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Playing Dirty

In response to:

Scandal in the Family from the June 30, 1983 issue

To the Editors:

With reference to the excellent article on the role of Sabina Spielrein in the life of C.G. Jung [NYR, June 30], I would like to make the following observation and expand on Professor Bettelheim’s interpretation of that “scandalous” affair.

The author bases an essential part of his argument concerning the conflicting relationship between Jung and Spielrein on the analysis of Jung’s verbal association from the Spielrein surname. According to Bettelheim, this consists of a combination of the words spiel (meaning “play,” “to play”) and rein (which may mean “clean”). I say may, because the adjective or adverb rein means “clean” only in Hochdeutsch, therefore its use is limited to the center-north region of Germany. To be even more precise, rein should be translated into English as “pure” (Rein-heit=”purity”). Therefore, Spielrein would mean “to play cleanly,” according to Bettelheim.

Whereas, the equivalent of rein=”clean” (in the Bettelheim sense) in the south of Germany, as well as in Austria and in the German-speaking part of Switzerland (whose capital Zurich is the scenario for Jung and Spielrein’s love affair) is simply sauber.

In these regions, rein (originating from herein) has a different usage and meaning, which is even more significant for interpreting its association in the Spielrein-Jung relationship: rein, meaning “into” or eventually “in” in the aforementioned geographic and socio-linguistic context (e.g., Komm rein=”come in”; rein-fallen=”to fall into”).

Therefore, Spielrein is more correctly associated to an invitation, if not an order, to “play into me” or “play within me.” Such associations in the seductive sense I am suggesting would make the analysis of Jung’s guilty conduct with respect to Spielrein even more complete, as they allow the transfer of the point of conflict between them from Spielrein’s childhood trauma to the forbidden area of our unhappy Jung’s sexual desires toward his patient-lover.

Volker Petzoldt

Caracas, Venezuela

Bruno Bettelheim replies:

Mr. Petzoldt is correct in saying that the German word “rein” can also have the meaning “sauber.” He is in error when he claims that “rein” should be translated as “pure.” Witness the fact that Cassell’s authoritative dictionary gives the following translations for rein: “clean, pure, clear, neat.” Thus “clean” is the most common translation of this German word. “Sauber” can be the correct translation in certain contexts, but is by no means, not even in southern Germany, Switzerland, or German-speaking Austria the common meaning of the word “rein.”

While the interpretation of “rein” in connection with its use in such combinations as “herein,” meaning “into,” is ingenious, it is also far-fetched, when compared to the simpler and more direct translation of “rein” as “clean.” The word Mr. Petzoldt stresses, namely “sauber,” is used with children as an injunction to avoid dirtying themselves while playing. Thus, given Spielrein’s pathological efforts to avoid defecation when a child, it makes good sense to assume that she, and Jung, associated the “rein” in the name Spielrein to “sauber.” For the rest, it is everyone’s privilege to speculate what associations the part “rein” in the name Spielrein evoked in Jung’s mind.

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