How far apart indeed are the method of textual analysis employed by Sebastiano Timpanaro (nlr 91) and the method of psychoanalysis evolved by Sigmund Freud! For Timpanaro, a corruption is a departure from an original which has to be discovered and restored and raised to its former level, from which it has been corrupted. The original must have been correct, so that the alteration is inferior to it. The omission of aliquis from Virgil’s line is thus a corruption.
For Freud, however, the omission of aliquis is ‘anti-corruption’. To Freud’s companion, the word had associations connecting it with a topic to do with death and sexuality. These were the ‘corrupt’ elements which the young man wanted to keep out of his own mind and which, in undergoing this ‘erasure’, dragged with them, as it were, the word with which they had become connected. Hence the omission is from the psychoanalytical point of view an ‘anti-corruption’ measure. The textual analyst restores his text to its uncorrupt original. The psychoanalyst restores his ‘text’ (the slip, the neurotic symptom, the dream) to its ‘corrupt’ original (‘corrupt’ here referring to a subjective evaluation by the person himself).
The example that Timpanaro chose for his analysis forms the content of Chapter 2 of the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, called ‘The Forgetting of Foreign Words’. Chapter 1 is called ‘The Forgetting of Foreign Names’ and contains the example which truly is the most famous example used by Freud, contrary to your comment in the ‘Themes’ (p. 2) that this applies to the aliquis example. Timpanaro states: ‘We shall begin with the second (example) because certain methodological defects which are particularly apparent in Freud’s explanation here will help us understand better the weakness of his explanation also of the first case and the other examined in the rest of the work’. I shall have to wait until I have read his forthcoming book on Freud, of which ‘The Freudian Slip’ is one section, before I can judge how far the promise has been fulfilled. At present, I can only say that the painstaking research
Freud’s first paper has no precedents with which it can be compared. Nobody before him, as far as is known, in trying to recall the name of an artist, Signorelli, which had just slipped his memory, came up with the names of two other artists, Botticelli and Boltraffio. Perhaps if your readers have not been discouraged by now from themselves turning to Freud’s book because Timpanaro has given them the impression that for every explanation that Freud gives there is a more pedestrian (but truer) explanation, they will carefully read the Signorelli example and judge for themselves whether (for example) the place name ‘Trafoi’, with its unwelcome (‘corrupt’) associations for Freud, did in fact force its way into outward expression via the artist’s name Boltraffio, so producing this particular ‘corruption’, or whether, `la Timpanaro, they can find a more pedestrian explanation. Parenthetically, it may be said that if Timpanaro by his article has stirred some of your readers to read Freud himself, and not only books about Freud, and reviews of books about Freud, he will have done a great service to psychoanalysis.
Timpanaro may well have amused himself by out-Freuding Freud and providing ‘grotesque’ explanations, supposing that words other than aliquis were omitted from the Virgil quotation. But what is amusing to a Freudian is to observe that in arguing against Freud, Timpanaro shows quite considerable powers of understanding the variety and complexity of the influence of factors such as death and sexuality. If only he had not fallen into the error of not recognizing that what is important in such matters is so because it is important for that particular person with a particular history caught up in a particular set of circumstances—an error, I would have thought, quite out of place in that philosophy to which Timpanaro, according to himself, adheres, or would seek to adhere. The essence of the Freudian method is to let the person himself do the saying. Whatever the issue is, it may come out straight away; or it may come out after considerable thought and hard work; or it may not come out at all. People often reach results that surprise themselves in this way. Timpanaro’s own description of a slip he has repeatedly made in quoting certain lines from a sonnet entitled ‘In morte del fratello Giovanni’ could well be a good example. I accept his statement that ‘pietra’ (the word he kept forgetting ever since he was a boy) is more uncommon as a word for ‘tomb’ than ‘tomba’, the word he put in its place. But poetry abounds in more uncommon words—they often stand out and are remembered because of their unusualness. It might be a fruitful exercise for Timpanaro to let his mind wander as freely as possible round and about his quotation, and not be put off by
The error to which Dr Rumney refers was introduced not by the (Australian) translator but by the compositor (it was set at the same time as an article discussing Australian intentions towards East Timor). Although introduction of the slip can thus be satisfactorily explained along lines proposed by Timpanaro, editorial failure to correct it at proof stage may be amenable to Freudian explanation.
Sebastiano Timpanaro’s book The Freudian Slip, from which the chapter in nlr 91 was taken, will be published next year by nlb. It contains a discussion of the Signorelli example and of the Freudian concept of ‘over-determination’ mentioned above by Timpanaro’s critics.