Civilization and Its Discontents

Freud's "Anna O" and the Meaning of Private Theater

In the case history of Anna O., Freud's coworker Breuer makes no mention of when Anna coins the phrase "private theatre." The abstraction reveals in itself two distinct personalities, and thus a notable self-awareness. It cannot be that in the midst of a daydream, she described the experience, as then she would no longer be daydreaming. Nor does the thought seem haphazard. It is a most refined abstraction revealing at least a partial understanding of the nature of her fantasiesif not the nature of her disease. It is coherent and artful German, the product of intelligent reflection. It is a wonder both that she was capable of this level of understanding after three pages, and that Breuerand Freud's invisible handnever tell us exactly how far they had traveled in order to arrive there.

Since the case history hides the context, the only way to make sense of the phrase is by trusting Breuer's explanation. He writes:

"The girl, who was bubbling over with intellectual vitality, led an extremely monotonous existence in her puritanically-minded family. She embellished her life in a manner which probably influenced her decisively in the direction of her illness, by indulging in systematic day-dreaming, which she...

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