On 6 December 1896, Freud wrote in his letter to Wilhelm Fliess: “Consciousness and memory are in fact mutually exclusive” (Bewußtsein und Gedächtnis schließen sich nämlich aus.).[1] This is the letter in which Freud for the first time addressed his reflections on the psychic apparatus in the draft of his Project,[2] the linking of perceiving-thinking-remembering, which were never published during his lifetime.

This letter is a kind of first manifesto, the axiomatic orientation of a Freudian approach to the world, which says nothing less than that perceiving and remembering form a complex of a highly singular “world view” – an approach to the world that is essentially fed by the libidinal moment of hallucinatory wish fulfillment. An approach to the world that is essentially characterised by a negativity that man cannot do without, no matter how much he wants to escape from it. Freud will demonstrate this brilliantly five years later, in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.[3] Freud probably wrote this letter to his friend in Vienna,[4] at the now famous Berggasse 19 address, which has since been completely renovated into a museum to continue attracting crowds of tourists.

Vienna and its Freud. But in the 21st century, “Freud’s Vienna” is nothing more than a commercially successful signifier of the tourism industry, the eye-catcher of a nostalgic view of a fin de siècle Vienna. While efforts are made to keep a sometimes absurd image of the discoverer of psychoanalysis alive and profitable (for example, in the museum shop you can find an idiotic-looking “Freud rubber duck”),[5] efforts are made to keep the explosive power of his clinic and cultural criticism under wraps.

As a Viennese, this is conveyed to me every day. For example, when reading the daily press on Saturdays, in an article about memory and memory loss in one of the (few) renowned daily newspapers in Austria, written by a journalist from the science editorial department.[6]

The main actor of this text is a protagonist highly decorated in scientific discourse today: the brain – the idea of a memory disk made flesh. This brain, we learn, is nothing more than a muscle, a fleshy apparatus, responsible for all receptive processes of memory. A muscle full of neuronal switch points but without a subject. Thus, by declaring this highly complex organ a mere muscular mass, it has apparently succeeded in completely divesting it of the drive of its inhabitant. This seems like the axiomatic setting of a homo post Freud in the Vienna of 2023.

As we read on, we learn that the owner of this neuronal machine naturally bears full responsibility for its trouble-free functioning, and so it seems logical that he should be admonished to take proper care of it, to train it, to give it enough sleep, and so on. The muscular brain is a kind of bicep and mental health today is apparently a matter of training discipline. A hegemonic health dictate that weaves its ideological knot with the duty of mindful living and the private guilt of unhealthy negligence transfers the collective responsibility for the social [7] into the private of daily exercise. Therefore, “There are not only structural similarities between memory performance and physical fitness, but also strong connections.“[8]

This sentence is as true as it is banal. Less banal is the simplification of a world whose human well-being is modeled on the advertising logic of a fitness studio. There is no more room for the complexity of a Freudian psychic apparatus and so we are not surprised when we do not read that the forgetting of names may result from the unconscious action of a process of repression, but rather read that this is due to the circumstance of a lack of attention.

Not a single line is mentioned here about Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which he devoted a separate chapter to the forgetting of proper names, not a word about how “forgetting” can unfold dialectically as a libidinal event and thus reveal to its producer a truth he may not want to know. “Forgetting”, however, as we know, can be highly valuable and productive, just think of the famous example Freud confided to us of his own forgetting and with which he opens his Psychopathology; this captivatingly precise elaboration of the web of signifiers around the name of the signifier Signorelli, which disappeared from memory in conversation. A beautiful example of the logic of the signifier avant la lettre, and Lacan himself gave the moment of this omission its full weight by conceiving the meaning of negation, the manifestation of non-being in the symbolic, as a debt, and specifically a debt of reality to death. And Lacan, as early as 1954, criticised the new psychoanalytic technique and its “(…) totally uncritical recourse to the relation to the real.”[9]

The most alive thing in the being of man, where it drives him, shows itself in a void, in an absence that must account for death as its repressed master, as its Signor. But the debt of this bill is hard to bear, and so today in the City of Freud one is no longer prepared to settle it. But while one wants to train the brain better and better and get it in shape, his workout will bring him just the dead end of a lifeless knowledge.

[1] Masson, J.G. (Hg.), Sigmund Freud. Briefe an Wilhelm Fließ 1887-1904, Frankfurt/M., 1986, 218.

[2] Freud, S., (1895). A Project for a Scientific Psychology, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume I: 283-397.

[3] Freud, S. (1901). The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VI: vii-296

[4] Freud merely mentions that he had previously worked ten hours.

[5] https://www.freud-museum.at/de/shop.

[6] Traxler, T., In bester Erinnerung, DER STANDARD, Print edition, 25th February 2023; https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000143904025/wie-sich-gedaechtnisverlust-aufhalten-laesst.

[7] It should only be mentioned here in passing that Victor Adler, the founder of the Austrian Socialist Party, had lived at the same address as Freud, although not at the same time.

[8] https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000143904025/wie-sich-gedaechtnisverlust-aufhalten-laesst.

[9] “Thus we already see the cement crumble, the cement with which the so-called new technique ordinarily plugs up its cracks by resorting to the relationship to reality [réel], without in any way critiquing the notion.” Lacan, J., Introduction and Response to Jean Hyppolite’s Presentation on Freud’s ‘Verneinung’, in Écrits, Paris, 1966: 380.