Otto Rank, A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures/Separation, Will, and Creativity: The Wisdom of Otto Rank

By Khamsi, Stephen PhD | Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Otto Rank, A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures/Separation, Will, and Creativity: The Wisdom of Otto Rank


Khamsi, Stephen PhD, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health


Otto Rank, A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures. Selected, Edited, and Introduced by Robert Kramer with a foreword by Rollo May. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-691-04470-8.

Separation, Will, and Creativity: The Wisdom of Otto Rank by Esther Menaker. Edited by Claude Barbre. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996. ISBN 1-56-821-802-8.

The writings of Otto Rank (1884-1939) are in the midst of a rebirth. Rank-artist, poet, psychotherapist, philosopher, mythologist, and educator-was a leading disciple and confidant of Freud and the first lay psychoanalyst. Banished as a dissident from the inner circle of psychoanalysis in the 1920's, Rank was excommunicated like Adler and Jung before him. Though largely unacknowledged, Rank is a forerunner of ego psychology, object-relations theory, interpersonal psychotherapy, existential psychology, and Rogers' client-centered approach.

The break with Freud was Rank's great turning point. In 1924 Rank transcended Freudian ideology in two bodks-The Development of Psychoanalysis (Ferenczi & Rank, 1924/1956) and The Trauma of Birth (1924/1952). He left psychoanalysis in order to help clients, having become disillusioned by endless analyses and therapeutic ideology. Writing now as a philosopher and metaphysician, Rank emphasized each individual's struggle to become separate, whole, creative. Rank emigrated from Vienna to Paris in 1926, where he stayed until 1934 and treated artists such as Anais Nin and Henry Miller. He moved permanently to the U.S. in 1935. Rank's tragic death came in 1939 from an unexpected reaction to medication, only one month after Freud's physician-assisted death from morphine.

Rank's original writings, be forewarned, are notoriously difficult. Rollo May (1950/1977) cautioned that Rank's terminology and dualistic mode of thought are "uncongenial" (p. 132), while Ernest Becker (1973) characterized Rank's work as a confusion of insights, so rich and diffuse that "he is almost inaccessible to the general reader" (p. xii). Anais Nin (1967) insisted that these writings don't do justice to his ideas, and admitted that Rank himself had tried to persuade her to rewrite his books (p. 16). It is not surprising, then, that Irvin Yalom (1980) has decried the "wretched translations" that are now "almost mercifully" out of print (p. 293). So, given the considerable learning curve, why bother with these works? Because Rank's thought has deep implications for development of the social sciences (Becker, 1973, p. xii-xiv). Like travel guides in unfamiliar territory, capable interpreters like Menaker and Kramer help us on our way.

Fortunately, Esther Menaker's (1996) Separation, will, and creativity: The wisdom of Otto Rank makes this work approachable. Menaker, almost ninety, has nearly seventy years of experience as a psychotherapist and analyst. Having studied under professor Jesse Taft (the Rankian analysand, biographer, and translator), Menaker later traveled to Vienna in order to train with Anna Freud. For decades, Menaker has written and lectured about Rank, providing much-needed interpretation and explanation.

Separation, comprised of thirteeen chapters, is broad in scope, ranging from an impassioned pilgrimage to view Rank's teenage diary to thoughtful discussions of the philosophy of science. Also included are seven case histories from Menaker's own private practice, intended to illustrate Rankian principles. All this material, even the personal and anecdotal, assists the reader in embracing the ever-difficult Rank.

Rank was far ahead of his time, argues Menaker, and his thinking reflects the scientific ethos of our own time. She explains that Rank was a dialectic thinker, one who offered dualistic descriptions of psychological processes. Discussions are dedicated, therefore, to the life fear/death fear, the wish to differentiate/wish to merge, and the causality principle/will principle.

Menaker (1996) is at her best in sorting out thorny technical concepts. …

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