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Nachträglichkeit from the perspective of the

phylogenetic factor in Freud's “Moses and
Friedrich-Wilhelm Eickhoff
Engelfriedshalde 20, BRD 72076 , Tübingen , Germany E-mail:
Published online: 21 Jan 2013.

To cite this article: Friedrich-Wilhelm Eickhoff (2006) Nachträglichkeit from the perspective of the
phylogenetic factor in Freud's “Moses and Monotheism”, The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 29:1, 53-59,
DOI: 10.1080/01062301.2006.10592780

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01062301.2006.10592780


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Scand. Psychoanal. Rev. (2006) 29, 53-59 Copyright © 2006
!SSN 0106-2301

from the perspective of the phylogenetic factor
in Freud's "Moses and Monotheism"
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Friedrich-Wilhelm Eickhoff

The implicit dual direction of time contained in the original German term
Nachtrii.glichkeit coined by Freud, which is equally open to a deterministic and
a hermeneutic definition, has been treated in two separate ways in translation,
namely as deferred action in English and apres-coup in French. Conceived in
the "Project for a Scientific Psychology" in 1895 and commented upon, pre-
suming a rearrangement ofmemory traces by re-transcription (letter to Fliess
of 6 December 1896), the concept of Nachtrii.glichkeit retains a significance
that can hardly be overestimated until Freud's later works. This paper focuses
on the link with the essay "Moses and Monotheism", completed in exile, and
the phylogenetic factor it develops with particular clarity, the archaic legacy
which incorporates memory traces of earlier generations. For the mute, not
manifestly verbal transmission of unspoken parental destinies from one gen-
eration to the next, there are different conceptualisations (Kestenberg, Faim-
berg, Eickhoff et al.). The psycho-Lamarckism Freud is accused of, currently
finds support in the modern examination of epigenetic processes.

Key words: Nachtrii.glichkeit- deferred action - apres-coup

During the panel on the subject of"Time and history in I think it is the connection with this temporal problem
psychoanalysis" (Pine, 2006), which was very enlighten- that caused Freud's ingenious concept of Nachtriiglich-
ing on the theme of Nachtriiglichkeit, at the !PA-con- keit to be frequently overlooked or misinterpreted. A
gress in Rio de Janeiro in July last year, John Kafka major step towards its being called back to mind was
recalled a comment on time by Kurt R. Eissler from his taken at the "Standing Conference on psychoanalytic
book "The Psychiatrist and the Dying Patient": "Time is intracultural and intercultural dialogue", initiated by
constantly in us and around us; nevertheless, we cannot Haydee Faimberg in Paris in 1998, at which Freud's
grasp it. Probably there is a fundamental resistance in us partly neglected and partly concealed thoughts on this
to understanding it, a resistance which goes far deeper concept, to which Freud had never dedicated a work of
and is far more basic than that which is encountered in its own, were reflected upon from the French, English,
the ego when it fights off a content in the repressed part Latin-American and North American viewpoints, not
of the personality" (Eissler, 1955, p. 266). Eissler also least under the aspect of the consequences of the diverse
quotes the famous saying by Augustine: "What then is and more-or-less problematic translations into deferred
time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it action (Strachey), apres coup, afterwardness (Laplanche,
to a questioner, I do not know" (ibid., p. 265). 1998), retroactive temporality and retrospective attribu-
tion. Obviously, the practical untranslatability is due towards his father, whose long-denied death he was able
both to the fact that the German term Nachtriiglichkeit to acknowledge in the end.
was a coinage by Freud not included in the Duden, the Thomas Aichorn has drawn attention to this fine
ten-volume dictionary of the German language, and to explanation of Nachtriiglichkeit with the principle of
the implicit temporal dual direction of Nachtriiglichkeit, the Adige near Verona (Aichorn 1995, p. 61). However,
which is open to both a deterministic and a hermeneutic I do not want to lose myself searching for traces of the
definition. concept of Nachtriiglichkeit in Freud's works and will
Thoma & Cheshire (1991) carefully considered the restrict myself to just a few comments. In the "Analysis
difficulty arising from Nachtriiglichkeit meaning both of a Phobia of a Five-Year-Old Boy", little Hans, Freud
the delayed effect of an earlier trauma and the subse- ascribes to Nachtriiglichkeit, "a principal share in deter-
quent reconstruction of its meaning. Conceived by Freud mining the symptoms of the disease" (Freud 1909a, p.
in 1895 in connection with the so-called seduction the- 35). And in the essay "On Female Sexuality", the con-
ory in the "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (Freud, vincing formulation on the subject of the pre-Oedipal
1950, pp. 353-356) and elucidated in a letter to Fliess mother ties: "It is difficult to give a detailed account of
in 1896 (Freud, 1897, pp. 233-239) with the assumption these [oral, sadistic and even phallic trends] because
of a re-arrangement of many recorded memory traces they are often obscure instinctual impulses which it was
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by retranscriptions, the concept may remain in his work impossible for the child to grasp psychically at the time
without any official status. However, due to its character of their occurrence and were therefore only interpreted
of dual temporality and latency, it remains indispensa- by her later (nachtraglich), and which then appear in the
ble for an understanding of temporal connections and analysis in forms of expression that were certainly not
psychic causality and connected as an implicit principle the original ones" (Freud, 1931, p. 23 7).
with the delay and the dual-temporal approach of sexual
life. In the context of the theory of trauma, it retains up NACHTRAGLICHKEIT IN DIFFERENT
to the late Moses-study, which I will be dealing with in PRE-FREUDIAN, FREUDIAN AND POST-
detail, its significance, which can hardly be emphasised FREUDIAN CONTEXTS
Pars pro toto, I would like to take up only one trace I myself owe my familiarity with the concept of Nach-
from a clinical context, which shows in an anecdote that triiglichkeit to Wolfgang Loch, who passed away in
Freud also made use of the reference to Nachtriig/ich- 1995; he extended Freud's belief in the construction
keit in interpretations to patients. In the analysis of the as "a preliminary labour" and "what appears to be
so-called Rat Man, the patient, as we know, for fear an imperfect substitute" for "a recaptured memory"
of being beaten by Freud, got up from the couch. His (Freud 1937, p. 260, 266) to a pragmatistic, constructiv-
refusal to believe in a pre-historically acquired and sub- ist understanding of the psychoanalytical dialogue, by
sequently latent anger with the father started to waver which not an objective truth is discovered but consen-
due to the reconstruction of the fierce verbal abuse of the sually, "at the service of the coherence of the self', a
father with "You lamp, you towel!". With this outburst new sense is found. From this viewpoint, connections
of rage, the patient had answered the father's blows, are not only uncovered but created, constituted, by sub-
when the father, unhappy at the death of his daughter sequent sense-revealing reinterpretation of subjective
Katherine and withdrawn, was unable to comfort the past (Loch, 1992).
fearful child, the patient, for the loss of his sister. Under Loch repeatedly pointed out that an analogy to Freud's
the impression of this passionate outburst, he predicted Nachtriiglichkeit is to be found in Nietzsche. Nietzsche
that the son would be a great man or a great criminal and had written of a "chronological volte-face" so that the
never knocked him down. In his original notes on the cause enters the consciousness later than the effect, which
Rat Man, Freud writes: "This story, the patient admit- can be read in his unpublished works, noted apparently in
ted, was evidence of anger and revenge dating back 1888 (Nietzsche, 1980). Peter Loewenberg's (2005, p.5)
from the remote past. I explained to him the principle fine formulation that the "subject subsequently reconsti-
of the Adige at Verona, which he found most illuminat- tutes itself' seems to me to be very akin to this. Yet only
ing" (Freud, 1955a, p. 265). The Adige makes a loop in rarely is the concept of Nachtriiglichkeit deliberately
Verona, it flows round the town, turning back, almost placed in a context with the late Moses study "Moses
returning to the point at which it had entered the town, and Monotheism", and the phylogenetic factor which is
and then opens in order to flow forwards again. In the revealed particularly there with extraordinary clarity: the
"school of suffering" (Freud 1909, p. 209), the patient "inheritance of memory-traces of the experience of our
subsequently started to believe in his ineradicable anger ancestors, independently of direct communication and of

the influence of education by the setting of an example"; even though it is not named as such. In it, Freud links
the "assertion that the archaic heritage of human beings the therapeutic clinic and the theory of history, indi-
comprises not only dispositions but also subject-matter- vidual and group psychology, in order to understand
memory-traces of the experience of earlier generations" "the origin of the special character of the Jewish people"
(Freud, 1939, p. 99). (Freud 1939, p. 123), "how the Jews came into being
Freud's fascination with the character of Moses may and why they attracted this endless loathing" (letter to
have begun with his reading of the Torah as a child. In Arnold Zweig of 30 September 1934) and not to be
1901, the first of his numerous visits to the church of San silent on the eve of the Shoa in view of the horrifying
Pietro in Vincoli in Rome took place. And upon seeing events to come.
Michelangelo's Moses there started in Kurt Eissler's He again takes up ideas from "Totem and taboo"
view a process in Freud ''that led to his becoming a great on how the "totemic religion arose from the filial
man himself by imposing on mankind a new image of sense of guilt, in an attempt to allay that feeling and
itself'. (Eissler 2002, p. 44). In his London exile, Freud to appease the father by deferred obedience to him"
finally got down to finishing a manuscript, immediately (Freud 1912/1913, p. 145) and constructs the history of
arranging for its translation into English, which he had the people of Israel and the origin of the monotheistic
left for several years out of consideration for the mod- religion as an expression of the return of a repressed
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erately Nazi-critical Catholic Church in Austria. He prehistoric trauma, namely the murder of Moses, fol-
recasts the earlier, more intimate and poetic "historical lowing a period of latency characteristic of Nachtriig-
novel" into the, in the view of lise Grubrich-Simitis, lichkeit. This had harmed the dawning consciousness of
"marvellously strange later work" (Grubrich-Simitis the people, yet due to the mechanism of repression "not
1993, p. 244) "Moses and monotheism", in which the used in the proper sense" (Freud 1939, p. 132), evaded
character study of Moses and the obviously autobio- being preserved in tradition. The tradition "must have
graphical structural depth in the face of the dangerous undergone the fate of being repressed, the condition of
threat to his life, gives way to the audacious application lingering in the unconscious (a period oflatency, FEW),
of psychoanalytical viewpoints to the history of the Jew- before it is able to display such powerful effects on its
ish people. return, to bring the masses under its spell, as we have
Freud was also warned by people in England who seen with astonishment and hitherto without comprehen-
knew the two parts of the book published in Imago. Jews sion in the case of religious tradition" (ibid., p. 101 ).
saw themselves bereft of their progenitor if Moses had The reason why the Jews praised their God for hav-
been an aristocratic Egyptian; and Christians wanted to ing chosen them and set them free from Egypt, applied
spare the English churches; they both found the hypoth- literally to Moses. When after the death of the Pharaoh
eses indigestible and scandalous in equal measure. Amenhotep, the Fourth, the monotheistic religion he cre-
According to a statement made by Max Eitingon (1939), ated, the abstract pictureless sun cult, collapsed, Moses
Freud responded: there are probably many places where decided as his follower to leave Egypt and to create a
one may not tell the truth, but there is no time that pro- new people which he would educate in the great religion.
hibits it, unless one is unfortunate enough to be living He lowered himself to the level of the Semitic tribe, led
in those places. them out of socage to freedom and gave them the spir-
Between March and June 1939, the book appeared itual Aton religion. The Jews tolerated the demanding
nearly simultaneously in Amsterdam and New York. Aton religion as little as the Egyptians had earlier, and in
Kurt Eissler considered it to be a contributory factor an uprising Moses was slain and his teaching rejected.
to the creation of the state of Israel by mastering fate The Moses religion was not completely eradicated, an
with insight, namely the making conscious of a trauma obscure remnant of it and its founder remained. Tradi-
that had been repressed for 25 centuries, the murder of tion united the Egyptian Moses god with the Midianite
Moses, and believed it to be Freud's legacy, surpass- volcanic god Yahweh living on Mount Sinai, attributed
ing even the Interpretation of dreams (Eissler 1965, to him the escape from Egypt and identified Moses with
p. 231). the Yahweh priests. From the 6th to the 8'h centuries,
Yahweh had been changed into the likeness of the god
NACHTRAGLICHKEIT AND THE of Moses. As a half-extinguished tradition the religion
PHYLOGENETIC FACTOR IN THE LATE of Moses had finally triumphed.
MOSES STUDY Religions are reawakened memories of ancient highly
emotional episodes in mankind's history. What makes
The late Moses study is also an impressive example them strong is not their real but their historical truth. At
of the significance of the concept of Nachtriiglichkeit, the end of his letter to Lou Andreas-Salome of 6 January

1935, the contents of which I have summarised, Freud contained happening, that a happening actually only
emphasises his "invaluable conclusions" and writes: "It evokes traumatic after-effects and assumes the force of
suffices me that I myself can believe in the solution of a trauma if it is experienced with a time delay. The his-
the problem. It has pursued me throughout the whole tory characterised by Nachtriiglichkeit may only occur
of my life" (Freud & Andreas-Salome, 1966, p. 224). because another person listens to this story (Caruth,
Is there a danger of falling back behind the "inval- 1995). Under the aspect of Nachtriiglichkeit, it is logical
uable conclusions"? I think there is in that the com- to say that the Holocaust has only gained its historical
plex work contains barely proved assumptions and has significance with a growing temporal distance, but not
caused irritations. Freud comments on the subsequent immediately after the catastrophe.
reworking of earlier experience as the core of these con- I return to the theme of a person's archaic legacy,
clusions by recapitulating the idea of traumatic neurosis which covers not only dispositions but memory traces
from the time of the so-called seduction theory between of the experience of earlier generations, of the so-called
1895 and 1897 in a modification with the formula "early phylogenetic factor, without which Freud's work would
trauma- defence -latency- outbreak of neurotic illness be difficult to understand. In "Totem and taboo", Freud
-partial return of the repressed" (Freud 1939, p. 80) also directly linked the transgenerational adoption of a legacy
with reference to individual psychology. He elucidates of feelings with the fact that "no generation is able to
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"early injuries to the ego" (ibid.) with the metaphor of conceal any of its more important mental processes from
the "scar of repression" (p. 127), which imposes a dis- its successor" (Freud, 1912113, p. 159).
tortion upon the returning material as compared with Freud had disclosed the most extensive phyloge-
the originaL netic speculation, which included the Ice age, in the l21h
For Nachtriiglichkeit, dual temporality of the trauma metapsychological treatise from 1915, which was not
and the latency period are the crucial moments, and published by him and which lise Grubrich-Simitis found
Freud emphasises the complex temporality for the in an old suitcase amongst Ferenczi's posthumously
individual traumatic neurosis: the pseudo-normal first published papers. The last sentence of the "phylogenetic
phase, thanks to which the victim escapes the trauma, fantasy" reads: "Seen as a whole, we are not at the end
an accident, for example, "apparently uninjured" (p. 67), but at the beginning of our understanding of this phylo-
is followed by a period of latency comparable to the genetic factor .... "(Freud 1955a, p. 651 ), antiquities of
incubation period of infectious illnesses, and finally another kind which, from the point of view of art his-
the emergence of severe symptoms, which can only be tory in the form of"old and dirty gods" (Freud, 1955b,
attributed to that emotional shock. p. 399), his ancients, had always fascinated him.
And he predicts for the collective: "On reflection, it Many were embarrassed by this Freudian passion,
must strike us that clear to us that, in spite of the funda- ignoring it in silence or openly mocking it, such as
mental differences between the two cases- the problem Yerushalmi, who treats Freud's "psycho-Lamarckian
of traumatic neurosis and that of Jewish monotheism assumptions" (Yerushalmi 1989, p. 375) with great
- there is nevertheless one point of agreement: namely, irony, or Peter Gay (1988, p. 368), who rightfully misses
in the characteristic that might be described as 'latency'. any empirical evidence for the transference of the suc-
According to our assured hypothesis, in the history of cession of neuroses to a prehistoric sequence, yet adds:
the Jewish religion there was a long period after the "But while it lasted, Freud's phylogenetic fantasy at
defection from the religion of Moses during which no once elated and disturbed him".
sign was to be detected of the monotheistic idea, of the In the "Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis"
contempt for ceremonial and of the great emphasis on Freud writes: "I have repeatedly been led to suspect
ethics" (pp. 67, 68), evidently because the traumatic that the psychology of the neuroses has stored up in it
experience of murdering Moses, a perpetrator's trauma, more of the antiquities of human development than any
was never fully conscious. other source." (Freud 1916-17, p. 371). He believes that
the primal fantasies are a "phylogenetic endowment"
THE TRANSGENERATIONAL PERSPECTIVE which enables children to fill in "the gaps in individual
OF NACHTRAGLICHKEIT truth with prehistoric truth" (ibid.). A short time later in
an additional comment on the case history of the Wolfs-
In an extremely noteworthy essay "Trauma and experi- mann "From the history of an infantile neurosis", Freud
ence: recapturing the past", the literary specialist Cathy compares the phylogenetic schemas with philosophical
Caruth has reviewed the ideas of the Moses study partic- "categories" which "are concerned with the business of
ularly under the aspect of Nachtriiglichkeit. She argued 'placing' the impressions derived from actual experi-
that a trauma does not depict the experience of a self- ence", adding: "I am inclined to take the view that they

are precipitates from the history of human civilization." Judith Kestenberg (1989) does not refer directly to
(Freud 1918, p. 119). Freud's ideas on phylogenesis, but her concept of trans-
Finally, "the phylogenetic fantasy really starts to position, with which she records a major aspect of the
flourish again" (Grubrich-Simitis 1987, p. 1012) in the psychology of children of survivors of the Holocaust,
late Moses study. Even though Freud qualifies this by who descend to the time tunnel of the unknown past of
comparing it with a "dancer balancing on the tip of their parents, putting themselves physically in their place
one toe" (Freud 1939, p. 58), he confesses to waver- in order to restore their lost objects, adopting subtle
ing between "modesty" and "audacity that cannot be messages without being able to resort to a verbal narra-
avoided" (p. 100) on whether to accept "residual phe- tive of the parents, recalls very clearly Freud's effective
nomena of the work of analysis which call for a phyloge- phylogenetic factor "independent of direct communica-
netic derivation" as evidence postulating "the inheritance tion". For the mute, not manifestly verbal transmission
of memory-traces of the experience of our ancestors, of traumas from one generation to another, which is of
independently of direct communication and of the influ- great importance both in the clinical area and on the
ence of education by setting an example" (p. 99), the collective level, there are without any specific reference
"survival of an archaic heritage" (see above!). to phylogenesis, different conceptualisations. Haydee
In the same connection, he laments an obstacle to his Faimberg described alienating identifications in which
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position in the form of the "present attitude of biologi- three generations are telescoped (Faimberg, 2005). I
cal science, which refuses to hear of the inheritance of myself found Freud's idea of a "borrowed unconscious
acquired characters by succeeding generations" (p. 100). sense of guilt" (Freud 1923, p. 50) helpful for under-
Evidently Freud did not consider the making taboo of standing the speechless tyrannical penetration of the
the passing on of acquired qualities to be the last word history of her parents' generation into the psychic reality
in the matter when in 1939 he writes of the "present of a female patient and her symptom of not knowing
attitude of biological science", and recent research what she is as a "palimpsest" of the paternal denial of
has indeed rediscovered complex epigenetic processes guilt (Eickhoff, 1989). Freud refers in a footnote, near
which cannot be put down to the transference of DNA to the "borrowed unconscious sense of guilt", to a paint-
but are stored after that, as recently presented at a con- ing by Kaulbach, "The Battle of the Chalons", in which
ference at the medical-historical museum of the Charite dead warriors continue their fight in the sky above the
hospital in Berlin. battlefield, as if he wished to allude to a virtually phylo-
genetic transposition conveyed by the superego (Freud
HISTORY AND TRADITION I do not think it is difficult for a beholder of this
strange painting when seeing Wilhelm von Kaulbach's
However, I would like to draw attention to a sensi- dead warriors to think of dead people who, like Hamlet's
tive echo to Freud's argumentation that is independent father, have taken unspeakable secrets to the grave with
of this fascinating revision of anti-Lamarckism, which them which Hamlet is subsequently assigned to decode.
is owed not to psychoanalysts but to the philosopher "The time is out of joint; 0 cursed spite that ever I
Richard J. Bernstein. Bernstein considers Freud to be was born to set it right" (Act I, Scene V, p. 189, 190),
more circumspect than those who accuse him of taking a Shakespeare has Hamlet lament, who, dying, appeals
discredited Lamarckism for granted instead of consider- to Horatio "Tell my story!" (Act V, Scene II, p. 358)
ing an enlightened one to be possible, and who with their - nachtriiglich, it would not be difficult to add. In, at
accusation blur his contribution to our understanding of the EPF-conference in Prague, I gave a lecture on this
tradition and history (Bernstein 1998, p. 58). Uncon- and indicated the categorical uncertainty in relation to
scious communication takes place not only between historical reality when the time is "out of joint" (Eick-
analyst and patient as contemporaries but also, constitut- hoff, 2004).
ing a living tradition, transgenerationally. The historical The phylogenetic perspective was most particularly
truth lies in the psychic resonance, not in the external well received by Grunberger & Dessuant (2000), who
facts of the matter and reveals itself only in the return, in their book "Narcissism, christianity, anti-semitism"
when something new is subsequently experienced as assume formative events in the history of nations whose
something fundamentally familiar. Bernstein also refers original shock remains inscribed in the unconscious like
to Derrida, who in Mal d' Archive ( 1995) had operated a stigma and maintains its impact in the "phylum": for
from the ghost-like presence of the past and decon- the Jews the flight from Egypt, the exile in Babylon, the
structed the dichotomy between the biological and the return to Canaan, according to Midrasch the receiving of
other (psychological, social, cultural, linguistic). the Torah on Mount Sinai in traumatising circumstances

and the rabbinical interpretation of the generation-tran- - (1909b). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis.
scending tradition of the law and the continuation of the S.E. 10.
individual in the line of descent. For anti-semitism, they - (1912-1913). Totem and taboo. S.E. 13.
- ( 1916-1917). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis.
assume traumatising events from the early beginnings of
S.E. 16.
Christianity, an epoch of bloody revolts, oflsrael's war
- (1918). From the history of an infantile neurosis. S.E.
with Rome and the execution of Jesus as an agitator in a 17.
quick Roman trial at the time of the Jewish Passover. (1923). The Ego and the Id. S.E. 14.
A thorough examination of the role of phylogenesis in (1931). On female sexuality. S.E. 21.
Freud's work has often been proposed (Grubrich-Simi- (193 7). Constructions in Analysis. S.E. 23.
tis, 1987, p. 1020; Garcia, 1988). My intention was to (1939). Moses and monotheism. S.E. 23.
link it with the theory of Nachtriiglichkeit and to warn (1950). Project for a scientific psychology. S.E. 1.
of the danger of falling back behind Freud's conclu- (1955a). Obersicht iiber die Obertragungsneuroses
[Overview of transference neuroses]. GW Nachtrags-
sions that were prematurely considered to be obsolete.
They are, of course, without difficulty compatible with - (1955b). Briefe an Wilhelm Fliefl 1887-1904 [Letters to
the post-Freudian concept of projective identification, Wilhelm FlieB 1887-1904], Frankfurt: S. Fischer.
as projective identification is deeply involved in the Freud, S. & Lou Andreas-Salome ( 1966). Sigmund Freud and
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transmission of a legacy of feelings (Goodin, 2006) Lou Andreas-Salome: Letters. Ed. Pfeiffer, E .. New York:
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972
Freud, S. & Zweig, A. (1970). The letters of Sigmund Freud
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