Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nothing but the eyes

Otto Rank, a Viennese psychoanalyst who studied with Freud for many years, died 70 years ago today. He is remembered for theorising that some neuroses stem from the trauma of birth, and for extending psychoanalytic theory to the study of myth, art and creativity. One of his patients was the writer Anaïs Nin, but she was also his lover, and wrote much about him in her extraordinary and intimate diaries.

Rank was born in Vienna in 1884, into a lower/middle-class Jewish family. Aged 21 he met Freud, who persuaded him to study psychoanalysis at the University of Vienna. Before long he had become Freud’s trusted assistant, and was appointed secretary to the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Rank remained close to Freud for the best part of two decades. Nevertheless, through books such as The Artist and The Incest Theme in Literature, he developed his own theories, extending psychoanalytic theory, in particular to explain the significance of myths and artistic creativity.

Rank served in the First World War and then returned to his studies. In 1924, though, he published The Trauma of Birth in which he maintained that anxiety and neurosis stemmed from a baby’s shock at being separated from his or her mother. Although Freud was initially impressed by this idea, he later rejected it, and the book distanced Rank from him and others in the Vienna Circle.

The same year, he moved to the US, where he developed a reputation for his evolving ideas in psychotherapy (including that of getting patients to re-experience their birth traumas). For the next ten years he travelled often between New York and Paris, teaching and practicing psychotherapy. In 1936 he settled in New York City, where he died 70 years ago today, on 31 October 1939 (five weeks after Freud had died in London). For more detail on Rank’s life see the Otto Rank website or Wikipedia.

Anaïs Nin, one of the 20th century’s most interesting diarists, was not only a patient of Rank, but his lover too. She was born in France, to musical parents of mixed and partly Cuban heritage. When they separated, her mother then took Anaïs and two brothers to New York City. At 20 she married a banker, Hugh Guiler, who later illustrated some of her books and went on to become a film maker.

They moved to Paris, where Nin began writing fiction and where she fell in with the Villa Seurat group, which included the writers Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell. She had many love affairs, often with well known literary figures, but her relationship with Miller was more constant than most. Although Nin wrote many short stories and some novels, it is her diaries that are considered to be her most enduring work. And, in the diaries, there is much about Rank, and her relationship with him. (See The Diary Junction for more on Nin’s diaries, and some links.)

The following extracts which mention Rank have been culled from Incest: From ‘A Journal of Love’ by Anaïs Nin published by Peter Owen in 1993. It is considered the second volume of Nin’s unexpurgated diaries (the first being Henry and June), and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

21 December 1932
‘. . . We three [Nin, Henry Miller and Hugh Guiler] read Rank together - Rank’s book Art and Artist, the book I wanted to write!’

17 January 1933
‘. . . Daydream of renewing the process of psychoanalysis again - with Rank, perhaps, to see if I can complete my half-born confidence.’

19 January 1933
‘. . . We (Nin and Henry Miller) awake after a short rest and I am not tired. I am blazing with energy. I must be a sexual superwoman who, as Rank has written, is stimulated rather than exhausted by sexual life. . .’

11 July 1933
‘. . . I want to go to Rank and get absolution for my passion for my father. . .’

21 July 1933
‘. . . I need Rank; I need a stronger mind than Allendy’s [French psychoanalyst]. I want to talk with Rank. About art, creation, incest. I want to be free of guilt. I want to confront a big mind and thresh out the subject. Plumb it. . .’

7 November 1933
‘. . . I impulsively decided to ring Rank’s doorbell. . . By sheer accident, it was he who opened the door. ‘Yes?’ he said in his harsh Viennese accent, wrapping the incisive, clean French word in a German crunch, as if the words had been chewed like the end of a cigar instead of liberated out of the mouth as the French do. . . He was small, dark skinned, round faced; but actually one saw nothing but the eyes, which were beautiful. Large, dark, fiery. . .’

‘. . . Rank immediately gave me the feeling that he is curious, alive, fond of exploration, experiment, the open road, anarchism, that he swims freely in big free spaces. . .’

20 January 1934
‘. . . Rank has a leaping quality of mind. It is exciting to see how he corners one, how he attacks, and how he enlarges the problems like a creator who is there to add, to invent, to multiply, to expand rather than analyze into nothingness. He does not raze the ground by analysis; he explores and quickens into life, he illumines. . .’

1 June 1934
‘Today He [Rank] was not shy. He dragged me toward the divan and we kissed savagely, drunkenly. He looked almost beside himself, and I could not understand my own abandon. I had not imagined a sensual accord.’

7 July 1934
‘. . . The word love is not enough. We are both ill with our joy; we are truly dying of joy. We are broken, feverish.
All those who tried to make me renounce the impossible, accept the realities of love, its limitations! I possess it. I am possessed by it. For the first time, I am incapable of enjoying Henry, incapable of thinking of anyone but Rank - I’m full of him. I awake thinking of him. His selflessness. We live for each other. We break down obstacles. We love in a way everybody believes impossible. We love impossibly . . .’

14 August 1934
‘I cannot live without seeing him. It is a hunger, an unbearable hunger. I rushed to him today. It is like touching fire. He makes me terribly happy.’

1 comment:

Pskiatro said...

Thanks for assembling the dramatic Nin Diary excerpts.
Although Rank emphasized "birth trauma" he meant it rather metaphorically. He saw the end of therapy and separation from the therapist as a (metaphoric) repetition of birth. Too often people focus on the physical birth process when that was not his main interest.
E. James Lieberman
author, Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank.