One Trend within Contemporary Psychoanalysis: Valorizing Ferenczi, Demoting Freud

By Lawner, Peter | The Journal of Psychohistory, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

One Trend within Contemporary Psychoanalysis: Valorizing Ferenczi, Demoting Freud


Lawner, Peter, The Journal of Psychohistory


One Trend Within Contemporary Psychoanalysis: Valorizing Ferenczi, Demoting Freud The Legacy of Sandor Ferenczi: From Ghost to Ancestor, Edited by Adrienne Harris and Steven Kuchuck, Routledge (New York and London), 2015

This recent (2015) edited volume, containing a valuable editorial introductory chapter followed by seventeen individually authored chapters, is one of an array that have appeared in recent decades that examine the psychoanalytic contributions of Sandor Ferenczi (1887-1933). A major early protege of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who, for most of his professional career was a steadfast and passionate advocate for his "master"-an idealizing term used by many of Freud's acolytes in relation to him-Ferenczi increasingly developed his own ideas. However, his most fully developed and articulated dissent from Freud's views, in the last phase of his psychoanalytic career toward the end of his life in 1933, led, with Freud's imprimatur, to his being repudiated by the worldwide Freudian psychoanalytic institutional community.

Such anathematizing of dissenters is a tragic phenomenon most familiar, though hardly unique, in relation to institutionally regulated religious orthodoxies. Over the decades during which the Freudian collective organized itself into a formidable international organization the requirement of adherence to its tenets has led to the departure from its ranks of many of its creative and accomplished former adherents. Alfred Adler and Carl Jung are the best known early examples. Otto Rank and Sandor Ferenczi maintained their acceptance within the Freudian fold longer, but ultimately diverged too far from psychoanalytic orthodoxy and were expelled. More recent bold challengers of Freudian orthodoxies such as Heinz Kohut managed to maintain liminal acceptance. However, there has been a recent vigorous revival of interest in Ferenczi's contributions to psychoanalytic thought, now understood to be a rich source of inspiration for contemporary psychoanalytic perspectives and praxis.

Numerous publications and conferences, especially since the late 1980's and early '90's, have elaborated and celebrated Ferenczi's once dissident views. The current book is among them, an update that includes important new findings and ideas from a valuable earlier edited volume (Aron and Harris, 1993). In common with its precursor, this book has one of the same editors (Adrienne Harris) and a large percentage of individual contributors from the same psychoanalytic school of thought as its predecessor. I highly recommend it.

Like its forerunner it provides sure-handed sophisticated editorial guidance and generally substantive and enlightening individual author contributions. Its individual chapters are usefully organized by its editors into three sections, which they label context, history, and theory and technique. Consistent with the burgeoning of diverse Ferenczi scholarship in the past several decades, we get a generous sampling, for example, (included under the context heading) of Ferenczi's Hungarian-in contrast to Freud's Viennese-socio-cultural milieus, their differing personal dispositions and styles, and some depth psychoanalytic sleuth work concerning hypothesized unconscious sources of their contending psychoanalytic views. There is also discussion of Ferenczi's record of his analysis of two of his now celebrated analytic patients, his innovative views on war neuroses, and the differing effects of the anti-Semitism each endured; and, finally, comments on Ferenczi's contributions to perspectives on human relationships and psychoanalytic work. This collection will expand both psychoanalytic neophytes' and seasoned psychoanalysts' appreciation of Ferenczi's signal influence upon much current psychoanalytic thinking and practice.

The editors explain their rationale for choosing From Ghost to Ancestor as their volume's subtitle by quoting a passage written by the late eminent psychoanalyst Hans Loewald, the last line of which reads: "In the daylight of analysis the ghosts. …

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