On ‘ethical relatedness’. Letter in Existential Analysis (January 2000)

On ethical relatedness

Anthony Stadlen


[Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis 11.1 (January 2000): 63-68]
Copyright © by Anthony Stadlen 2000, 2020


Letter to the Editors

28 November 1999

Dear Sirs,

From Steven Gans’s article, ‘What is Ethical Analysis?’ (Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis 10.2, July 1999, pp.102-8), one might deduce that I have lapsed from the ‘ethical relatedness’ of my everyday greeting, ‘Hullo, Hans!’ or ‘Hullo, Simon!’, to the ‘turned off, cut off, dissociative state of indifference and blindness to the other’ of my apostrophising you as ‘Dear Sirs’.
I have found only one published letter to the Editors, namely, Gion Condrau’s ‘Letter’ (Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis 5, July 1994, pp. 45-7); and on that occasion you omitted the words Dr Condrau used to address you. So there is no established tradition for addressing the Editors of this Journal. I hope you will find my way respects the dignity of your office; but, in any event, I hope you will not omit it, so that I may make my point to readers as well as to yourselves.
I am puzzled that you, Sirs, and in particular the German-speaking one of you, did not question Dr Gans’s assertion that, in German, the shift from Sie (you) to du (thou) is

the shift from objectifying the other, making them an object within my representation of them, to familiarity and intimacy with the other, granting the other person my pledge of responsibility to and for them. This movement is a movement from the turned off, cut off, dissociative state of indifference and blindness to the other to ethical relatedness.

Moreover, Dr Gans appears to have made this assertion to conferences in New York and London without contradiction from his audience.
Yet his assertion is absurd. It is absurd in the light of the everyday reality of how German-speaking people use ‘Sie’ and ‘du’.
Dr Gans makes this assertion as an introduction to his argument that Freud exemplifies ‘ethical relatedness’, what Levinas calls ‘substitution’ in his philosophy of responsibility to and for the other. It is true that Dr Gans appeals in this essay only to Freud’s recommendations on ‘technique’; but in another paper, ‘Levinas and Freud: Talmudic Inflections in Ethics and Psychoanalysis’, in Facing the Other: The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas (ed. S. Hand, 1996), he explicitly commends Freud’s practice – in particular, in the ‘Dora’ case – as embodying ‘loving attention’ and ‘a Levinasian ethical manner’.
But Dr Gans’s initial assertion about ‘Sie’ and ‘du’ looks all the more absurd in the light of his claims about Freud. For in his great case-studies Freud always addresses his patients as ‘Sie’.
Specifically, Freud always uses ‘Sie’ to address Frau Emmy von N., Miss Lucy R., Katharina, Fräulein Elisabeth von R., Dora, the Rat Man and the Wolf Man. He also generally uses ‘Sie’ to address his patients in The Interpretation of Dreams; though he and his patient Irma, who is a personal friend, address each other as ‘du’, at least in his dream of her. He uses ‘Sie’ to address the (admittedly probably non-existent) young man in the ‘aliquis’ analysis, and the alleged former patient (i.e., himself) in ‘Screen Memories’. In Wortis’s account of his analysis with Freud they address each other as ‘Sie’ throughout. Five months into Kardiner’s analysis Freud addresses him, according to Kardiner, as ‘Herr Doktor’. And consider Kardiner’s wonderful story of Freud’s former patient who consulted him again because, even after analysis, he became impotent with his wife after he had been unfaithful to her:

Freud did not utter a word throughout the entire interview, and when his hour was up, he rose, seized my friend’s hand with the usual handshake, and said, “Und jetzt sehe ich dass Sie [my emphasis, A. S.] ein wirklich und anständiger Kerl sind” (Well, now I see that you are a really decent fellow!), and ushered him out.

An ethical intervention if ever there was one! But Freud addresses the man as ‘Sie even though the analysis is finished. Does this mean Freud is in a ‘dissociative state of indifference and blindness’ to him?
Freud’s use of ‘Sie’ with his patients is a continuation of his usual way of relating to respected other people. In his correspondence he addresses his family as ‘Du’. He addresses Jung, Binswanger, Abraham, Ferenczi, Andreas-Salomé et al. as ‘Sie’. Binswanger writes to Freud, using ‘Sie’, that he has written his paper for Freud’s eightieth birthday ‘with love’. Five years into their correspondence Freud and Fliess start using ‘Du’. Freud addresses Silberstein, in their youthful correspondence, as ‘Du’.
That ‘du’ does not always denote ‘ethical relatedness’ may be seen in the ‘Dora’ case. Dora’s father uses ‘du’ in his spiteful words (never yet, as far as I know, acknowledged in the literature as spiteful) to Dora’s mother in Dora’s first dream. On a single page in the ‘Dora’ case, and in relation to the same summer holiday, the K.s use both forms to address Dora herself: Frau K. invites Dora to stay with them by the lake, writing ‘Wenn Du willst?’ (‘If you [Du] like?’); but Herr K. propositions Dora by the lake, saying ‘Sie wissen, ich habe nichts an meiner Frau.’ (‘You [Sie] know that I get nothing from my wife.’).
Freud’s way of addressing patients and friendly colleagues is unexceptional. Boss, too, addresses his patients as ‘Sie’. Heidegger and Boss, in their conversations and correspondence, in the Zollikoner Seminare and elsewhere, always address each other as ‘Sie’. The 1918-1969 correspondence of Heidegger and Elisabeth Blochmann starts with ‘Sie’. Only in 1953 does Heidegger start to address her as ‘Du’. With Hannah Arendt, of course, he moved much more swiftly.
My aunts, Hedi Stadlen and Hanni Peto, who both grew up in Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century, confirm that ‘Sie’ can be loving, respectful and open to the other. They point out that ‘du’, especially as used to servants, can be highly disrespectful.
My wife’s uncle, Paul Goldschmidt, tells how the guards in Bergen-Belsen generally addressed the prisoners with contempt as ‘du’, but had orders to address certain of the prisoners, in the Sternlager, including Paul himself, who were being kept for a possible exchange with German prisoners-of-war, as ‘Sie’. They therefore had to address Paul as Sie Schweinehund, Sie!’ – which sounded ridiculous. Paul, who has lived in both Germany and Holland, also says the nuances in the implications of ‘Sie’ and ‘du’, and of the corresponding Dutch forms, vary from village to village.
I give these examples to hint at the complexity and subtlety of ‘Sie’ and ‘du’. It is not clear, in any case, why Dr Gans uses German to demonstrate what he supposes to be the ‘shift’ from blindness to ethical relatedness. Levinas writes in French. And Levinas in no way fetishizes ‘tu’ as opposed to ‘vous’, or indeed as opposed to any of the other personal pronouns. On the contrary, one of his central criticisms of Buber is that Buber limits himself too much to the ‘Du’. Levinas likes to recall Hebrew prayers where God is addressed as ‘Thou’ but, almost within the same breath, the form of address changes to ‘He’. Levinas sees this as something essential that Buber missed: he calls it ‘illeity’, from ‘il’ (‘he’) in French or ‘ille’ (‘that’ or ‘he’) in Latin.
The holiness of all pronominal dimensions can be derived from the Holiness Code, Leviticus 19, the heart of the Torah, central to Levinas’s thinking. ‘Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour.’ ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.’ ‘The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself’.
The verses imply the holiness of him and her and you – not just I and thou, or even I-and-thou. Levinas’s insistence on the dignity of these other pronominal dimensions is thus grounded in the Torah, as it is in the dignity and decency of ordinary language.
The trainees in my ADEPT seminar come from a number of countries. For example: Brigitte Friedrich is German; Dariane Pictet, Swiss-French; Simona Revelli, Italian. All strive to be open and respectful to their clients. All agreed, when I asked, that all pronominal forms – and in particular ‘du’ and ‘Sie’ in German; ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French; and ‘tu’, ‘Lei’ and ‘Voi’ in Italian – could be used to respect or to disrespect the otherness of the other. Ms Pictet said: ‘I would never address a client as “tu”.’
Today, by telephone, I asked friends in several countries about their practice of psychotherapy.
Mme Marie Balmary of Paris, in her book, Le Sacrifice Interdit: Freud et la Bible (1986), tells how a client from a distant culture questioned her to find a commonality in which to ground their joint work. This woman finally asked: ‘Do you agree with the principle, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”?’ Mme Balmary confirmed that she did: and the psychotherapy began. From her book it appears that she and her client addressed each other as ‘vous’ throughout. I asked her if this was so. She confirmed it, saying: ‘When a patient says his previous analyst used “tu”, I know this means trouble.’
Dr Michael Šebek of Prague, President of the Czech psychoanalysts, is sensitive to situations where analyst and analysand do not know where they stand in relation to each other. He told me in 1990 how he practised psychoanalysis during the Stalinist period, when it was illegal. Neither analyst nor patient could ever be sure the other was not a secret policeman. He said today that there may be exceptional cases where analyst and analysand know each other beforehand; they will address each other with the familiar ‘ty’. But in ninety-nine per cent of cases they will use ‘vy’. ‘If the analyst used “ty”, the patient would not know what sort of relationship this was.’
Dr Frank Schiphorst of The Hague, a younger therapist, told me that he asks his clients whether they want to be addressed by ‘jij or ‘jullie’; similarly for first name or title and surname. The familiar form is more common in Holland than in Germany. He did not think it affected his or his client’s openness to the other which form they used.
Dr Martti Siirala of Helsinki repeated what he has said to me many times: that there is a vast difference between the German and Finnish language-worlds. ‘The whole German setting…’ he said. (One hears great stretches of meaning before, between and after Martti’s words. People complain that his papers are not orderly; but, as he tells me someone once pointed out, he writes as Sibelius composes, organically, not announcing his main theme at once but working towards it from scraps of melody.) Everything was becoming Americanised, he lamented, but old-fashioned people like him still used the formal ‘te’ rather than the informal ‘sinä’. Obviously, neither in German nor in Finnish, did the use of the more formal pronoun… (I silently supplied: ‘…restrict openness to the other’).
Dr Freddie Strasser of London said he had not conducted psychotherapy in Hungarian. He thought that, were he to do so, he would use, not ‘Ön’, even more formal than ‘Sie’; nor the familiar ‘te’; but, rather, the formal ‘Maga’. He said his parents had a loving relationship, but always addressed each other as ‘Maga’.
Finally, I e-mailed Dr Thomas Szasz, at Syracuse, New York. He replied, in part:

[…] The idea of using Du to address a patient is ridiculous, to put it mildly. Patronizing, infantilizing. A pediatrician would use Du to address a five-year-old, but probably not a fifteen-year-old. I know for a fact that Gymnasium students in Vienna said Sie to one another unless they were buddies. Du betokened a kind of interpersonal intimacy that is not distinguishable with a single word in English.
I never did therapy in any language other than English. The pronoun would have to be Sie, or Ön or Maga (in Hungarian), both ways. The symmetry is the essential element. […]
My mother’s parents lived in an adjoining apartment from us, in Budapest, and spoke mainly German and my mother and father always said Sie to them, although they were very close; and vice versa. This was all taken for granted. It becomes interesting only when contrasted with the casual ‘you’. My brother and I spoke in Hungarian to them. […]

I hope I have shown why Dr Gans’s account of Sie and du will not do. It does not do justice to the subtleties of what happens between people.
A similar ethical imprecision mars Dr Gans’s discussion of Freud’s ‘Levinasian ethical manner’. In particular, he idealises Freud’s treatment of Dora. Dr Gans says he is trying to ‘read Freud through the lens’ of Levinas. This sounds like trying to ‘substitute’ Levinas for Freud in an inauthentic sense: trying to reduce the other to the same: trying not to see the otherness of Freud. And it looks as if the attempt has succeeded.
With Dr Gans’s general thesis, that the heart of psychoanalysis and related disciplines is ethical, I am in complete agreement.

Yours faithfully,

          Anthony Stadlen

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