To the Editor:
Edith Kurzweil’s comments on last summer’s Psychoanalytic Congress in Vienna [“The (Freudian) Congress of Vienna,” November 1971] seem unduly harsh. I attended the Congress, too, and as one of the younger analysts in the Los Angeles Society, I can testify to the vigorousness with which any and all issues of human psychology are being pursued within psychoanalysis. . . .
Edith Kurzweil appears to be a social scientist whose plea is for “relevance” to her field, including a reformulation of analytic terminology so that it will fit in more easily with that of the social sciences. She criticizes the abstract terms of analytic theory without apparently appreciating the problem of bridging the gap between clinical language—which is close to emotional experience—and the more abstract formulations which depart from direct observation and make possible the construction of higher levels of understanding. . . .
Most unkindly, Miss Kurzweil does not indicate an appreciation for the immensity of the psychoanalytic undertaking, which is nothing less than a comprehensive theory of function. In a short time, psychoanalysis has produced the most far-reaching understanding of human personality ever known. The psychoanalytic situation of analyst and analysand is par excellence a laboratory for that growing body of data which leads to theoretical advances. But Miss Kurzweil shows no warmth for this. Her comments on Freud and his daughter betray only irritation that homage should still be paid to the genius who broke the ground and the revered descendant who has given herself so fully to the task of developing our field. . . .
It must be said that committees do not produce great ideas, and that “psychoanalysis,” however it may be organized, does not have a collective will that directs it, for example, toward the social sciences or in any other direction. But people do fix upon psychoanalysis for all the important answers (viewing analysts in the same manner that physicians have been traditionally regarded); they do tend to idealize, and the result often is the resurrection of old problems. With a combination of awe and hatred, the formerly-worshiped practitioners may become the butt of comments like these: “However ‘accepting’ or ‘understanding’ the individual analysts may be in their healing roles, as members of the organization they display all the characteristics of self-righteousness, in-fighting, and political amorality we usually associate with less exalted persons.” There is much more of this sort of thing in the article, including references to the amount of food consumed by the . . . analysts.
How enjoyable a pastime for Edith Kurzweil from her Olympian aerie to speculate on the behavior of these men, suddenly become objects of study, virtually patients themselves! This self-congratulatory behavior, unsupported by evidence, contributes precisely nothing, and tends moreover to entice others to indulge their regressive appetites rather than to face the real issues squarely, with minds uncluttered by prejudice.
This, in microcosm, is the problem faced by psychoanalysis on a large scale, that is, how to preserve a body of hard-won knowledge against assault, while evolving toward higher levels of understanding in accordance with new information and novel conceptions.
But enough. I would hope that Miss Kurzweil might have brought a bit more generosity of spirit to her observations of a group of people doing exceedingly difficult work and striving to understand and to arrive at notions of truth. . . .
F. Robert Rodman, M.D.
Beverly Hills, California
To the Editor:
It was with some distaste that I read Edith Kurzweil’s surly description of present-day Vienna in her report on the Freudian Congress. Having traveled extensively in Austria and having studied in Vienna, I can honestly say that I encountered few of the sinister types so pervasive in her narrative.
It should be added, however, that I did not visit Vienna to judge its inhabitants. Miss Kurzweil, on the other hand, seems to have gone there for no other reason—which is not to say that she has been insincere! In the very meanness of her assaults—for example in her comments on the welcoming remarks of Austrian dignitaries to the Congress—smolders an earnest and passionate grudge. . . .
New York City
Edith Kurzweil writes:
F. Robert Rodman’s serious letter deserves comment, even though upon occasion he uses psychoanalytic interpretation—of dubious validity—to focus attention away from the issues. My “plea for relevance” was not alone to my field (sociology), nor was it to have the analysts present ready-made formulations for the social sciences. It was intended as a plea for (Freudian) psychoanalysis itself to use or examine what work has been done by other schools of analysis, by lay analysts, and by social scientists—in the U.S. and abroad—in addition to doing their clinical work. In that way some of the discussions of aggression (theoretical, clinical, and applied) might possibly have avoided jumping from the clinical to the societal level of the problems—without mediation.
Psychoanalysts have much insight and knowledge to offer, and not all of it, one hopes, will have to be preserved “against assault.” Freud, in addition to creating the most far-reaching theory of human personality, gave public lectures and wrote general works like Totem and Taboo and Civilization and Its Discontents. Nothing pleased him more, according to Jones, than when Thomas Mann came to see him and presented him with the Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt. At Clark University, and elsewhere, he spoke to general audiences. His self-criticism and his openness to new ideas (on many levels, of course) seem to have been the mainspring of the evolution of his theory. It is exactly because “all issues of human psychology are being pursued within psychoanalysis” and they then “become a body of hard-won knowledge to be preserved,” that I felt disappointed in the Congress. Although I never doubted the seriousness and devotion to the discipline of the analysts attending the Congress, I felt that while working on Freud’s theories, they had (as a group) lost his spirit.
Of course, psychoanalysis has made tremendous strides since its beginnings, and some of the analysts who attended the Congress are responsible for some of these advances. Yet during this same period there have been new historical and sociological interpretations of the human condition, scientific advances, and, above all, the complex and quickly changing conditions of advanced industrial society. Unless a serious dialogue is begun between some of the other social scientists and the psychoanalysts, too few people will benefit from the findings of psychoanalysis. Is it really necessary, or in Freud’s spirit, to “strive to understand and to arrive at notions of truth” by giving up the educational mission of psychoanalysis? Or is it not possible to do both?
In a footnote on page 14 of the February issue the title of Ben Halpern’s book was incorrectly given. The correct title is Jews and Blacks: The Classic American Minorities.