My first psychoanalyst was an old German woman, who lived in a faded flat overlooking a small lake in Calcutta and who spent our time making me lie on a couch and free-associate. Later, she’d point out things that I seemed to be avoiding – the putative hidden centers around which my thought moved. I was fifteen and alternately charmed and troubled by the inscrutability of this all. Of course I censored myself and said what I thought she wanted to hear. And, of course, it didn’t really do anything to help me, at least not in the short term.
For many years later I’d intermittently free-associate on paper, scrutinizing the traces of the workings of my mind for clues to its substrate. Of course I censored myself and created what I thought I wanted to hear, and of course I was aware of this. I puzzled over how to cut this knot. I think Freud says that psychoanalysis doesn’t begin with free-association; it ends when one is able to free-associate. I’m not sure whether this was supposed to mean a Zen-like state where the productions of the unconscious can flow out unhindered by conscious monitoring, or one where the unconscious has no more conflicts to reveal and so can be purely random.
But to free-associate with yourself is to simultaneously experience the thrill of the detective and that of the criminal, creating the signs of a crime and then trying to decipher them. It is a replay of cops and robbers, even if the roles are often muddled, and, since the act of interpreting the unconscious events often serves to create them, the criminal is sometimes framed.