- The Clinical Diary of Sandor Ferenczi edited by Judith Dupont, translated by Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday Jackson
Harvard, 227 pp, £23.95, February 1989, ISBN 0 674 13526 1
It was Freud’s dubious privilege to attract endangered personalities. Possibly the most gifted, almost definitely the most interesting of these was Sandor Ferenczi; and the publication of a clinical journal he kept during most of 1932, the year before his death, allows the public interested in such matters to assess, far better than before, the range of his professional gifts and the depth of his psychological vulnerability. The English translation is fluent; the editing, though at times partisan, is helpful. This is a welcome addition to the growing number of significant texts illuminating the history of psychoanalysis.
Sandor Ferenczi, born in Budapest in 1873, first encountered Freud, as did so many others in Freud’s circle, through a book. But it was not love at first reading: a physician specialising in psychiatry, Ferenczi found The Interpretation of Dreams lacking in scientific rigour. But once he learned of the severely empirical manner in which, in their rigorous word-association experiments, Jung and his colleagues in Zurich were applying psychoanalytic ideas, he changed his mind and, with the fervour of a recent convert, professed and began to propagate Freud’s ideas. In January 1908, he wrote to Freud requesting an interview. Freud and Ferenczi hit it off immediately. By the summer, Freud had invited Ferenczi to visit him and his family at Berchtesgaden. When, early the following year, Freud’s eldest daughter Mathilde married a Viennese businessman, Freud confessed (in a letter to Ferenczi) that he would have preferred him as a son-in-law. Considering the later complications, perhaps it is just as well Ferenczi stayed in Budapest and married someone else.
It is easy to understand the appeal that Ferenczi had for Freud. He was, as everyone said, a loving and lovable man – the two most prominent reviews of this book in the United States use one or other of these adjectives in their titles. They seem inevitable. Though hungry for affection all his life, Ferenczi somehow found the resources to give others what he so desperately wanted himself. He was an effective and energetic labourer in the psychoanalytic vineyard: he was Freud’s loyal lieutenant in the intricate manoeuvres that led to the founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1910; three years later, he founded the Budapest Psychoanalytic Society, and after that trained an impressive cadre of analysts later scattered across the civilised world. What is more, he wrote a series of important papers whose significance we are still learning to appreciate today. Nor was this all: he had a supple and impressively imaginative mind; he could accompany – and at times overtake – Freud on some of his most adventurous speculative excursions. In striking contrast, another analytic colleague who became an intimate of Freud’s in these years, Karl Abraham, was sober and methodical. ‘Prussianity,’ Freud once wrote to Ernest Jones in his charming, near-perfect English, ‘is very strong with Abraham.’ He could not have said the same of Ferenczi.
There were storm signals almost from the beginning, however. Early in their friendship, Freud briefly analysed Ferenczi, and Ferenczi never really forgave his analyst for not carrying through the analysis to termination – a consummation that could have been reached only if Ferenczi had settled in Vienna for a substantial time. These were the heroic days of psychoanalysis, when informal and incomplete treatments, especially among the pioneering analysts, were common, but Ferenczi wanted more: in several remarkable passages scattered across this journal at once perceptive and self-serving, he gives vent to his long-standing resentment against what he chose to read as Freud’s detachment, coldness and barely-repressed hostility to his ‘sons’.
There may have been some truth in his sense of the master. But Freud had grievances of his own, and it is essential to be aware of them, preferably by reading this journal in conjunction with the letters Freud and Ferenczi exchanged over the years. It is not that Ferenczi fails to be self-critical in these pages, especially about his readiness to subject himself to Freud’s paternal authority. In a moving entry of 19 July 1932, he calls upon his own ‘psychoanalytical insight into my ... emotional emptiness’ to diagnose himself as schizophrenic, delusional and paranoid, as hating women and venerating men. Judith Dupont, the editor, who cites this entry in her introduction, calls it ‘caricature-like’, and certainly one should not take it as a literally accurate appraisal of his mental condition. Still, a study of the Freud-Ferenczi correspondence will show that these self-criticisms were not mere excessive modesty, or wholly unfounded. When, in the summer of 1910, the two men, for the first time on their own, travelled together through Italy to Sicily, Ferenczi, with his confidences and insatiable appetite for receiving matching confidences in turn, tested Freud’s capacity for patience to breaking-point. The editor, referring to this trip, notes an ‘incident’ that took place in Palermo during ‘a joint working session’, when ‘Ferenczi displayed a much more independent attitude than Freud was prepared to accept.’ She adds, with a stab at fairness, that Freud reproached Ferenczi ‘for behaving like a truculent and demanding child’. But the way Ferenczi himself was to recall the incident 11 years later to his friend, the ‘wild analyst’ Georg Groddeck, suggests that there was precious little to Ferenczi’s ‘independence’. Ferenczi wanted to be a loved son; Freud wanted, as he told Ferenczi, ‘an independent friend’. But Ferenczi could never quite rise to this stature: as he himself admitted, Freud remained the father.
There were memorable high points: in the late summer of 1909, he accompanied Freud (and Jung) to Clark University, and in the spring of 1910, he acted as Freud’s spokesman in the founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association, whose first president was Jung – which caused severe discomfort among Freud’s Viennese adherents. In the spring and summer of 1915, Ferenczi served brilliantly as a sounding-board for Freud’s far-ranging metapsychological papers, some of which were extravagant flights of psychoanalytic fancy. And yet, in the early Twenties and again toward the end of the decade, Ferenczi indulged in long stretches of silence. He was, as he said in more ways than one, ‘weaning’ himself of his dependence on Freud. Meanwhile his ‘father’ in Vienna, more patient than he usually was, waited for letters from Budapest, though Freud, too, at times neglected his side of the correspondence.
Grounds for tension between these two men were not confined to unresolved oedipal struggles. From the early Twenties onward, Ferenczi, loving his analysands and cultivating a warm atmosphere during the analytic hour, began to experiment with radical technical departures – above all, with what he called ‘mutual analysis’. Much of this journal is taken up with his reports on, and ruminations about, this innovation, which entailed giving the patient the opportunity to analyse him. It was, he recognised, a risky procedure and he more or less abandoned it in the course of the year. But, given Freud’s insistence on the analyst’s abstinence and necessary distance (a technical ideal that he did not perfectly follow either, for that matter), it isn’t surprising that he considered Ferenczi’s therapeutic affection impermissible and almost guaranteed to be counter-productive. Just before Ferenczi began keeping this ‘diary’ in December 1931, Freud had written him a long admonishing letter objecting to his reported technique of kissing patients and being kissed by them. It was, Freud insisted, a prescription for disaster. Patients, he said sternly, ‘are to be denied erotic gratifications’. Ferenczi replied in some detail, but now, in 1932, with his clinical journal, he was continuing the debate by different means – writing Freud, as it were, an interminable letter or (perhaps better) delivering an exhaustive monologue from behind the couch.
Technique was and had long been the cause of a drastic division of opinion between the two. Another cause was Ferenczi’s attempt to revise Freud’s views on the aetiology of neurosis. It involved him in a partial return to Freud’s so-called seduction theory, which Freud had abandoned, and with good reason, in the late 1890s. This was the theory that all neuroses are caused by some sort of sexual activity, mainly victimisation in childhood. I call it a ‘partial’ return because the early traumas that Ferenczi thought he could detect in many of his analysands were not just due to erotic seduction or outright rape, but could also be brought about, for instance, by sheer neglect. Whatever Ferenczi’s modifications of the seduction theory, however, Freud was appalled at his attempt to revive it. If Ferenczi had not, during that year, begun to show symptoms of serious physical illness – pernicious anemia-Freud’s correspondence with his old trusted colleague would have been far less cordial than in fact it remained.
Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary, filled as it is with concrete analytic detail (as well as wild cosmic speculations on such matters as the ‘rhythmic outpouring of the ego into the universe’), sheds fascinating light on questions of psychoanalytic technique and theory. It also sheds light on a notable controversy in the history of psychoanalysis. The question involves Ferenczi’s sanity, and Ernest Jones’s way with this delicate subject in the third and final volume of his life of Freud. Ferenczi, as Jones ruefully acknowledged, was Freud’s favourite in his inner circle, the intimate of intimates. And admirers of Ferenczi have long argued that Jones, writing of Ferenczi’s last year, gave way to jealousy and painted the Ferenczi of 1932 and after as essentially mad – mad in large part as a side-effect of his pernicious anemia. ‘The mental disturbance,’ Jones says of the early months of 1933, ‘had been making rapid progress in the last few months.’ Ferenczi, Jones writes, suffered from the delusion that Freud was hostile to him and, far more dramatically, that he had been cured of his troubles by messages sent across the Atlantic by a former patient. ‘Toward the end,’ he adds, ‘came violent paranoic and even homicidal outbursts.’ Ferenczi eventually died on 22 May 1933. In 1969, in the draft of an introduction to the journal that has only now been printed, Ferenczi’s pupil and friend, the Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint, said, with some indignation, that Jones’s volume contained ‘a violent attack on Ferenczi. As Jones had access to the whole Freud-Ferenczi correspondence, I could not understand how he was able to neglect the evidence contained in it. When I asked him from what source he derived his allegations, he refused to give any information except that it was someone close to Ferenczi during his last period.’ And Judith Dupont echoes this indignation in her introduction. These disclaimers require a few comments. First of all, Ferenczi – precisely in his correspondence with Freud – described himself as a mentally troubled being. He spoke in the spring and summer of 1932 of his ‘crisis of puberty’, of his ‘relative muddle’, of his ‘tormented hesitations’ over whether he should stand for president of the International Psychoanalytic Association. In March 1933, he criticised himself to Freud for his ‘childish pouting’, and added that he was ‘slowly recovering from a kind of nervous breakdown’. Secondly, and more important, the source of Jones’s description of Ferenczi’s mental state was none other than Freud himself. Jones in fact quoted mainly from Freud’s friendly comments on Ferenczi after Ferenczi’s death and took responsibility for the damaging diagnosis of Ferenczi’s mental state upon himself. But it was Freud who told Jones that ‘for years, Ferenczi was no longer with us, really no longer with himself ... During the last weeks he could no longer walk or stand at all. Simultaneously, there developed with uncanny logical consistency a mental degeneration which took the form of a paranoia.’ And it was Freud who diagnosed Ferenczi’s mental troubles as having been profoundly involved with his unmastered feelings about Freud. Even Jones’s unpleasant story of Ferenczi’s crazy trust in transatlantic messages came from Freud. It appears that there is only limited warrant for it: Ferenczi, in this journal, speaks of a patient who believes in longdistance healing, but he does so without endorsing her telepathic powers. If there is a misreading of Ferenczi’s mental state, the mistake is Freud’s, not Jones’s.
All this may seem of ‘merely’ historical interest. But nothing is ever ‘merely’ itself in history, and in the field of Freud scholarship, strewn as it is with the charges of cranks and with concealed autobiographical writings, accuracy is all the more desirable and information such as this book contains exceptionally welcome. Ferenczi’s technical departures, eccentric though they seem, raise interesting questions about the psychoanalytic situation, which should, after all, be anything but sacred. In the Outline of Psychoanalysis, written in English exile in 1938, Freud himself speculated that the time might come when the clumsy and time-consuming therapy of the couch might be replaced by chemical medications which would beneficially alter mental balances. It is is not likely that responsible psychoanalysts will take to kissing their patients on therapeutic grounds, but open mindedness, as encouraged by as remarkable a healer as Ferenczi, might not be a bad idea. This does not mean, however, that we have to take him as just another stick with which to beat Freud.