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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Freud and Nietzsche and Breuer, too

In Istanbul came across the book 'When Nietzsche wept' by the American psycho-whatsit (analyst/therapist) Irving Yalom. I had read another of his books recently and found it very readable, though normally anything with a flavour of 'costume drama' puts me off right away.

All protagonists in the book (Josef Breuer, Freud, Nietzsche and some people in his environment) are real people. It's just that Breuer never met Nietzsche, although this is the topic of this novel. (Breuer worked together with Freud for a while, as his mentor, though Breuer's own once-only attempt at healing the soul burnt his fingers just a bit).

(Come on, I mean...Breuer was treating Bertha Pappenheim, who later became a famous social worker, and presented her case as that of Anna O - this is fact. According to the book he became infatuated with her. It's necessary to know that BP suffered from hysteria (much diagnosed in those days) which had myriad symptoms, including inability to walk, to speak German etc. She got lots of spasms, in her legs, like, which would improve if the doctor massaged the inside of her thighs, during which she would moan in pain. In pain? Just how naive was this doctor? According to the story Breuer was not the only doctor who fell for her. Whenever, on a walk, the doctors had massaged her thigh, they would then continue hobbling themselves - with an erection...).

Yalom is pushing credibility to the limits by suggesting that Breuer agreed to treat Nietzsche without Nietzsche being informed that he was being treated. Ethically this is severely unsound and nowadays would constitute assault. But in those days.....So once Nietzsche is wheedled into the consulting room, and he still does not agree to be treated (because he is incapable of accepting help) Breuer has to pretend that it is he himself who needs help with his obsession with BP, and in the process becomes more and more distraught. Until the book comes to a rather abrupt end.

In passing the book introduces us to Nietzsche's philosophy (I had a look at some of Nietzsche's books today, but like all German philosophers, they are fairly unreadable). If I understand it right it involves only rationality - he is against god, feelings and sex (all of which he describes as baser motivations that need to be overcome); he suggests that people need to be hardened to be able to deal with life - if they are only hard enough they can deal with anything (yes, but....), and he says that everything is down to selfish motives, including the wish to help people (because it makes the helper feel good or assuages his guilty conscience). He is also insufferably independent, and almost totally unable to accept help or love (though he does ask for help in a moment of delirium). I know people like this .... and I wonder if this hardness and rationality stuff somehow influenced Nazi thinking (was Hitler capable of reading Nietzsche??) - in which case it would have affected a whole generation of Germans.

It's a fascinating story, which must have taken a huge amount of research to complete (then again, the story of Anna O as the first attempt at psychoanalysis is well-documented), and it also describes very well the rather tight world of Vienna around 1882, which other authors also refer to - it's not for nothing that a Sigmund Freud could erupt there.

The book is very readable, and compared to 'The Bastard of Istanbul', as a small, tightly printed paperweight, very good value for money. Yes, ok, I read it in 24 hours - but I had time....

2 comments:

violainvilnius said...

Noted, by the way, that Freud's hang-out was the Cafe Landtmann; my favourite Cafe in Vienna. He went there because it is cheap. Not sure that is the case now.....

Alberto said...

Well Nietzsche, is a revolutionary thinker, is not only obvious influence on the begining of psychologys with Breuer, or with the father of psychoanalysis... Freud, in the case of Victor L. Frank makes no secret of his influence; Nietzsche says "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how" Tha is the meaning of Logoteraphy.
If you read krishnamurti, you can see the first superman, predicted by Nietzsche. "We are related to someone only so long as that relationship gratifies us". http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-text.php?tid=30&chid=399&w=