Panel IAAP/IPA: Symbols and Symbolisation in Clinical Practice and in Elisabeth Márton’s Film

S. like Sabina, S. like Sergei: Brief Comments Regarding E. Márton’s Film and G. Sauer’s Paper

Marcio de Freitas Giovanetti
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of Sao Paulo / IPA

My comments are based on the beautiful movie of Elisabeth Márton, and the (very interesting) text of Gert Sauer, and aim at conveying my associations, which are rooted in the history and culture, on the basis of psychoanalysis.

In a sequence of the Elisabeth Márton movie, the beautiful pictures of the trees mirrored in the water lake, represent in a perceptible and precise manner the field of subjectivity and individuation: the Lacanian conceptualization of the symbolic, the imaginary and the real, is shown therein in a masterly way.

In Márton’s movie, the archetypical image of the tree initially coming out of the water is interpreted by Sauer as the Great Mother. It is only afterwards that Márton’s camera moves in such a way as to reveal the trees and their mirrored image. It is only then that Sabina’s first picture appears, walking along the borders, like a woman and not like a patient. It is also only then that she expresses the desire – or the need – of the other, of an interlocutor in order to proceed on her way. It is a poetic image of the “cure of words,” a way which can only be followed with a partner, on the frontiers of the symbolic and the imaginary.

Sixty years of silence were needed before the correspondence of Sabina with Freud and Jung came out into the open. Like the roots of an old tree, which come up after a long period below ground, thus giving witness that all life has non-visible roots, Sabina’s hidden letters, just like the well known works of Freud and Jung, show the complexity of the passions that structure the human psyche. Beyond health and madness, beyond normality and sickness, this trio shows us the dimension of the human soul. Aren’t dreams the royal way, not only of the unconscious but of life itself?

Each dream, writes Freud, has its umbilicus, that point which resists at all interpretation, and which is rooted in the unknown. It is an idea very near the Jungian concept of the symbol. In her movie, Márton shows many figures of glass – bottles, fragments, windows. However, the waters that originate any kind of life always overflow their container. No theorization, whether Freudian or Jungian may transmit the psyche’s richness. “Life’s raw material is so fragile,” sings Caetano Veloso, Brazilian poet and musician, in a song (Cajuína) that begins with these verses, “We exist, and what shall be the destiny of this existence?” It is another manner of speaking of the issues which Freud and Jung questioned in their work: this interrogation is also that of Sabina Spielrein in her first psychological work, “Destruction as cause of the future”, as well as that of Elisabeth Márton in the choice of her movie’s title: “My name was … ,” extracted from Sabina Spielrein’s writing. When the latter expresses the desire that her ashes be disseminated in a field where an oak would grow says: “I myself was also a human being, and my name was Sabina Spielrein”, she evokes, in a condensed manner, the passage of time, the temporality of all life, and also the caesura, the shocks and transformations inherent to each individual life.

Márton’s movie often shows windows closed, or open, in the background or in the foreground, with or under thin veils. Sometimes, when the camera travels over the trees, the planes decrease. The figure of a tree glimpsed through a window that suddenly opens may suggest the central figure of the dream of another Russian, immortalized by Freud in his text, “An Infantile Neurosis”, where he develops the concept of the primal scene. This reference to Freud’s text allows seeing in Sabina’s epitaphic tree a picture of the primal scene. Aren’t the ideas of conception and death the nucleus in all genealogical trees? On the one hand, Sergei, Freud’s analysand, and on the other Sabina, Jung’s analysand, are designated by the “S” letter, whether in Freud’s text “S like Sergei”, or in Freud-Jung’s correspondence, “S like Sabina”. Would these abbreviations indicate a similarity, even an identification of one and the other by Freud? The one and the other have made their analysis in exile and not in Russia, both desired an analysis which would remain forever. Sabina’s analysis was supervised by Freud when Jung was feeling that this analysis was escaping him. Freud put an end to the analysis of the Wolf Man so that it would not escape him, but we know that it would be taken up by one of his students some years later.

Do not all analyses contain something, its umbilicus, that escapes the analyst? Might they not embody an excess that goes beyond the problematic issue of the transference and counter-transference? Would this excess not be in the core itself of the primitive or original segment, which is at the origin of every human being’s life and of all analysis? Gert Sauer gives a beautiful picture of this wager: the “Troika”, the wagon that originated psychoanalysis, drawn by three “thoroughbreds”, Freud, Jung and Sabina. Hasn’t the text on the “love transfer” been written in the aftermath of the rupture of Freud with the one he called his heir? An heir who had introduced to him a woman who dared have ideas regarding the destructivity inherent to sexuality; a woman who had introduced herself as another Dora, a Dora who did not run away from her passions, and who had the courage to confess her desire to have a son from this vigorous and curious man, Freud’s young alter-ego. One should not say that women are always guilty. …

In 1977, year of discovery of Sabina’s correspondence, Wilfred Bion, in a text entitled Caesure, notes that in the problematic issue of the transference and counter-transference, the most important is the root “ference”, which comes from the latin verb “fero”: bring, take away. Since then, when one thinks about psyche, what must really be highlighted are the movements and exchanges and not the melancholic paralysis. It is exactly what Elisabeth Márton shows in her movie: the human being in movement, the exchange of correspondence, the migrations, and Sabina’s singular route, the first analyst who thought of children’s analysis: all this is presented as a model of the libidinous exchange necessary to the preservation of life and of the species.

Likewise, a Congress like that of the International Association for Analytical Psychology here in Barcelona, very similar to the International Psychoanalytic Association in New Orleans, is fundamental to surpass the great Caesura that occurred between Jungians and Freudians.

We may here recall what Freud wrote in 1926 in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anguish: “There is much more continuity between pre-birth and post-birth life than what may be envisioned through the impressive Caesura of birth”.


  • Freud, S. (1918). “An infantile neurosis and other works.” SE 17.
  • Giovannetti, M. de F. (1997). “The scene and its reverse.” In: Person, E. S., ed., On Freud’s “A child is being beaten”. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Kerr, J. (1993). Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein: a most dangerous method., New York: Alfred Knopf.