Quote #35: Jung and the “ridiculous fear”

Mask 2014 by jpbohannon

Mask
2014 by jpbohannon

“We yield too much to the ridiculous fear that we are at bottom quite impossible beings, that if everyone were to appear as he really is, a frightful social catastrophe would ensue.”

Carl Jung,  The Archetype and the Collective Unconscious

Book Review: Sex Versus Survival–The Story of Sabina Spielrein

A good while back, I saw the film A Dangerous Method. I was enthralled. Depicting the budding relationship and subsequent falling out between Freud and Jung, and hanging it on the larger story of Sabina Spielrein, it introduced me to a history that I did not know.

Freud and Jung as played by Mortensen and Fassbender

Freud and Jung as played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender in the film A Dangerous Method.

Like most people, I knew about Freud and Jung to varying degrees, and probably a little more than the average reader. An avocation of sorts, I had read much more of Freud than of Jung: I had read several volumes of his works, different collections of his letters and several biographies and was more conversant with Freud’s vocabulary than with Jung’s. (Though I once had read a fascinating collection of letters between Jung and Herman Hesse that I remember mostly because upon finishing it, I had a startling–and still remembered–dream featuring the floating head of an exotic woman repeating the Sanskrit term, kamakeli. I would love to find those letters now–or a psychoanalyst to help me through the dream.)

But what I hadn’t known about until the film A Dangerous Method (based on the book of the same name by John Kerr) was the existence–or the importance–of Sabina Spielrein. And so I began reading. First, I read  the Kerr book on which the film was based. Then I read Jung–a relative hole in my reading. And this week I read a small book entitled Sex versus Survival: The Story of Sabina Spielrein–Her life, her ideas, her genius by John Launer. Launer is a senior staff member at the Tavistock Clinic–the preeminent institute in the U.K. for psychological training and a senior lecturer at the medical school of the University of London.

The stated purpose of his book is to give due to Spielrein, whom he believes should be ranked among the major figures in the history of psychoanalysis–and who is not because of injustice, malfeasance, and patriarchal insecurities, particularly at the hands of Freud and Jung.  He divides his book into three sections: Spielrein’s biography, Spielrein’s work, and Spielrein’s influence on 21st-century evolutionary psychoanalysis.

Her Life

In 1904, Spielrein was brought to Switzerland–having been turned away from various clinics–to be treated for severe psychic disorders. There she was first treated by Eugen Bleuler, head of the clinic, and later by his protege, Carl Jung.  In fact, Spielrein would be the first patient to be psychoanalyzed by Jung.  She would also soon become his lover.

Sabina Spielrein

Sabina Spielrein

Within a year, Spielrein’s symptoms had abated so that she had entered medical school in Zurich–while still being treated by Jung and entagled romantically with him. Together, the two debated and discussed the psychoanalytic topics of the day–with Spielrein progressively formulating and stating her own views.

However, before long, Jung saw her as a liability. (He was married and a respected figure in the early days of psychoanalysis. And he had certainly crossed a line with a damaged patient’s understandable “transference.”) He wrote to his mentor–and idol–Freud about the situation, though not naming names. She at the same time wrote to Freud. Freud wrote to Jung and the two discussed her as if she were nothing more than a case study. And so we have the two giants of psychoanalysis trying to quell a female colleague (and former patient and former lover) and cover up what would have certainly have been a professional and personal scandal.  This would go on for a long time–a power play mixed with antisemitism (was the Christian Jung attracted to her “otherness”?), patriarchy, chauvinism, and professional insecurity.

When Spielrein read her paper–“Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being”– to the bearded Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, (she was only the second woman to belong to the Society and a mere 26 years old), she focused on the biological factors at play in the sexual life of humans. Freud adamantly wanted psychoanalysis to have no connection whatsoever with biology (although he started out as a talented neurologist) and dismissed this major–and prescient–part of her paper. And when she brought mythology in to support her argument, Freud saw traces of Jung, with whom by now he was becoming completely disenchanted.

The two wrote about her–crudely at times–and patronizingly discussed her views. And then they buried her:  Jung–the editor of the Society’s journal–held her paper for a year before publishing it. Freud, in a snit about Jung, associated her too closely with him and gave her views barely a glance. When he did correspond with her, it was to analyze why she fell for Jung in the first place. As Launer writes, the two dealt with Spielrein by “pathologising the victim, and ignoring her ground-breaking ideas.” (p. 99)

And yet, her views influenced both men significantly.  For Jung, she was instrumental in developing his theory of the anima and animus; for Freud, she brought the thanatos to his eros, the “death wish” to his “pleasure principle.”

Spielrein moved on, becoming a leading figure in child psychology. (She was Jean Piaget’s psychoanalysist.) When she returned to her native Russia, she introduced psychology and psychoanalysis to the Russian medical system. But history was moving too fast.  First the communists closed down the psychology departments, then forbade psychoanalysis, then came down heavy on all the sciences. Her brothers– a physicist and a biologist– were sent to labor camps and never heard from again.

And then came the Nazis. In the summer of 1942, Nazi soldiers marched into the town of Rostov. They gathered the people and marched them to the Zmeyevsky gully–a mass grave at the edge of town where mass executions took place. Sabina Spielrein was among those killed.

Plaque in front of the Berlin House where Sabina Spielrein once lived.

Plaque in front of the Berlin house where Sabina Spielrein once lived.

Her Work and Influence

Launer spends the second half of the book describing the text of her initial paper to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. She began by equating the “invasion” of a sperm fertilizing an egg with the sex act itself and stated that in sex–both personal and genetic–something is loss (or killed) in the evolutionary drive to replicate itself.  Launer then goes on to say, that despite her mistakes and misdirections, that she was greatly prescient and anticipated some of the major theories of 21st century biology and evolutionary psychology. Three of his final chapters take her three main positions and reword them as a modern evolutionary biologist would put them. Here is how he pairs them:

According to Speilrein’s first principle, ˆReproduction predominates over survival”

Speilrein wrote: “The individual must strongly hunger for this new creation in order to place its own destruction in its service.”

Modern Evolutionary Theory says: “The imperative of all living organisms is the replication of their genes by direct or indirect means in the face of individual extinction.”

According to Speilrein’s second principle, ˆSex is a form of invasion, leading to the destruction of genes from both partners to the reconstitution of new life.”

Speilrein described sex as a process of destruction and reconstruction at every level : “a union in which one forces its way into another.”

Modern Evolutionary Theory says: “As well as co-operation, sexual reproduction involves inherent conflict at every level between male and female genetic interests.

According to Speilrein’s third principle, “Human feelings correspond with the biological facts of reproduction.”

Speilrein wrote: “It would be highly unlikely if the individual did not at least surmise, through corresponding feelings, these internal deconstructive-reconstructive events.”

Modern Evolutionary Theory says: “Our feelings correspond to the way we balance opportunities for genetic continuation against the risks of extinction.

In her writings, Spielrein anticipated the “selfish gene” of Richard Dawkins; she anticipated a needed convergence of Darwin and Freud; and she brought biology onto the psychoanalyst’s couch. Perhaps, she was so far ahead of her time that her theories could not be proven, tested, or validated, but she was also stymied by forces more powerful than she.

The story of Sabina Spielrein is fascinating, a story of love and passion, of intelligence and perseverance, of betrayal and destruction.  It is Launer’s contention that Spielrein’s name should be as familiar to us as the name of her two more famous male colleagues. The depth of her influence is still be discovered–her papers were not found until the 1970s–and it is certain that her contributions to psychology and evolutionary biology is still yet to be fully appreciated.

Book Review: The Twenty-Four Hour Mind by Rosalind D. Cartwright

The Twenty-Four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives

illustration 2013 jpbohannon

illustration 2013 jpbohannon

My reading list these days is erratic and wide. I am picking up things that pique my interest without any plan, without any connection to what I previously had been reading. But that’s okay for these summer days.

A colleague had forwarded an article from Maria Popova’s brain pickings blog. It was a review of Rosalind D. Cartwright’s book on the role of sleeping and bookdreaming in our lives. The review (like nearly everything on “brain pickings”) was intriguing and interesting. So of course, I had to find it in our library.

Cartwright is one of the preeminent scientists studying sleep–a relatively new area in scientific research. Her thesis is that sleep is essential to our health, particularly to our emotional health, and that the modern penchant (and desire) for sleeping less is damaging both physically and psychically.

Indeed, the mind does not sleep when we sleep–it goes into over-drive, cataloging memories, cementing new knowledge, mapping neural pathways. Cartwright states:

We can now begin to answer the question, “Where do we go when we got to sleep?” Clearly we do not sink into a void, but instead into a mental workshop where emotionally important information is kept active until it is saved in neural networks. When the highly activated REM sleep comes along, perceptual dreams reveal the matching of new information to old… . Through the night, from REM to REM, new information is integrated, drawing together more and more remote associations.

She continues that there is short-term functionality to these rhythms– “down-regulation of negative mood” –and long-term functionality. The long-term benefits, she lists as “continuously test[ing] and modify[ing] those non-conscious habitual schemas that make up our self-system and influence our behavior choices, based on our emotional evaluation of whether the new experience supports or challenges our present self-definition.”

This is a lot of responsibility thrown onto a good night sleep, and Cartwright’s argument is that we, as modern human beings, are sabotaging that essential need.

Aside from emotional turmoil–and Cartwright’s expertise is on sleep disorders, particular sleepwalking–Cartwright points out physical dangers as well. Those with long-term insomnia are more prone to obesity and diabetes. A famous study by the American Cancer Society was done over a 10-year period and found a puzzling pattern. Those who slept less than six hours a night AND those who slept more than nine hours a night had a higher mortality rate for their age. The conclusion is that we humans are built to sleep about 1/3 of our 24 hour cycles, that magic 7 to 9 hour range.

“We speak prose while awake and poetry when asleep.”

"The Dream," 1932 Pablo Picasso

“The Dream,” 1932 Pablo Picasso

Yet, for Cartwright’s thesis, it is not merely sleep that is essential to human health, but dreaming as well. In her profession, Cartwright is known as “the Queen of Dreams,” and dream-research is what she is interested in and battles for. Here is how Cartwright explains the symbiotic functioning of the waking and dreaming life.

“…[T]he mind is continuously active, although in different modes of expression, during the two major alterating states of waking and sleep. … In waking, there is a wider lens open to receive and respond more to the external world, while in sleep we are mostly confined to a narrower base of internal information both new and old.”

It is this “internal” information that sets us dreaming, that allows us to fit old information with new information, to anticipate new situations and reconcile old. Cartwright firmly believes that our emotions are greatly tied to the functioning of our dreaming, and of our sleeping.

While Cartwright acknowledges the contributions of Freud to dream-analysis and the understanding of the unconscious, she moves decidedly apart from him. (The technological abilities for brain-image mapping, sleep studies, etc. give her a great advantage.) The Freudian concept of the preconscious, unconscious and conscious mind is much too simplistic for what Cartwright sees happening. Here is her take on dreaming:

“So in good sleepers, the mind is continuously active, reviewing experience from yesterday, sorting which new information is relevant and important to save due to its emotional saliency. Dreams are not without sense, nor are they best understood to be expressions of infantile wishes. They are the result of the interconnectedness of new experience with that already stored in memory networks. But memory is never a precise duplicate of the original; instead, it is a contining act of creation. Dream images are the product of that creation. They are formed by pattern recognition between some current emotionally valued experience matching the condensed representation of similarly toned memories. Networks of these become our familiar style of thinking, which gives our behavior continuity and us a coherent sense of who we are. Thus, dream dimensions are elements of the schemas, and both represent accumulated experience and serve to filter and evaluate the new day’s input.”

It all is a lot to digest. But it is something to sleep upon.

Quote of the week #8: June 16, 2013

image

illustration ©2013 jpbohannon

“Mythical heroes are of obviously superhuman dimensions, an aspect which helps to make these stories acceptable to the child. Otherwise the child would be overpowered by the implied demand that he emulate the hero in his own life. Myths are useful in forming not the total personality, but only the superego. The child knows that he cannot possibly live up to the hero’s virtue, or parallel his deeds; all he can be expected to do is emulate the hero to some small degree so the child is not defeated by the discrepancy between this ideal and his own smallness.”

Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment

Book Review: Dirty Snow by George Simenon–Dostoyevsky with a touch of Kafka…only bleaker.

dirtysnow

A colleague of mine passed on a book that he liked very much. Dirty Snow by the prolific Belgian writer, George Simenon. I had read several of Simenon’s detective novels, gritty tales that featured the Parisian detective Maigret. The Maigret novels–I believe there are over fifty of them—seemed superior to most in that genre, filled with a certain ennui and jaded acceptance that went beyond the cynical aloofness of his American counterparts or the aloof cynicism of his more modern offspring. And to be honest, they were good reads.

georgesimenon

George Simenon

Although I had read only the Maigret novels, I knew that Simenon wrote other sorts of novels. I had always heard them referred to as “philosophical” novels, though the French label them as “psychological” novels. And the French are closer to the truth, here.

And when my colleague passed on to me Dirty Snow, he did so with the caveat that it was “extremely grim” although oddly humanistic.

Dirty Snow is the story of Frank Friedmaier making his way through his occupied city.  We never know who the occupiers are and where the city is. When he is imprisoned, his captors, his location, and his crime are never identified. All of this, gives the novel a certain Kafkaesque feeling. And although time moves forward throughout the seasons, there seems always to be piles of soiled, stained, and dirtied snow.

And yet it was Crime and Punishment that I thought of immediately. Frank–who may be the most amoral, sociopath I have come across in my reading, and I know Burgess’s Alex and Ellis’s Bateman–begins the novel looking to kill his first person. There is no reason for, no gain from this murder–it is, as he says, like losing his virginity: “Losing his virginity, his actual virginity, hadn’t meant very much to Frank. He had been in the right place. … And for Frank, who was nineteen, to kill his first man was another loss of virginity hardly any more disturbing than the first. And like the first, it wasn’t premeditated.”  Like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, he needs little push to kill his victim. Yet, there the similarity ends.  For Raskolnikov punishes himself, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically for the crime he committed.  Frank feels nothing. And soon he kills again…an old woman in his childhood village who recognized him in the course of a burglary.

But the murders are not his greatest crime. That is reserved for the sweet and loving Sissy who lives across the hall from the brothel that Frank’s mother runs and where Frank lives.  (Sissy mirrors very closely Raskolnikov’s Sophia in her love and faithfulness to Frank.)  Frank’s relations with women are brutal at best–indeed all the women in the novel seem mistreated one way or another.  He takes full advantage of his mother’s prostitutes, coldly, quickly and unemotionally, and this is the way he treats Sissy as well, deceiving her into a situation where she is nearly raped by his drinking associate.

One might say there is no reason for Frank’s viciousness, but that would be inaccurate. There is no “motive,” no “purpose” for his ferocity. But there is a reason, and Simenon attempts to suggest it subtly. Frank’s mother abandoned him to a wet-nurse so she could “ply her trade” and visited only occasional. He never knew his father, only the brutality of both life and the State.  Two men are offered as father surrogates in the novel: one, a Maigret-like inspector who turns a blind eye to Frank’s mother’s occupation and who very well may be his biological father and Sissy’s father, Holst, who Frank is drawn to from the beginning, who sees Frank in the alleyway on his first kill, and who offers him forgiveness at the end.

But many men have similar upbringings and few turn out as nihilistic, amoral, and unfeeling as Frank.  To his interrogator he says at the end: “I am not a fanatic, an agitator, or a patriot. I am a piece of shit.” There is nothing.  Yet the flip side of that is that there is nothing the State offers either.  They have not arrested him for the murders or the burglary. They have brought him in, they torture him merely for information.  And here, in the claustrophobic room where he is questioned, one remembers a similar room–Room 101 in Orwell’s 1984. But Frank is no Winston Smith either; there is no romantic dream of something better, no fervid belief in the ultimate progress of what is right.  There is only Frank, solipsistic and brutal Frank.

Simenon’s novel is fascinating. His hero is repellent. And I can’t stop thinking about neither it nor him… It’s sort of like wearing wet shoes, soaked through by dirty snow.