Universitätsring 4, cnr. Lowelstraße 22, Innere Stadt, Wien
I was in a park in the Ringstraße arguing furiously with an artist and a journalist about a prostitute when the renowned physician Dr Sigmund Freud strolled past.
We three were beset with tears, vehement gesticulations, and defeated gestures as we contested our dilemma. It was the spring of 1913; all Vienna was alert, seeking prescience. Dr Freud was unhurriedly crossing the park toward the bustling hubbub surrounding Café Landtmann. Since we were deeply agitated and in no way close to a resolution, I suggested to my acquaintances, one an Austrian and the other a Georgian, that we follow the good doctor to the café and present our problem with the prostitute to him. They agreed on the condition that I would be their spokesman; they were shy and retiring men, not adept at public exposition.
Dr Freud sat himself down in a small booth by one of the tall windows. A glass of Bergerac was immediately placed before him. We approached and hailed him but remained on the sidewalk. After exchanging brief introductions, during which he sipped his wine without sparing us with any more than a sidelong glance, he nodded as if to say he was willing to hear us out. I dusted my lapel and coughed. I could see three hirsute, pale faces and the hint of green leaves reflected in the gold-lit glass of Café Landtmann.
And so I nervously began to explain the predicament disrupting the tranquillité d’esprit of three otherwise balanced young men.
“Herr Doctor, we three are acquaintances, not friends. Despite being political dissidents we do not share the same political persuasions; there is no reason for us to have even met in a Vienna overrun by political dissidents. We only know each other because we have patronised the same prostitute. And we have only become acquaintances because we share the same affliction, an affliction that is all to do with her.”
“Go on. Tell me about her.”
“She is a tutor of law at the University of Vienna. Her work as a prostitute merely supplements her income until she is be able to secure a professorship. I do not wish to reveal her name; none of us feel she deserves a breach in anonymity. Indeed, I must confess, she has done no wrong to us at all. We have wronged ourselves.”
“You have all fallen in love with her, I assume?”
“No, Dr Freud. We were discussing this but a moment ago. Love is a disease we can handle; we know it well. This is far more insidious. It is need. We need her, purely and simply put. You see, Herr Doctor, this prostitute has begun to reduce her clientele. We are among the first to be rejected. This is presumably because her income is on the rise, and more so because she knows us as students and is somewhat perturbed by the fact. She did not reject us in an indiscreet or distasteful manner. She merely informed us that we need not pay for her services any longer nor expect any further engagement with her in her private rooms within the walls of the University of Vienna. Yet we are all free to meet her at her apartment outside the University, at the theatre, in lectures, or at cafes in the city, as naturally and with as much conviviality as we would with any other female acquaintance or colleague.”
“Young man, you say you speak on behalf of your companions and say they share your experience. I am intrigued by this dilemma, which you call ‘need,’ not love. Please, speak not in generic terms but rather from the ‘I.’ This will help me better understand your feelings and thoughts. I am sure your two companions will object should your tale not fit their experiences with this harlot.”
“She may be a prostitute, Herr Doctor, but a harlot she is not. She is, as we three were reflecting but a few moments go, blameless in this. But, very well, I will speak from my own heart. Indeed, I suffer from need. It was a need I did not know I had while I was still permitted entry into her arms and her bed. Indeed, during the time when she did allow me to purchase her, I was content enough, if not ecstatic. In fact I barely entertained a single thought of her when we were not together. Now, however, and ever since I have been unable to sleep with her, she lingers in the back of my mind. When I sit with her in Café Central and eat Kaiserschmarren, when we bump into one another at the Opera, when we debate Mannheimer and Herzl and the laws of 1867, in all these moments I behave in a civil and friendly manner. But in my mind I crave, I hunger, I itch. I wonder at her skin and her touch. I ponder at how I might again be invited into that small room in the law offices of the University wherein she has a Romanesque couch and heavy curtains. I leave hints and play the fool with her. Quite simply, I need her body, I need her laughter, I need her comfort.”
“When you masturbate, does she invade or overwhelm your fantasies?”
“That she does.”
“Do you feel an awkwardness or frustration when you are around her, as if she were intentionally depriving you of something?”
“I feel dissatisfied, yes. But also trapped. I want more from her, but she will not give it.”
“So, she is companionable. She is accommodating. But the moment you suggest a return to her bed, she politely and suavely declines, and yet you want this all the more?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it!”
“On the other hand, young man, would you marry her?”
“No, I would not.”
“If she were suddenly to throw herself at you, would it not appear slightly unseemly and distasteful?”
“Actually, it would.”
“Do you deem her a bashert?”
“I cannot say that I do.”
“Are you two fundamentally alike and cognisant as lovers and people?”
“No, indeed, we are quite different. I disagree with her on many points and her tastes are quite unlike my own.”
“Young man, I would hazard a guess that you do not need her at all. When you had her in your arms, you did not feel deep love, or enduring intimacy, or even possessiveness. Desire and all its painful, longing pangs only came upon you and, I presume, your acquaintances the moment she quit you. Yet even now, even as you hunger for her, you know in your mind and heart that she is not the woman you want. No indeed, you do not need her.”
“Then why do I suffer this niggling desire that amounts almost to an obsession, Herr Doctor?”
“You need her affection, young man, not her. It is quite a different thing. To unduly need a person is one sort of affliction. Many would say this is a pathology of love, and it is easily confused with it. However, to need the attention, desire, and the affection of a woman is quite another problem. It is particularly evident since you had her attention and now cannot be at peace after it has been taken away from you, especially since you are constantly reminded of this loss by her evasive friendship. It is also evident in that you would not be satisfied by her if she were to suddenly stop evading your less-than-subtle advances and give herself to you. I would not be surprised if you and your friends were as embarrassed by your need for her affection as much as you are constantly engrossed in it.”
“Tell us, Herr Doctor, how do we overcome this?”
“It is by no means an uncommon problem among young men today. Insidious need for affection cripples the modern. There are only two ways to heal need, and both are hard, and one harder than the other, and yet both courses are best taken concurrently. Yet need cannot be addressed without first looking at the cause. Young man, tell me, have you tried avoiding her?”
“Yes, and in all our cases, this was most painful. Indeed, since we attend the same artistic and intellectual events and locales, it is almost impossible. When we do see her after a short period of separation we crave her all the more. And, now that you raise the issue, she is indeed more enthusiastic towards us after we have attempted to avoid her!”
“You need her affection, but the very fact that you need it means she is less than likely to give it to you. You give no space for her to give it; affection, in this clinical, pathological sense, requires a vacuum. It is a game card in the competitive tussle of modern courtship. Every time she is around you she senses your need for her affection and attention, which she can then easily evade and resist, which only fuels your desire even more. After all, nothing is more unattractive to a relatively independent woman than a man with unsatiated desire. Should you stop writing to her, approaching her, greeting her so warmly upon a chance encounter in the Großer Saal, you will see that she will suddenly find it very important to try get back into your good graces. She would not lose you as friends.”
“So this is what we shall do!”
“Have you not listened, young man? This is a way to attain a person, a lover, a friend, albeit by ungainly means. But you do not want her, you want her affection. Remember, if she were to become the lover of any one of you, you would eventually despise her and yourselves! No, you only need her to serve you the warm and cloying stew of desire, validation, attention. But even if you were to stop pestering her and she were to give you a little attention and win you back to her, if only to ensure you are not displeased with her, then it would not be enough. You will want more, more than she is willing to give, perhaps more than she or any woman can give! You cannot overcome this sick need for affection by receiving affection. No, this worm, if fed, only craves more, and will consume you all the more.”
“Good doctor, then we are undone. If I understand you correctly, if we try to win her affection, she will firmly resist us with demure venom. If we are to turn away from her, she will chase us with tidbits of graciousness, but this will only leave us wanting more, which she will refuse to offer us. And even if we were to somehow have this prostitute, we would be dissatisfied with her. So we are caught between our need for affection and the emptiness of having this need is fulfilled! What can we do?”
“You are correct, young sir. In fact, you are likely to repeat this behaviour with other women all your life even if your prostitute were to throw herself into the Wein tomorrow. It is likely to cloud and sour your need for a woman for her own sake, your need for love. The need for affection is a viral strain in most young men, unsatisfiable, unavoidable. If you merely needed a person then you could have her and sink into the happily ever after.”
“So we are to be plagued with this itch interminably? How can we live, focus, exert ourselves on this world as men of distinction with such a distraction, such an unsatisfiable need to be attended to by a woman?”
“The problem here is clear: you are not men. No matter your age and accomplishments, you remain boys. Can you hazard a guess where this self-destructive need may have come from?”
“No, I cannot, Herr Doctor.”
“Yet we must look to causes to find a cure. Young man, tell me, you spoke of how you knew this was not love. Were any of you in love before you began frequenting this learned prostitute?”
“Yes, all of us can claim to have been in love, and to have love returned to us.”
“How so? What became of this love?”
“Speaking for myself, I was with a wonderful young lady for a number of years. Her name was Selene. At first, every day was roses and sunlight. We lived in the south of France. It was as you said: I needed her, not merely her attention, for when she gave herself to me it was bliss and I was satisfied. But then we became preoccupied with life. Little battles left little scars of bitterness. We engaged in private, inner narratives of resentment and doubt about one another that did not fully dissipate regardless of how benign we felt once we had resolved our small arguments. And then Selene gave birth to my son. I was enthusiastic; she was overjoyed. Yet the sentiment between us had changed. Now that you have distinguished the need for affection from the need for a woman, Herr Doctor, I do recognise this: after Selene had given birth, she quite simply had less of a need for me, for her orbit and axis had shifted to focus around my son, yet I was even more needful of her affection, her positive reinforcement, her sexual comfort. The need for affection grew in me since as a new father I was deprived of my wife’s attention. When the child turned four Selene took off with him to her parent’s estate in Swabia; I departed for further studies here in Vienna.”
“Do your two companions have similar tales?”
“Yes, for with or without children, they have all felt the sourness of unfulfilled affection sink a dank tendril into their past loves, poisoning them.”
“Rational men understand that women cannot give the same affection and attention to them once they have endured the rigours of birth and have to care for a small infant. Rational men know they must wait out the drought. But both men and woman often fail to understand the emotional impact that this time has on the ego. Women undergo an initiation through birth; they step through the curtain to the other side. Girls, however unwittingly, become women. In their blood, in their subconscious, in their deep instincts, they have changed. Just as lionesses take on the core of the pride with their young tucked under their skirts, leaving the long-haired lion to sit on the dusty outskirts, so too mothers form a psycho-spiritual home which they know now depends on them, not on their mate. Emotionally, men feel they are excluded, cut off from the teat. Boys, who have in their subconscious chosen their woman not merely because they need her but because they need female attention, affirmation, mother-validation, are exposed: they cannot live with this exclusion, they must have the teat, they must win back the centre of the girl’s heart. But the girl is gone and the mother is here and the centre is gone. So the boy-father rages, drinks, curses, works, absconds, mutters, starts a revolt, invents philosophy, sinks and dissipates into a pathological sullenness, an automaton’s psyche. It is the fault of the girl that she is not prepared to be a mother and cannot understand how her new evolutionary form will make her neglect and exclude her partner in life. But it is the fault of boys that they do not find initiation into a manhood which does not allow a need for validation to run riot in them. At some point, whether you had children or no, you three lost or left your women because you could not deal with this need, even when your women started to return it again in small doses, because you always wanted more; it was too much need, it was like water in the desert, you couldn’t do without it, and no woman can give it in such a way, none can satisfy it. You will not exert much of a laudable influence on this world, my young friends, if you remain such boy-men.”
“Is there no cure for us, Herr Doctor? Why are we weak and needy thus?”
“As I mentioned, there are two courses of action you can take, both difficult, one harder than the other, and both best taken together. As to the cause of the need for affection and its parasitic nature on our ego and our society at large, I have expostulated on this in my past work, but am myself constantly revising my theses. I am here at Café Landtmann working on a paper at this very moment called “The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis,” which somewhat relates to this topic; indeed, this conversation with you three young men has given my work further pause and impetus. Some posit that the cause lies with our mothers. It is by no means their direct fault, but they were intuitively driven to raise us boys without the approval and unconditional regard that would have directed us to intuitively find self-fulfilment in ourselves as men. Likewise, they did not know how to affirm us and credit us and laud us when we reached manhood. They only knew how to pamper us and soothe us and scold us and win us over as little boys, so we are now left chasing a confirmation of our manhood in the arms and words and smiles of women, a confirmation we should have received from our mothers until our fathers initiated us into manhood. Yet, and here we come to it, did any of us receive such an initiation as moderns? Did our fathers, or their fathers?”
“The roots of need you describe run deep, Herr Doctor. I do not have the self-awareness to pull them out. I have come undone, and the waters of the Wein seem enticing to me now. We three are exhausted down to the very chambers of our hearts. What is the cure, pray tell me, for this crippling need for a woman to want me?”
“There are only two ways to cure need: starvation and substitution.”
“So, as we discussed, we may simply cut her from our life. But this only makes me hunger for her caresses and sweet words all the more!”
“Starvation is the first and most immediate course of treatment, but it is also the most dangerous. It must be done brutally. Starve the need. Avoid the woman. Quench the desire. Do not ask and do not initiate. In fact, as we mentioned, this will mostly likely bring the prostitute to you, since many women wish to deprive you of affection when they suspect, subconsciously speaking, that your neediness is pathological, but they do not wish to suffer a loss of your company (and your adoration) altogether. Many women are as weak, in their own way, as men and cannot deal with suddenly being deprived of your attention since they deem this an attack on their own ego-worth. But remember you don’t want them, nor are you indebted to them as lovers, or owe them any chivalry; it’s the affection and attention of womankind you want, and it will never be enough. You are sick and blind with need, so stay away. Not a meeting, not a greeting, not even a glance. Fast from her. But be warned, however: starvation, by itself, is often best reserved for the ascetic masters, the sadhus, the saints. It can drive a man mad.”
“And the second treatment?”
“Need must be substituted with something else. And I have found that this need for affection can only be substituted with thankfulness, with appreciation.”
“How can one be thankful when subtly tormented, Dr Freud?”
“My boy, you have a son, do you not? You have strength in your legs? Go and appreciate these things. Why must the care of a woman make you feel whole? You and your friends are part of what may well be a decisive time in history. There is a strange texture in the air, a fragrance of coming downpour and cleansing. You are young men bound to exert yourselves on the world, are you not? If you are not to be craven boys any longer, eternally hungry for the tit, for the cunt, for the soothing words of a woman, for approval and affection because you do not approve of yourselves in some deep manner, eternally unsatisfied with any affection you are given, then you must become men and appreciate yourselves and your world enough to find satisfaction in it, even amidst its imperfections and frustrations. Be whole and satisfied before you embark upon your day. Thankfulness, my dear boy, kills the parasite of need that asks and asks but when fed only leaves one wanting more. Thankfulness must be meditated upon and practised. It comes freely and yet must be taken in small doses independent of context and ego-story. It separates you from your thoughts that you have confused with your identity. Make it your prayer when you feel the need rise up in you. Find the eternal affirmation–mother within. I tell you, needful boys will make no useful mark on the world.”
With this, the good doctor took out a pipe and began to smoke. His tea arrived. He moved his papers aside. The purpled clouds of sunset glowed in the reflections on Café Landtmann’s windows.
“Now, gentlemen, be so good as to leave me to my repast. Go, and grow the fuck up. Need not need. Be men, not boys.”
My three acquaintances and I retreated back to the shadows and green boughs of the park. We were silent for some time; indeed, we were spent. When we did speak, we said little, and then departed, each on his own path.
I would not see either the Austrian artist or the Georgian journalist again, but I did follow their progress. Like many of our counterparts, they excelled in politics. Indeed, we exchanged letters for a time. In these, we discussed our encounter with Dr Freud outside Café Landtmann in the Ringstraße, and shared our response to the dilemma of a young man’s crippling, subconscious need for female approval, validation, affection, a dilemma that was seemingly gripping our entire generation—in particular, it seemed, men with a penchant for power.
The Georgian journalist was known to me at the time as Stavros Papadopoulos. He rejected Dr Freud’s advice and theses wholesale. I learned that he continued to extend his friendship to and acquaintance with the prostitute at the University of Vienna over the course of 1913. He did refrain from responding to her invitations and overtures for a short time, but only to see if Dr Freud was correct in assuming this would make her fear she had affronted him and was in danger of losing his friendship. Dr Freud was right, and Stavros was able to lure her to him. But only to the point whereat she was assured she had not given offense. Once she was again confident of his devotion, she made it clear that door to her intimate sphere remained shut, firmly barring him from the passion he craved. Yet Stavros would not let go of his need. When they met together, he, subtly at first but then with greater braggadocio and insistence, was intent on winning a way back to her bed and affection. She calmly, albeit with laughter and kind pity, kept the door shut, and Stavros, full of bitterness and resentment toward her, finally left Vienna. He wrote to me that he maintained that it was a ploy of womankind and not his needfulness that drove them to make him feel unsatisfied with their company and affection. He had dalliances with numerous women as he rose up the ranks of his political circles in Germany and Russia. In all of them, he wrote, he found moments of great satisfaction and enthusiasm that never lasted. Many times, he wavered between thoughts of love showered upon goddesses sat upon pedestals and thoughts of desire that fixed women as no more than mere husks of pleasant meat. In the end, whether he was using a woman or enamoured of a woman, or even when he put women aside and fanatically strove to fulfil his political ambitions, Stavros let his need run riot in him, never found its satisfaction, never found a way to please a woman or be pleased with a woman, and could never honestly admit to owning a sense of unutterable self-fulfilment. And, despite Freud’s opinion regarding the social inefficacy of the man-child, I have no doubt that this ragged lack of self-realisation borne from the rampant need for affection that he let run riot in his psyche served his political energy and aspirations most beneficially. He rose to become the leader of Russia after the dust on the first war had settled, albeit bearing another name.
The Austrian artist was known to me as Adolf Hitler. He took Dr Freud’s advice to heart; at least, he was initially enamoured with certain aspects. However, smitten as he was at time with Romanticism and Eastern mysticism, and yet to disavow these artistic penchants in favour of his political activism, he chose the hard path. Adolf chose the way of the saints, the way of starvation. He resisted his need for the affection of women with a savage diligence. Not naturally adept at introspection, he did not give much weight to Freud’s tentative theories on motherhood, but instead used the brute force of his will to repress any action that might come from what he suspected was the need for feminine attention or affection. As a result, he cut off all contact with the prostitute at the University of Vienna. Or, at the very least, he attempted such. When she invariable sent friendly and innocent advances his way for fear she had in some way offended him, he could not resist, and so in the name of starving his need, Adolf left Vienna. His artistic dream evaded him. He joined the military. He was, on many occasions, given the opportunity to enter serious relationships with women, but he wrote to me that in the name of starvation he refused these opportunities. He felt the need for these women, he wrote, and he did not truly believe or understand that it was a need for their affection as opposed to a need for their persons, yet I sensed from his writings that this need scared him. So he refused, refused, and pushed his desire down. I do not fully believe that he was able to do so completely. I learned he still allowed his need to raise its ugly head from time to time, turning his eyes and hands and words to a woman who might adore him as his need demanded, and when this happened he outright refused to acknowledge his failure, rationalising and justifying his lapses in starvation until he forsook the dalliance. It was always the fault of the world at large, the stars, the women, and never the need in him, which he believed he had sufficiently conquered. And I learned that his outlook on himself and his world slowly changed. Blame, guilt, and resentment, need starved but left dormant deep within, a worm thinned into a narrow, greedy suction-parasite, never fully quenched in its desire to be fed, kept alive at the base of the psyche, unknown and despised: this drove him (as it does many men who grow old while being fed upon by this leech). And without any intuition for self-awareness Adolf did not fully realise any of this. He was no saint; starvation of need, not fully realised, ate at his inner balance. This may well have assisted him in his political endeavours and fuelled his sense of historic purpose in the same way Stavros’ self-indulgence and denial assisted him. The last I heard he was poised to complete a remarkable and sinister political rise; he was about to become the militarist ruler of Germany, and, like many who fall short of sainthood yet refuse to admit this failure, Adolf was unwittingly feeding off the ire of the world.
As for myself, I chose to follow the good doctor’s advice. I attempted both starvation and thankfulness. It was a great burden; their demands near broke my psyche and self-awareness. How great was my shock at the extent to which I lacked inner fortitude! I lost my political ambition and my work as a writer was cruelled. Yet now, years later, here I am, a relatively well-known French physicist, living in a small town near the Polish city where I was raised.
I did not see either Dr Freud or the prostitute at the University of Vienna again, or, at least, I did not initiate contact with her. I do remember that I ran into her at a landmark show by the Wiener Werkstätte a month or so after my encounter with Dr Freud. A few months after that, I met her again at private exhibition hosted by Alma and Kokoschka. On both occasions she was effervescent. She called me darling and berated me playfully for avoiding her, as if I was a silly, moody fellow, as if I was being childishly naughty, as if I was somehow both cruel to her fragile emotions yet also still on the best of terms with her ebullient largesse. I was very aware of my own needfulness in these moments; I smiled, was patient and kind, looked past her as if she were a waterfall obscuring my path, and stepped through. Her eyes shone with sadness but her lips remained proud. After all, how could she admit she needed my need when she had refused my desire, albeit unspoken, for so long? A user does not admit to being used, and vice versa.
I began to practise thankfulness. The last time I saw her I was sitting in Café Central discussing the threat of the first war with Lehar and Puccini. She swam by in a purple dress, her was hair short, and a dull shawl hid her magnificent shoulders, shoulders I remembered glowing on sunlit mornings, glowing under the damask sheets on her velvet-dressed feathered couch, and she glanced at me and I glanced at her and I thought we smiled at each other. But we did not glance at each other long enough for me to be certain.
1914 began; the seeds of war sprouted. Yes, I was practising thankfulness. I woke up one morning and walked past the University of Vienna. I had heard she was no longer there; I did not know where she had gone. Yet merely seeing the place again startled me with a realisation. I realised I had not thought about the prostitute at all for nearly a month. A woman who had lingered in the shadows of my psyche almost constantly for more than a year was now forgotten. I pictured her, very clearly, in that moment, in my mind’s mirror. It was hyper-real, this vision. The wind blew, and she was walking by. Her gold hair fell in soft curls. Her neck was long and bent over like that of a penitent swan. Her hidden eyes and red lips were cast down toward her bare feet. She walked on lithe legs and bare feet in sure and firm strides. Her dancing shoes were in her left hand and her dress was green, emerald almost, very light, clinging to her small breasts and waist but loose and wild around those purposeful legs of hers, her frame limp yet fierce under the weight of a certain delicate yet exhalated form of exhaustion, an exhaustion earned from the spin and heady rush of long nights to three in the morning in ballrooms and dance halls during the unbridled Fasching carnivales. The picture faded into a haze of peace. The need for approval and admiration from her had died in me. It was the beginning. And I did not despise her, truly.
Does all this mean that I am now a man? When the first war had well and truly ended, I moved to a small town on the border of Austria and France, and there I was given to reflect on this question upon the occurrence of two incidents: first, I received a wholly unexpected postcard, emblazoned with a photo of Café Landtmann, from Dr Freud, who wrote that a certain former prostitute had become a professor of psychology in New York. Second, my mother died. I went to her grave and I reflected upon the question: Am I now finally a man?
So, mother. Yes, I am now a man, if only because I know the boy (who is me) no longer rules.
Oh, is that so, young fool? Let me speak to you from the deeper crevices of our consciousness, and let us go back, you and I, to another time at Café Landtmann, where we took the tour of tours, you and I, with her, on an amber blustery eve during the war, do you recall, young fool, do you remember her, on a night cold with the sullen hint of narcissus and wisps of faraway tumult? …