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Free association

"So say whatever goes through your mind. Act as though, for instance, you were a traveller sitting next to the window of a railway carriage describing to someone inside the carriage the changing views you see outside". On his 1913 essay "On beginning the treatment", Freud compares the patient on the couch, contemplating the unfolding of his own mental processes, to a traveller beholding the ever-fading images of a scenery through a train window. This powerful image immediately transports me to Edward Hopper's Compartment C car 293, painting of 1938 and to the introspective mood that travelling puts us into.

In the words of Alain de Botton (2004): "The atmosphere in half-empty carriages making their way across a landscape: the silence inside while the wheels beat in rhythm against the rails outside, the dreaminess fostered by the noise and the view from the windows – a dreaminess in which we seem to stand outside our normal selves and have access to thoughts and memories that may not emerge in more settled circumstances. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views; new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do. This can be as paralysing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks, are charged with listening to music or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious, practical part of the mind that is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness and runs scared of memories, longings or original ideas, preferring instead the administrative and the impersonal. Of all modes of transport, the train is perhaps the best aid to thought: the views have none of the potential monotony of those on a ship or plane. They move fast enough for us not to get exasperated, but slowly enough to allow us to identify objects. They offer us brief, inspiring glimpses into private domains, letting us see a woman at the moment when she takes a cup from a shelf in her kitchen, before carrying us on to a patio where a man is sleeping and then to a park where a child is catching a ball thrown by a figure we cannot see".

Botton, A. (1984) The pleasures of sadness, Tate etc., London, 1st of May, 2004, through

Freud, S. (1913). On beginning the treatment (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis i). In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), The standard edition of the

complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 12). London: Hogarth Press.

Compartment C car 293, Edward Hopper, 1938 (IBM Corporation Collection)

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