The Facts of Observation in Psychoanalysis : October 1941 : Siegfried Bernfeld

by Julia Evans on October 10, 1941

Published : Siegfried Bernfeld (1941) The Facts of Observation in Psychoanalysis, The Journal of Psychology, 12:2, 289-305 

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In Seminar IV : 23rd January 1957 & 30th January 1957, Jacques Lacan uses the term ‘observation’ several times. 

P133 of French text : Seminar IV : 23rd January 1957 : Let us now attempt to see what this means. Its meaning is given to us by analysis. What does Freud say at the crucial moment of this observation?

P134 of French text : ibid. For, taking up the distinction made in The Interpretation of Dreams between the preconscious and the unconscious, he presents something similar, which he recalls in another observation… to which we will return, and for which I gave, following Lagache’s report on transference, a short intervention summarising the positions through which, I believe, we should conceive of the Dora case. It is an observation ….

And so on…..

From this paper (Bernfeld), p289

‘To start off with the observation of facts, to draw from them predictions which are verifiable by other facts-that is the modest endeavour of the scientist today. From seeking to gain insight into Nature we have shifted the emphasis to agreeing with our fellow scientist on an intersubjective body of knowledge.

‘Measured by either of these yardsticks Freud’s mind and aims are scientific. He belongs among the great inventors of theories. But he distrusts theories, even his own. He never attempts a consistent system; he is eager to observe things; his speculations, at times far reaching and amazing, are only for the purpose of handling his cases better, of discriminating more sharply, of prognosticating with more certainty. And he seems quite satisfied when they yield not “insight” but a first orientation from which action might be taken. Nevertheless the psychoanalyst obviously deviates so greatly from the general and well-founded methods of observing, that he is either a scientist (but in a ridiculously amateurish way) ; or he is some- thing quite different-more like a preacher, a confessor, or an artist. Between these two evil categories it is hard for him to choose.

‘I propose to consider a third possibility. Let us not take “scientificality” as a fetish, as another eternal, unmovable absolutum. Let us speak about scientific methods of observation as we would speak about any other way of getting knowledge of things. T h e scientific methods are nothing more than everyday techniques, specialized, refined, and made verifiable. Historically these every day technics are the origin of the scientific methods and logically their models. Might not the repelling aspects of psychoanalysis come from Freud’s taking a model heretofore unused in science? Have we not here a young scientific method in the process of developing? That is the third possibility which I propose to consider.’

Sigmund Freud also used ‘observation’ : 

i) Observations and examples from analytic practice : 1913h : Sigmund Freud 

ii) & Observations on Transference-Love (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis III) : 1914 : Sigmund Freud : SEXII p157-170   : published by : Available here   

Therefore, as outlined in this paper, observation is a distinct empirical case study method in psychoanalytic and psychotherapy training which was developed at the Tavistock Clinic London and it is to this method that Lacan refers in Seminar IV 


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London


Further posts:

On Lacanian History here 

Lacanian Transmission here 

 Topology here 

Groups & cartels here  

From LW working groups here

Use of power here 

Translation Working Group here

Of the clinic here 

Dreams here

By Siegfried Bernfelt here 

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here 

By Jacques Lacan here 

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

By Julia Evans here