Otto Rank 1884-1939
(Born Otto Rosenfeld) Austrian psychotherapist.
An early follower of Sigmund Freud, Rank eventually broke with Freud and developed his own highly respected school of analysis that focused on developmental psychology and therapeutic technique. According to Rank, the human soul and will were essential aspects of the personality that were usually overlooked by traditional psychoanalysis; Rank sought to incorporate the study of these into his work and his treatment of patients.
Rank was born in Vienna in 1884 to Simon Rosenfeld and Karoline Fleischner. His father was an emotionally distant alcoholic, which some biographers speculate contributed to Rank's later interest in parent-child relationships, but Rank was close to his mother. According to many accounts, Rank was desperately lonely and alienated as a child, and his diary entries confirm that he had bouts of depression and suicidal preoccupations. He began using the name Rank as an adolescent to symbolize the act of self-creation. Because the family could not afford to send both of their sons to college, Rank became a locksmith while his older brother studied law. Rank was raised as a Jew in predominantly Catholic Vienna, but he was at heart a religious skeptic, far more interested in philosophy and the secular arts. He spent much of his time writing poetry and reading, particularly the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. When Rank first read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, he was profoundly influenced. He wrote an essay applying Freud's theories to a study of artists, with which Freud was suitably impressed to hire Rank as a secretary at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1906. He became the group's expert on literature, philosophy, and myth. At Freud's urging and with his financial support, Rank entered the University of Vienna, earning his Ph.D. in 1912; his was the first psychoanalytic thesis in the history of the university. Even before he received his degree, Rank published several important works, including Der Künstler (1907; Art and Artist,) and Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden (1909; The Myth of the Birth of the Hero). Unlike the other members of Freud's group, Rank lived in Vienna and worked closely with the analyst on a daily basis. Together they ran a publishing company, edited journals, and trained other analysts. Rank served with the Austrian army in Poland during World War I. There he met Beata Mincer, whom he married in 1918. Mincer became a noted therapist in her own right after the couple separated. As Rank developed his own ideas, Freud cooled his support of his favorite student. Finally, Rank's belief in the essential role of the mother and the trauma of birth in psychological development caused an irreparable rift between Rank and Freud. Rank and his wife moved first to Paris in 1926 and then to New York City in 1935, where Rank found the intellectual atmosphere much more receptive to his new thoughts. After his break from Freud, Rank was widely maligned by members of the psychoanalytic community, but he continued his work and wrote some of the most important books of his career. In the United States his ideas were adopted at the Pennsylvania School of Social Work, where Rank taught when he first moved to America. Abroad, one of his best known patients was the French writer Anaïs Nin, who was also a personal friend to him. Near the end of his life, Rank divorced his wife and married Estelle Buel. He died in New York City in 1939.
The turning point in Rank's career—and the event that caused his final break with Freud—was the development of his theory that all human anxiety can be traced back to the trauma of being torn from the mother at birth. Consequently, he created a form of analysis in which the patient attempted to relive the birth experience, which he explained in Das Trauma der Geburt und seine Bedeutung für die Psychoanalyse (1924; The Trauma of Birth). For Rank this particular trauma was a metaphor for the birth of a person's individuality, which Rank considered one of the most important steps in psychological development. He believed that the personality of the artist is the paradigm of a healthy psychological profile. Rank outlined this theory in his book Art and Artist, in which he argued that the human creative impulse—rather than the sexual impulse, which was Freud's assertion—is at the root of both artistic production and life experience. In artists, Rank believed, the will is strong enough to focus the impulses toward healthy, productive behavior that prevents the formation of neuroses. In Technik der Psychoanalyse 2: Die analytische Reaktion in ihren konstruktiven Elementen (1928; Will Therapy) Rank described his therapeutic technique, designed to help the patient focus on making conscious choices and developing the will to separate from others by pursuing individuality. The notion that will and soul are fundamental parts of human psychological formation was unique to Rank. While classical Freudian theory held that neurotics were people of weak will, Rank believed that neurotics were exceptionally strong-willed but that their wills were misdirected. Traditional Freudian therapy, he contended, either ignored or crippled the will; Rank sought to strengthen it by fostering creativity. Some of Rank's most important works were in the area of psychoanalysis and literature, particularly The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, Das Inzest-Motif (1912; The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend), and Die Don Juan-Gestalt (1924; The Don Juan Legend).
When Rank broke off from Freud, he became embroiled for respect in the psychoanalytic community. Many of Freud's other followers had grown to resent Rank's position as Freud's personal favorite among them. At one point the American Psychoanalytic Association terminated Rank's membership because of his unorthodox methods, and at intervals from the 1930s to the 1960s his works were banned from some university reading lists. In the 1970s, however, Rank's reputation experienced a resurgence. More recently, many of Rank's theories and methods have come to be considered mainstream approaches that opened the door for important progress in the field.
Der Künstler [Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development] (nonfiction) 1907
Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden [The Myth of the Birth of the Hero] (nonfiction) 1909
Das Inzest-Motif in Dichtung und Sage [The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend] (nonfiction) 1912
Die Bedeutung der Psychoanalyse für die Geisteswissenschaften (nonfiction) 1913
Die Don Juan-Gestalt [The Don Juan Legend] (nonfiction) 1924
Das Trauma der Geburt und seine Bedeutung für die Psychoanalyse [The Trauma of Birth] (nonfiction) 1924
Der Doppelgänger: Eine psychoanalytische Studie [The Double] (nonfiction) 1925
Sexualitat und Schuldgefuhl (nonfiction) 1926
Technik der Psychoanalyse 1: Die Analytische Situation (nonfiction) 1926
Grundzüge einer Genetischen Psychologie 3 vols. (nonfiction) 1927-29
Technik der Psychoanalyse 2: Die analytische Reaktion in ihren konstruktiven Elementen [Will Therapy] (nonfiction) 1928
Seelenglaube und Psychologie [Psychology and the Soul] (nonfiction) 1930
Technik der Psychoanalyse 3: Die Analyse des Analytikers und seiner Rolle in der Gesamtsituation [Truth and...
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SOURCE: “The World as Will,” in Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 2, February, 1939, pp. 162-73.
[In the following review, Burrow praises Rank's artistic approach to psychoanalysis despite the flaws he finds in Truth and Reality and Will Therapy.]
The task of the reviewer is a precarious one. As with any social rôle to which one conforms, the pattern of performance is laid down for him in advance, so that before he knows it he is already off to a bad start. In reviewing a work on psychiatry, or a work that deals with the ineptitudes of human behavior, it is particularly salutary that one's own reactions be subsumed in the reckoning, that one take careful account of the biases and ineptitudes that too often characterize the attitude of the reviewer toward the work to be reviewed. Oscar Wilde frankly confessed that he could resist anything but temptation. Apparently the temptation that offers the particular stumbling-block to the reviewer is his tendency to believe that he knows the author's thesis better than the author himself, and to adopt a tone that is either superciliously patronizing toward him (superiority complex), or to sit, all unaware, in smug and erudite judgment upon the author's concepts (egoistic aggression). One cannot be too wary of the recondite banalities, the verbal pre-conditionings and other such habit-formations that are the...
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SOURCE: “‘Art and Artist’—A Biographical Sketch,” in The Psychology and Psychotherapy of Otto Rank: An Historical and Comparative Introduction, Philosophical Library, 1953, pp. 3-17.
[In the following essay, Karpf discusses ways in which Rank deviated from the Freudian approach to psychoanalysis, focusing on Rank's emphasis on artistic creativity.]
Otto Rank was born in Vienna in 1884, the second of two sons in a comfortable middle-class family. His educational plans were originally directed toward an engineering career. But these plans were radically changed as a result of his first meeting with Freud. Recognizing an especially gifted student along psychological lines, Freud encouraged him to consider psychology as a career instead. Freud records the incident in interesting fashion in his paper “On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement.”
Freud states that from the year 1902, regular meetings of a small group of his followers were held in his house. He describes Rank's introduction into the group as follows:
One day a young man who had passed through the technical training school introduced himself with a manuscript which showed very unusual comprehension. We induced him to go through the Gymnasium and the University and to devote himself to the non-medical side of psycho-analytic investigation. The little society acquired...
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SOURCE: “Distinctive Aspects of Rank's Personality Theory1,” in The Psychology and Psychotherapy of Otto Rank: An Historical and Comparative Introduction, Philosophical Library, 1953, pp. 64-86.
[In the following essay, Karpf examines major differences in Rank's and Freud's terminologies used to discuss personality theory.]
Like all theory which developed as an offshoot of psychoanalytic doctrine, Rank's theory of personality appears upon the established background of psychoanalytic thought and is presented chiefly by contrast with and frequently criticism of the Freudian position. As in the case of other such developments, notably the theories of Jung and Adler, the emergence of Rank's distinctive viewpoint was a gradual process, the cumulative product, in his case, of a laborious course of differentiation and crystallization of conception in respect to specific problems and issues, … In the light of later events, some of his views took on special importance and thereby gradually led to the formulation of a more integrated statement of position, with emphasis on the distinctive aspects of his thinking.
In his earlier discussions, Rank for the most part utilized the accepted terminology of Freudian theory. It is clear from the first, however, that this terminology appears in a basically different context which reflects an essentially different conception of personality...
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SOURCE: “Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard,” in The Denial of Death, Free Press, 1973, pp. 159-75.
[In the following essay, Becker examines the evolution of Rank's ideas about the place of sexuality in psychoanalysis.]
It seems to be difficult for the individual to realize that there exists a division between one's spiritual and purely human needs, and that the satisfaction or fulfillment for each has to be found in different spheres. As a rule, we find the two aspects hopelessly confused in modern relationships, where one person is made the god-like judge over good and bad in the other person. In the long run, such symbiotic relationship becomes demoralizing to both parties, for it is just as unbearable to be God as it is to remain an utter slave.
One of the things we see as we glance over history is that creature consciousness is always absorbed by culture. Culture opposes nature and transcends it. Culture is in its most intimate intent a heroic denial of creatureliness. But this denial is more effective in some epochs than in others. When man lived securely under the canopy of the Judeo-Christian world picture he was part of a great whole; to put it in our terms, his cosmic heroism was completely mapped out, it was unmistakable. He came from the invisible world into the visible one by the...
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SOURCE: An introduction to The Don Juan Legend by Otto Rank, edited and translated by David G. Winter, Princeton University Press, 1975, pp. 3-34.
[In the following essay, Winter providess background information on the Don Jaun Legend.]
Otto Rank was one of the most brilliant and imaginative, yet surely one of the most perplexing members of the group who were drawn to Freud and who participated in the early development of psychoanalysis. Rank analyzed myth and legend with an insight and a facility that approached that of the master; his energy and resourcefulness were essential to the survival of the early psychoanalytic publishing ventures; his wide reading and knowledge of literature were more than once of assistance to Freud's own work; and he was perhaps Freud's closest continuing associate for fifteen years. Yet in the midst of his brilliant career he left the psychoanalytic movement, physically removed himself from Vienna to Paris and later New York, and in time came to disavow the principal tenets of psychoanalysis. In this later period of his life, he abandoned further analysis of myth and legend (although he continually reworked his earlier formulations), and wrote largely about the process of therapy, out of which he finally developed a world-view that is both wide-ranging and, to many readers, incompletely articulated and confusing (Rank, 1941).
Whether such a great change is...
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SOURCE: “Creativity as the Central Concept in the Psychology of Otto Rank,” in Psychoanalysis, Creativity, and Literature: A French-American Inquiry, edited by Alan Roland, Columbia University Press, 1978, pp. 162-77.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1976, Menaker argues that Rank's own struggle to cultivate his creative personality led to his emphasis in his work on artistic ingenuity.]
It is unfortunate, yet probably inevitable, that Otto Rank, to the extent that he is known at all, is known primarily as a dissenter from Freudian psychoanalysis, and that his name is associated chiefly with his much misunderstood book, The Trauma of Birth. While it is true that he was first a disciple and then a dissenter, it would be a mistake to view Rank's divergencies from Freudian theory and from a Freudian way of thinking as just another splinter from the main stem of psychoanalytic doctrine. For if we study Rank's life and his works from early on, from a time before his meeting with Freud, we find present a profoundly unique personality struggling, against great environmental odds, to give it adequate and appropriate expression. Without going into the biographical facts of his life in detail, it is important to know that he came from an economically, culturally, and emotionally deprived situation, that originally his advanced education was of a purely technical nature, and that the...
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SOURCE: “Otto Rank,” in Faces in a Cloud: Subjectivity in Personality Theory, Jason Aronson, 1979, pp. 132-71.
[In the following essay, Stolorow and Atwood examine Rank's theories on narcissism in psychoanalysis and the ways in which his work in this area prefigured later trends in the field.]
In recent years the problem of narcissism has increasingly moved into the limelight of psychoanalytic investigation. This is evidenced, for example, by the large number of articles on the subject appearing in psychoanalytic publications, and by the fact that in a recent poll Kohut's (1971) work on narcissism was rated among the most meaningful contributions to contemporary psychoanalysis (Goldberg 1974). The reasons for the current psychoanalytic focus on narcissism are at least twofold. First, advances in psychoanalytic understanding over the past twenty years or so have given analysts the conceptual and technical tools to deal effectively with the problems of narcissism and the narcissistic disturbances (Stolorow 1975a). And secondly, the contemporary exposure of Western man to a radical deterioration and breakdown of collective (social-structural, cultural, religious) supports for his sense of existing as a significant self has in our time made the struggle for selfhood (which lies at the heart of the phenomenon of narcissism) much more of an individual problem than was the case in earlier historical...
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SOURCE: “Rank and Contemporary Social and Psychoanalytic Thought,” in Otto Rank: A Rediscovered Legacy, Columbia University Press, 1982, pp. 120-36.
[In the following essay, Menaker examines Rank's role in contemporary studies.]
Rank's profound philosophical intuition about the totality of human life, about man's dilemma over living with the consciousness of his mortality supersedes his psychology and his therapy. That intuition makes him, a man of our time—perhaps of all time. As the title of his last, posthumously published book, Beyond Psychology, suggests, he enlarged the framework of his concerns to include the very nature of being—psychologically within its social setting and in relationship to its cosmic dimension. This existential view placed the most basic issue—that of man's awareness of his finiteness—at the heart of the human task of adaptation.
In the current social climate, the task of adapting to the mortality-immortality issue is particularly difficult, since the social institutions which have given structure and meaning to human life are either disappearing or are in a state of flux. Religious conviction, which formerly provided some security for man's need for immortality, has all but gone on this level of belief. In this transitional phase of social evolution, before the emergence of a new and perhaps more abstract level of belief, man is...
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SOURCE: “O'Neill and Otto Rank: Doubles, ‘Death Instincts,’ and the Trauma of Birth,” in Comparative Drama, Vol. 20, No. 3, Fall, 1986, pp. 211-30.
[In the following essay, Watt discusses Rank's version of psychoanalysis in relation to the dramas of Eugene O'Neill.]
“You were born afraid.”
Mary Tyrone to Edmund
“But he's dead now [Major Melody]. And I ain't tired a bit. I'm fresh as a man new born.”
“She loves me. I'm not afraid! … She is warmly around me! She is my skin! She is my armor! Now I am born—I—the I!—one and indivisible.”
In one extremely defensive interior monologue in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude (1928), Charles Marsden contemplates the widespread influence of Sigmund Freud's thought on the American intelligentsia. In doing so, Marsden also predicts what interpretive tools many readers of O'Neill's plays will employ when digging through characters' psychological strata: “O Oedipus, O my king! The world is adopting you” (I, 34).1 Blithely dismissing the Freudian emphases on dream interpretation and “sex” as constitutive of an “easy cure-all,” Marsden also anticipates O'Neill's own frustration with the unrelenting stream of Freudian, especially Oedipal, readings of his...
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SOURCE: “Song of Solomon: Morrison's Rejection of Rank's Monomyth and Feminism,” in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring, 1987, pp. 13-24.
[In the following essay, Brenner examines ways in which Toni Morrison rejected the sexism in Rank's hero myth.]
Around Milkman, the hero of her much-admired Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison wraps various collective fictions: a riddling nursery rhyme that presages his birth and, later chanted by children, leads him to discover his heritage; fables, like the one his father, Macon Dead, tells of the man who rescues a baby snake only to be poisoned to death by its bite; fairytales, like “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Hansel and Gretel”; a common black folktale, like “People Who Could Fly” (as collected by Julius Lester);1 and family legends, like that of Milkman's great-grandfather's ability to fly. Even through family names and nicknames Morrison underscores a preoccupation of all four of her novels: for better and worse, humans use and make fictions to give their lives meaning and significance. Underlying these commoner fictions, however, is Otto Rank's powerful monomyth, the myth of the birth of the hero. Its features—with only minor glossing—attach to Milkman and categorically lay claim to his place among the heroes from whose stories Rank extrapolates his...
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SOURCE: An introductory essay to The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend: Fundamentals of a Psychology of Literary Creation by Otto Rank, translated by Gregory C. Richter, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp. xi-xxxv.
[In the following essay, Rudnytsky presents an overview of Rank's writings on the incest theme.]
The first three meetings of the Psychological Wednesday Society for which minutes are extant took place on October 10, October 17, and October 24, 1906. Viennese physicians and other intellectuals interested in Freud's ideas had begun gathering for weekly discussions in his apartment at Berggasse 19 as early as 1902, but not until 1906, with Otto Rank's appointment as salaried secretary to the group—an appointment that lasted until 1915, when World War I intervened—were the proceedings recorded in writing.
Rank's function at these October 1906 meetings was pivotal in two respects, for he not only transcribed them but also read the paper that was discussed. His three-part presentation, “The Incest Drama and Its Complications,” outlined the ideas that he fully elaborated in his 1912 magnum opus, Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage: Grundzüge einer Psychologie des dichterischen Schaffens [The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend: Fundamentals of a Psychology of Literary Creation], which appears here for the first time in an English...
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SOURCE: “The Birth of Client-Centered Therapy: Carl Rogers, Otto Rank, and ‘The Beyond’,” in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 35, No. 4, Fall, 1995, pp. 54-110.
[In the following essay, Kramer presents a professional analysis of Rank's importance in the formation of psychoanalysis.]
Carl Rogers always acknowledged that the thought of Otto Rank inspired him more than any other, early on, when he was still doing therapy in the old-fashioned “directive” way. Scholars duly note a link between Rank and Rogers, usually with a perfunctory nod to one or another of Rank's ideas, such as “will” or “relationship therapy” (Gendlin, 1988; Raskin, 1948; Sollod, 1978). But almost no one has considered this link to be worthy of much more than a footnote in the history of psychology. Recently, however, while editing a collection of Rank's American lectures, I became curious about the relationship between Rogers and Rank. I knew that Rogers had a personal encounter with Rank in 1936, but just how close, philosophically and intellectually, were they?
To my astonishment, I discovered traces of Rank's ideas throughout Rogers's mature work, not only in the 1930s, at the birth of client-centered therapy, but also much later, in the 1970s, at the emergence of a deeply spiritual Rogers. Like spirit itself, however, these traces of Rank in Rogers are barely visible. For those who...
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SOURCE: “Insight and Blindness: Visions of Rank,” in A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures by Otto Rank, edited by Robert Kramer, Princeton University Press, 1996, pp. 3-47.
[In the following essay, Kramer surveys Rank's career, including his shortcomings and his legacy to his field.]
At heart a poet and writer, Otto Rank took great pleasure in giving literary gifts to his beloved Professor, a past master of the German language. On May 6, 1923, as a gift for Freud's sixty-seventh birthday, Rank presented the father of psychoanalysis with his dreamy new manuscript, completed just days before: Das Trauma der Geburt. The manuscript was drawn from a diary in which he had been sketching “impressions from analytic sessions, in aphoristic form,” Rank would later reveal. “It was assembled piece by piece, as it were, like a mosaic” (Isakower 1924). Inlaid throughout the poetic work were a number of strange and shocking aphorisms.
“THE MOUTH OF HELL”
In the process of physiological birth, offers Rank, each new arrival on the planet finds its first object, mother, only promptly to lose her again: the primal catastrophe. For the tiny creature, this trauma [Greek: “wound”] is a loss beyond words and harbinger of life's incalculable suffering. Even with the kindest of mothers and the least violent of births, the human being is...
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Taft, Jessie. Otto Rank: A Biographical Study Based on Notebooks, Letters, Collected Writings, Therapeutic Achievements and Personal Associations. New York: The Julian Press, Inc., 1958, 299 p.
Discusses Rank's life in terms of his attempts at self-actualization.
Klein, Dennis B. “The Psychology of the Follower: Otto Rank.” In Jewish Origins of the Psychoanalytic Movement, pp. 103-37. New York: Praeger, 1981.
Examines Rank's thoughts on the role of the “Jewish missionary consciousness” in the early development of the psychoanalytic movement.
Rudnytsky, Peter L. The Psychoanalytic Vocation: Rank, Winnicott, and the Legacy of Freud. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991, 220 p.
Discusses the ways in which Freud influenced Rank and Winnicott as well as the ways in which the later analysts broke from Freud.
Spencer, Sharon. “Beyond Therapy: The Enduring Love of Anaïs Nin for Otto Rank.” In Anaïs Nin: Literary Perspectives, edited by Suzanne Nalbantian, pp. 97-111. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1997.
Explores Nin's and Rank's personal and professional relationship, along with the influence on Nin of his writings on psychology and the creative process.
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