reference in the work of Frederic Myers. (Myers's Science and the Future Life. Freud: The Letters of James and Alix Strachey, ed. Perry Meisel and Walter Kendrick, 1986, 26-7.)

Ernest Jones, too, the strongest opponent of any occultist leanings within psychoanalysis, had begun his career reading William James and Myers. (Brome, Ernest Jones, 43.)

Back in London Ernest Jones worked tirelessly from 1913 to discipline psychoanalysis into a professional body, aligning with respected medical and scientific authorities, doubtful about lay analysts in the movement. He therefore warned Freud in 1911 not to be flattered by the offer of an honorary membership of the SPR in England, writing that "in spite of the good names in it, the Society is not of good repute in scientific circles. You will remember that they did some valuable work in the eighties on hypnotism, automatic writing etc., but for the past fifteen years they have confined their attention to 'spookhunting,' mediumism, and telepathy."

Jones had already half-joked with Freud that occultism was allied to infantile anal-eroticism. (Letter Jones to Freud, 2 Dec.1910, in The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones 1908-1939, ed. R. Andrew Paskauskas  Harvard University Press, 1993, 79.)

He did not know that Freud, and many of the inner circle of Psychoanalysis, had already, or would soon, come to advocate telepathy.

In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life Freud recalled that in "the days when I was living alone in a foreign city ... I quite often heard my name suddenly called by an unmistakable and beloved voice; I then noted down the exact moment of the hallucination and made anxious enquiries of those at home about what had happened at the time. Nothing had happened."   Freud stated, "I must confess that I am one of those unworthy people in whose presence spirits suspend their activity and the supernatural vanishes away."  (Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in Penguin Freud Library , 1991, V. 324-5.)

This is untrue, both of Freud and of his institution. Even this denial gives itself away, in Freud's awareness of telepathic messages from phantasms of the living and in his reference to the Spiritualist argument that the presence of sceptics disturbed the spirits. Freud knows not to know; a perfect instance of disavowal. (Phyllis Grosskurtli, The Secret Ring: Freuds Inner Circle and the Politics of Pychoanalysis, 1991).

Freud was always redrawing the limit around that which was proper to psychoanalysis, setting up inner rings and secret committees.

"On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement," written in 1914, readjusted the boundary after the catastrophic loss of Alfred Adler and Freud's chosen successor Carl Jung. Retelling the origins of psychoanalysis was an activity undertaken by Freud at each departure. In 1924, 'An Autobiographical Study' sees off Adler and Jung's "attempts against psychoanalysis," but returns anxiously to questions of origin and influence by iterating time and again Janet's lack of influence. A short essay of 1921 recalled again the disasters of Adler and Jung, but then added a third clanger. The text begins:

We are not destined, so it seems, to devote ourselves quietly to the extension of our science. Scarcely have we triumphantly repulsed two attacks ... scarcely, then, do we feel ourselves, a fe from these enemies, when another peril has arisen. And this time it is something tremendous, something elemental, which threatens not us alone but our enemies, perhaps, still ignore. (Sigmund Freud, "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy," in Standard Edition, xviii. 177.)

This is Freud's essay "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy." The elemental force is the occult, and the problem for Freud was the occult's uncertain place inside and outside of psychoanalysis. The bewildering opening pages of  "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy" change the status of the threat every sentence. The opening paragraph places the occult on the same level of danger as Adler or Jung; the third paragraph, however, argues for a 'reciprocal sympathy' between occultism and psychoanalysis since 'They have both experienced the same contemptuous and arrogant treatment by official science. To this day psychoanalysis is regarded as savouring of mysticism, and its unconscious is looked upon as one of the things between heaven and earth which philosophy refuses to dream of Alliance and co-operation seem "plausible," but the next paragraph withdraws this sympathy again: occultists are mere "convinced believers," holding "superseded convictions of primitive peoples," whilst analysts are "incorrigible mechanists and materialists" on the side of exact science. (Sigmund Freud, "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy," in Standard Edition, xviii. 177 and 178.)

This objection concerns the subjective dangers of interest in the occult, the next paragraph switches to the objective danger. Freud writes:

There is little doubt that if attention is directed to occult phenomena tile outcome will very soon be that the occurrence of a number of them will be confirmed: and it w ill probably be a very long time before an acceptable theory covering these new facts can be arrived at ...There may follow a fearful collapse of critical thought, of determinist standards and of mechanistic Science. (Sigmund Freud., 179-80.)

Occultism now is not a mere faith that traduces science. Rather the occult (or a portion of it) is true and it is this that threatens psychoanalysis. "All these combine as motives," Freud ends the "Introductory," "for withholding my remarks from a wider public." (Ibid. 181.)

These assertions and retractions make all of the texts Freud wrote on the occult difficult to follow. "Dreams and Telepathy" negates itself even as it begins: "You will learn nothing from this paper of mine about the enigma of telepathy; indeed, you will not even gather whether I believe in the existence of 'telepathy' or not." "Dreams and Occultism" wants to expose "the secret motives of the occultist movement" as mere helpmate of religion, "threatened as it is by the advance of scientific thought," only then to incorporate the occult within psychoanalysis, suggesting that it is psychoanalysis alone that "has paved the way for the assumption of such processes as telepathy." (Sigmund Freud, "Dreams and Telepathy," xviii.197.)

Only the closest followers, the inner circle, listened to this text that announced the new threat. Freud was to deliver three instances of occult forces, but he could not give the full text since he left behind his most important example of thought transference in Vienna- "omitted due to resistance." (Editor's Note- "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy," 175.)

Meanwhile 'The Occult Significance of Dreams," intended as a new addition to the 1925 edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, only appeared once in the Gesammelte Werke before being dropped.

Ernest Jones failed to convince Freud not to publish on telepathy, despite warning that his membership of the British Psychological Society had been secured before "your telepathy paper which had not then appeared." ( Letters, Jones to Freud, 25 Feb. 1926 and to Jan. 1933, in Complete Correspondence of Freud and Jones, 592.)

In his biography of Freud, Jones ascribed Freud's "exquisite oscillation" on occultism to the aberrancy of genius. (Ernest Jones. Sigmund Freud: Life, and Work, 3 vols., 1957, iii. 402.)

But Jones was trying to suppress the disturbances occultism caused to the institution. Of the close circle, Sandor Ferenczi's first paper in 1899 was on mediumship, as was Jung's doctoral thesis in 1902.

Together, Ferenczi and Jung sought to convince Freud to "conquer the field of occultism." Freud seemed converted by June 1911, writing to Jung: "I have grown humble since the great lesson of Ferenczi's experiments ... I promise to believe anything that can be made to look reasonable." (Letter, Jung to Freud ,15 June 1911, in Freud/Jung Letters. ed. William McGuire, 1991, 260.)

By 1913, Freud visited seances, but one obvious fake led him to ask Ferenczi to withdraw his testimonial. (Letter, Freud to Ferenczi ,11 May 1911, in The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sandor Terenezi, ed. Eva Brabant et al., trans. Peter Hoffer, 2 VOLS.: Harvard University Press, 1993, i. 274,)

Ferenczi gave a lecture on thought transference to the Viennese Psychoanalytical Association in November 1913, and his correspondence is littered with references to the topic-including a meta-correspondence on the "negative proof" for anticipations of letters between Vienna and Budapest. Freud's dream of his son in the trenches (in line with reports of phantasms of the living and the dead in the First World War) is reported by Freud with the prefatory comment, "I know that you are not without a secret inclination toward occult matters." Ferenczi replied: "My 'Inclination toward occult matters' is not 'secret' but rather quite obvious." (Letter, Freud to Ferenczi, 23 Nov. 1913, in The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sander Ferenczi, i-523-4.)

Nevertheless, none of Ferenczi's papers on the subject survives into the three-volume collection of his work. This was due to selfcensorship, but Ernest Jones also attempted to suppress publication on the occult. Jones regularly warned Freud of the dangers of associating with psychical researchers. Imagine his consternation when in 1925 Freud announced his belief in telepathy.

Freud told  Jones airily, "If anyone should bring up my Fall with you just answer calmly that my acceptance of telepathy is my own affair, like my Judaism and my passion for smoking. This story can be reconstructed from Jones's biography and has also been obliquely retold by Jacques Derrida in his essay 'Telepathy'. Derrida sees the occult as an instance of liminal anxiety, psychoanalysis 'set on swallowing and simultaneously rejecting the foreign body named Telepathy, for assimilating and vomiting it without being able to make up its mind to do one or the other." ( Jacques Derrida, "Telepathy," trans. Nicholas Royle, 1988, 43.)

For Derrida, telepathy inserts a heterogeneous foreign body into the isolate unconscious, such that there is no coming into subjectivity without coming to be haunted by the other, by voices simultaneously distant and intimate. In Derrida's wake, John Forrester has argued that Freud returned anxiously to telepathy because it constituted a form of "leaked communication": "once the psychoanalytic situation has been conceptualized as a semi-permeable discursive membrane, telepathy becomes a threat to that situation."

In 1912, the English SPR invited Freud to write a paper. Freud had written to Jung the year before: "The Society for Psychical Research has asked me to present my candidacy as a corresponding member, which means, I presume, that I have been elected. The first sign of interest in dear old England." (Letter, Freud to Jung ,17 Feb. 1911, in Freud/Jung Letters, 396.)

Ignoring Jones's warning to avoid association with the SPR, Freud's short essay "A Note on the Unconscious in Psychoanalysis" constituted a first draft of his metapsychological paper "The Unconscious." Freud outlined what the unconscious "has come to mean in Psychoanalysis and in Psychoanalysis alone." This emphasis was necessary because, bound within the Proceedings, and within that to a Special Medical Part, Freud's essay was between T. W. Mitchell on Multiple Personality and Boris Sidis on "The Theory of the Subconscious," the latter essay attacking "Freud and his adherents" for their "highly questionable" theories of mind. (Boris Sidis, "The Theory of the Subconscious," PSPR 18,1912 , 334-5.)

But Freud did know of Flournoy's study of the medium Helene Smith, theoretically oriented to Myersian subliminality. Not only did Flournoy have the impudence to suggest in 1911 that "It will be a great day when the subliminal psychology of Myers and his followers and the abnormal psychology of Freud and his school succeed in meeting;" but he was also the "revered and fatherly" figure who supported Jung through his split with Freud. (Theodore Flournoy, Spiritism and Psychology, trans. and abridged Hereward Carrington, 1911, p. vii and C. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 1995, 186.)

All of this opens up a tranche of psychoanalytic history that suggests the need for reorienting the reasons for Freud's "exquisite oscillation" on the question of telepathy. His anxiety was not simply due to its dubious scientific status-what, after all, could be more occulted at the time than the Freudian unconscious, this dynamic, structural thing founded on the mechanism of sexual repression and somehow outside the consciousness in a way still inconceivable to his contemporaries? Rather, Freud's anxiety is that explanations of the occult find their footing in the orthodoxies developing around non-physiological conceptions of psychology, an orthodoxy from which Freud was marginalized.

One may say that the central psychoanalytic concept of "transference" would be inconceivable without the prior theorization of telepathy. Transference, like the dead, operates as a haunting return: the "stereotype plates" of first love turn everyone who comes after ghostly: "All my friends have in a certain sense been reincarnations of this first figure ... : they have been revenants." (Sigmund Freud, "The Dynamics of Transference," in Standard Edition, xii. 100, and Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 622.)

It was the analytic interaction in which transference and telepathy repeatedly touched on each other. In 1926, Helene Deutsch published "Occult Processes Occurring during Psychoanalysis," which suggested that "during Psychoanalysis the psychic contact between analyst and analysand is so intimate, and the psychic processes which unfold themselves in that situation are so manifold, that the analytic situation may very well include all conditions which facilitate the occurrence of such phenomena." (Helene Deutsch, "Occult Processes Occurring during Psychoanalysis," in George Devereux, Psychoanalysis and the Occult, 1974.,134.)

These effects "are probably connected with transference" and "seem to indicate the existence of an essential relationship between analytic intuition and the telepathic process."   (Ibid. 135 and 139.)

Dorothy Burlingham examined cases of telepathic transfers between a mother and child. The journal Imago became host to disputes on this issue. Istvan Hollos felt that countertransference was the locus of the telepathic transfer, warning that "the analyst may have to take into account the possibility that his unvoiced thoughts are transmitted to the patient."

Hollos had worked with Ferenezi, whose essay "Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child" gave the traumatized patient an "uncanny clairvoyance." This theme ran through Ferenczi's Clinical Diary, and in a fragment on the theme of being dead, Ferenczi elucidated his view that in the moment of the trauma some sort of omniscience about the world ... makes the person in question ... more or less clairvoyant.  Sandor Ferenczi, "Conffision of Tongues between Adults and the Child," it) Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psychoanalysis, ed. Michael Balint , 1955, 160.) For detailed comments on Ferenczi's interest in forms of occult intimacy, see chapter 5 of Pamela Thurschwell. Literature, Technotoky and Magical Thinking 1880-1920, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Ferenczi suggests his patients are the living dead, touched by occult powers unleashed by the "little death" of trauma. Theodor Reik was convinced that the analytic session was rich in instances "when we realize in a flash the secret thoughts of others and understand their hidden motives," and related it directly to thought-reading performers. (Theodor Reik, "The Surprised Psychoanalyst," in Benjamin Wolstein (ed.), Essential Papers on Countertransference, New York University Press, 1988, 51.)

This telepathic aura around transferential relations remains a topic of discussion in the psychoanalytic community to the present day. Working with children of Holocaust survivors in the 1980s, one analyst commented on the "sharing of unconscious material between progenitors and offspring which seems to be transmitted in an uncanny and unspecified fashion." This "transgenerational haunting" has been an important thematic in the work of analysts Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. As the origins of psychoanalysis have become the subject of intense controversy, the work of historians like Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen has only further embedded transference within the matrix of an emotional tie that, as we have seen, encompasses mesmeric rapport, hypnotic suggestion, and telepathic transfer.

There is another history to write which would trace the transformation of telepathy into first ESP, then "Ganzfield" researches in the 1960s, and then new categories of "Exceptional Human Experiences" in the 1980s and 1990s. Phantasms of the living have modulated into Near Death Experiences; evil foreign mesmerists have become alien abductors with implacable powers of mental "scanning," this will be the content of a next series of articles.


See also:

The Secret History of Psychology, P.1

The Secret History of Psychology, P.2

The Secret History of Psychology, P.3

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