Since Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a Jew, Nazi Germany formally condemned both his writings and the psychoanalytic movement that he founded. While Freud’s name was generally eliminated from the practice of German psychology, however, Laurence Rickels insists that his influence continued to be pervasive in the psychotherapies and psychological institutes that proliferated during the Nazi period. Late during World War I, Freudian psychoanalysis, albeit in many eclectic versions, had become widely accepted for treating shell-shocked soldiers. By the time the Nazis assumed power in 1933, numerous psychologists and psychiatrists were committed to ideas and techniques associated with the psychoanalytic movement. From 1918 until the end of World War II, according to Rickels, “Germany was a pop-psychological culture of all-out healing.”
The three volumes of Nazi Psychoanalysis consist of more than 160 relatively short chapters, a few less than two pages in length and others more than fifteen pages long. Some of these unnumbered chapters contain interesting material and thoughtful insights, but a number of them are almost incoherent. Typically, a chapter begins with a reference to a book or an event, followed by the author’s observations about and reflections on the material. The chapters tend to wander and discuss many topics, often without a clear focus. All the chapters are rather idiosyncratic. The author enjoys puns, wordplay, and references to popular culture. Thus, chapters have catchy titles such as “Suckarama,” “Cry Me,” “Like, You Know, I Don’t Know,” “Mickey Marx,” “Gotta Read Goetta,” “U.S. Is Them,” and “Hi Ya Heidegger.”
Although the topics of the three volumes are overlapping, each volume has something of a thematic emphasis. The first volume, Only Psychoanalysis Won the War, includes a considerable amount of material about the popularization of psychoanalytically inspired treatment of soldiers diagnosed with shell shock (now called post-traumatic stress disorder) during and after World War I. Several of the essays discuss the work of Ernst Simmel, who considered himself to be one of Sigmund Freud’s disciples. The volume includes a number of photographs of soldiers reportedly suffering from “war neuroses,” many with twisted muscles and other physical ailments. The psychoanalysts of the time claimed that the disorders of these men were psychosomatic in nature and that their physical ailments were often cured by the “talking cure” that had been developed by Freud. Rickels quotes the writers who make these rather preposterous claims, but he never really indicates whether or not he accepts their validity.
In the second volume, Crypto-Fetishism, one of the main themes is that the Nazi glorification of technology, or “gadget love,” constituted a form of fetishism that satisfied unconscious desires. Rickels writes, “Our relations with technology come from the narcissistic side of the psyche.” Following a logic of psychoanalytic reductionism, he goes on to claim that narcissism was based on a “death wish: The breast isn’t there when I want it; that’s all right, because I wanted my mother gone, a goner.” He also suggests that the Nazi fascination with gadgets is related to the Freudian diagnosis that sexually dysfunctional men play with toys because they are afraid of women. Rickels makes these speculative and far-fetched assertions as though they were self- evidently true. Actually, it would appear more reasonable to assume that the Nazis had concrete goals relating to power and conquest and that they were interested in modern technology as a means of furthering these ends.
Rickels emphasizes in volume 2 that there were many parallels between Nazi and psychoanalytic views on homosexuality. In contrast to most works on the topic, he does not have very much to say about the ways in which homosexuals were persecuted and oppressed under the Third Reich. Rather, he concentrates on the fact that both the regime and the psychoanalytic establishment believed that homosexuality was a disorder that could be healed. In the chapter “U.S. Is Them,” Rickels asserts that the Allies came to accept almost identical views on the topic, but he does not really investigate whether such views predated the war. It seems strange not to explore the difference between actually persecuting homosexuals and trying to convince them to change their sexual orientation.
In volume 3, Psy Fi, Rickels explores how the Nazis perceived themselves and their policies and how they attempted to express their perceptions in technology, art, literature, film, and especially science fiction. Rickels writes that Nazi Germany was “the ultimate science fiction fantasy.” He often uses the term “phantasm” to underscore the illusionary aspects of Nazi culture. In pursuing this theme, he makes some interesting observations about pro-Nazi works of...
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