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Berlin PsychoanalyticReview - Berlin Psychoanalytic
Psychoanalysis and Culture in Weimar Republic Germany and Beyond
by Veronika Fuechtner
University of California Press, 2011
Review by Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D.
Nov 8th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 45)

The Weimar period in Germany was a strange mixture of, on the one hand, depression and misery, and on the other of bright hopes and radical ideas. Something of this atmosphere is conveyed in Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, It is useful to have some notion of this background when tackling the present work. The author, a German studies scholar whose primary interests are literature and culture, is an erudite guide through part of that weird and wonderful world.

In the introduction Fuechtner explains what she means by the title: 'the Berlin psychoanalytic is not a location (like Psychoanalytic Berlin) but a cultural practice that goes beyond the geographical and historical limits of Weimar Berlin.' Each of the four main chapters is centered on the relationship between two salient figures who were usually literary psychoanalysts, and  around whom a range of others revolve.

The first two chapters focus on people in Germany, while the other two deal with emigrants in Palestine and New York respectively. Yet such a neat division is misleading, since numerous threads cut across them. The life histories of the major figures are told, and their literary productions discussed.

All this sounds rather dry, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Take the two contrasting characters of Döbling and Groddeck, both prominent in the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute (BPI). Döblin was the author of the famous novel Berlin Alexanderplatz and another less known one about two girls who commit murder. In an appendix to this book he presented a series of Venn diagrams representing the psychoanalytic dynamics of the relationships in the novel. Incidentally, Doblin refers to Seele ('soul') as is often done in German, but a better translation would have been 'mind'. Döblin was a sober medical man with social conscience, troubled by the misery around him. He was active in a Polyclinic for low-income patients, financed by donations from psychoanalysts in the BPI.

Georg Groddeck, who also published novels, described himself as a 'wild analyst'.  He delighted in shocking supposedly unshockable psychoanalysts, as when he presented at a conference an analysis of his own bed-wetting. At the same time he was in contact with Freud, who at one time regarded him favourably. Grodeck also influenced Karen Horney and Erich Fromm who after their emigration to the USA become exponents of ego --psychology. But Fuechtner devotes most space to his relationship with the strange Hermann von Keyserling, philosopher and writer, who ran a 'School of Wisdom'.  He sought o purify psychoanalysis from its Jewish taint, and envisaged a eugenics program like that later put into practice by the Nazis.

The above is elaborated in the first two chapters, and two other deal with emigration. One on psychoanalysis in Palestine, while informative, is probably of rather less interest than the last one on the development of psychoanalysis in USA and especially New York.  Readers who, like myself, have read Honey and Fromm will gain a deeper understanding of the origins of their ideas and the ways in which these took root in the USA.

It is tempting to quote more snippets from this rich tapestry. For instance, the ways in which the younger generation of psychoanalysts both deferred to and yet also revolted against their elders; or how many had multiple analyses from different analysts; or how several non-Jewish psychoanalysts were absorbed in a psychiatric institution found by and named after a cousin of Hermann Göring; or, finally, how the Dadaist and psychoanalyst Richard Huelsenbeck only escaped the Gestapo because they did not realise these were one and the same person.

All the main characters wrote what the author calls 'psychoanalytic novels', which are discussed in considerable depth. Groddeck, for example, sent parts of his manuscript of The book of the It to Freud, who was less than enthusiastic since it conflicted with his own concept of the id. In such ways the relationships between writers' literary productions and their psychoanalytic doctrines are clearly brought out.

Enough has been said show the fascination of this work, which has been meticulously researched and has a comprehensive index -- a great help since the material is so dense. In sum, this book is fine piece of scholarly work that throws fresh light on a formative period of psychoanalysis.


© 2011 Gustav Jahoda


Gustav Jahoda, Ph.D. is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His main fields of interest are cross-cultural and social psychology, especially the development of social cognition. He is the author of A History of Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press).



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