THE LETTER 01 (Summer 1994) pages 68-81
The very first patient described at some length in Freud’s writings, Frau Cacilie M. or Baroness Anna von Lieben, suffered from an “‘hysterical psychosis for the payment of old debts”‘1. All these old debts had been accumulated, he indicated, by her making false connections in the past: her neurotic symptoms were masks, excessive stories, covering over the true and hidden connections, which her cathartic cure would reveal. Getting the true words out, expressing them adequately, in the proper place, to the proper person: this is another way of describing her paying off or perhaps writing off these old debts. The speech emitted can almost be counted off, on one side of the balance sheet, against the debt, the past obligations, represented, as if they were old IOUs, by symptoms.
The German word Freud used to describe his patient is a wonderfully rich and ambiguous term: “hysterische Tilgungspsychose”. Tilgung means the deletion sign in typography; tilgen means ‘to extinguish’, ‘to strike out’, ‘to wipe out, to efface’, ‘to delete’ (in typography); Schuld tilgen, means ‘to pay, compound, discharge, cancel’; Anleihe tilgen means ‘to redeem’, so that Tilgungschein means ‘certificate’ of redemption’. Anna von Lieben spent much labour redeeming all her old debts, issuing certificates of redemption through the hard work of catharsis she accomplished with Freud. It took her three years, Freud writes, of the talking cure to redeem the old debts of thirty-three years.
There is little doubt that in these very early writings, Freud on occasions plays with the three registers of confession, moral sin and…