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The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis Hardcover – October, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Aided by previously undisclosed correspondence, Grosskurth (Havelock Ellis, 1980, etc.; Humanities and Psychoanalytic Thought/Univ. of Toronto) takes the story of the brilliant, wildly neurotic men who contrived to safeguard Freudian thought and turns it into an intriguing psychological saga-cum-tragicomedy of manners. The Secret Committee, conceived in 1912 as a united front against the apostasy of Carl Jung and sealed by Freud's bestowal of antique intaglios, became, notes Grosskurth, ``a metaphor for the psychoanalytic movement itself...a cult of personality'' with Freud acting as both ``guru'' and distant, demanding father. Avidly submitting one another (and assorted romantic interests) to frequently scathing and self-justifying formal and informal analyses, Austrians Otto Rank and Hans Sachs, Hungarian Sandor Ferenczi, German Karl Abraham, and Welshman Ernest Jones, joined later by Russian-born German Max Eitingon, functioned as ``surrogate sons'' within a strikingly dysfunctional family--marked by sabotage, manipulation, and ``aggressively infantile'' jostling. Treating her story as a study of group pathology, Grosskurth uses pointed quotes to show how all of her subjects, especially Freud, used jargon as a cover for real feeling. Sadder still was the adored Freud's puzzling lack of support (he refused to be ``burdened'' by the ideas of others) and human empathy (e.g., failing to comprehend the sensitive Ferenczi's sorrow at his mother's death). Inevitably, as Freud predicted in Totem and Taboo, the anointed sons went their own ways, with, ironically, Freud's biological child, Anna, emerging as his staunchest defender. More emotionally involving, though less theoretically acute, than Janet Sayers's study of the overlapping generation of women psychoanalysts (Mothers of Psychoanalysis--reviewed next issue), the work suffers from a curious reticence. Grosskurth avoids some potentially interesting paths (e.g., Freud's gelid relationship with his own sons) and develops her conclusions so carefully that they become anticlimactic. Nevertheless, a worthy stab at piercing the web of ``mythology, gossip, and rumor'' surrounding the early Freudians. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Phyllis Grosskurth, author of highly praised biographies of Havelock Ellis and Melanie Klein, teaches at the University of Toronto. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Pub (T); First Edition edition (October 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201090376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201090376
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,243 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ZSky on December 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
I have read this book a while ago, but now felt a need to give a review. Indeed, I did found it to be a fascinating reading, especially the correspondences between Freud and the members of the "Secret Committee." This book talks about the history of this secret committee, which was made to ensure the continuation of the existence of the psychoanalysis movement. This committee was initially consisted of Ernest Jones, Karl Abraham, Otto Rank, Hanns Sachs, Sandor Ferenczi, with Freud as its "ringleader" (Max Eitingon didn't joined until 1919).

I really find it interesting that it wasn't Freud's idea to form the "Committee." It was Ernest Jones' suggestion that "a secret committee be formed as a Praetorian guard around Freud" and the "unstated" aim was to monitor Carl Jung and to maintain a watching brief in which they would report to Freud but the main task was to "preserve the purity of psychoanalytic theory." This has occurred in late 1912 when there were "disagreements" between Jung and Freud. Of course, Freud was very enthusiastic about it and was intrigued by the "secret" aspect of this committee. Freud used his own theory as a "loyalty oath" of this committee and any "rejection of any part of the theory meant personal rejection of him" and "anyone whose ideas differed from his own, Freud described as an 'enemy.'" (51, 53).

Whoa, talk about a cult.

However, this committee didn't last for long because the members didn't "get along with each other." The author pointed out that the "fantasy had been dissolved by the harsh reality of human beings unable to get along together" (195). The "last" meeting to which Freud participated was in mid-1926 and a year later, that committee "converted" into a group of officials of the International Association.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeane Rhodes on September 15, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was exactly what I was looking for in my research into the formation and dissolution of Freud's inner circle. The book is written in clear language that will appeal to a broad range of readers. Interest in the subject matter is likely why I found it so valuable, however, readers with only passing interest could easily be drawn into the personalities and situations depicted in the book.
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By Hiram Torres on February 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Loaded with fascinating information, but contains many thinly-supported interpretations. Must-read for those interested in the history of ideas and the history of Psychology.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John S. Pieri on February 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating take on Freud's inner circle in the formation of Psychoanalysis. He was indeed The Lord Of The Rings.
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