The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank: Inside Psychoanalysis

Image of The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank: Inside Psychoanalysis
Release Date: 
December 20, 2011
Publisher/Imprint: 
Johns Hopkins University Press
Pages: 
384
Reviewed by: 

“For those well versed in the world of psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, for those who are students of Freud, and for those who know the historical players in this game, The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank is a wonderful text filled with excellent research and understanding of the growth and the beginning of the demise of Freudian analysis. It is comprehensive, academic, and a must for those are historians of the era, historians of psychoanalysis, or those simply curious about the men who started a revolution in mental health.”

His name conjures up mental pictures of a well-dressed and highly intelligent man, his band of likeminded, and their seemingly strange obsessions and misconceptions about sex, physiology, female anatomy, and dreams—at least by 21st century standards—and maybe a story or two about cigars.

The life and times of Sigmund Freud have been well documented over the decades. His theories have been praised and debunked, his home life and family thoroughly analyzed. Though many believe they know all they want to know about the father of psychoanalysis, there is a lot still to learn about the man.

Otto Rank, on the other hand, is a name that few outside the world of psychology and psychiatry are familiar with. He was Freud’s protégée and among his closest friends. Twenty-eight years his junior, Rank was truly an equal to his mentor in every sense of the word. Yet aside from the books published concerning the mind’s analytical and creative abilities and his works with Freud on dream therapy, little is written about him and less is understood.

The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank is one of those attempts to lend a better understanding the relationship between the two great minds in analytic psychology and to the storied history of psychoanalysis. Covering some 250 letters between the two gentlemen over 20 years, as well as correspondence with others of their ilk, The Letters offers a deep insight into the relationship and the process of thought between these two men.

It is unfortunate that the editors, Mssrs. Lieberman and Kramer, do not take the time to resolve the biography problem concerning Rank in the first few chapters. We are given a lot of information concerning the growth of the relationship between the two men, but for those less knowledgeable the editors provide only a brief biographical sketch of Rank. This serves as a pattern throughout the book: Something seemingly is always missing in the tale.

One thing is abundantly clear from the letters: neither man thought in linear terms. Names, places, and theories pop in and out of the letters with so much ease that only those with knowledge of the historical context and bibliographies of Freud’s insular group will be able to keep up. There is an intimate maze through which the reader is lead—at times without apparent reason.

It is unfortunate that that the editors take a similar route in their narratives. Though they attempt to provide historical clarity between letters, the feat is not always achieved. The narratives are occasionally disjointed and do not always provide the in depth meaning or knowledge of the subjects or people being discussed.

This could have been resolved as simply as providing first names and references for some of the characters, or explaining the several theories that are introduced by them or the editors. There was a strange wanting of a concessionaire from Bush Stadium screaming, “Get your program. Can’t tell the players without a program.” You either know the players or you do not. With few exceptions, the editors do not provide enough of the insight one would expect.

On the other hand, the reader is made fully aware how the works attributed to each of the main characters launched their careers and solidified their friendship; Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and Dream Psychology, and Rank’s Art and Artist and The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. (The second is highly recommended reading.) Through the narrative and letters, we can follow Freud’s admiration for Rank’s works and Rank’s for Freud’s.

The letters themselves are fascinating to read, to interpret in terms of the power Freud believed he had over the members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and the International Psychological Association. The departure of many of their members, most famously Carl Jung, was usually caused by Freud’s own apparent inability to accept anyone else’s work or theories . . . except, of course, those of Rank. Though brilliant, the letters make it clear that Freud was his organization’s worse enemy when it came to retention of members and friends.

The editors divide some 250 letters into two categories—major and minor. The “minor” letters are found in the appendix, but do need to be read along with the major letters discussed in the text for they tend to provide a bit more clarity regarding the story at hand.

For those well versed in the world of psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, for those who are students of Freud, and for those who know the historical players in this game, The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank is a wonderful text filled with excellent research and understanding of the growth and the beginning of the demise of Freudian analysis. It is comprehensive, academic, and a must for those are historians of the era, historians of psychoanalysis, or those simply curious about the men who started a revolution in mental health.