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The Lovable Analyst

The Clinical Diary of Sándor Ferenczi

edited by Judith Dupont, translated by Michael Balint, by Nicola Zarday Jackson
Harvard University Press, 227 pp., $29.95

In the mythology surrounding Freud’s early career, Sándor Ferenczi has emerged as the most lovable and generous of Freud’s close colleagues, a man whose personal qualities contrast with the deviousness of Ernest Jones, the aloofness of Karl Abraham, and the knotted-up character of Otto Rank. While it has generally been acknowledged that Ferenczi was for years Freud’s favorite disciple, he has been regarded with suspicion for his experiments in psychoanalytic technique; and it has been assumed that his mind deteriorated in the years before his death in 1933.

Such charges were circulated mainly by Ernest Jones in his biography of Freud. Jones was fiercely jealous of the closeness of the relationship between Ferenczi and Freud. In 1913 Freud made it clear that he wanted Jones to be analyzed by Ferenczi. Not unnaturally Jones didn’t welcome Ferenczi’s becoming privy to the irregularities of his sexual life. These had caused Freud some alarm, particularly since he needed a gentile to replace Jung after the latter’s defection and Jones was the only candidate available. “Put some stuffing in the clown,” Freud advised Ferenczi, “so we can make him a king.” When Jones was writing his life of Freud, he was given access to the Freud–Ferenczi correspondence and it must have come as a shock to him to learn how much Freud had distrusted him. Consequently he omitted passages from letters he quoted, thus creating a false impression about Ferenczi.

That Ferenczi’s important contributions have not been sufficiently acknowledged cannot be laid on Jones’s shoulders alone. Freud, as he grew older, became increasingly intolerant of views differing from his own, and he did not hesitate to claim that such differences had pathological sources. Moreover, Freud frequently described the same people and events very differently to various correspondents.

During the 1980s an important reevaluation of Ferenczi has been taking place, particularly by French scholars, led by the Coq-Heron Group in Paris, of which Dr. Judith Dupont is a leading member. Dr. Dupont has recently edited a superb edition of Ferenczi’s clinical diary, written in the last year of his life (1932), in which we learn for the first time Ferenczi’s own reasons for the controversial experimental methods he used in his therapeutic work.

We also learn something of his background. His father, Baruch Frankel, was born in Poland in 1830. As a young man he moved to Hungary, where he took an active part in the nationalist uprising against the Habsburgs in 1848. After the insurrection was put down he and his wife (also of Polish-Jewish extraction) settled in a provincial town where they established a bookshop, then a printing press, and a booking agency for concert tours. Their home was the intellectual center of the region, constantly filled with people, despite the fact that they had eleven children, of which Sándor, the fifth son, was born in 1873. During this period they changed their name to its Magyar form, Ferenczi. Apparently Sándor was his father’s favorite and accompanied him on his daily visits to vineyards he owned in the neighborhood. His father’s death, when Ferenczi was fifteen, was a wound from which he never recovered.

Toward his dominating mother Ferenczi had an unrelenting hostility. In the year of her death (1921) he wrote to his new friend, Georg Groddeck, that his mother had been too severe, that he never received any signs of affection from her, and that all the children were in awe of their parents. From such a background, he demanded, “how could anyone respect anything but hypocrisy?” Preserving appearances was essential. As an adolescent he was a brilliant student. At the same time he became a compulsive masturbator; and, using stolen money, he frequented brothels. His mother discovered a list of obscene words he had compiled and instead of talking to him with the sympathetic understanding he felt he deserved, she delivered a moralizing sermon for which he never forgave her.

In 1893 he entered medical school in Vienna. His favorite brother, Sigmund, was working in the city as a chemical engineer, and the two brothers spent all their free time together, leading Freud later to declare that Ferenczi had a brother fixation. On his return to Budapest he rose rapidly within the medical profession, and by 1905 was an expert court medical witness.

When he first read The Interpretation of Dreams in 1907 his reaction was revulsion. However, Freud’s ideas must have held a certain fascination for him for he sought out the author in Vienna early the following year. Their first meeting on February 2, 1908, was a mutual coup de foudre. That summer he spent his vacation with Freud at Berchtesgaden, and for years he was to be Freud’s companion on holidays. He visited him frequently in Vienna, and an extensive correspondence continued until Ferenczi’s death in 1933. For a time Freud also hoped that Ferenczi would marry his daughter Mathilde.

Freud invited him to accompany him to America in 1909 when he received an honorary doctorate from Clark University. It was from Ferenczi, not Jung, that Freud took advice before delivering his lectures to an American audience. The International Association of Psychoanalysis was formed on Ferenczi’s suggestion. At Nuremberg in 1910 Jung—the essential gentile—presided as president. Within the year Freud had become convinced of Jung’s unreliability; and in 1912, on the joint suggestion of Ferenczi and Jones, a “secret committee” was formed to ensure a united front protective of Freud and his theories.

In 1913 Ferenczi founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. Its future looked so promising that at the Congress of 1918 Freud predicted that Budapest would become the pivot of psychoanalysis. However, the situation would change with startling rapidity when an anti-Semitic government gained power in Hungary and almost all the leading analysts fled to Berlin, where Karl Abraham was establishing a strong institute.

On two occasions, in 1913 and 1916, Freud spent several weeks analyzing Ferenczi. In the interval Freud even made a trip to Hungary to visit Ferenczi, who had been conscripted to serve as an army psychiatrist. Years later Ferenczi confided to Groddeck that he had been unable to open himself up freely to Freud because he was too much in awe of him, that he regarded him as a father, and that he wanted above anything else to be loved by Freud.1 He later complained to Freud that Freud had not sufficiently analyzed Ferenczi’s negative transference, and Freud, still smarting from the accusation, defended himself after Ferenczi’s death in “Analysis: Terminable and Interminable” (1937). The general belief that Ferenczi was in a state of neurotic dependence on Freud is not altogether borne out by the facts. In 1910 an estrangement almost occurred between the two men during “an incident” that took place in Palermo while they were on extended holiday. This is Jones’s account:

What actually happened in Sicily was merely that Ferenczi was inhibited, sulky and unreliable in the day to day arrangements; Freud described his attitude as one of “bashful admiration and mute opposition.” But behind those manifestations lay severe trouble in the depths of his personality. As I well knew from many intimate talks with him, he was haunted by a quite inordinate and insatiable longing for his father’s love. It was the dominating passion of his life and was indirectly the source of the unfortunate changes he introduced into his psychoanalytic technique twenty years later, which had the effect of estranging him from Freud (though not Freud from him).2

As we now know from the correspondence between Groddeck and Ferenczi and the clinical diary under review, Freud suggested that they collaborate on a paper based on the memoirs of the psychotic judge Schreber. When Ferenczi discovered that “collaboration” in effect meant that he would serve as Freud’s amanuensis, scribbling down Freud’s dictation, he firmly refused. Freud then retired in a sulk to work in isloation at night in his room.

Doubtless this incident was in Ferenczi’s mind at the Nuremberg Congress the following year when he proposed a psychoanalytic organization comparable to an ideal family:

It would be a family in which the father enjoyed no dogmatic authority, but only that to which he was entitled by reason of his abilities and labours. His pronouncements would not be followed blindly, as if they were divine revelations, but, like everything else, would be subject to thoroughgoing criticism, which he would accept, not with the absurd superiority of the paterfamilias, but with the attention it deserved.3

Nevertheless, Jones is not exaggerating when he says of Ferenczi that “his demands for intimacy had no bounds. There was to be no privacy and no secrets between him and Freud.”4 Encouraged by Freud, Ferenczi involved him in the most private complexities of his life.

While still a young man Ferenczi had entered into a liaison with a married woman ten years his senior, Gisella Palos. In 1911 he briefly analyzed her beautiful daughter Elma, with whom he fell madly in love. Elma subsequently married and moved to America. For years Freud encouraged him to marry Gisella, and in 1917 Ferenczi persuaded Freud to write to her on his behalf. Some years after their marriage Elma’s marriage broke up and she returned to Europe. Her distraught mother suggested that she and Ferenczi divorce so that he could marry Elma and she would then act as a surrogate mother to Ferenczi. However, the couple remained married, but Ferenczi always maintained a certain resentment toward Freud, holding him responsible for the fact that he could not have children or an adequate sexual life.

In the postwar years Ferenczi developed a number of physical ailments and spent considerable time at the Baden-Baden spa of Georg Groddeck, another enfant terrible of psychoanalysis, who believed in holistic medicine and whose ideas were to have considerable influence on Ferenczi’s subsequent experiments in technique.

In 1926 Ferenczi made a trip to America, where he lectured at the New School for Social Research, mainly to support Freud’s view endorsing lay analysis against the American doctors who insisted that all psychoanalysts have a medical degree. However, he gradually withdrew from the politics of the movement, concentrating on finding better ways to use psychoanalytic therapy. Freud at one point admitted to him that he was uninterested in curing patients whom he regarded as “riffraff” (Gesindel), and he reproached Ferenczi for his “furor sanandi” (rage to cure). Ferenczi admitted that he, too, was often “fed up” with patients, but he spelled out his position clearly in a letter of October 10, 1931: “I am, above all, an empiricist…. Ideas are always closely linked with the vicissitudes in the treatment of patients, and by these are either repudiated or confirmed.”5

The term “wild analyst” was first applied to Ferenczi for his introduction of the “active” technique in the early Twenties. This was fully endorsed by Freud at the time. It was a rigorous procedure in which the analyst would suggest or introduce situations that would create tension in the patient.6 The aim was to free repressed urges and associations. Freud himself had used this technique with the Wolf Man when he told his patient that he was setting a date by which the analysis would have to end.

  1. 1

    See Ferenczi–Groddeck Correspondence (1921–1931), translation by the Groupe du Coq-Heron (Paris: Payot, 1982), pp. 56–57.

  2. 2

    See Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 2 (Basic Books, 1955), p. 82.

  3. 3

    See Sándor Ferenczi, “On the Organization of the Psycho-Analytic Movement,” in Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psycho-Analysis, ed. Michael Balint, trans. Eric Mosbacher et al. (1955; Brunner/Mazel reprint, 1980), p. 303.

  4. 4

    Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 2, p. 82.

  5. 5

    The Clinical Diary of Sandor Ferenczi, p. xv.

  6. 6

    See Michael Balint, The Basic Fault (1968; Brunner/Mazel reprint, 1979), p. 124.

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