The Pooh Perplex
one of the last survivors of Freud’s original circle of Viennese followers in the first decade of this century, died in 1960 after an extremely active career as an analyst. In an autobiographical memoir written just before the end, he declared that “I have never swerved one inch from the basic teachings of Freud. Never, never, never. Not one inch. I have remained faithful to Freud through thick and thin. That is the justification of all my work.” In the last years of his life Dr. Anschauung turned his attention to literary problems, “in the hope,” he wrote, “of clearing up one or two matters on which the Master left us incomplete formulations.” One happy result was the following article, here reprinted from the journal Lustprinzip and translated into English by Dr. B. B. Braille. Dr. Braille, incidentally, wants your editor to mention that he was among the first and best translators of Freud, and commends your attention especially to the original jokes he substituted for Freud’s in translating Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious.
THERE is often heard the opinion that psychoanalysis is unfriendly to literature, that we regard the artist as a neurotic, that writing is a for us quite antithetical to the Reality Principle activity. What is uncanny [unheimlich] is that I have often felt this to be true myself. Uncanny I nevertheless say, inasmuch as we who have remained faithful to Freud realize consciously that he was always friendly to art. In his writings find we, it is true, various opinions at various stages of his progress toward a unified field theory of the arts; but although he died untimely before this ultimate together-gathering could be expressed for us, we can see its main outlines sufficiently well to understand the progressive trend of thought which he from the beginning was on. We can now affirm, that at no time did Freud mean seriously to imply that the artist was from other men fully divided by his away-turning from the Reality Principle. True, the artist must be regarded as a Narcissist regrettably unable to overcome regressive tendencies fixating his libido at pre-Oedipal cathexes, and hence [also] seeking in masturbatory phantasy-play an outletting of repressed materials which he upon the unsuspecting public wishes to impose in the secondarily elaborated form of “art.” So much, no one would now deny. But as Freud gathered ever more weighty evidence from his studies, he gradually realized, that such aetiology not solely to artists, but to everyone applied – doctor, lawyer, Indian chief – and that the artist was, if anything, better off than, let us say, the statesman who, as a result of persisting interest in infantile theories of anal birth, must send flights of bombers over other countries and keep himself unusually clean and fastidious. As for my uncanny feeling that Freud denigrated art, in self-analysis I have repressed materials discovered, suggesting this to be a residue of unresolved envy of the Master dating from our first meeting in 1906 when I upon the floor passed out cold.
False then it is, to assert, that Freud with anything but sincerest respect regarded artists and writers. He was always quite clear on the point, that the artist as artist [als Künstler] was not especially neurotic, was indeed directly prevented by his art from being as neurotic as the normal man on the street. For the demands which the Reality Principle makes upon all of us, no one is entirely prepared; lucky then is he who a Pleasure Principle outlet can find, which re-attaches him to reality by earning him honor, power, riches, fame, and the love of women. Precisely such a case is the present patient, A. A. Milne. Of neurotic features in his social character he has displayed little signs, beyond to be sure the customary psychopathology of everyday life. For this reason the tireless researcher is encouraged to out-seek in his art, those perversions, phobias, incipient psychoses, fixations, sublimations, phantasies, and phylogenetic traces, which would have formed his character had he taken up some other line of work. It is an ontological problem, and not one for our strictly scientific studies, to decide whether such information, taken together, may be called the A. A. Milne’s-character or must be relegated to the realm of might-have-been. For my part, I am to the former view inclined, by recalling that no such scruples prevented Jones from explaining Shakespeare’s incestuous designs on his mother, nor Ferenczi from discovering Swift’s impotence-anxiety-determined distaste for very large girls, nor the Master himself from revealing Leonardo’s early relations with a vulture.
Foremost among the problems offered us by Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at the Corner of Pooh’s [Das Haus bei der Poohecke], we may place the question, what is Milne’s unconscious attitude to bears? The frequent presence on the illusionistic phantasy-screen, or “plot,” of these two books, of a bear, strongly points to an obsessive nosology, the which, in fact, is fully in an examination of Milne’s poetry borne out. Examine if you please a poem written in early childhood (hence the volume’s title As We Extremely Young Were), “Lines and Squares”:
Whenever I walk in a London street,
Here have we a classic infantile phobia not dissimilar to that of the by-Freud-treated little Hans. Milne imagines, that he is on all sides endangered by dreadful bears who will, unless he performs an obsessive ritual essentially similar to those of the Christian Church, attack and devour him. That the suckling babe A. A. Milne found it impossible, to off-shake his phobia in the immediately following years, we demonstrate with these lines written at age six:
From these early phantasies we draw the plain connection, that Winnie-the-Pooh from a defensive reaction mechanism stems, employing the projective technique of inversion of affect: the feared bear becomes the loved bear, the enemy becomes the inseparable-friend. Thus in day-dream the severely phobic A. A. Milne makes a pathetic, clinically most interesting attempt, discovered by me, to deny his phobia and rid himself of his obsessive-traits. This diagnosis, as well as explaining the anxiety reduction function of many chapters in the Milne’s book, offers a general clue to further psycholiterary mysteries, as will below be seen.
Having shown that the phantasy-character, “Pooh,” serves A. A. Milne the purpose, of his bear phobia temporarily to assuage by demanding an affectionate not a libido-inhibited anxiety-response, there remains us the more difficult task to discover what sequence of experiences led the infant A. A. Milne, to his bear phobia in the first place develop. Although Milne’s “literary” work is for the purpose to deny his phobia intended, we may expect, that under the universal law of the return of the repressed, his repressed materials will of necessity themselves express [sich aussprechen] within the text. Of this our expectation the fulfillment is indeed speedy. Before we have even properly at the beginning of the story arrived, find we, in Milne’s “Introduction,” this note:
So when Christopher Robin goes to the Zoo, he goes to where the Polar Bears are, and he whispers something to the third keeper from the left, and doors are unlocked, and we wander through dark passages and up steep stairs, until at last we come to the special cage, and the cage is opened, and out trots something brown and furry, and with a happy cry of “Oh, Bear!” Christopher Robin rushes into its arms.
Here have we, not merely a confirmation of the over-carry from Milne’s poetically celebrated bear-phobia to his bear-character Pooh, but also an unmistakable representation of the underlying Pooh’s meaning [Urpoohdeutung]. Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams shows us unequivocally, that to “wander through dark passages and up steep stairs” can only a coitus-equivalent signify. When further we arrive at the opening of a special cage and the out-trotting of something brown and furry, embraced by A. A. Milne, the reader may easily imagine, that all doubt ceases to retain validity. The friendly male bear Pooh is meant, the unfriendly terrifying female organ to represent.
It thus seems likely, that what, the which we have to deal with here, is a Primal Scene witnessed by the infant A. A. Milne, overcharged with free-floating anxiety, and hence into the somewhat more manageable bear-phobia transposed, leading to formation of obsessive ritual meant to avoid to face situations calling for resurgence from the unconscious, past the doors of the preconscious, into the superego-dominated conscious mind of A. A. Milne’s, of the repressed material. Thus much is perfectly obvious. There gives no reason to doubt, that all the classic Primal-Scene reactions were in this case present: the sadistic, and secondarily masochistic, misunderstanding of the Scene in terms of assault and battery, the hatred of the father as unique possessor of “Pooh Bear,” generalized envy and impotence-anxiety resulting from small size of oneself, resentment of “unfaithful” mother, fear of abandonment, vicarious stimulation of racial memory-traces, and, of course, total repression and “forgetting” of the entire scene. (No piece of evidence is stronger, than the fact, that A. A. Milne never mentions this trauma to anyone.) To critics whose interest is more strictly literary, and not psycholiterary, I leave the work of to document these facts. More pressing in concern for us is the humanitarian task of trying to help A. A. Milne, his bear-phobia to overcome. This will require further and closer attention to a variety of superficially unconnected, actually quite strictly determined and related, elsewhere in the text symptoms.
Let us then upon a seemingly different investigation outset, and try some word-associations on the patient. Even C. G. Jung, before his unfortunate attack of insanity in 1912, got good results from this technique. The present disadvantage, of A. A. Milne’s absence from my office, will not hamper us if we in mind keep the realization, that works of art are under conditions of relaxed superego censorship written, thus [also] yielding formerly repressed patterns almost as successfully, as private analytical sessions, lacking however the stimulating incentives of transference and very high fees. In A. A. Milne’s “fictional” memoir Winnie-the-Pooh find we a complex of key words, the which points clearly to screen memories hiding the Primal Scene and us helping to exactly the sequence of infantile-experiences reconstruct.
Remembering that A. A. Milne has already been over-excitable proven by references to pudendum mulieris, let us propose to him the associations “pit” and “jar,” both of course time-honored symbols of the same. To our amazement discover we that these very words are together-joined in the “plot” of Winnie-the-Pooh. A. A. Milne explains, in “Piglet a Heffalump Meets,” that if he were to attempt, someone to trap, he would do so by employing a jar of honey and a large pit! That “honey” has itself a genital-erotic significance, no one with a good English language command can seriously deny. The inseparability of “Pooh” and honey further cements this identification. Thus have we a cluster, pit-jar-honey, of definite aetiological significance in A. A. Milne’s symptom-formation. In this very Heffalump-chapter see we some consequences of this. The Heffalump, whose masculine role so evident is that it was by an ignorant layman noticed, is to fall headlong into the pit-jar-honey “trap” – an exact equivalent, need I hardly say, of the catastrophic Primal Scene effect upon the impressionable tot A. A. Milne. The infantile castration horror, invariable in these cases, breaks past the superego in the thinly-disguised-form of commentary upon honey jars. Thus the jar is a “something mysterious, a shape and no more,” and again “a great enormous thing, like – like nothing. A huge big – well, like a – I don’t know – like an enormous big nothing.” May I point out, that the object inspiring this latter negativistic definition is really Pooh him-or-herself, capped (with redundant symbolism) by a honey jar?
If we now ask A. A. Milne, still harder to think about jars, we bring up the following screen memory: the infant A. A. Milne compulsively inserts and removes an ex-balloon from an ex-honey jar, both presented to him by two “others” on his “birthday.” Here prove we the hypothesis of racial memory-trace stimulation, for tiny A. A. Milne a dim awareness shows that copulation and childbirth (the birthday) are related. The destructive impression of the Primal Scene is, again, ingeniously by the unconscious represented in terms of burst balloon and emptied jar; while the mechanical, repetitive feature of A. A. Milne’s act points to the anxiety neurosis sufferer’s obsessive re-enacting of the “others’” (Mummy and Daddy’s) traumatic activity, in the hope of this time generating adequate ego-responses to cathect anxiety.
Our list of screen-associations now reads, pit-jar-honey-balloon. At once A. A. Milne the further association recalls, balloon-honey-gun. Upon investigation find we, that in the very first chapter of his most interesting memoir, A. A. Milne himself imagines as flying upward toward honey, aided by a balloon, and shot down by a gun. This is self-explanatory. On the wings of male potency – symbolized by the expanded balloon which characteristically “deflated” was by the Primal Scene – A. A. Milne hopes with infantile naiveté, the previously explained honey to seize. Instead he is discouraged and punished, by the agency of a gun, evidently representing the superior paternal phallus. It is now clear, that the A. A. Milne’s-bear-phobia upon a solid base of impotence-anxiety resides. This is confirmed by the next association of “gun.” “Coming to see me have my bath?” A. A. Milne recalls having asked his father immediately after the shooting, and when the father somewhat ambiguously answered, young Milne this question added: “I didn’t hurt him when I shot him, did I?” The projection of himself into the maiming-father’s-role here, altogether predictable was as a typical defense; much more interesting [interessanter] is the introduction of a new, exhibitionistic element in the neurosis. Having himself hallucinated into the personage of castrating imago, young Milne “worries” about the overefficiency of his organ in its intimidation of the father. He wants the father him to watch bathing, ostensibly for the purpose to reassure him that he (A. A. Milne) is still childlike. Yet at the same time, the experienced analyst cannot himself prevent, from seeing a more ego-syntonic motivation here. The screen-memory of being watched bathing by the father, surely a superego-distortion is, for watching the father bathing, the which in turn is, perfectly obviously, desired for the reason of reassuring oneself that the father really lacking is, in the terrifying physical power observed in the Primal Scene. A superficial and benevolent exhibitionism, in other words, a secondary elaboration for a malicious skoptophilia is.
Skoptophilia, as the Master has taught us, is proper to the pre-genital organization of the libido, and specifically, to the anal-sadistic phase. Recalling the slang meaning of “Pooh,” we see that the suckling A. A. Milne a further problem had – as yet unresolved – of confusing anal theories of childbirth with his memory of the Primal Scene. With this clue seek we among Milne’s recollections a series of references to the erogenous zone in question. At once the final piece in our little puzzle, to us itself presents. A certain ass, A. A. Milne recalls, has lost its tail. The meaning of this missing object is never in doubt. Its owner extremely “attached to it” was; “it reminds me of something,” says A. A. Milne; and “somebody must have taken it” adds he, echoing every child’s feeling upon stumbling across the between boys and girls difference. Upon the re-attachment of this object, A. A. Milne so affected is, that he “came over all funny, and had to hurry home for a little snack of something to sustain him.” Now, this rather complicated phantasy shows us, that A. A. Milne still unconsciously some doubt retains, as to the basic mechanical principles operable in the Primal Scene. Whether intercourse is posterior or anterior, he evidently cannot decide. Hence in his phantasy of helpful restoration to the “wounded” mother, he to the mistaken side wishes to re-attach the “tail.” His motive for so doing is divided, between (1) wish to ingratiate oneself with mother by doing useful errand, (2) provide weapon (along lines of sadistic misinterpretation of Scene) for mother to counterattack and possibly slay father, (3) demonstrate one’s own ability to serve family harmony by skillful manipulator of “tail,” quite improbable in reality, and (4) general tendency of small children not their own business to be able to mind. That A. A. Milne himself imagines, upon completion of this feat, a snack of honey proceeding to devour, uncovers his absolutely basic, underlying all else motive in this projection, namely a most encouraging, perfectly healthy and normal Oedipal plan, his mother to seduce.
This last feature leads us to believe, that A. A. Milne, if he will present himself for treatment, an excellent chance stands of becoming out-straightened. His case is a relatively simple one of advanced animal-phobia and obsessional defense, somewhat complicated it is true by anal-sadistic and oral-helpful phantasies, skoptophilia and secondary exhibitionism, latently homosexual trends in identification with the mother, severe castrating anxiety and compensatory assertiveness, and persistence of infantile misconstructions of birth, intercourse, and excretion. Doubtless when he appears in my office A. A. Milne further little symptoms will reveal, such as nail-biting, fascination with the analyst’s foot, excessive squabbling over fees, and so on [und so weiter]. All these, Herr Milne, and others may to the surface be brought, and you may, as you in all likelihood wished to be in undertaking your confessions to write, become a healthy and useful member-of-society. Whatever therapeutic value you have achieved from your dirty linen before the general public airing, think how much more you will get from it presenting in a bundle to me. My deductive powers, plus your limitless ability, obscene and meaningful phantasies to regurgitate, might combine, many hundreds of happy and fruitful analytic hours to create for us both.
For the thoroughly confused (which indeed you are entitled to be): “Karl Anschauung M.D.” is an alias used by Frederick Crews in his The Pooh Perplex, from which this excerpt is taken. Crews adopts this comic persona to provide a Freudian literary critique of Winnie the Pooh. The “Primal Scene” is the supposed traumatic event in Milne’s childhood when he sees his parents engaged in sexual intercourse.