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College Quarterly
Summer 2015 - Volume 18 Number 3
Coming Into Being: Sabina Spielrein, Jung, Freud and Psychoanalysis
Frank J. Marchese
Available for purchase on Amazon.com, 2015
Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

This is both a review of a book and a comment on the state of academic and intellectually important publishing. First, the publishing.

I

Not long ago, large, prestigious commercial publishing houses and academic presses combined to hold a tight grip on which “serious” books were destined to see print and how well they would be promoted. True, there were some small publishers that did their best to stay in business and to publish some interesting work. As well, there were “vanity” book binders that would take a manuscript from an aspiring author whose efforts had elicited only rejection slips and cobble together a serviceable product which might see a print run of a few hundred copies. Those, naturally, were most often funded up-front by the author who either sold or gave them to friends, relatives and colleagues too close to turn them down without embarrassment.

Even when their work was somehow exposed to a larger audience, however, authors without large, reputable publishers found that their efforts often went unrecognized or underappreciated because of the lack of marketing resources or the stigma associated with writers who could only see their creations between covers by subsidizing or paying the entire cost of publication. There have, of course, been spectacularly successful exceptions, especially in literary fields. Authors such as William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf all engaged to some extent in “self-publishing”; in fact, Mark Twain even established his own publishing company to, I suppose, cut out the “middle man” and produce and promote his work by himself. Though exceptions to the general pattern, I can only say: “Good for them!”

Part of the reason for self-publishing was that publishers can be stunningly short-sighted when evaluating unusual manuscripts. For instance, George Orwell’s Animal Farm was turned down. Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times before being picked up by William Morrow in 1974. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was returned to the author (what else?) 22 times. What’s more, even when accepted, publishing companies have often failed to do justice to their “product”; so, Herman Melville’s American classic, Moby Dick, sold less than 4,000 copies in his lifetime. It’s a (sub)urban legend, by the way, that the first novels by John Grisham (A Time to Kill) and Tom Clancy (The Hunt for Red October) were self-published; but, they did find patrons only among the smallest of publishers and, of the 5,000 copies of A Time to Kill, Grisham purchased 1,000 himself. Once the public showed an appetite for their work, of course, critical assessment changed to the tune played by “the merry jingle of the cash register”—especially at the movie theatres where films drawn from their novels made millions.

If creative writers face obstacles, non-fiction authors are in even worse shape. Unless you are the happy author of an unexpected “best-seller” such as Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa, Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, J. K. Galbraith’s The New Industrial State, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, which is to say that you write a “middle brow” book that somehow touches a cultural nerve, the chances of gaining fame for authors and money for publishers are pretty slim. It helps if your work gets discussed in the New York Times or the New York Review of Books or, in extremely fortunate cases, winds up as a topic of conversation on Sunday morning talk-show television; however, the number of books that win those particular distinctions are few.

And, of course, it is still possible to luck into the textbook market at precisely the right time, and to make a killing in colleges and universities (Paul Samuelson’s Economics, first published in 1948, has sold over four million copies in 19 editions and in 41 languages and is an iconic case). But there are so many competitive four-colour glossy door-stops on the market that the likelihood of any user-friendly, dumbed-down tome, with bells, whistles, Internet connections, test banks, attractive pictures and plenty of white space making it through the focus groups and marketing committees before being foisted on unsuspecting and uninterested undergraduates is too much of a crap shoot to attract all but the most self-confident academics in search of some puffing up of their CVs and, perhaps, a modest annuity.

In the olden days, of course, even some private sector publishers had an enormous sense of social and intellectual responsibility, and prided themselves on bringing excellence to the attentive public—even at a financial loss. Now, with rare exceptions, the same kind of corporate mentality that dominates all major industries (including) postsecondary education also infects publishing. The “bottom line” is irredeemably the bottom line.

Enter the new world.

It was, Gutenberg who started (or got credit for starting) the mass information revolution and James Watt (more famous for the steam engine, but also the inventor of the first portable copying machine in 1780) who helped to extend it; but, an equal if not already much greater change in writing and publishing has come with the sudden explosion of “information technology” including photocopying and any number of means of online dissemination. Writing and publishing are being fundamentally transformed once again.

II

Enter Frank Marchese and his subject matter.

Dr. Marchese is a psychologist at York University in Toronto who, I was aware, had written a couple of biographical sketches of artists and self-published three books of verse. Having the aesthetic sensitivities of a sea slug, I have avoided those no doubt worthy items. I was, however, attracted to Coming into Being and grateful for the opportunity to read such a well-formed monograph. Self-publishing, you see, has opened up a legitimate avenue for scholars at a time when massive multinational corporations control an absurd proportion of extant academic journals and are busily pricing them out of the market for postsecondary libraries, never mind for individual teachers and researchers. It has created a niche in which excellent but not-geared-to-mass-market works are afforded an avenue to people with a keen interest in, for example, currently unfashionable schools of thought. So, they may actively maintain their specialties or keep their passing curiosities alive when major publishing companies choose to ignore them. In this case, Frank Marchese has something good to say to people who are interested in the founding of psychoanalysis, the dominant personalities of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the much less famous but equally intriguing Sabina Spielrein—Jung’s first psychoanalytic patient, the first woman psychoanalyst to make a profound impact of psychoanalytic theory, and the first and, for a time, the most thoroughly neglected woman in the psychoanalytic movement.

Readers of Marchese’s book may be familiar with Sabina Spielrein through David Cronenberg’s film, A Dangerous Method in which Spielrein is played by Keira Knightley. She makes her entrance into the history of psychoanalysis as an eighteen-year-old Russian girl of some wealth and privilege who is deposited at the Burghölzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich in 1904. Her entrance is described in hospital notes by Jung himself: “the patient laughs and cries in a strangely mixed, compulsive manner. Masses of tics; she rotates her head jerkily, sticks out her tongue, twitches her legs [and] cannot stand people or noise.” Jung, then a twenty-nine-year-old physician, had just learned of Freud’s psychoanalytic methods and was anxious to try them out. Spielrein was to be his test case.

Within a year, the “talking cure” seemed to have worked wonders on Fräulein Spielrein. She was soon a successful medical student, a colleague of Jung and analyst of (among others) the foundational developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. She was also Jung’s passionate lover and a controversial figure in psychoanalysis whose influence on Freud and Jung as well as on Russian psychologists Alexander Luria and Lev Vygotsky was substantial.

Sabina Spielrein is sometimes called the first feminist psychologist. She perished in the massacre by Nazi soldiers near Rostov-on-Don, along with her two daughters and 27,000 other early victims of the Holocaust in 1942. She has also been called “the forgotten pioneer of psychoanalysis” (Covington and Wharton, 2003). She may have been ignored, marginalized and suppressed, but it is not quite right to say that she has been forgotten. The analogy might be imperfect and maybe even inept, but I cannot help associating her with Rosalind Franklin. Ms. Franklin was the “unsung hero(ine)” who was instrumental in the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. She was ignored when the Nobel Prize was handed out and she has been left out of the popular account of that particular scientific event. In Sabina Spielrein’s case, the “discovery” is connected to Freud himself. She is, by many accounts, the actual author or, at least, the inspiration for Thanatos, Freud’s far-famed “death instinct” (Spielrein, 1994). In neither Franklin’s case nor Spielrein’s, however, have the women been permanently purged. They keep resurfacing and, I would like to think, they will both receive their just rewards if only in postmortem respect and as a token of the promise that the disappearance of women in science will, itself, soon disappear.

III

There is a tendency nowadays to discount psychoanalysis and somewhat contemptuously to dismiss its great pioneers as unacceptably unempirical, unconvincingly theoretical and of little clinical use today. While no one doubts the influence (for good or ill) that Freud, his colleagues and his competitors—often the same people at different times—have had throughout the humanities and the social sciences in the twentieth century, their work remains at best controversial and at worst considered obsolete. It is true that concepts such as “complex,” “repression,” “defence mechanism,” “fixation,” “primal horde,” the ever present trinity of “ego,” “id” and “superego (not to mention “oral,” “anal” and “genital” stages of sexual development”) and, of course, the “Freudian slip” now pervade our culture. They are used almost wantonly in ordinary conversations among people who have no clear idea of what they mean.

Stricter minds, however, are apt to display more systematic scepticism. As one of his sterner critics put it almost half a century ago (when I was more deeply involved in such studies and never quite forgot the comment), even if there was some therapeutic value in Freud’s approach, “witch doctors may succeed with their patients without in any way validating the conceptual framework used to approach the disease” (Meehan, 1967: 221). Or, as another more empathetic commentator, cultural anthropologist Pat Caplan (1992: 84-91), said with disarming candour about her own fieldwork and, perhaps, equally about psychoanalysis and many non-pharmacological sub-fields of psychology: “gossip is our stock-in-trade. In any case, whatever history’s eventual verdict, psychoanalysis is nothing if not a forceful cultural presence which must be of interest to anyone seeking a serious understanding of the main themes of modern civilization.

So, it is wrong to say that psychoanalysis and the work by and about people such as Freud, Jung (and Spielrein) is moribund. The fact that close readers and aficionados of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (contemporary psychiatry’s more than merely a metaphorical “bible”) display an undeniable tendency to dismiss their theories and practices, psychoanalysts and psychoanalysis remain subjects of concern in the sociology and history of ideas. They ought not to be neglected nor subjected to (in Edward Thompsons’s famous phrase) “the enormous condescension of posterity” (Perkin, 1978).

Enter Frank Marchese’s book and his story.

Coming Into Being is an excellent example of what can be done when a perceptive writer with a strong sense of purpose and an important story to tell chooses to offer his thoughts to the public. Let’s be frank (so to speak): even if the relative eclipse of psychoanalysis among academic and clinical psychologists can easily be exaggerated, the venerable field of psychoanalysis has seen better days. One of Marchese’s achievements in this book is to restore the sense of adventure and enthusiasm that was pervasive in Freud, his supporters and his detractors at a time of immense passion and colossal confidence that they were making a massive breakthrough into the understanding and the explanation of the human brain, human behaviour and possible the human soul.

As medical innovators, they believed that would go very far toward curing personality disorders, restoring neurotics to mental health and, ultimately, promoting a better society as individual illnesses could be treated and, perhaps, the social attitudes and institutions that contributed to mental disorders and disease could be reinforced or reformed as need be. As pure scientists, they were on the march toward a comprehensive understanding of the human animal, our emotions and instincts as well as the conscious thoughts and unconscious impulses that determined our behaviour and structured our very being. A mixture of medical science and messianic fervour combined in ways not wholly dissimilar to those of Darwinians and Marxists in the past and neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists today.

Dr. Marchese is a gifted story-teller. He is alert to matters of personality and nuance in social relations. His treatment of the Jung/Spielrein relationship of “erotic, hysterical transference” is evocative. His explanation of the way in which Jung’s admonition that we should “never lose the hope that work done with love will lead to a good end” resonated with Freud is compelling (no matter how much current professional ethicists might recoil in indignation at the mere thought of what was going on within the confines of the doctor/patient relations in the clinics of the day). His grasp of the titanic struggles of ambition and conscience involving all three of his principal characters is gripping and occasionally harsh: “so,” wrote Freud, a month before the first firing of the guns of August, “at last we are rid of them, the brutal, sanctimonious Jung and his disciples!”

I hope that others may go over the same material and construct a more openly political and a more comprehensively feminist retelling of the story. And others, too, may find it useful to consider the “ethics” question. Marchese quotes both Jung and Freud on the matter of the sexual relationship between Jung and Spielrein. In 1909, Jung complains that Speilrein had “violated [his] confidence and [his] friendship [by kicking] up a vile scandal solely because I denied myself the pleasure of giving her a child.” Freud not only astutely notices that “transference” from patient to analyst had plainly gone in the other direction and “aptly remarked that the analyst can be ‘scorched by the love with which we operate—such are the perils of our trade.’” In less sure and subtle hands, this sort of thing can and most often does become the stuff of a lurid tale with no redeeming intellectual or social importance. As dealt with by Dr. Marchese, it is not at all bowdlerized or made inaccessible to those with merely prurient interests, but it becomes the basis for a thoughtful appreciation and eventual assessment of some extraordinary individuals caught up in a revolutionary moment. The importance of considering the implications of the personal dynamics and the intellectual importance of that moment is clear for all educators regardless of their disciplines and irrespective of their ambitions.

IV

A final thought: Frank Marchese’s achievement stands alone as admirable; but it is also worth repeating that his choice of subject matter also counts as an illustration of the kind of material that can now find an easier way into the “marketplace of ideas” than might have been possible if access to that market were more tightly controlled by the corporate instruments of thought production and therefore of thought control. Market-driven discourse is, despite its liberal pretentions, inevitably ideological. In the mass media, education, book publishing and soon, perhaps, in a restrictive Internet, there is a drive to produce stilted, stultified and (above all) profit-focused communications by enterprises which no longer display a responsibility toward an eclectic and open-ended readership but seek safety in conformity and commodification. Coming Into Being represents just one of the cracks in the dike.

References

Caplan, P. (1992). Spirits and sex: A Swahili informant and his diary. In J. Oakley and H. Callaway, (Eds.). Anthropology and autobiography. New York, NY: Routledge.

Covington, C. and B. Wharton, (Eds.). (2003). Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten pioneer of psychoanalysis. Hove, UK: Brunner-Routledge.

Meehan, E. (1967). Contemporary political thought: A critical study. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.

Perkin, H. (1978). “The condescension of posterity”: The recent historiography of the English working class. Social Science History 3(1): 87-101.

Spielrein, S. (1994). Destruction as the cause of coming into being. Journal of Analytical Psychology 39: 155-186. Retrieved June 22, 2015 from http://www.arizonapsychoanalyticsociety.com/downloads/sabrina.pdf


Howard A. Doughty, teaches Cultural Anthropology and Modern Political Thought at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. He can be reached at howard_doughty@post.com