It should be noted that the father was a subordinate officer at the beginning of his career and that he remained very “subordinate,” with the note of authority, but slightly absurd, that that implies. A kind of belittlement by his contemporaries permanently follows him, and a mixture of bravado and flashiness makes of him a typecast figure that shadows the amiable man described by the subject. This father finds himself in a position to make what is called an advantageous match; his wife occupies a much higher station in the hierarchy of the bourgeoisie and brings to him both their means of livelihood and even the job he holds at the time they are expecting their child. The prestige is, then, on the mother’s side. And one of the most frequent forms of teasing between these people who, as a rule, get along very well and who even seem bonded by a real affection, is a kind of game which consists of a dialogue between them: the wife makes a kidding reference to a strong attachment her husband had just before their marriage to a poor but pretty girl, and then the husband protests and affirms each time that it was a passing fancy, long ago and forgotten. But this game, whose very repetition implies perhaps that it includes its share of guile, certainly profoundly impresses the young subject who is later to become our patient.
Another element of the family myth is of no small importance. The father had, in the course of his military career, what one might modestly call troubles. He did neither more nor less than gamble away the regimental funds which he held by virtue of his office. And he owed his honor, indeed even his life, at least in respect to his career, the figure he could continue to cut in society, only to the intervention of a friend who lent him the sum he had to refund and who became, then, his savior. This incident is still spoken of as a truly important and significant episode in the father’s past.
This is how the subject’s family constellation is represented. The story emerges bit by bit during the analysis without the subject’s connecting it in any way with anything presently happening. It takes all the intuition of Freud to understand that these are essential elements in the precipitation of the obsessional neurosis. The conflict rich woman/poor woman was reproduced exactly in the subject’s life when his father urged him to marry a rich woman, and it was then that the neurosis proper had its onset. Reporting this fact, almost at the same time the subject says: “I’m telling you something that certainly has no connection to all that has happened to me.” Then, Freud immediately perceives the connection.
What, in fact, becomes visible in a panoramic overview of the case history is the strict correspondence between these initial elements of the subjective constellation and the ultimate development of the phantasmatic obsession. What is this ultimate development? In accordance with the mode of thought characteristic of obsessions, the image of the punishment at first engendered all kinds of fears in the subject, in particular that this punishment might one day be inflicted on the people most dear to him, notably either on that idealized figure of the poor woman to whom he devotes a love whose style and particular importance we will examine shortly—the very sort of love which the obsessional subject is capable of—or, yet more paradoxically, on his father who, however, was dead at that time and reduced to a figure he imagines in the other world. But the subject finally found himself drawn into behavior which demonstrates that the neurotic constructs of the obsessional sometimes end by verging on the constructs of insanity.
He is in the position of having to pay the price for an object whose nature is not immaterial, a pair of glasses that he mislaid during the army maneuvers at which time the story of the punishment under discussion was told to him and the present crisis was precipitated. He requests the immediate replacement of his glasses from his optician in Vienna—for all this takes place in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, before the beginning of the war of 1914—and the latter sends him by express mail a little package containing the object. Now, the same captain who told him the story of the punishment and who impresses him strongly by his display of a taste for cruelty informs him that he must reimburse a Lieutenant A who is in charge of the mail and who is supposed to have paid out the sum for him. It is around this idea of reimbursement that the neurotic occurrence reaches its final development. In fact, the subject makes a neurotic duty of repaying the sum, but under certain, very precise conditions. He imposes this duty on himself in the form of an internal command which surges up in the obsessional psyche in contradiction to its original impulse expressed in the form, “do not pay.” Instead here he is, bound to himself by a kind of oath, “pay A.” But he realizes very quickly that this absolute imperative is not at all adequate, since it is not A who is in charge of the mail, but a Lieutenant B.