“THE CASE OF THE BUGLE-MAN”

Sometimes Freud found himself in difficulties communicating with his patients. Deaf-mute people for example, or people who lost their speech as a result of trauma. In those cases, Freud turned to one of his most faithful disciples, Hanns Sachs, as he was an expert in non-verbal communication. Gesture or facial expression could reveal to Sachs the most recondite secrets of a patient’s subconscious. For example, the way in which Mrs. Kilghorn smacked her husband revealed to Sachs the anger that this woman had accumulated against him over the years. In turn, the manner in which Mr. Kilghorn received the blows revealed the guilt he felt for allowing his wife to smack him for no reason without him resisting. The fact is that now Freud needed again his disciple’s insight to interpret the non-verbal communication of his new patient.

In Freud’s extensive case history, this patient is called Bugle-Man, because of his almost exclusive means of communication. The Bugle-Man had lost his speech on the wedding night when he discovered that the woman he had married was actually a man. Since then he communicated by means of a bugle. Sachs came to Freud’s aid as soon as he received the request. Upon entering the consulting room, he found Freud with his face contracted and his ears covered with his hands, stunned by the strident notes of the bugle that the patient, lying on the couch, didn’t stop issuing. Once informed of the situation, Sachs took a seat next to Freud and prepared to act as interpreter. He listened to the bugle solo for a few minutes while thinking how to get away with that situation, until Freud asked him: “What does he say?” “He says: tarari tarari” answered Sachs, who didn’t have enough time to think. “Yes, I already know that (Freud said) But what does it mean?” “Well …” Sachs was in a difficult dilemma: he did not have the remotest idea of what those notes meant, but he did not want to disappoint his Master, who had him as an expert in all kinds of non-verbal communication. So he chose to improvise an answer: “He has resorted to you because he wants to recover speech.” Freud made a gesture that Sachs interpreted as self-reproach: “Shoot, I should have guessed”. And addressing the patient: “How did you lose your speech?” The patient let out another long bugle solo. “What has he said?” Freud asked his interpreter. “He says…” and then Sachs (who had already had time to develop a strategy) covered his mouth with the hand and, approaching Freud, whispered something in his ear. Freud raised his eyebrows in a surprised expression and asked the patient what made him think that. New bugle solo followed by another whisper in Freud’s ear. With every answer that Sachs translated, Freud’s perplexity increased. “So, is he dead?” Freud suddenly asked the patient. This one, whose discomfort was also increasing with each new question, let out a shrill bugle note. “He says: yes, although they have not told him.”

And so, throughout that afternoon, Sachs unleashed his fertile imagination by drawing, at Freud’s ear, a surreal and apocalyptic scenario that had the Master in suspense. At last, the patient became impatient and, suddenly rising to his feet, raised his bugle angrily and rammed the bugle into Freud’s head. After which he left the consulting room slamming the door.

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