I always loved the ingenuity with which Freud solved some conundrums, such as "A Child is Being Beaten" or the Mystical Experience of the Wriging Pad & the Acropolis and here I am laboring with a major screen memory!
The Catastrophe Explicated
A: The scene is the following: a four year old child is plopped into the middle of an oval electric toy railway network. At one end sits the child's father who manipulates the electric controls; at the other end, adjacent the toy railway tunnel, the child's maternal grandfather, stretched out on the floor all seven feet of him in leather hunting knickers with black splotches of dried blood. The object of the exercise, the exhibition demonstration - the wish - is to get two trains to pass through the tunnel in opposite directions simultaneously.
B: Let me be methodical and take the items one by one. Let me recount the sequence of events once more in detail & since a screen memory is like a frozen dream each detail refers to the dreamer, to me, and the possibility that the memory changes in my telling of it, dwelling on it, is an entanglement whose consequences I will not be able to control or to fathom. I know I will be projecting into the interpretation - memories of earlier traumas will be discovered which are not necessarily all that prominently evident here. (1)
C-Father announces that he will send two train in the opposite direction in that they pass under and through a tunnel simultaneously. My father really crouches, squats, an intense expression on his face, at the controls, at the knobs that control the electricity that powers the toy engines that buzz like hornets or bumble bees on the large oval network, and later, at moments of intense involvement, I, too, assume a similar intense expression.
D: The intention is to impress, a feat is to be performed! The grandfather is stretched out near the tunnel's opposite end. (As I myself will later in life, prefer to be.)
The women hover around.
However, this big generous Christmas gift, is my father’s toy more than it is mine who has been placed into the center of the oval, I don’t have a photo of what I look like in the oval, but looking at photos of myself at that age, sniffing flowers, in my sandbox I imagine myself dressed in the same kind of toddler wool pants, whose scratchiness I can more than imagine, they still scratch the memory of my baby thighs.
E: My father has taken command of the gift and does not even have his son participate in his engineering feats. Single-minded. This first element of the memory also appears to contain the message that I am envious of being a mere spectator, that I was not in control, but that my father was of the knobs, the flow of electricity.
E-The trains start forth on the oval. As the train that passes nearest to my grandfather passes him he reaches for a switch near the tunnel, his index finger flicks the switch and the two trains crash inside the tunnel, do not pass through it, producing the angry noise of frustrated electric motors. The result is the catastrophe of two toy-trains colliding head-on inside a make-believe papier-mache green and grey alpine tunnel; two angry toy train engines sparking, hissing, growling inside a tunnel, heat followed by cold.
F: The father exclaims "Oh Werner, look at what you have done," knowing at once it appears that it had been the famous joker, his father in law - in his leather hunting knickers with the laugh-lines around his eyes and the verschmiztes, the mischievous expression - who is responsible for the industrial mishap, the ruin of his best-laid plans and demonstration of his engineering skills. The tunnel is lifted, the two locs are on top of each other, the rest of the trains are an entangled mess.
G: Yes, it really happened like that, and it happened at Christmas 1940. The war had begun, the western half of it. The other half, the German, Hitler’s perfidious 1941 attack on the Soviet Union, is still to come. 1940 would be my most memorable Christmas, it became the exemplary one, because the whole family was present, especially my grandfather, on vacation from a concentration camp (a brief Christmas visit during which grandfather and grandchild link up; as I was, at the moment of being in the oval, apparentently freed from my governess, Ms. No's supervision while in the oval observing these events, yet the oval is also a fence, a further ambiguous detail.), a matter that was neither told nor explained to me, because if I had been told... there would have to have been an explanation, a long series of explanations. How do you explain politics to a four year old? Family situations: yes - but you don’t even need to explain those, children’s antennae pick them up, mine certainly were attuned, I seem to have picked up my mother’s disappointment in her successful husband - the general manager, that Christmas, of an extensive toy railway network; and her preference for her father. Was I disappointed in this father, too? Well, based on the first nightmare (2) and the screen memory, which includes that head-on crash of two locomotives, he and I were at loggerheads from early on - and we remained so throughout his life and through my memory of him. Ancient animal stuff, inexorable, biologically based. I even became more unrelenting, or at least as unrelenting as I grew older as he had been during my childhood while he softened. Yet there remained something missing, the unhappy fighting relationship left a gap, the gap expressed itself occasionally in a longing to rest upon the breast of a big solid reliable man who might back me up - this aspect is a comparatively straightforward component of this otherwise, I think, complex screen memory.
H: Perhaps the most important matter to keep in mind is that there is the actual occurrence and then what use it has been put intra-psychically to create a plausible story - the secondary revision as it were. After all, this is one of the two memories of that fourth year of my life extra-uterine. They are both extreme concentrations of my life then. There are the surface events that fit a psychic event, or a series of psychic events, and that is why the surface becomes symbolic, surface and psychic events, traumas seem to mesh. Even then fated to be the translator of Handke's Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld? - That is a joke of course.
I: Although the actual scene is sociologically and historically interesting I am more interested, right now, in the intra-psychic projections, on the details and events of the railway accident.
J:-A toy railroad, an oval. I find myself in the center of that oval, the center of my self, my grandiosity split off from what I am observing, eyes darting back and forth between father and grandfather. The collision in the tunnel constitutes a breach in that circle, a narcissistic injury.
K-There is the control knob or knobs, for the juice, the electricity, that makes the locomotives run. That indicates to me that I masturbated, a fervent early childhood masturbator - but not only for the sake of pleasure but to assuage fears, while engaging in what fantasies? Train fantasies perhaps, tunnel fantasies? The tunnel is a representation of the anal cavity.
L: The switch, which is flicked, an act that hurts my penis even now when I think of it - I am reminded of my Mexican village and kids and adults instantly, instinctively shielding their genitals when they are afraid, and are not yet socially trained not to do so.
M: The flicking of the switch is what leads to the crash, the head-on collision; the presumption is that if it had not been flicked the two locomotives would pass each other in the tunnel without colliding - after all, that was my father's (my) plan, which was sabotaged.
So what actually switches intra-psychically? Well, my affection switches to my grandfather. But I am prevented from being a switch hitter, the bi-sexual wishes, tendency is disrupted - I recall that during analysis my left arm and hand and foot became as powerful as my right side! The homophobia, as well as associated fear of being dominated, like a woman, is as evident here as in the first nightmare.
After my grandfather's conspiratorial glance catches my attention he will lead my glance to his hand that flicks a switch just as one of the two trains is about to enter the tunnel: a switch is a Weiche in German, a softness is its other meaning, it also means to avoid, as in ausweichen, to avoid, Eiche weiche, Buche suche is a German proverb that advocates seeking out Beech trees during thunderstorms and avoiding Oaks - who knows whether there is any truth to it, whether lightning prefers Oak trees to Beech trees if given a choice! Step aside, don’t confront, whereas what happened within seconds was that crash of two toy locomotives crashing head-on inside the tunnel, and sparks, short circuiting, the furious sound of electrical motors grinding in utter frustration, until there is deathly silence, and my father William speaks up: “Oh Werner look at what you have done.” What a mess you have made, what a Bescherung!
N: What is most puzzling in many ways is not why that evening is so memorable, the evening of the “Bescherung” as it is called in German, of the “big mess”, but that no other evenings of that period are recalled! or whole days, which is yet another reason why it was, is, became so memorable? What is puzzling is that nothing else of that day, but my mother gifting the mystic writing pad, is directly memorable, nor of the day before, or of the day after, even though I can provide a general idea of my life as a four year old, how he got about in the woods, that I was in a harness leads to the supposition that young I was an Ausreisser (an escape artist) as of early on, possibly I had explored the entire woods, all 100 + acres of them by age four? Trundled down to the pond and meadow and clambered up the clearing in the woods on the other side? It appears I knew the clearing - it appears in my first nightmare: I has been told not to be “bockig”, not to be like a Billy goat, also I had been told not to play with the Billy goat that was used to trim the lawns. In the nightmare a Billy goat transformed into the Unicorn of fables that have been read to me and whose picture I have been shown, pursues me down the path towards the pond and meadow, I rush across the path - inter urinam and feces - the pond on the left, the marshy meadow on the right, and up into the grassy clearing, the slit, I a little would-be mother-ficker at age four, and that theme is re-iterated when I am chased to the inter-section of two fences - to the V - the Billy goat unicorn pins, seeks to pinion me from behind and I wakes in terror.
O: There is the bi-sexual conflict: on the one hand I am a would be mother-fucker, on the other I also am terrified of being fucked, in the behind, dominated, emasculated. In the screen memory the locs pile on top of each other, smash-up. That is why that Christmas became a screen memory from which the major fault lines, as in an earthquake, can be traced. It is a mother lode, a magnet for memories that I have carried with me all these years, a precious, deeply intriguing yet crude gemstone, an object that has not been smoothed out, no matter how much it has been worked over, this event - even after an analysis & an analysis of the anlysis, still produces associations, it is the richest of mines. So all this really happened and this sequence of events is one of the two events that I remember from that entire year, the other is of the bombs that will crash into the forest a few months hence, but for my first nightmare, and the smell of the flowers, but for the memories that those photos of me and my mother elicit. I recall this event as though it had occurred just now. From it I can reconstruct the house, the orchards, the lawns, the fir forest; all entirely idyllic, but what transpired that evening is not. It is a screen memory, or rather: it is a memory each of whose details are drenched, laden with significance. The details have been arranged into a story, a configuration, an event has accumulated significant details, which, once they are analyzed, tell a very different story, or stories. The event impressed itself... it itself was a minor mishap that was quickly repaired. What transpired intra-psychically in in me, and found its expression in the story of the railway catastrophe is catastrophic, irreparable.
P: I had not been in a railway crash. My railway adventures lay ahead of me, although not by too many months. Whenever given the opportunity to go near a locomotive when a train is halted inside the numerous stations that my trains stops at, or if the train is halted outside a city, waiting for the green light, I will do so. The locomotives hissing, their steaming, their impatience to go to work, so animate despite its inanimate steel hulk were infinitely fascinating. Machines yet organic, like horses in some way the way they snorted and heaved and were rearing to go, steel steeds. LOKOMOTIV SVERDLOSK/ DYNAMO DRESDEN!
Whenever one of the many trains that I took with my overseer governess had to stop outside a city and wait for the all clear to be able to proceed, or for other, less dire reasons, I leaned out the window to keep an eye on the loc. Locomotives were the embodiment of power, of potency and of impatience, of frustration released; the future experiences with locomotives, steam locomotives was projected backwards onto my experience at Christmas 1940/1941. But what collided psychically inside me so that the collision of two toy locomotives would become so memorable? so representative? So concretely symbolic?
What if there had been no gift of a toy railroad and demonstation? Might there have been such a great summary of the essence of the earliest major events in my life?
1) ABORGINAL TRAUMA:
Let me hark back to my then two majo traumas. The first was the transfer at age nine months from my mother’s face and breast to the dried up teats and grizzled face of my governess. Perhaps other infants would not have been so wounded, so traumatized as I was at an experience that changed from heaven to hell in one day. It was a crushing event. I did not take it well, I became so feverish that I started to waste away; then I turned ice cold, the absence of the mother, of her beautiful young breast with the face superimposed on it. - It was an incomprehensible event - how does a mother tell her infant that there are things she has to do for which she must be free? Nine months of love did not suffice for me especially since the surrogate was experienced as ugly: not only was she experienced as ugly, from the very beginning she was experienced as Ms. No - everything was no: I could no longer shit into my diapers! I was being potty trained; that warmth was gone too. Not only was she Ms. No, she was also experienced as someone who took charge of my life; she wanted to put on my socks, comb my hair, I became the possession of someone who sought to tried to thwart the charging locomotive; although whether she actually flicked at my “little one” when I masturbated I cannot tell, it might be a projection of the psychic onto the physical, but is one reason why I object so strongly to the idea of circumcising infants. It certainly was not my grandfather who did: his flicking flipping the switch is what might be called a displacement, a switching from what the governess did onto him, even the idea of displacement is illustrated, someone also had to “turn the knob”, and that idea was then transferred onto my father: you can regard the sequence of events as an attempt to regulate my infantile sexuality, my bi-sexual nature. What a beautiful sequence of events, isn’ it? What a perfect sequence of events to acquire a load of current! To be charged with analogies and significance! It is as though I dreamed up the story to tell all kinds of matters simultaneously. Is that all there is? As with most dreams there is no way of telling whether you have comprehended everything that transpire in it, there is no way of telling whether I have coaxed every bit of meaning, every analogy from this story of a railway crash, of this aborted bi-sexual wish.
2) Aboriginal Nightmare:The clearing is the brightest spot in the woods, at all times of day and night, from my room on the second floor of our house I could look down the path and up to the clearing, which is called a “Schneise” in German, a word that sounds a lot like schneiden, to cut. And that is the feeling I had that morning, as though a knife had cut into my brain, benumbed. My entire life, I will periodically be cut down in that fashion. It is the kind of dream from which you might never recover, like the dream of the three wolves that cut down the Wolfman: A billy goat in the form of a unicorn chases me to the Scheise and beyond to the interesection where the Fir Place fences form a V - I am pinned, there is no escape in that ambiguous V, and I wake up in terror. That dream respeats itself about a year or two later after I have seen a dancing bear in Vornbach am Inn, and it is a bear who chases me into a spot of no escape. Living in Billy the Kid country in the mid-eighties, in the Sacramentoes, with a black bear in a nearby cave I buy myself a Bear tag, but the bear is frightened off by some Texas bear hunters before I can excercise the license that the tag provides; however, I manage to wrestle my two darling milk goats to the ground when they become too ornery, and am frightened to death to for them at the sight of the Billy Goat at the goat farm where I have taken them to be "serviced".
3) Asking myself the question whether the toy railroad was the only gift I received that Christmas it occurs to me that it must have been the same Christmas at which I received the magic reading tablet from my mother. After all, it is the last Christmas the family spends together for many years, and I, I will be a reader by springtime when I and my governess set out on our travels... There is that pensive moment when my mother introduces me to the magic of reading.
4) I found himself to be in cahoots with his grandfather, a famously conspiratorial person I would read his being described later in life, I found out early what complicity could be, The seductiveness of a gleam in an eye!
5) I clamber around the woods, around the flower beds, I have photos, and sniffing flowers has been a constant throughout life, what he looked like in his sandbox I know from photos: I can extrapolate from that magnet: I am with my governess, I is wearing a kind of wide-brimmed, floppy child’s sun-hat and look miserable... I assume because I am with my governess, an assumption I make based on my recollection that not for a single moment was I happy in her company during the seven years that she was in charge of me, into whose charge I kept being abandoned, only of her absence.