The child is father of the man
Although it is Little Hans’ appetite for knowledge that provides the focus for Freud’s scientific study, there is obviously more than one Wissbegierde at play in the case history as it is recorded. Indeed, this case tells the story of a three-way research project in which Freud, Hans’ father, and Hans himself work towards the eradication of Hans’ phobia. Freud adduced that the success of Little Hans’ treatment lay to a great extent in the combination of ‘affectionate care and scientific interest’ which was consolidated in a composite environmental figure – the combined authority of a father and a physician was integral to the mediation of Hans’ researches (1909, 5).
Hans’ capacity for pleasure is smiled upon throughout Freud’s narration of the case, but whilst there is no doubting Freud’s affection for and enchantment with his ‘positive paragon of all the vices’ (15), ultimately the case history is not explicitly concerned to celebrate Hans’ condition (either the phobia specifically, or childhood more generally). Having identified as critical to Hans’ symptomatology the ‘vital gap’ in his epistemological landscape, Freud simultaneously locates this gap as the source from which Hans’ idiosyncratic vocabulary evolves, such as his language of biting horses and crumpled giraffes, the irresistible widdlers, the faecal ‘lumf’ and his imaginary children, ‘coaxing’ with Mummy, and so on. This vocabulary is both the expression of Hans’ researches (for example, in accordance with the cloacal theory of birth, Hans speaks of ‘lumf’ and ‘my children’ proximately) and an obvious reflection of his ambivalent fantasies. In an alternative neo-romantic discourse of childhood, Freud might have designated such fantastical language as a source of ‘truth’, and identified Hans’ creativity as pointing the way to an aesthetic or ethical ideal. However, overwhelmingly for Freud, such vocabulary points the way to neurosis.
There is little doubt that the dialogue throughout the case history between the co-analysts (Freud and Hans’ father) reflects a commitment to answering the riddles of sexuality in accordance with the pragmatic demands of the reality principle. Freud choreographs Hans’ ‘enlightenment’ and advises the father on how to administer it to best effect. A two-stage strategy is followed: Hans is to be enlightened regarding the link between his anxiety and his attempts to break his masturbatory habits, and he is to be enlightened in the matter of sexual knowledge, especially regarding the differences between the sexes. Not only is it the father who makes possible the entire enterprise by providing access to the analytic material, but it is also the father who, in bearing his adult responsibilities towards his child with diligence and intellectual honesty, displays the resolve required to adhere to Freud’s counsel on matters of childrearing. Thus, Hans is, at least in part, able to conduct his investigations precisely because the father expresses the same audacious desire for knowledge as his son; which is to say that, in keeping with our understanding of the interlocking narcissisms of the parent-child relation, the father is permitting, as well as emulating, Hans’ sapere aude.
Significantly though in their correspondence, Hans’ father informs Freud that ‘the remission after [Hans] had been given his first piece of enlightenment was not so complete as I may have represented it’ (99). As well as revealing the rather literal way in which Freud and the father were medicating Hans with knowledge – trying to make up the epistemological deficit – this observation also indicates Hans’ resistance to the experience of demystification that enlightenment necessarily entails. It is this resistance that impresses on the analysts the limitations of a simplistic research model in which ‘filling in the knowledge gaps’ would be a sufficient mode of enlightenment. It is also this resistance which confirms that the locus of the research endeavour can never reside simply with Freud or with Little Hans’ father. We might accept that Freud’s recommendations are a necessary part of Hans’ enlightenment (and his liberation from neurosis); yet we can also see how it is precisely the play of resistance that makes this enlightenment all the more profound. Instead of Little Hans’ research project being demeaned by the greater research project of Freud and the father – its errors summarily corrected and its ambitions redirected – we see a reflective structure emerge where error is admitted into the analytic process. In other words, we can recognise how Hans’ resistances to the enlightenments of his analysis are not to be read as the child’s rejection of knowledge as such, but instead as a reassertion of his own research project. Thus, in keeping with an active reading of the principle of narcissistic investment, we see Hans sustained as an active researcher within the therapeutic environment rather than passively subjected to the researches of others.
By focussing on the research projects of childhood through the lens of the Little Hans case, we can see that the passionate desire to know can be situated in a compound relation to the sexual instincts. Anticipating the still-to-be-formalised theory of narcissism, there is a productive ambiguity throughout Freud’s work of 1908-1915 in which Wissbegierde, often indistinguishable from sexual curiosity, nonetheless cannot be wholly given over to the sexual instincts. In his theorising of infantile sexuality, Freud shows that a child’s researches are the products of vital exigencies. For example, Hans gave support to Freud’s contention that the general question ‘where do babies come from?’ arises from the crisis of epistemological significance prompted by the specific question ‘where did this particular, intruding baby come from?’ (1908, 213). This is a clear admission of the child’s self-interest in his research activities, but what is of further note is the relation between his self-interest and research per se. In other words, how, given his narcissistic investments, can the child be positioned as the prototypical researcher where the standards of disinterest and objectivity prevail? We have begun to answer this question by identifying what it is that Freud commends in the research projects of childhood: he admires the (narcissistic) self-belief of the child because it underpins the child’s desire to know; indeed the child attests to the principle that the desire to know must be based on the belief that one can know (i. e. that one can be self-sufficient in the pursuit of knowledge). But, the paradox of the child’s narcissism is such that this same self-belief which originally propels his curiosity, directs him towards the very encounters which potentially undermine it. So we can see in the case of Little Hans how the virtues of research may have attended upon his breakdown; after all, it was Hans’ emboldened and confident research enterprise which exposed him to a world which exceeded him. This suggestion runs somewhat counter to the idea that his breakdown was the inevitable conclusion of a naive world-view which could not be sustained beyond the narcissistic phase. Hans’ subsequent resistance to the enlightenment cure is especially significant then, because it instigates the dynamism of the analytic process. By resisting Freud’s administration of knowledge, Hans is reviving the audacious self-belief that Freud so commended in him as a researcher. If Hans is to be exemplary and not simply naive, it is vital that he puts up a resistance to the administrations of Freud. Moreover, that Freud has to find a way of recognising this ensures the integrity of the ongoing research project of psychoanalysis.
By suggesting that Freud’s concept of Wissbegierde can be retroactively supported by the theory of narcissism, we allow that Freud is not simply concerned with rescuing the child from his narcissism, but also with recovering in the child’s narcissism the grounds of the research instinct. We saw explicitly how the child’s narcissistic investments in the illusions of omnipotence are not dissociable from the broader investments of research. Moreover, by underlining the importance of the analytic mediation of the ‘errors’ of Hans’ research, we can see how the child’s enlightenment is not directly gifted from Freud or the father; not even from the compound-figure that emerges from ‘the affectionate care and scientific interest’ that they represent. Rather, what the three-way analytic structure supports is the experience of breakdown itself, which ultimately testifies to Hans’ research strength. Hans’ breakdown – his capacity for self-fragmentation – is proof of an instinct for research that moves beyond the conservative sexual instincts. Just as the scientific researcher with his ‘passionless impartiality’ finds his prototype in the narcissistic infant whose enquiries are aided by narratives of selfsufficiency and mastery, so it goes for the case of psychoanalysis where enquiry is aided by the provisional and apparent integration of the patient’s memoir. But ultimately, as the case of Little Hans demonstrates, the analytic commitment to the research instinct cannot disavow the possibility of fragmentation.