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Rescuing Psychoanalysis from Freud and Other Essays in Re-Vision

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In his latest groundbreaking book, Peter L. Rudnytsky examines the history of psychoanalysis from a resolutely independent perspective. At once spellbinding case histories and meticulously crafted gems of scholarship, Rudnytsky's essays are "re-visions" in that each sheds fresh light on its subject but they are also avowedly "revisionist" in their scepticism towards all forms of psychoanalytic orthodoxy. Beginning with a judicious reappraisal of Freud and ranging in scope from King Lear to contemporary neuroscience, Rudnytsky treats in depth the lives and work of Ferenczi, Jung, Stekel, Winnicott, Coltart, and Little, each of whom sought to "rescue psychoanalysis" by summoning it to live up to its highest ideals.

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CHAPTER ONE: Inventing Freud

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“It feels good as it is without the giant,
A thinker of the first idea”.

(Wallace Stevens, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”, 1942)

In one of her masterful clinical papers, Nina Coltart says of a florid fantasy produced by an otherwise reticent elderly male patient that it caused her to feel that “if Freud had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him” (1991a, p. 154). Coltart’s allusion to Voltaire’s satirical joke about God provides the jumping-off point for my reflections on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the year of Freud’s birth.

Above all, by her witty comparison of Freud to God, Coltart pays tribute to what she regards as the undeniable truth of Freud’s key ideas as these are borne out in her consulting room. When another patient, one with ulcerative colitis, described to Coltart how much he enjoyed aggressively driving his new sports car, a Triumph, she responded by suggesting that “he identified with the car as if it were his powerful penis, with which he could control, hurt, and frighten people” (1996b, p. 105). To this he cried, “‘Don’t be so disgusting! … How you can say such mad things I don’t know, and expect me to swallow them’”. The man went on to complain that women who wanted him to wear a condom during intercourse did not realize how ‘it makes me feel completely cut off’, which, as Coltart reminded him, was precisely the phrase he had used to convey how much he missed his car when it needed to go to the garage for repairs. “‘Oh, shut up, shut up’, he shouted, catching my drift, ‘that was nothing—just a screw loose!’” Then, after the patient recounted how he had felt “‘just wonderful—empty and clean’” after he had “‘cleared it all out’” and “‘produced this huge amount of money’” he had hoarded to pay for his “‘lovely car’”, Coltart proceeded to compare these experiences “to withholding his shit till he was utterly constipated”, following which his “mother’s enema would produce a huge clear-out”. At this intimation of an equation not simply between his car and his penis but also between money and faeces, the patient’s protests again increased in vehemence as “he bounced and kicked angrily on the couch”: “‘There you go!’ he screamed. ‘You torture me with your rubbish. You’ve got a mind like a sewer’” (p. 106).

 

CHAPTER TWO: “Infantile thoughts”: reading Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary as a commentary on Freud’s relationship with Minna Bernays

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“We should not forget that the young child is familiar with much knowledge, as a matter of fact, that later becomes buried by the force of repression”.

(Sándor Ferenczi, “The dream of the ‘clever baby’”, 1923)

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To juxtapose Freud’s relationship with Minna Bernays and Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary might well be described as a metaphysical conceit in Dr Johnson’s famous pejorative definition of such comparisons as “the most heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together” (1781, p. 14). For, I must concede at once, the name of Freud’s sister-in-law is never mentioned in the private journal kept by Ferenczi in 1932, the year before his death.

In order to render plausible my ensuing argument, therefore, let me circle back to the beginning of the story and offer some guide-posts by way of orientation. I start with the premise that, if Freud did engage in a sexual affair with Minna, four years younger than his wife, Martha, and his own junior by nine years, the effects of this primordial boundary violation would not have been confined to Freud’s “private” life, but would, rather, have extended to the professional sphere in manifold ways, and would, indeed, haunt the entire history of psychoanalysis. By examining the image of Freud fashioned by the Hungarian disciple who has become an inspirational figure for contemporary relational and independent analysts,1 we shall gain an inkling of the far-reaching impact of Freud’s alleged transgression, which—if proved true—would constitute not simply adultery, but also incest in both a psychological and a biblical sense.2

 

CHAPTER THREE: Rescuing psychoanalysis from Freud: the common project of Stekel, Jung, and Ferenczi

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“Prejudice is the hangman of Truth”.

(Wilhelm Stekel, Autobiography, 1950)

No event is more enthralling to psychoanalysts than the recovery of a lost object. Jaap Bos is, therefore, to be commended for having made available the first English translation of Wilhelm Stekel’s seminal 1926 monograph, “On the history of the analytic movement”, completed the previous June in response to Freud’s Autobiographical Study, but borrowing its title from Freud’s polemic of 1914 prompted by the defections of his two leading Viennese disciples, Adler and Stekel, as well as of Jung, his heir apparent in Zurich.1 Grateful though I am to Bos for his labours on Stekel’s behalf, however, I cannot agree with his theoretical perspective, either in his introductory essay (2005), published in Psychoanalysis and History, or in the article (2004) he co-authored with Leendert Groenendijk in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.2 Thus, I propose to begin by clarifying the nature of these disagreements. Then, I shall draw on my work in progress on Freud’s relationship with Minna Bernays to show how the testimony of Jung and Ferenczi converges on certain key points. I shall use this material to argue, contrary to Bos, that it is the proper task of the historian to search for truth.3 Following these two preliminary sections, I shall proceed to my main order of business: juxtaposing Stekel’s critique of Freud with those offered by Jung and Ferenczi. Finally, after having established the existence of a collective diagnosis concerning what Ferenczi, in the heading to his 4 August 1932 entry in the Clinical Diary, called the “personal causes for the erroneous development of psychoanalysis” (1985, p. 184), I shall contend that this consensus, reached independently by Stekel, Jung, and Ferenczi, leads each of them to embark on the common project of rescuing psychoanalysis from Freud.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: “I’m just being horrid”: D. W. Winnicott and the strains of psychoanalysis

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“In their precise tracings-out and subtile causations, the strongest and fieriest emotions of life defy all analytical insight. We see the cloud, and feel its bolt; but meteorology only idly essays a critical scrutiny as to how that cloud became charged, and how this bolt so stuns”.

(Herman Melville, Pierre, or The Ambiguities, 1852)

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If you are like me, you think of psychoanalysis as unfolding on two asymptotically converging planes. There is the plane of psychoanalysis as an essentially impersonal scientific theory, many of whose hypotheses have been confirmed over the past one hundred years, while others have not withstood the test of time and should be superseded in light of our better knowledge. And then there is the plane of psychoanalysis as an array of deeply personal artistic visions, in which the value of a given theorist’s work depends not on how accurately it represents an objectively existing reality, but, rather, on the imaginative power with which it allows us to apprehend the world in a new way. From this standpoint, it makes no more sense to say of Freud, Klein, Winnicott, or Lacan that the sensibility of one is any more or less “true” than that of the rest than it would to make such a statement of Michelangelo, Goya, Vermeer, or Cézanne, though each of us will inevitably feel a greater affinity with certain artists or psychoanalysts than with others.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: In praise of Nina Coltart

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“It is of the essence of our impossible profession that in a very singular way we do not know what we are doing”.

(Nina Coltart, “Slouching towards Bethlehem”, 1986)

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In reading the work of a psychoanalytic author, there is one question that I think we should ask ourselves above all others: would I want to be in analysis with this person? Is this someone I would trust to probe the innermost recesses of my psyche and with whom I would be likely to have a genuinely therapeutic experience?

To be sure, we also hope to profit intellectually from reading a psychoanalytic paper. But a brilliant theorist may not be the man or woman to whom one would turn for emotional healing. Even today, the figure of Freud casts by far the longest shadow over the psychoanalytic field, while both Klein and Lacan have indubitably expanded the universe of analytic discourse; but I suspect I may not be alone in feeling that I would rather have gone for treatment to Ferenczi or Winnicott—or, indeed, to any number of lesser mortals, provided they were possessed of genuine humility and compassion.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Rethinking King Lear: from incestuous fantasy to primitive anxieties

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“I realize that I can’t count on the virtuous regard of other adults. But what can I do about the fact that, as far as I can tell, nothing, nothing, is put to rest, however old a man may be?”

(Philip Roth, The Dying Animal, 2001)

Near the end of Plato’s Phaedrus (Hamilton & Cairnes, 1973), Socrates famously argues for the superiority of speech to writing. “Written words”, he says to his young friend, “go on telling you just the same thing forever”, whereas “living speech” is “the sort that goes together with knowledge, and is written in the soul of the learner” (275e–276b).

Socrates’ distinction bears on the question of the relation between psychoanalysis as a mode of literary criticism and as a mode of therapeutic practice. There is, to be sure, a profound ethical difference between treating a live patient and interpreting a text— one is unlikely to be sued for one’s crimes against Shakespeare—but I cannot agree with those who draw a sharp distinction between clinical work and what is often referred to as “applied” analysis. In the view of such “purists”, because only a live patient can respond to the therapist’s interventions, the clinician can refine and even test his interpretations in a way the literary critic cannot; and these analysts would, therefore, agree with Socrates on the superiority of speech to writing.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The bridge across Clifton Road: Emory University and the future of psychoanalytic studies

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“This is our moment”.

(Lynne Moritz, “Turning to Our Work”, 2007)

In his introduction to The Origins of Psychoanalysis, the original, abridged edition of Freud’s letters to Wilhelm Fliess first published in 1950, Steven Marcus (1977) remarks that the process of creative discovery by which psychoanalysis came into being “may be appropriately regarded as a culmination of the particular tradition of introspection which began with the adjuration of the oracle at Delphi to ‘Know thyself’”. Citing Freud’s epochal interpretation of Oedipus Rex in October 1897 as revealing “a general phenomenon of early childhood”, Marcus goes on to call it “more than a fortunate accident that this most highly developed form of Western secular introspection should have returned at one of its moments of climactic breaking-through to its cultural origins” (p. vii).

I believe Marcus’s claims about the cultural significance of Freud’s self-analysis to be warranted, and I propose to use them here as the starting point for a twofold narrative not simply about psychoanalysis, but also about my own relation to Freud’s instantiation of the Delphic injunction. By reflecting simultaneously on my personal experiences and on the broader history of psychoanalysis, I hope to make the case that the time is now ripe to inaugurate a doctoral programme that would include clinical training and, thereby, to accomplish something truly historic through the Psychoanalytic Studies Program at Emory University.

 

APPENDIX: “Nitty-gritty issues”: an interview with Eric R. Kandel

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Peter L. Rudnytsky (PLR): What is the most important thing that you are trying to tell those in the psychoanalytic community?

Eric R. Kandel (ERK): My overriding concern is to try to bridge the gap between biology and psychoanalysis. Biologists of the brain are interested in understanding how the mind works, and it’s difficult for them to do that unless they have a nuanced understanding of mental processes. And psychoanalysis to this day provides the most interesting set of ideas about the functioning of the human mind. From the point of view of the analyst, I feel that analysis has become a hermeneutic discipline. It’s not a discipline that is evolving scientifically, and it needs to get over that problem. First of all, it needs to show that psychoanalytically based psychotherapy—or, in the limit, psychoanalysis itself—is empirically useful. People are paying for treatment, and they have every right to know what the chances are of improving. And we as a scientific community have a right to see what types of therapy are effective for what patients. These are nitty-gritty issues, but they’re absolutely fundamental.

 

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