Sigmund Freud’s Dora

In 1899, Sigmund Freud began treatment with an 18-year-old girl who was brought to him for analysis by her father after she had written a suicide note.

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 1 Spring 1981
001 Spring 1981

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Dora 1

Suzanne Fletcher.

Sigmund Freud’s Dora is a 40 minute film (16mm color sound) by Anthony McCall, Claire Pajaczkowska, Andrew Tyndall, and Jane Weinstock.

Sigmund Freud: Joel Kovel

Dora: Silvia Kolbowski

Dora’s Mother: Anne Hegira

Talking Lips: Suzanne Fletcher

Additional writing: Ivan Ward

Camera: Babette Mangolte

Sound: Deedee Halleck

Dora 2

Anna Hegira, The Mother.

In 1899, Sigmund Freud began treatment with an 18-year-old girl who was brought to him for analysis by her father after she had written a suicide note. Freud was eager to use this case to demonstrate the hypotheses laid out in his “Interpretation of Dreams” but after only three months of treatment the young woman walked out, without being cured.

Five years later Freud published an account of this failed treatment, calling it a “Fragment of an Analysis” and giving his patient the name Dora—that of a servant in his household.

Recently, Dora has been a focus for the appropriation of psychoanalysis by feminist theory. Questions about the exchange of women, the representation of female sexuality, and the marginal or contradictory position of women in language, have been discovered in her story.

But the descriptions Freud gave of Dora are not innocent documentary facts. Freud constructs her as a character in the structure of his “novelette,” as a recollection of the words he remembers her having spoken, as an object for his scientific detective-work. Thus the presentation of her sexuality is also a function of these analytic and narrative processes.

Dora 3

The psychoanalytic method itself is a process of reading the language and symptoms of the patient; Freud’s written case history is a reading of that reading, which we in turn read.

The film, Sigmund Freud’s Dora starts from the position that these processes of representation are not only a factor in psychoanalytic texts. They exist no less in a film’s shot-counter-shot than they do in advertising; no less in the iconography of the mother than they do in pornography.

—New York City, 1979


Quotes from television advertising and film pornography divide up the narrative sections of Sigmund Freud’s Dora: The most pervasive and the most extreme forms of sexual representation.

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Originally published in

BOMB 1, Spring 1981

Betsy Sussler by Craig Gholson, Carl Apfelschnitt by Sarah Charlesworth, Michael McClard by Kathy Acker, Eric Mitchell, Becky Johnston, and Amos Poe. Cover design by Sarah Charlesworth.

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001 Spring 1981