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Understanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of PsychoanalysisReview - Understanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of Psychoanalysis
by Martin S. Bergmann (Editor)
Other Press, 2004
Review by Aleksandar Dimitrijevic
Jan 22nd 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 3)

At first glance, the idea of dissidence in science seems impossible. The whole point of rigorous scientific methodology makes it impossible to think in terms of dissidence -- at least in those disciplines organized in accordance with the principle of refutation. But, not so in psychoanalysis which has been haunted by controversy since its very inception. And dissidence, as Otto Kernberg emphasizes in this volume (p. 129), "implies an ideological or religious quality of psychoanalytic convictions." One of the reasons for this is that the psychoanalytic "method of inquiry is identical with the method of therapy" (Bergmann, p. 58). While Freud proclaimed his affinity for natural science methodology, he did not test his conclusions outside the clinical setting. Worse still, in 1912 he formed the secret committee of seven ringleaders, a kind of a headquarters devoted to protecting -- instead of testing -- his doctrine (Bergmann, p. 5).

Understanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of Psychoanalysis, a volume edited by Martin Bergman, and the conference transcripts it contains, represent two of the rare efforts at better understanding this aspect of psychoanalysis. They can be said to have attempted to answer four basic questions:

  • For what reason does one become a psychoanalytic dissident?
  • Can something be learnt from the dissidents?
  • How is dissidence to be taught in the psychoanalytic curriculum?
  • Is psychoanalysis isolated from other disciplines? Is, for instance, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl right in claiming that "it seems very obvious that since the Second World War, nobody outside of the field of psychoanalysis could read its journals or cared to? Psychoanalysis began to communicate in an internal language" (p. 278)?

The book consists of three parts: first, Bergmann's introductory essay, which reviews explanations for and discusses the many instances of psychoanalytic dissidence; then come eight essays written by participants as a preparation to the conference; finally, the transcript of the conference proceedings, followed by Robert Wallerstein's reaction to it (he was asked to write it since he had been unable to participate).

Another stimulus for the conference was quite unique as well -- the occasion of Martin Begmann's 90th birthday. This gives the book a special flavor, since the reader can enjoy Bergmann's knowledgeable treatment of different psychoanalytic theories, but also his reminiscences of Wilhelm Reich, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm, and the spirit of psychoanalysis from the years following the World War II to the first years of the new millennium.

With its 111 pages, Bergmann's essay is of monographic length itself. Bergmann opens with the plea "for a psychoanalytic attitude toward the history of psychoanalysis and its dissidents" (p. 1). He also claims that he will try to "… treat dissidence primarily as a battle of ideas, leaving aside the social aspects of these controversies" (p. 1), which, as will become obvious just several pages later, is impossible. He puts a lot of effort in understanding the vehemence of psychoanalytic controversies (Wallerstein will suggest the use of less controversial terms than vehemence, like passion or conviction - p. 362). I shall give a short review of these explanations.

The first one is in fact taken from Freud and employs one of his favorite concepts -- resistance. Faced with rejection from scientific circles of the early twentieth century, Freud tried to explain that attitude by pointing out to resistance to psychoanalytic discoveries. When Adler and Jung decided to search for their own paths, he attributed their decision to resistance stemming from insufficient analyses. Ironically, despite his "belief that the insufficiently analyzed analyst is influenced by his complexes, while the fully analyzed follows the dictates of science" (Bergmann, p. 54), the master of self-analysis never applied this principle to himself.

Bergmann goes one step further than Freud when he claims that psychoanalytic dissidence is a result of dissatisfaction with one's analysis and belief in the superiority of a later self-analysis: "... it is not the differences with Freud that determined dissidence. It is the basic attitude of gratitude or criticism ... (p. 89) ... dissidence (occurs) only when the hostility toward one's own analyst, projected on Freud, is greater than the gratitude ... " (p. 78). Though this exploration seems to shed light on one part of the picture, it misses the "political" and institutional contexts of such situations when creative self-analyses turn into new psychoanalytic schools.

Bergmann later adds the importance of reaction formation for understanding vehemence (p. 268-9), but does not explain its possible role. He also offers a view that regards psychoanalysis as "created and not discovered, and because it was a creation and not a discovery, dissidents had to play a major role in its history" (p. 98).

However, what could prove to become more inspiring is a remark made during the discussion by Anton Kris who claimed that the vehemence of psychoanalytic controversies often originates from the difficulty to separate challenging analytic facts and challenging one's analytic being (Kris, p. 272). Unfortunately, this idea was not investigated any further.

The major part of Bergmann's essay consists of several pages long accounts of the most important psychoanalytic dissidents, ranging from the earliest ones -- Adler, Jung, Rank, and Ferenczi -- to the dissidence that occurred after Freud's death.

Bergmann claims that the dissidents who were Freud's contemporaries had a different character from dissidents who appeared after his death. The former were personally close to Freud, usually gave significant contributions to classical psychoanalysis, than turned against Freud and sometimes founded their own schools. Bergmann also reviews "controversial discussions" between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein and wonders whether the world of psychoanalysis had to wait for Freud to die to be able to open those controversial questions (p. 56). He proceeds with the discussion of dissidence in the realm of postclassical psychoanalysis, developed in the works of Erich Fromm, Lacan, Kohut, Fairbairn, and Winnicott. His discussion is enriched later chapters such as Savege Scharff's on the British object relations theorists (followed by a long discussion of Bowlby's work and biography - pp. 340ff.), Young-Bruehl's chapter on Ian Suttie, and Bergmann's own paper on Charles Rycroft, which all bring a great deal of valuable information.

In the second part of the book, seven conference participants -- Andre Green, Otto F. Kernberg, Anton O. Kris, Harold P. Blum, Jill Savege Scharff, Robert S. Wallerstein, and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl -- reveal their reactions to Bergmann's essay, and Bergmann himself added a paper on Charles Rycroft. All these papers were written as preparation for the conference. Therefore, I shall discuss only the topics that had the greatest influence on the discussion that followed.

The first among these topics is a controversy of "Drive Theory vs. Trauma Theory." The topic opens with Andre Green's efforts to define "the Freudian core of psychoanalysis," the defining features of psychoanalysis. Green thinks this core consists of repression, resistance, primary process, transference, psychic reality, the unconscious, and - most importantly - the concept of drive (see esp. p. 265). It is his belief that "any psychoanalytic theory of any kind has to show no disagreement with (this core's) value as the fundamental principle of psychoanalytic thought, whatever adjunctions or corollaries are called for. I will consider as real dissidence any theory, whatever it says, that is in disagreement with this core, explicitly or not" (p. 118). However, he then concludes that "a great portion of contemporary psychoanalysis is in more or less permanent, more or less complete, dissidence" (p. 119), and even writes about "...Freud's own dissidence. From the minute he introduced the death instinct, Freud was a dissident himself" (p. 317). This topic was also discussed in detail by Otto Kernberg (pp. 321-323), and then occupied a large part of the final hours of the conference discussion.

What could be even more important is that Green introduces the topic of fragmentation of psychoanalysis, listing several possible reasons for it, and other discussants join him later (see Wallerstein pp. 212ff.). Kernberg (p. 144) described the alternative development of what he termed the relational/intersubjective/self psychological approach, but, sadly, no one represented these developments at the conference. During the discussion, Otto Kernberg and Robert Wallerstein expressed hope that consensus is possible -- especially in technique. Wallerstein also repeated his conviction that no metapsychology is better than others (p. 365) and that different metapsychologies "could fit comfortably enough within our (common) core" (p. 364), a proposition that has previously been rejected by some participants.

Finally, Otto Kernberg was the only participant who raised the question of the pathology of psychoanalytic institutions and authoritarian attitudes of their leaders (see esp. pp. 140-142). Kernberg later (p. 279) proposed a list of the main reasons for dissidence, which pays more attention to the constitution of psychoanalytic community:

  1. the pathology of psychoanalytic institutions
  2. the opposition to some of Freud's basic discoveries
  3. psychoanalysis itself becoming an ideology
  4. conflict between psychoanalysis as a science of man and psychoanalysis as a specific technique.

One can only hope that Kernberg's efforts will inspire more analysts to reconsider the organization of psychoanalytic institutes and their most important purpose -- training. Kernberg (p. 267) raised the question of influence of psychoanalytic curriculum on candidates' creativity and related it to the issue of dissidence. Particularly illustrating is his recounting of having been faced with spies in some of the seminars he taught (p. 303). Kernberg (p. 143), like Wallerstein in his final contribution to this volume (pp. 366-7), proposed scientific research as a way out of various controversies. But in this same volume the attachment theory (and, for that matter, neuropsychoanalysis) is still treated as dissidence, its data ignored or considered irrelevant (see esp. pp. 339ff), its relevance dismissed like Saul Rosenzweig's experimental confirmation of Freud's concepts was dismissed as irrelevant by Freud himself (Wallerstein, p. 369).

The conference proceedings constitute the final third of the book. The text, printed in quite a small font, comprises about 110 pages, and makes a very exciting and dynamic reading. The ease with which the participants shift from one subject to another, the depth of their knowledge, and the creativity of their responses are quite impressive. But, apart from enjoying their erudition and experience, the reader is quickly drawn into a heated debate where disagreement is more frequent that consensus: the vehemence of psychoanalytic controversy can be observed at firsthand. The most striking example comes from Andre Green's statements that "Looking back at the history of dissidence, I cannot say that I would wish to apologize to any of the dissenters ... Having studied them, I do not regret the departure of H. S. Sullivan, Fromm, C. Thompson, and K. Horney" (p. 124-5), or that he does not find any common ground or agreement with the intersubjectivists (p. 320). For all these reasons, I think this is a reading that everyone would enjoy. On the other hand, there is a certain drawback to this: though there are numerous questions that should have been answered -- at least tentatively -- the discussion did not lead to any conclusions, or to a concluding/summarizing chapter.

Finally, I shall focus on one important problem of this otherwise exciting reading with many important contributions to contemporary psychoanalysis and related disciplines. Namely, this book seems to be equally blind to Freud's possible responsibility for the dissidence as any previous hagiographic treatise of Freud. Bergmann claims that "the accusation that Freud was intolerant was refuted" (p. 96), as if these were "accusations," and as if such statements could be refuted. One of Bergmann's proofs is that Freud was changing his mind quite often. However, not only was Freud "strongly assertive of (his views) at any particular point" (Kernberg, p. 131), but he almost never changed his mind under the influence of any other mind but his own: "he welcomed contributions from his adherents so long as they were fully compatible with his own positions, and usually just extensions or amplifications of them" (Wallerstein, p. 201).

Bergmann will later (p. 261) claim that "during his lifetime no psychoanalyst but Freud wrote papers that have survived as milestones in the history of psychoanalysis … During Freud's lifetime he was psychoanalysis ... To disagree with Freud was for psychoanalysts as well as for dissidents an act of patricide." Amazingly, what he sees in this is only Freud's enormous genius, not even for a moment Freud's effort to control the creativity of his followers. Bergmann, of course, knows well that "what is striking is that Rank's extensive work is entirely in Freud's shadow. Individuation came to him only after the break" (p. 24). But when you would expect some kind of conclusion or explanation, Bergmann simply moves to a new paragraph.

The same goes for the discussion of developments that once had been a cause for dissidence and/or expulsion from the psychoanalytic community and later formed the basis for innovation. During the discussion, Mortimer Ostow remembered the problems he encountered because of recommending drug therapy in the 1950s alongside psychoanalysis (p. 273), which today is a regular practice. Bergmann wrote that "Rank discovered preoedipal fixation on the mother" (p. 26). In his paper, Harold Blum discusses the case of Ferenczi (see esp. p. 164), and later labels him a predecessor of Winnicott (p. 287). Why, then, were all these accomplishments once considered a cause for dissidence? Could it be that this happened because Freud was unable to tolerate other people's creativity? Could it be that Freud needed to break his relationship with Adler because of his need to distance himself from the latter's early emphasis on aggressive drive (see Wallerstein, pp. 205, 364) in order to claim it his discovery less than ten years later?

A particular instance of this blindness seems to be Blum's description of the nowadays famous Palermo incident: "Ferenczi had rebelled against serving as what he regarded as Freud's secretary in the Palermo incident in 1910, when they were traveling together to Sicily. Although Ferenczi and Freud had been discussing the psychodynamics of paranoia, Freud then proceeded to write the Schreber case during their Sicily vacation in his own hotel room and Ferenczi missed the opportunity to be a coauthor" (Blum, p. 166). What Ferenczi described in a letter to Georg Groddeck (who is not even mentioned in this book) is how Freud started dictating him the paper, so I cannot see any other way but to regard it as Freud's attempt to turn a colleague into a secretary. Furthermore, Blum's phrasing is very unusual: "Ferenczi missed the opportunity to be a coauthor." Couldn't he, instead, have said that Freud decided to punish Ferenczi's disobedience by excluding him from the final phase of writing the paper they jointly prepared? If we look at it this way, we might give a more adequate significance to Jill Scharff's definition of dissident: "Someone who was hurt by Freud and had to avenge himself" (p. 319).

To conclude, Understanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of Psychoanalysis could prove to be a very important point in the history of psychoanalysis. Despite more than a hundred years of psychoanalytic theory, this volume opens a debate about two disturbing topics: first, what one can learn from the dissidents; second, how one could improve psychoanalytic education. Contributors to the volume, a fantastic group of internationally renowned authors, open many provocative questions and controversies, sometimes in an engagingly personal manner. They also offer many answers packed with erudition, eloquence and creativity. Some questions, some viewpoints, some dethronings are missing. But one book, or one conference, cannot solve it all. It is difficult to believe that this book will change psychoanalytic institutions and their tolerance for difference. But it is upon us to take Martin Bergmann's torch and try to bring it farther in the years to come.


© 2006 Aleksandar Dimitrijevic


Aleksandar Dimitrijevic, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Psychology, Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


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