Sigmund Freud (18561939). Psychopathology of Everyday Life. 1914.
II. Forgetting of Foreign Words
THE ORDINARY vocabulary of our own language seems to be protected against forgetting within the limits of normal function, but it is quite different with words from a foreign language. The tendency to forget such words extends to all parts of speech. In fact, depending on our own general state and the degree of fatigue, the first manifestation of functional disturbance evinces itself in the irregularity of our control over foreign vocabulary. In a series of cases this forgetting follows the same mechanism as the one revealed in the example Signorelli. As a demonstration of this I shall report a single analysis, characterized, however, by valuable features, concerning the forgetting of a word, not a noun, from a Latin quotation. Before proceeding, allow me to give a full and clear account of this little episode.
Last summer, while journeying on my vacation, I renewed the acquaintance of a young man of academic education, who, as I soon noticed, was conversant with some of my works. In our conversation we driftedI no longer remember howto the social position of the race to which we both belonged. He, being ambitious, bemoaned the fact that his generation, as he expressed it, was destined to grow crippled, that it was prevented from developing its talents and from gratifying its desires. He concluded his passionately felt speech with the familiar verse from Virgil: Exoriare in which the unhappy Dido leaves her vengeance upon Æneas to posterity. Instead of concluded, I should have said wished to conclude, for he could not bring the quotation to an end, and attempted to conceal the open gap in his memory by transposing the words:
Exoriar(e) ex nostris ossibus ultor!
He finally became piqued and said: Please dont make such a mocking face, as if you were gloating over my embarrassment, but help me. There is something missing in this verse. How does it read in its complete form?
It is too stupid to forget such a word, he said. By the way, I understand you claim that forgetting is not without its reasons; I should be very curious to find out how I came to forget this indefinite pronoun aliquis.
I gladly accepted the challenge, as I hoped to get an addition to my collection, and said, We can easily do this, but I must ask you to tell me frankly and without any criticism everything that occurs to your mind after you focus your attention, without any particular intention, on the forgotten word.1
I now think, he said, laughing sarcastically, of Simon of Trent, whose relics I saw two years ago in a church in Trent. I think of the old accusation which has been brought against the Jews again, and of the work of Kleinpaul, who sees in these supposed sacrifices reincarnations or revivals, so to speak, of the Saviour.
Well, at least you give a grouping of saints and Church fathers: St. Simon, St. Augustine, and St. Benedict. I believe that there was a Church father named Origines. Three of these, moreover, are Christian names, like Paul in the name Kleinpaul.
Dont you know about it? The blood of St. Januarius is preserved in a phial in a church in Naples, and on a certain holiday a miracle takes place causing it to liquefy. The people think a great deal of this miracle, and become very excited if the liquefying process is retarded, as happened once during the French occupation. The General in commandor Garibaldi, if I am not mistakenthen took the priest aside, and with a very significant gesture pointed out to him the soldiers arrayed without, and expressed his hope that the miracle would soon take place. And it actually took place .
That was not very difficult. You prepared me for it long enough. Just think of the saints of the calendar, the liquefying of the blood on a certain day, the excitement if the event does not take place, and the distinct threat that the miracle must take place . Indeed, you have elaborated the miracle of St. Januarius into a clever allusion to the courses of the woman.
That appears to me absolutely certain. Dont you recall dividing it into a-liquis and the associations: reliques, liquidation, fluid? Shall I also add to this connection the fact that St. Simon, to whom you got by way of the reliques, was sacrificed as a child?
Please stop. I hope you do not take these thoughtsif I really entertained themseriously. I will, however, confess to you that the lady is Italian, and that I visited Naples in her company. But may not all this be coincidental?
I must leave to your own judgment whether you can explain all these connections through the assumption of coincidence. I will tell you, however, that every similar case that you analyze will lead you to just such remarkable coincidences!
I have more than one reason for valuing this little analysis, for which I am indebted to my traveling companion. First, because in this case I was able to make use of a source which is otherwise inaccessible to me. Most of the examples of psychic disturbances of daily life that I have here compiled I was obliged to take from observation of myself. I endeavoured to evade the far richer material furnished me by my neurotic patients, because I had to preclude the objection that the phenomena in question were only the result and manifestation of the neurosis. It was therefore of special value for my purpose to have a stranger free from a neurosis offer himself as a subject for such examination. This analysis is also important in other respects, inasmuch as it elucidates a case of word-forgetting without substitutive recollection, and thus confirms the principle formulated above, namely, that the appearance or nonappearance of incorrect substitutive recollections does not constitute an essential distinction.2
But the principal value of the example aliquis lies in another of its distinctions from the case Signorelli. In the latter example the reproduction of the name becomes disturbed through the after-effects of a stream of thought which began shortly before and was interrupted, but whose content had no distinct relation to the new theme which contained the name Signorelli. Between the repression and the theme of the forgotten name there existed only the relation of temporal contiguity, which reached the other in order that the two should be able to form a connection through an outer association.3 On the other hand, in the example aliquis one can note no trace of such an independent repressed theme which could occupy conscious thought immediately before and then re-echo as a disturbance. The disturbance of the reproduction proceeded here from the inner part of the theme touched upon, and was brought about by the fact that unconsciously a contradiction arose against the wish-idea represented in the quotation.
The origin must be construed in the following manner: The speaker deplored the fact that the present generation of his people was being deprived of its rights, and like Dido he presaged that a new generation would take upon itself vengeance against the oppressors. He therefore expressed the wish for posterity. In this moment he was interrupted by the contradictory thought: Do you really wish so much for posterity? That is not true. Just think in what a predicament you would be if you should now receive the information that you must expect posterity from the quarter you have in mind! No, you want no posterityas much as you need it for your vengeance. This contradiction asserts itself, just as in the example Signorelli, by forming an outer association between one of his ideation elements and an element of the repressed wish, but here it is brought about in a most strained manner through what seems an artificial detour of associations. Another important agreement with the example Signorelli results from the fact that the contradiction originates from repressed sources and emanates from thoughts which would cause a deviation of attention.
So much for the diversity and the inner relationship of both paradigms of the forgetting of names. We have learned to know a second mechanism of forgetting, namely, the disturbance of thought through an inner contradiction emanating from the repression. In the course of this discussion we shall repeatedly meet with this process, which seems to me to be the more easily understood.
Note 1. This is the usual way of bringing to consciousness hidden ideas. Cf. The Interpretation of Dreams, pp. 834, translated by A. A. Brill, The Macmillan Company, New York, and Allen, London. [back]
Note 2. Finer observation reduces somewhat the contrast between the analyses of Signorelli and aliquis as far as the substitutive recollections are concerned. Here, too, the forgetting seems to be accompanied by substitutive formations. When I later asked my companion whether in his effort to recall the forgotten word he did not think of some substitution, he informed me that he was at first tempted to put an ab into the verse: nostris ab ossibus (perhaps the disjointed part of a-liquis) and that later the word exoriare obtruded itself with particular distinctness and persistency. Being sceptical, he added that it was apparently due to the fact that it was the first word of the verse. But when I asked him to focus his attention on the associations to exoriare he gave me the word exorcism. This makes me think that the reinforcement of exoriare in the reproduction has really the value of such substitution. It probably came through the association exorcism from the names of the saints. However, those are refinements upon which no value need be laid. It seems now quite possible that the appearance of any kind of substitutive recollection is a constant signperhaps only characteristic and misleadingof the purposive forgetting motivated by repression. This substitution might also exist in the reinforcement of an element akin to the thing forgotten, even where incorrect substitutive names fail to appear. Thus, in the example Signorelli, as long as the name of the painter remained inaccessible to me, I had more than a clear visual memory of the cycle of his frescoes, and of the picture of himself in the corner; at least it was more intensive than any of my other visual memory traces. In another case, also reported in my essay of 1898, I had hopelessly forgotten the street name and address connected with a disagreeable visit in a strange city, butas if to mock methe house number appeared especially vivid, whereas the memory of numbers usually causes me the greatest difficulty. [back]
Note 3. I am not fully convinced of the lack of an inner connection between the two streams of thought in the case of Signorelli. In carefully following the repressed thought concerning the theme of death and sexual life, one does strike an idea which shows a near relation to the theme of the frescoes of Orvieto. [back]