To mark the publication of Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping the Psychoanalytic Movement, Karnacology takes great pleasure in presenting an exclusive interview with its distinguished author, the psychologist and historian of psychoanalysis Ernst Falzeder, who spoke to Brett Kahr from his home in Austria.
BRETT KAHR: Greetings, Ernst, and please accept my warmest congratulations on the publication of your new book Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping the Psychoanalytic Movement. I regard this book as an important contribution to the history of psychoanalysis, and I look forward to discussing it with you. But before we examine your work in more detail, can you tell us how you first became interested in the history of psychoanalysis … and why?
ERNST FALZEDER: The short answer would be that I honestly don’t know. Not even after years of being psychoanalysed. The long answer would have to be an autobiography.
BK: Of course … I quite understand. Perhaps we can think about this in another way. Can you tell me about your professional background and how you first encountered psychoanalytical ideas. You trained as a psychologist, I believe?
EF: When I was sixteen years old, I had a crush on my psychology teacher and, I think, she was not quite immune to my feelings either because she gave me a present: Freud’s An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and also Civilization and its Discontents, combined in one paperback volume. I put it aside, but when she repeatedly asked me if I had read it, I finally did – and I have been hooked ever since. I had the feeling that Freud was the first adult person who understood me: It’s all about sex. This was also decisive in my choice of studying psychology in Salzburg, where the psychology department offered many courses on psychoanalysis.
BK: What a really charming story. I am not surprised that your teacher piqued your interest in this way. As we will be speaking primarily to an Anglo-Saxon audience, can you tell us something about the psychology training in Austria? You described psychoanalysis as an important part of the curriculum. In Great Britain, especially, at least in my day, academic psychologists reviled psychoanalysis. But you had the much greater privilege of being exposed to psychoanalysis more favourably. How did psychoanalytical ideas “sit” in Austrian departments of psychology? Was Salzburg an exception?
EF: Salzburg was definitely an exception. At the time, in 1973, academic psychology in Austria was still dominated by people who railed against anything psychoanalytic, or had even been Nazis – and this may have also contributed to my being fascinated in it, by the way. In Salzburg, there were three chairs in the psychology department. Two of the professors had been analysed by the same analyst, von Gebsattel, and rumour had it that so had the wife of the third professor. Of the former two, one was an old-school conservative “depth psychologist”, the other a former Catholic conservative turned leftist or even Marxist. The third was dead against analysis and a hardcore empiricist. I remember his dictum: “We psychologists will one day have mapped all the white spots of the human psyche”, which made for a fascinating mixture of opinions and legendary controversial discussions among the teachers and students.
BK: What can you tell us about von Gebsattel?
EF: Victor Emil Freiherr von Gebsattel (1883-1976) was a member of the early Munich branch of the International Psycho-Analytical Association. These analysts had always steered a somewhat independent course, with influences from Adler and Jung. As a Catholic he was interested in existential analysis, phenomenology, and existentialism, becoming in 1920 the first analyst of “Ellen West”, who later became famous as the patient of Ludwig Binswanger. Subsequently, during the Nazi era he was a training analyst at the so-called Göring Institute. So he was a controversial figure and a bit of an outsider in analytic circles, but quite well connected in Germany. He was a friend of Rainer Maria Rilke and of Lou Andreas-Salomé.
BK: Oh, how fascinating … with a connection to Lou Andreas-Salomé you must have felt that you had an entrée into the real heart of the psychoanalytical movement. Tell me, Ernst, as a student in Salzburg, did you want to become a clinical practitioner, or were you more attracted to research and so forth?
EF: Remember, I was eighteen years old, and I really did not have a clear idea about what I was going to do later on. The very idea of pursuing a “career” in those hippie years was anathema. I did have secret fantasies of becoming an analyst myself, and of doing research and of publishing articles. But all this seemed so utopian, so unrealistic – just adolescent fantasies. With hindsight, I think that I always had an inner certainty that my future would have to do with books. I just love books. My father was a bookbinder, and I grew up with the smell of the special glue bookbinders use – lumbeck, it’s called. And I’ve been reading at least an average of 200 to 300 pages per day since the age of six.
BK: Goodness, with a bookbinder father and a pretty psychology teacher who gave you some writings of Freud … these are powerful influences. How marvellous that you can read 200 to 300 pages each day.
EF: Compared to how much time people spend watching television, playing games, or surfing the Internet, a couple hours of reading per day does not seem so much to me. People just don’t read so much anymore, for better or worse.
BK: You soon began to embark upon your own research and writing projects. I believe that I am correct in remembering that you wrote your first work – your doctoral dissertation – on Sándor Ferenczi and Michael Balint. Is that right? What drew you to these “sons of Freud”?
EF: My very first publication was actually a precocious ten-page book review on “Psychosexual Development and Schizophrenia” of all things, in 1974, at the tender age of nineteen, and the copy of the journal number was then beautifully re-bound by my father … But, yes, my doctoral thesis was on Ferenczi and Balint. I was a perpetual student, always had to have jobs to make ends meet, and I was actually thinking seriously of quitting the university and becoming a bookseller, when one of my professors wrote me a letter and actively offered to become my Doktorvater [supervisor]. So I thought about a possible topic, and somehow Michael Balint came to my mind. I had always liked his way of writing and his humane and somewhat iconoclastic approach, and his opus was not too big. And in the course of my research on him I found out that I could not write about him without including Ferenczi, to whom so much of his thinking goes back.
BK: I do share your admiration for Michael Balint. I had the great privilege of having had a supervisor who was himself supervised by Balint, and I got to hear a lot of very interesting stories about Balint’s wisdom and creativity. You told us that you embarked upon the study of Balint because his corpus of writings is not too large. But tell us how you moved from Balint and Ferenczi to Freud, whose corpus is so large as to be potentially off-putting to most people, even to senior psychoanalysts.
EF: I had already read Freud’s Gesammelte Werke [Collected Works] in the summer months between finishing school and enrolling at the university in the autumn. I still had a near-photographic memory at the time and could quote Freud verbatim, complete with volume and page numbers. Actually my first plan for a dissertation had been to write about “Fruitful Contradictions in Freud’s Work”, but that was way too ambitious. Then I thought about other possible topics, such as Erich Fromm or Erik Erikson. You know, I was quite a curious monster at the time, having read practically all the analytic literature available in German, amidst all the drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll, to which I wasn’t at all immune … So in the end I actually moved from Freud to Balint, not the other way around.
BK: From Freud to Balint and then back to Freud. Having read the Gesammelte Werke in full while still in school – quite an achievement – you were clearly destined to become a Freud scholar. Now please tell us, you had this wonderful immersion in the world of books as the son of a bookbinder, and then you received this warm encouragement from the psychology department at Salzburg steeped with psychoanalysts, and you had read all of Freud. As a budding Freud historian, what is it that you were hoping to accomplish, or did you not know? Did you want to write the definitive biography of Freud? Discover new documents by Freud? Present a new approach to Freud? Or all of the above?
EF: None of the above, I guess. I was a very neurotic and insecure young man, coming from a poor working class background, and the fact alone that I had succeeded in actually becoming a “student” at a “university” filled me with awe. I had fantasies, of course, but they all seemed so unrealistic. I remember that I told my psychoanalyst of such a fantasy, namely, that one day in the far future I might publish an article in Psyche, the leading German psychoanalytic journal, and I was so surprised when she answered that she was sure that this would in fact be the case. The turning point, when fantasy became more and more reality, was really when the Swiss-Hungarian psychiatrist and historian André Haynal became my mentor. During work on my dissertation I had contacted Enid Balint, Michael’s widow, and she told me that there was a professor in Geneva also writing a book on him. André of course did not share any of his findings, but when I sent him my finished thesis, he liked it so much that he invited me to work with him for a few weeks in Geneva where I then read the Freud-Ferenczi correspondence for the first time, in Balint’s transcription. That’s when we wrote “Healing Through Love?: A Unique Dialogue in the History of Psychoanalysis”, on the Freud-Ferenczi relationship, my first major publication and the opening chapter in my book.
BK: Thank you for your explanation. Perhaps we can now embark more fully on an examination of your work as a psychoanalytical historian and have a closer look at the contents of your new book. The chapters in Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping the Psychoanalytic Movement cover a great deal of territory. And you wrote these papers over an extended period of time, providing us not only with a consideration Freud, of course but, also, with a study of many of the key players in his circle. You write with a great deal of objectivity, as I see it, and you provide us with very clear, very full pictures of some of the great psychoanalytical personalities, never lapsing into either idealisation and denigration. You keep an analytically neutral tone in your investigations. But starting with Freud … you have lived with him for forty-plus years. And in that time, you have made some important discoveries about Freud … not only about his achievements but also about his shadow side. How has your relationship to Freud changed over time? Do you admire him more … less … just he same?
EF: Difficult question. As you say, I’ve lived with Freud for a very long time, and I think it’s inevitable that my relationship to him has changed over time. Without doubt, I did idealise him at the beginning, but the fact that I discovered more and more of his shadow side, as you call it, does not mean that I no longer find him a great man, thinker, and writer. He just became more human, you could say. As I like to say to Freud bashers: if people knew as much about you, as we now know of Freud, how do you think you’d fare? And what I really like about Freud is that he is such a good writer. His German is just wonderful, which also makes him so hard to translate.
BK: I appreciate this answer very much. Yes, of course, I doubt that there is another figure in recent history, with the possible exception of Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and maybe a few others, who has had to endure such extraordinary scrutiny. You are right to say to the Freud-bashers that they would not fare quite so well had they been studied with the same intensity. And of course nowadays, most people convey their hateful feelings over the telephone, and those outpourings never get preserved for posterity, as Freud’s letters have been. Certainly, your work on Freud has helped me to appreciate his complexity and fullness as a human being, and has also helped me to understand the personal burdens of psychoanalytical work. I have always thought that analysts can be very compassionate with their patients, but then they project their hostilities and hatreds onto and into their colleagues.
EF: I don’t quite know what to answer to that, except that I agree.
BK: Well, let me put it this way. You have devoted so much thought and attention to some of the more embattled aspects of the psychoanalytical movement, which included rivalries, assassinations, broken relationships, incestuous relationships, etc. Do you think that psychoanalysts – or at least the early psychoanalysts – had had too little personal analysis to bear the strains of clinical work, and hence had to “act out” amongst themselves? Or are the early psychoanalysts that you have studied simply ordinary human beings who had the ordinary struggles to which everyone can fall prey.
EF: I don’t think there is a general answer to that. Some of the early analysts might indeed have profited from having any analysis at all, or from more of it, and some might even had had too much of it, or the wrong kind. They also still had to learn, often at the great expense of themselves and their patients, the potentially devastating side-effects of this new method, if not properly handled, just like the early radiologists, after X-rays had been discovered in 1895, the year the Studies on Hysteria were published. But of course analysts are humans like everybody else. What else should they be? And is it not an illusion anyway that problems, and I mean real problems, and not a “problem” like which car I should buy, can be “solved” by analysis or otherwise?
BK: Thinking about some of the relationships that you have explored in your papers over the years, and now, in this new book, perhaps we could look at a specific example. You have written a really absorbing chapter about the great Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, perhaps best known to modern audiences as the man who first coined the term “schizophrenia” (or Schizophrenie in German). You have some very original thoughts about Bleuler’s relationship to Freud and about the consequences of their “break-up”. I know that this is a highly complex matter, but could you, perhaps, give us a “taste” of what went wrong in the Freud-Bleuler relationship?
EF: And let us not forget that Bleuler also coined the term “ambivalence”, a notion which could be applied to his relationship with Freud and psychoanalysis. Bleuler was really the greatest “catch” Freud ever made: a world-renowned university professor and head of a leading psychiatric clinic and also a Gentile. Bleuler recognised Freud’s greatness at once and defended Freud’s views against the practically unanimous hostility in his own psychiatric circles, but he criticised Freud’s more sweeping generalisations, asked for more hard evidence for some of the theories, and in particular objected to the increasing sectarian character of the psychoanalytic “movement”. Added to this came the experiment of having his dreams analysed by Freud by correspondence, which did not convince him. Bleuler distanced himself more and more from Freud’s theories and the “movement”, but he never became hostile, and he remained on respectful terms with Freud personally. This distancing had the consequence however, that, at least in Europe, psychoanalysis lost the foothold it had had in academia and in psychiatry, with far-reaching consequences for many decades to come.
BK: I very much like your use of the word “catch” … your description of Bleuler as Freud’s greatest “catch”. It makes me realise how much of the early psychoanalytical movement resembled a sort of dating website, with Freud and others desperately trying to make key alliances, key matches, key romances, even, and just how much these newfound alliances could be so fraught with Bleulerian ambivalence. In your estimation, Ernst, was Freud any good at forging relationships? I know that he maintained lifelong personal friendships with some of his Tarock-playing buddies like Oskar Rie, but how do you explain his many spectacular fall-outs with such a large number of his colleagues from Stekel and Adler to Jung and Rank and Ferenczi, and many more besides? Did one have to be totally, slavishly loyal – like Reik and Jones and Sachs – to avoid a “fall out”? Could Freud not tolerate disagreement or difference?
EF: This is of course a standard criticism that has been raised numerous times, that Freud was completely intolerant against any deviating views, and demanded complete loyalty. I think that the matter is more complex, however. First of all, he could maintain good relations, friendships even, with people who voiced sometimes very different opinions; think of Ludwig Binswanger, for instance, or Lou Andreas-Salomé, Franz Alexander, or also Bleuler, about whom we just talked. Or think of Karl Abraham who is often, and I think, wrongly, described as the pillar of orthodoxy, whereas in fact he developed ideas that ran completely counter to some of the pillar stones of Freud’s theory, as the psychoanalyst and historian Ludger Hermanns and I try to point out in our jointly-authored chapter on Abraham in the book. On the other hand, it is true that Freud could be unforgiving. In those cases, however, I think what happened was that, in addition to being confronted with deviating views, he also felt personally wounded and disappointed by the other’s behaviour. And I do think that Freud was a genius, and relationships with geniuses are never easy – neither for the star himself, nor for those who deal with him. I remember what Isidor Sadger wrote of Freud in his memoirs, namely, that it was hard for his disciples to understand and come to terms with what Freud had just written, only to learn after the summer vacation that his views had changed again. Geographical distance probably also played a role. When you met Freud on at least a weekly basis in Vienna like Adler, Stekel, or Rank, or were in constant contact and spent the holidays with him, like Ferenczi, it was certainly more difficult to maintain an independence of thought without coming into conflict.
BK: Yes, I appreciate this very nuanced reply. It is of course too easy to pigeon-hole Freud one way or the other. But as someone who has devoted much of his professional life to the promulgation of couple and marital psychoanalytical ideas, I find it sad that so many of these progressive, creative people ended up as bitter enemies, rather than as creative collaborators. Of course, this brings us to possibly the most famous “divorce” in the history of psychoanalysis, namely that of Freud and Jung. You are in a unique position to comment on this relationship, not only as a result of your historical scholarship, but also, I think, due to the fact that you may also be the only person to have translated and edited substantial amounts of writing or correspondence by both Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Did these two men fall out due to genuine theoretical differences? Due to phallic rivalries? How would you conceptualise their collaboration and its dissipation? And do you think that this fall-out helped to usher greater diversity into the psychoanalytical movement, or did it create embarrassing fractures and fissures that have never healed?
EF: Freud and Jung – this is a wide field indeed. Their correspondence reads like a Greek tragedy. You find everything in their relationship: love, even with erotic undertones, friendship, a father-son relationship, scientific collaboration, politics, rivalry, bitter fights, reconciliations, estrangement, hate … one could write a whole paper on this, as I have indeed done. Perhaps one could sum it up thus: they recognised at once the greatness in the other, but two stars of such a magnitude could not peacefully co-exist without colliding sooner or later. As to the consequences of their collaboration and falling-out, I find it has been much too little acknowledged that Jung, directly or indirectly, contributed very much to Freud’s thinking, and stimulated him to write about various topics he might otherwise not have written about. And of course there were great theoretical differences, and this from the very beginning, such as Jung’s persisting criticism of the sexual theory, for instance, and above all a completely different concept of the so-called “unconscious” and how it might manifest itself and be investigated. In their mutual fascination, however, they downplayed them for a long time until a clash became inevitable. With hindsight I would say that it is more surprising that they collaborated for a relatively long time at all, than that they fell out with each other at the end.
BK: I wish that we could have a much longer, much more detailed discussion about this. The consequences of this rupture still reverberate quite powerfully. I know of extremely few Freudian practitioners today who refer prospective patients to Jungian colleagues, and vice versa. Although we collaborate more than ever before, such collaborations in their truest sense are still very infrequent. I do recommend that readers have a good look at your work on Freud and Jung. But let us turn to some other matters. You have entitled your book Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping the Psychoanalytic Movement, and it is graced by a remarkable cover of your own design: a map that you have come to call “Spaghetti Junction”. I realise that not everyone will be familiar with these concepts. What is a psychoanalytic filiation, and how does one navigate a spaghetti junction?
EF: Psychoanalytic “filiations” is a term which I have borrowed from Wladimir Granoff, the French psychoanalyst. It is a way to describe the handing down of knowledge and practice in psychoanalysis, namely, through the personal analysis of the analyst-to-be. What I did was to draw a map of who analysed whom for some 480 early analysts (and throwing in, for fun, some other names like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra), simply connecting the names by arrows, as in A -> B. This is no ordinary genealogical tree, however, since there were also mutual analyses (A B), or cases when the former analysand later analysed their former analyst, etc. Given the numerous hostilities, complications, alliances, and also erotic relationships in this web, I originally wanted to call it the “Spaghetti Connection”, but then settled for the more prosaic “Spaghetti Junction”, in allusion to the British road junction.
BK: I think that all of us who have worked in the field of the history of psychoanalysis will acknowledge with pleasure the important contribution that you have made in this respect by really tracing in careful detail the transmission of knowledge, reminding us of the intimate ways in which scientific theory and personal interconnections have shaped an entire field. Thank you. I now have a very difficult question, and possibly quite an unfair one. Of the many chapters in your new book, do you have a favourite? Is there one of which you are particularly proud? I know that one should never ask a parent which child he or she prefers, but in this instance …
EF: I wanted to present a mixture of quite different texts, and of different qualities. There are those which cost me much work indeed, children of hard labour, as it were, and of these I’m quite proud. But there are also those which I wrote in one or two days – petitesses, one could say – and I’m actually more fond of the latter. They feel more like children of love. They are the shorter ones with fewer bibliographical references.
BK: Tell me, Ernst, you wrote many of these papers years ago, some in the 1990s, and some more recently. With the older papers, what was it like reading them and editing them again at this point? Do they hold up in your estimation? Do you wish that you had written anything differently? Or has new archival research altered your thinking in any way?
EF: At the risk of sounding arrogant, I confess that I was quite pleased when I read again, after such a long time, those older papers. Inevitably, some of the information therein is now outdated or obsolete, and there are things that I would write differently today, and how could it be otherwise? But with this caveat I find they hold up pretty well, given the time when they were written. Of course, if I’m permitted some British understatement, I’m slightly biased …
BK: I agree with you. I think that the older papers do hold up extremely well, and that they now cohere very nicely into a really compelling narrative. Congratulations! I do want to ask you some further questions and gather your thoughts about the history of psychoanalysis as a discipline, or perhaps I might now dare to say “profession”. In the early days, writing about the history of psychoanalysis had been very much a hobby of elderly psychoanalysts, reminiscing about their time with Freud or Jung; but nowadays, the field has grown spectacularly. After all, we currently have two journals devoted exclusively to the history of psychoanalysis, as well as numerous archives which store rare documents and other materials, and more recently, our monograph series on the history of psychoanalysis published by Karnac Books, in which your book appears. Can you share with us your thoughts on the history of psychoanalysis as a field of endeavour? Is it still the preserve of elderly analysts or egghead historians, or is it a field that will grow? And is the history of psychoanalysis truly relevant for the ordinary, jobbing clinical psychotherapist or psychoanalyst?
EF: I think that the field of psychoanalytic historiography is on the wane, and that the species of “historian of psychoanalysis” is nearly extinct. This is probably due to the fact that, with only very few exceptions, nobody can earn a living from it any longer. Where are the universities, foundations, academies, and institutions, endowments and sponsors, that would finance such an undertaking? There are only a very few university departments where young scholars could graduate with theses in this field, and even if they did, where would they find work? I know of quite a number of extremely promising and brilliant people who quit the field because of this.
BK: Oh, your answer has surprised me in many ways. I agree that it might be difficult to be a full-time psychoanalytical historian, but I am also acutely conscious of the growing interest in the field, and in our wish to preserve the past and to learn from the past. But I appreciate what you say about the many challenges and struggles. I hope that books such as yours will help to reignite the interest. My colleague Peter Rudnytsky and I are doing our best to promote good, high quality work through our “History of Psychoanalysis Series”. Your book will be the eleventh title in our monograph series, and we have many more excellent, high-quality works in the pipeline. But let us consider some other matters. First of all, I wonder whether you could tell us something about your experience as a psychoanalytical editor. You have done Herculean working in bringing the complete Freud-Abraham correspondence into print as well as the classic three-volume Freud-Ferenczi correspondence. I know that these projects took years and years to complete. How did you survive?
EF: I was extremely lucky. For the Freud-Ferenczi letters, André Haynal got me a research position at the University of Geneva; and then through his mediation, I got a stipend from the Fondation Louis Jeantet for the history of medicine, also in Geneva. Some of the work on the Freud-Abraham letters I could do on a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and then I got a stipend from the American Psychoanalytic Association for a research fellowship at Harvard University. After that, however, I had to take on a low-paying and exhausting job in psychiatry back in Austria – all my efforts to get a position in America failed – and after that I was jobless for some years and literally nearly starved. I was rescued only with the help of Marina Leitner Dorchi Sherpa and then I was offered, by the psychologist, historian, and Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani, the opportunity to work for the Philemon Foundation for the promotion of Jung scholarship, first as a translator, and then as an editor.
BK: Ah, this is very sobering indeed. But what an achievement you have made, and how impressive to have linked in with the University of Geneva and with Harvard University. This suggests that the field may be more vibrant than we know, thanks in part to your great scholarship and efforts. I wonder, though, whether we might differentiate between the field of Freud Studies and of psychoanalytical history more generally. I suppose that from a British perspective, we are now witnessing a huge boom in historical work on later figures in the field. For example, the complete works of Wilfred Bion have just appeared in a spectacular multi-volume edition, published by Karnac Books, and the complete works of Donald Winnicott will soon appear in a multi-volume edition as well. And plans are now underway to do likewise for John Bowlby’s works, with innumerable biographical and historiographical studies being undertaken by all sorts of scholars. Have we exhausted the well of Freud scholarship, and is it time to move on to the “younger” figures?
EF: I agree that numerous works keep on appearing. I think, however, that we should distinguish between such new editions of complete works, such as those of Bion or Winnicott, and historical works in the narrower sense of the word, that is, true historical scholarship. There is still a relatively large readership and interest in “depth-psychological” works, not least due to the continuing interest in so-called esoteric topics (the sales for Jung are double those for Freud). On the other hand, we are confronted with a wealth of mediocre or outright poor historical texts, and only very few that hold up to the highest scholarly standards, be it on Freud or on “younger” figures. Many of those are written by persons who have either not sufficient knowledge of psychoanalysis or of the basics of historical scholarship, or indeed neither of them.
BK: I understand your position. But perhaps I am holding on to a bit more optimism … at least I am endeavouring to do so. I have one more key question that I am really eager to ask you. In your chapter “Is There Still an Unknown Freud?: A Note on the Publications of Freud’s Texts and on Unpublished Documents”, which I read with great relish when it first appeared in the journalPsychoanalysis and History, and again, in your book, you made quite a bold challenge, and spoke of the fact that so many Freud scholars cannot speak German! This is, of course, quite true. And you went on to underscore that it would be both impossible and absurd to be a Shakespeare scholar of any note if one did not speak English, so why do we have a different set of standards for Freud and for Freud scholarship? Are the James Strachey translations so good and so accurate that we simply do not need to know German, or do you think that Freud in German is really a very different creature? I ask you as you are one of the few people who possesses an expert command of Freud in both languages.
EF: Well, this just goes to underscore my point. I am not quite sure why this is so. It seems that everyone feels entitled to write about Freud and the history of psychoanalysis in what historian Sonu Shamdasani called “history lite”, that is, fact-free history, and that so many readers are willing to swallow this, without ever checking the sources. Please spare me to name examples. It is of course mandatory to know German for a historian of early psychoanalysis, and also to be able to read Freud’s notoriously difficult handwriting in the case of Freud scholarship, regardless of the quality of the Strachey translations. Why authors feel entitled to write a whole Freud biography without knowing a single word of German is simply beyond me, as is the fact that such works are then praised in reviews, probably by reviewers with similar limitations.
BK: I appreciate your bold reply, and I think that this will evoke much sympathy from many different scholars. At the same time, I would hate for non-German speakers to be put off from reading Freud because of this. You will know that Strachey lost the sight in one of his eyes, and damaged the vision in the other from a lifetime – literally – of close scholarly work in the preparation of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.
EF: I truly admire the work of Strachey and his co-workers (Anna Freud, Alix Strachey, and Alan Tyson). I know Strachey’s work has often been criticised, and I agree with some of the criticisms, but the translations are still excellent, and so far I have encountered only extremely few Freud translations that are as good and exact, or even better. And what an awe-inspiring achievement! So, dear non-German speakers, please don’t be put off from reading Freud in English. Being a translator myself, however, I would never go for a translation when I’m able to read a text in the original. It’s simply not the same. And as I mentioned before, Freud is very hard to translate, first, because he is such a good stylist, and the better and more idiomatic a style is, the harder it is to translate, and second, also, because he used, and partly coined himself, terms that are perfectly ordinary in German, but for which there is no direct translation. Just think of the notorious Objektbesetzung[object cathexis], Nachträglichkeit [deferred action], Verdrängung [repression], or of Es [id], Ich [ego], and Über-Ich [superego], etc.
BK: I know what you mean. Ernst, you have been very generous with your time and with your thoughts. Before we come to the end of this interview, however, may I ask you which historians of psychoanalysis from the early period you most admire? I shall not put you in the awkward position of having to comment on living historical writers. But are you a fan of Siegfried Bernfeld, Ernest Jones, Kurt Eissler, Henri Ellenberger, Paul Roazen, etc.? Is there anyone to whom we can turn as an exemplar?
EF: I don’t want to name names. Instead I’d like to underscore that historical research is all about primary sources, and also the interpretation of those sources. To paraphrase Winnicott, there’s no such thing as a historical fact, there’s only fact and context and interpretation; but you have to have the fact in the first place, so as not to start from wrong premises. Many authors write as if they knew what was going on in their historical subjects’ heads, and I always wonder: How on earth do they know? As to the research of sources, I find there are basically two different approaches. There are those who start out with a preconceived notion, and who look for materials that prove them right. And there are those who delve into the material as unbiased as possible, engage in a nearly transferential-countertransferential process with constant self-reflection, and let themselves be surprised by what emerges. You could call these the deductive and the inductive approaches. I needn’t say with whom my sympathies lie, and now you can easily conclude who my favourite historians, dead or living, are. One concluding remark on this, if I may. Nobody gets everything right, and that’s how science should be – a search of an approximation of a truth we will never find. In my opinion the leading principle in research, and I think also in life, should be to tolerate and avowinsecurity, or the fact that there are so many things we just don’t know, and very probably never will, instead of forcing our preconceived opinions on things. I very much like Nietzsche’s notion of ephexis…
EF: Well, I’ve got some more irons in the fire. The immediate next project is to edit, together with Martin Liebscher of University College London, Jung’s lectures at the Eidgenössisch-technische Hochschule in Zürich, an eight-volume project. I’d also like to do more on philosophy, an interest that has been growing on me during the past years. There are new things that turn up in archives or private papers. I might write a crime or mystery novel. In any case, health permitting, I definitely do not plan to stop writing.
BK: Finally, please tell me Ernst, is there anything else that you would like to share with us, or any comments that you may have about the book, that you might wish to impart to readers?
EF: Not really. It’s always awkward for an author to comment himself on anything he has written. Once something is published, it’s out there in the world with a life of its own and no longer belongs to its creator. Let me just express the hope that, my gloomy predictions notwithstanding, interest in history in general, and in psychoanalytic history, will continue.
BK: Thank you, so much, Ernst.
EF: Brett, it has been a great pleasure to talk to you, a fellow traveller in those waters.
20th February, 2015.
Dr. Ernst Falzeder’s new book Psychoanalytic Filiations: Mapping the Psychoanalytic Movement, appears as the eleventh title in the “History of Psychoanalysis Series”, edited by Professor Brett Kahr and Professor Peter L. Rudnytsky for Karnac Books.