Space travels of the Wolfman: phobia and its worlds

Campbell, Janet and Pile, Steve (2011). Space travels of the Wolfman: phobia and its worlds. Psychoanalysis and History, 13(1) pp. 69–89.



In this paper, we present a spatial reading of Freud’s famous case study, ‘The Wolfman’ (1918). By reading the Wolfman and his phobias spatially, we want to show how psychoanalysis is not a linear story of personal development, but reveals instead the unconscious estates and competing places that our desires both travel in, but also get stuck and waylaid in. The unconscious ‘estates’ that the Wolfman travels through, constituting his phobias, is something we aim to illuminate. These worlds are not simply ‘many’, they are specific – but they nonetheless unfold in plural and non-linear ways. Phobias are the policemen of our desires keeping us safe and at home, within certain boundaries. And yet the Wolfman’s phobias, his unconscious territories are arguably spaces that need opening up, not hypnotizing away. As Freud travels alongside the Wolfman through his worlds, he can never be sure where he is, where they are. And this is a good thing because if space travel in psychoanalysis is going to work, it has to be alive to the uncanny nature and the uncertain boundaries that constitute our desires. As a touchstone case study in psychoanalysis, the Wolfman’s case points to the very uncertainty with which analysis must proceed. Psychoanalysis, in this view, is more about companionable travelling, without either a fixed point of origin or a predetermined destination, than about knowing where you have been, where you are and where you are going; more about creating a geography of possibilities than about determining which ones should or should not be taken.

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