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New Left Review I/147, September-October 1984


Sebastiano Timpanaro

Freud’s ‘Roman Phobia’

It is well known that, about the turn of the century, Sigmund Freud had a persistent desire to visit Rome that was repeatedly frustrated on account of a neurotic inhibition. [*] Dedicated to the memory of Antonio Torelli. He planned several trips to Rome, and even set out on some of them, but a powerful phobia stopped him from reaching his goal. Only on 2 September 1901 did he finally succeed (with unexpected ease, given the strength of his earlier inhibition) in entering the city of his yearning; thereafter, he returned to Rome a number of times without difficulty. Freud makes frequent reference to this phobia of his in The Interpretation of Dreams (Traumdeutung) [1] References to Freud’s works are to the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey, London, Hogarth Press (abbreviated as se). The Interpretation of Dreams (se vols IV–V) is generally referred to by its apter German title, Traumdeutung. The Italian edition of Freud’s works (Opere, Turin 1967–1980) has occasionally been cited (as O), especially where I am concerned, not with Freud’s text, but with Cesare Musatti’s Introductions to various volumes. The letters to W. Fliess (translated into English in The Origins of Psycho-Analysis, New York 1954) have been referred to by their dates. Finally the authors’ surnames alone indicate references to Ernest Jones, Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, London 1955–57 (3 vols.) and to Marthe Robert, D’Oedipe `Moïse, Paris 1974 (my friend Franco Belgrado brought this work to my notice before the Italian version came out). Belfagor is a well-known Italian periodical, in which an article by Musatti, to which I frequently refer, appeared in 1980. and in the letters to Wilhelm Fliess dating from the same period. He recounts incidents from his unsuccessful trips; he writes of dreams about his desire to reach Rome, about his sadness in failing to do so and the fear which held him back. He also indicates the cause, or rather the network of closely interlinked causes, to which he attributes his inhibition.

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