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Ferenczi’s Influence on Contemporary Psychoanalytic Traditions: Lines of Development – Evolution of Theory and Practice over the Decades, edited by Aleksandar Dimitrijević, Gabriele Cassullo, and Jay Frankel, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2018, 308pp.

The pandemic that struck Austria-Hungary in the summer of 1918 spread with such intensity that by the fall, all the schools in Vienna were closed. Two close friends and colleagues, Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, corresponded with one another about the current state of affairs, filling each other in on the health of their families and the impact of the viral scourge on their private practices.

“Anna, Ernst, Mathilde are in the process of recovering from their Spanish [flus]. Oli suffered from it as well…” (Freud, 1918a, p. 299). “I and those closest to me have up to now been spared the Spanish flu, even though our hospital is a gathering place for severe cases. A pity that you have so much to do with this burdensome guest” (Ferenczi, 1918a, p. 300). “The epidemic is still dominating the scene. One hears about horrendous cases and is always reassured when someone has already had it” (Freud, 1918b, p. 302). “The influenza – or however one may term this pestilence – is terribly rampant in Budapest. Ten to fifteen persons are dying in our hospital daily” (Ferenczi, 1918b, p. 303). “My practice was very limited during these weeks of the epidemic” (Freud, 1918c, p. 305). “Isolation is an abhorrent source of the feeling of impotence, which is so strong at this time” (Freud, 1918d, p. 306).

Although this dialogue took place more than 100 years ago, it feels uncannily similar to the conversations many of us are now having during the current global pandemic. For the past several weeks I’ve been peering at my patients’ pixelated faces and into their private spaces through my computer screen. Our sessions are punctuated by the wailing of ambulance sirens, jarring reminders of our shared trauma. There is some comfort in knowing we are not the first generation of psychoanalysts to have their personal lives and private practices upended by a plague.

Were he alive today, I suspect that Freud (1913), who abhorred the thought of “being stared at by other people for eight hours a day (or more)” (p. 133) would have chosen phone sessions over video, preferring not to have his patients’ faces loom so large on the computer screen in such close proximity to his own. Yet I feel sure that Ferenczi, though regretful of the nuances lost to the imposed physical distancing, would have welcomed seeing his patients’ faces up close, eager to embrace the opportunity for a new kind of therapeutic intimacy made possible by 21st century technology. I imagine he would have been interested in exploring the mutuality of this shared experience, mining it for its therapeutic potential. Most certainly, he would have been alert to the reverberations of past trauma and to the anxiety precipitated by the present unseen, but very real, external threat.

Widely recognized by his peers, including Freud, as a brilliant therapist, Sándor Ferenczi’s profound concern for relieving his patients’ suffering motivated his continuous rethinking of theory and, at times, radical experimentation with technique. Yet, after his death in 1933, the psychoanalytic movement wrote Ferenczi out of its history for over 50 years. This volume joins the Ferenczi Renaissance, which started in 1988 with the publication of his Clinical Diary (Ferenczi, 1932) in English.1 It is part of the ever-growing Ferenczian scholarship to rectify that tragic erasure, – in effect, a traumatic split in the history of psychoanalysis – to further bring Ferenczi’s theoretical and clinical contributions to psychoanalysis out of the shadows and into the light. This is an ambitious and comprehensive volume, encompassing more than 40 chapters, authored by an international group of renowned Ferenczi scholars.

Divided into four sections, with some overlap in content – inevitable, given the sheer number of contributors – the book traces Ferenczi’s biographical history and relationships with family, colleagues, and patients; his theoretical and clinical contributions, in particular his formulations of the effects of trauma on the individual and his experimentation with technique; his influence, often hidden or obscured, on psychoanalytic theorists such as Bowlby, Fairbairn, Winnicott, and Laplanche, and on the development of new and diverse psychoanalytic approaches; and finally, the applications and extensions of Ferenczi’s ideas beyond the consulting room to the realm of politics, social reform, education and child rearing, and to our contemporary understanding of the sequelae of child abuse.

Perhaps because this book has served as my constant companion during the COVID-19 pandemic, of which my hometown of New York City is an epicenter, I am moved to highlight the clinical section as the shining jewel of this collection. As it has been for me, I believe it will be particularly useful for clinicians treating traumatized patients, many of whom also have a childhood history of trauma. Chapters by Avello, Cabré, and Frankel stand out for their illuminating clarity in their respective elaborations of Ferenczi’s concepts of the unwelcome child, wise baby, and identification with the aggressor. Frankel writes, “The child, terrified of exclusion, faces the dilemma succinctly articulated by Marx (Groucho): ‘Who you gonna believe, me or your own lying eyes?’ – and chooses the former…Jettisoning one’s own direct experience removes the foundation for the senses of authenticity and agency.” (p. 136)

This book glitters with details that, once assembled, paint a vivid portrait not only of Ferenczi’s creative genius and generous humanity, but also of his all-too-human flaws and vulnerabilities. We learn from William Brennan, for example, that Ferenczi employed his “active technique” to treat his patient, Eleanor Morris Burnet, who was afraid of sunlight, by taking her out “into the hustle and bustle of Broadway” and walking with her down the streets of Manhattan” (p. 93). Burnet, in turn, described Ferenczi as incredibly patient and kind, with a Puckish sense of humor. She noted, “One felt safe with him, safer with him than any other man or woman” (p. 93). One begins to understand the mutative role played by Ferenczi’s personality and the warm therapeutic relationship it fostered in his success as a therapist. Yet many of Ferenczi’s important professional relationships (including his ultimately fraught relationship with Freud) ended in disappointment. Although Ferenczi and Otto Rank were early collaborators, Falzeder tells us that after their break, “when Ferenczi was in New York and they met by chance in Penn Station, [Ferenczi] ignored Rank. “He was my best friend,” complained Rank bitterly afterwards, “and he refused to speak to me” (p. 51). It should be noted that Ferenczi (1932) writes movingly about his long and complicated relationship with Freud in his Clinical Diary, and the Correspondence between Freud and Ferenczi2 describes in detail many of the relationships that ended in disappointment for Ferenczi or others (Freud and Ferenczi, 1908–1914, 1914–1919, 1920–1933).

Yet even after his death, Ferenczi continues to speak to us. His legacy of creativity and experimentation, his willingness to adapt the treatment to best meet the needs of each patient, lives on in our practices even today, as rather than abandoning our patients along with our physical offices, we transition to meeting with them remotely, availing ourselves of the technology that makes meeting in these circumstances possible at all. I believe Ferenczi would have approved.

Notes

  1. 1

    Judith Dupont, M.D., the noted French psychoanalyst, niece of Michael Balint, and editor of Le Coq-Héron, was the literary custodian of Ferenczi’s estate for decades. Thanks to her skill and diplomacy, the Clinical Diary was first translated into French and published in 1985, 52 years after Ferenczi’s last entry in the Diary. The English language version was then published in 1988, which many consider the beginning of the Ferenczi Renaissance. Dr. Dupont donated all Ferenczi related material in her possession to the Ferenczi Archives, which was established in 2012 at the London Freud Museum. Dupont wrote: “The time had come to make these documents available to all interested people. My wish was to keep these documents in Europe. I remembered Michael Balint who told me that he had the occasion to show Freud, before his death, the last papers of Ferenczi – those he had rejected so violently in their time – especially the ‘Confusion of Tongues’. Freud read them again and said to Balint that there were many interesting things in them. My feeling was that it would make some sense to welcome Ferenczi in Freud’s house again. The directors of the Freud Museum shared this point of view, started to work on establishing the Ferenczi Archives at the Freud Museum, and now, these two men, so close to one another in their lives, can be consulted and studied together” (Dupont, 2013, p. 5).

  2. 2

    The Freud Ferenczi Correspondence could be published after Anna Freud’s death, with the agreement of the rest of the Freud family (see Dupont, 2013). At the festive opening of the Ferenczi Archives on September 29, 2012, Peter Rudnytsky (2013), gave a moving account of the long process of publishing the Freud-Ferenczi Correspondence and refers to Judith Dupont and André Haynal as “our Ferenczian couple.” “Dupont, the literary executor of Ferenczi’s estate, is the living link connecting us to Ferenczi, [and we thank her] for her magnanimous and farsighted gift of the Ferenczi Archive to the Freud Museum”. Rudnytsky then describes that “Without our other Ferenczian parent, André Haynal, the splendid edition of the 1246 letters that Freud and Ferenczi exchanged between 1908 and 1933 would never have seen the light of day. Upon Michael Balint’s death, the priceless cache of letters was inherited by his widow, Enid Balint. It was she who, in 1983, reached out to Dr. Haynal, recognizing his unique qualifications not only as a Hungarian-born psychoanalyst but also as a professor at the Medical School of Geneva, and asked him to take charge of publishing the correspondence. And it was, in turn, Dr. Haynal who insisted that the only acceptable course of action was to ensure that the edition would be complete and uncensored, and done to the highest scholarly standards. To this end, Dr. Haynal assembled his team, headed by Ernst Falzeder (Salzburg), with contributions from Eva Brabant (Paris) and, for the first volume, Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch (Vienna), and led them in their painstaking research. In addition to supervising the complex scientific work, Dr. Haynal secured much of the funding necessary to support this monumental endeavor, in no small measure from the University of Geneva. As it happened, the edited and annotated text began to appear first in a three-volume French translation, undertaken by Judith Dupont’s Coq-Héron group, between 1992 and 2000. This was closely followed by the English version, again in three volumes, between 1992 and 2000, and by the original German text, also between 1993 and 2000, though this last was in six rather than three volumes. Dr. Haynal’s vision that the Freud-Ferenczi correspondence would take its place alongside all the other definitive editions of Freud’s letters was thus realized, and the outpouring of research and scholarship that it has inspired is the best possible testimony to the enduring nature of his accomplishment” (p. 223.)

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Starr, K.E. Ferenczi’s Influence on Contemporary Psychoanalytic Traditions: Lines of Development – Evolution of Theory and Practice over the Decades, edited by Aleksandar Dimitrijević, Gabriele Cassullo, and Jay Frankel, Routledge, Abingdon and New York, 2018, 308pp.. Am J Psychoanal 80, 476–480 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-020-09269-5

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