Arnold Zweig (10 November 1887 – 26 November 1968) was a German writer and anti-war and antifascist activist. Zweig had written a book about antisemitism titled Caliban which he dedicated to Freud. He was a patient of Freud’s and collaborated with Richard Strauss on the opera, Die Schweigsame Fraud (The Silent Woman). Because Zweig was a Jew, the opera was banned by the Nazis. Perhaps Strauss’s most famous opera is Der Rosenkavalier which features a silver rose — the opera takes place in Vienna. In January 1991 I was in a car accident and suffered a fractured wrist and head concussion that caused a 2-hour coma (brain issue); I was hospitalized at GW. The doctor was John White, M.D. It was the beginning of the Gulf War in the Middle East. At work the firm (Akin Gump Strauss) sent me a plant or flowers — the sender was not identified. Later that year I was terminated by the firm under cloudy circumstances. In January 1977 (at about the same time as the inauguration of Jimmy Carter, who was advised by Bob Strauss) I gave two white roses to a coworker named Sharon White at The Franklin Institute where I was employed together with a poem I had written. At that time I worked in an office with Silba Cunningham-Dunlop. Her Jewish father (Paul Frischauer), a writer, lived in Vienna (the city of his birth) at that time and had emigrated to Brazil during World War II to escape the Nazis. Silba’s father died four months later, in May 1977 of a brain tumor (astrocytoma — astoria?). In 1938 Freud wrote to Zweig from Vienna: “Everything is growing ever darker, more threatening, and the awareness of one’s own helplessness ever more importunate.” (I quoted this in my book, Significant Moments.) In 1977 Silba Cunningham-Dunlop and I worked on a monograph on the carcinogenic properties of ionizing and nonionizing radiation.
(It just occurred to me that I have my Zweigs confused. It was Arnold Zweig who was associated with Freud. Stefan Zweig, also Jewish, was associated with Richard Strauss.)
Yesterday (June 11) was Richard Strauss’s birthday.
Last night I had the following simple dream:
I am in the living room of the house where I grew up. Although it is daytime, the room is dimly lit. (In fact the room was always dark; the living room had only one small window). Someone has left a floral arrangement on a table. They are deep red astorias. In fact there is no such flower. Someone has left a note attached to the flowers. It says, “Dark forces have overtaken Vienna, but the forces of light will someday return. Farewell, my beloved Vienna.” The note is signed Arnold Zweig. I sense that the note refers to the Nazi takeover of Austria in March 1938. I have the sense that sad events are happening elsewhere, but that I am safe in the living room of the house.
Be that as it may.
Every student of Freud’s will be familiar with the following dream. (Dr. Palombo and Harold Blum, M.D. gave a talk on the dream in New York in 1994).
Freud’s Dream of the Botanical Monograph is a short and sweet little ditty that goes a little something like this:
I had written a monograph on a certain plant. The book lay before me and I was at the moment turning over a folded coloured plate. Bound up in each copy there was a dried specimen of the plant, as though it had been taken from a herbarium.
Freud’s interpretation of this dream is complex, and he returns to it multiple times throughout The Interpretation of Dreams. The most important symbolic significance that he teases out of it relates to the meaning of the “certain plant” that he studies in the dream.
Because Freud “really had written something in the nature of a monograph on a plant,” the monograph in the dream reminds him of his work on the coca-plant. That’s cocaine, ladies and gents. So, the “certain plant” in the dream becomes a symbol of Freud’s work on the medicinal properties of cocaine—as well as a symbol of his mixed feelings about that work.
Freud viewed his work on the coca-plant with both positive and negative associations: positive, because he prided himself on having made important contributions to anesthesiology; and negative, because his recommended use of cocaine as a painkiller led to the death of his friend and colleague Ernst Fleischl von Marxow. With this in mind, the symbolic significance of the “certain plant” in the dream doesn’t just relate to the coca-plant itself, but to a whole slew of Freud’s professional ambitions and anxieties as well.