The Case Of Babar
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”
is an MD/Ph.D clinician and researcher at Yale on the front lines of the opioid epidemic who has done ground-breaking investigations and analyses of the impact of social isolation and connectedness on human biology. Her earliest political memory is attending a Black Panthers meeting in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of six…
Part of our Freeing Will series
The post below contains highlights from recently discovered notes detailing Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis of Babar, beloved King of the Elephants, that apparently took place in Freud’s office in Vienna.
by Sig. Freud
I. Dearest Wilhelm: Some time ago, I received a letter from Celeste, the concerned wife of Babar, King of the Elephants. She indicated that while Babar was adequately managing his duties as King, difficulties had developed between Babar and his children, Pom, Flora and Alexander. Celeste was careful not to divulge any details except to say that Babar had become increasingly absent. She willingly shared a painful and well-known bit of Babar’s early history, thinking this might be useful in an analysis, should I be willing to proceed. “Babar was riding happily on his mother’s back when a wicked hunter, hidden behind some bushes, shot at them and killed Babar’s mother. Babar ran away because he was afraid of the hunter. After several days, very tired indeed, he came to a town. Luckily a very rich Old Lady who was very fond of little elephants took him in.” With this small but important fragment of history, I agreed to meet with Babar in consultation.
On the day of our meeting, Babar wore a suit in a becoming shade of green, a handsome crown, and shoes with spats. He exhibited the most courtly of manners; these, I gathered, he had learned from the Old Lady. I learned that Celeste was Babar’s wife and second cousin. Babar saw my eyebrow raise and said he too wondered about this as Celeste and Babar agreed hastily to marriage on a car ride from the city back to the jungle. Babar went on to describe his reign as King as benevolent but autocratic; this was the only form of government he was comfortable with. He had left Cornelius, the oldest of the elephants and his trusted general, in charge while Babar travelled to Vienna. There was a war brewing with the Rhinoceroses; Babar was emphatic that he would need to return to Babar Land if hostilities escalated. During the consultation phase, a tic emerged, flapping ears, when Babar related the story of his mother’s death. Babar described his desperate aloneness after she was shot. His father did not come to his aid. He was chased by a hunter, feared for his life, and ran to an unknown land. Babar wept during his account; his ears flapped uncontrollably. I felt for the young elephant; we agreed to proceed with a formal analysis.
II. Dearest Wilhelm: I hope you are well. I write with news of the analysis of Babar. The transference took hold immediately, however, it has been fraught with issues of attachment and aggression. Babar was initially stunned that we would meet with such frequency that I would be reliably present. However he quickly became sensitive to the placement of objects in my office. Any shifts in time or spatial arrangements proved to be derailing, threatening the analysis entirely. His responses devolved into low-frequency rumbles, nearly inaudible to me. Aggression took the form of personal slights directed at my attire; at points, Babar went so far as to recommend that I see his haberdasher. My hopes for the analysis began to deteriorate until one afternoon, when I was returning from Paris, a serious fire broke out in the train station. It was just minutes before the hour of Babar’s appointment; I raced to return to my office only to find Babar on a bench outside weeping. I tried to explain. Babar said there was no need for explanations; elephants, he said, have highly developed olfactory sensibilities. He knew there had been a fire and he could smell the musk of my cologne and therefore concluded I was running toward him. He wept because in his desperation he was not alone.
Shortly, thereafter, Babar returned to the continent of Africa to address the hostilities with the Rhinoceroses. This war has been viewed unfavorably by several historians and yet, it represented a transformational shift for Babar. He was able to defend himself, to hold his ground, and to protect his family. He felt the analysis made this possible. I was certain it had. During the war on Rhino Land, I chose to take a sabbatical and spent several months in the outskirts of Celesteville. Here, Babar’s analysis continued. He rested in a hammock while I sat behind him. In these conditions, Babar was able to regress more fully. He spoke in his own language and shared more affectively charged memories (NB: The significance of this arrangement came later when Babar showed me the only existing photo of his mother, taken just days before her death. See faded copy above.)
III. Dearest Wilhelm: The successful analysis of Babar called to mind an unusual visit by a young analyst from L’Alsace, an H. Loewald. He came by train from Colmar one afternoon to discuss alternative ideas about fathers and Oedipal configurations. Loewald’s thoughts as well as the mutative benefits of Babar’s analysis, including his shift to more democratic and less autocratic ideals as a result of the analysis, have me re-thinking Totem and Taboo. The wish to kill the father is indeed great; the wish to be loved and cared for by him is perhaps greater. Indeed, I wonder if the sublimations Loewald spoke of are related in some measure to the facilitating bonds with fathers. As you well know Wilhelm, you have provided a reliable father figure for me to love all these many years. My work and productivity owes much to your enthusiasm and our correspondence.
P.S. For your amusement, some months after the analysis of Babar, I received a letter from Babar’s sons Pom and Alexander who said they had greatly enjoyed recent outings with their father. Cheerfully, they included a photo of their pet lemur, Dr. Freud.