Analysis is the Key (1)
Béla Grünberger: When I came to France, on September 1st 1939, I was yet not forty years old. I arrived there on the very first day of the war. If I were religious, I would say that it’s a miracle I’m here at all. I spent the entire war here in France. I arrived in France from Switzerland, where I had lived for thirteen years. I could have become a Swiss citizen, but Switzerland meant nothing to me. I went to Geneva to learn French.
I was born in Nagyvárad (now Oradea in Rumania) on February 22nd, 1903. My mother’s side of the family came from a Swabian village near Pest, my father’s family came from Upper Hungary. My father was born in a small village near Tecsõ. I was brought up in Nagyvárad, and went to a Jewish “commerce grammar” school, where I graduated in commerce, but this did not entitle me to go to university. For the first six months after the end of World War I, Nagyvárad was communist. Then it became Rumanian. So, I became Rumanian. No one in Nagyvárad spoke Rumanian, including myself. I should graduate, but I didn’t. The cause of this was my narcissism. A propos of my narcissism, I usually describe an Oblomov-type, from the novel Oblomov. I was like that. I neglected everything. A few years later, I had to obtain a gymnasium certificate, because I wanted to leave the country. I had learnt some German from my relatives on my mother’s side of the family. I went to Pest, where there was the White Terror, followed by the Horthy period. I attended the Werbõczy principal gymnasium, and there I registered. Although anyone who was important to me had left the country, it was hard to make a decision. Most people preferred to go to America. But, as I have never liked the English language, I didn’t want to go to America.
In the end I went to Germany. I wanted to study Medicine. But despite the Weimar constitution, Jews were not admitted to all universities. In Jena the Dean was a communist biologist of genius, and he admitted me.
As there was no room in the laboratory, I settled myself in the library, where I discovered the literature of psychoanalysis. First of all I discovered Jung, who was easy to read as he wrote well and was appealing. I then moved on to Freud. At that point I considered the idea of becoming a psychoanalyst. There must be a libido with which a person invests this idea. Narcissists are often modest, I didn’t allow it to myself… I allowed it to myself only very gradually and with reservations. People have a wish, and they cannot invest the wish, so they arrange for there to be a counter: ah, now this is the mistake, now that is the mistake… I did not find an analyst. Later I did in Switzerland, after I had left Germany because of Hitler.
So I obtained a diploma, however it was not a medical diploma. I found a college in Kiel, which was very close to my father’s workplace: it was called Institut für Weltwirtschaft und Seeverkehr, the institute for World Economy and Maritime Trade. I found this college very interesting. This was also a discovery of narcissism: what always succeeded was that which was not interesting. The two never coincided. The libido did not exist to interest me and for me to do what I was really interested in. Although I was top of the class, I did not finish the college in Kiel, which was a very good college and which I enjoyed. Then I went to Geneva, where I enrolled in an economic college. The school was not good, and really didn’t interest me, but I was first in the class. I never used that economical qualification, but at least I had it.
In Switzerland, I first went to Zürich, where I made the acquaintance of analysts. I went to Geneva because of the French language, I did not speak the language of Zürich. In Zürich, as I was very interested in psychiatry, I went to hear the famous psychiatrist who discovered the concept of ambivalence, Bleuler. There were analysts in Zürich, nevertheless I went to Bleuler, although I knew he was not an analyst. Everyone has a counter-libido against psychoanalysis. No one has the desire to know his unconscious. Bleuler himself had an unconscious resistance to analysis, my own unconscious sensed this. I went to see him in Burghölzli, to ask him to recommend a psychoanalyst. He received me in the presence of one of his colleagues. He asked me why I had come to him. I wanted him to tell me what he thought about analysis. Now I was a big man, weighing a hundred kilos, red faced, bald and athletic. He was a small, lean man, sitting on a pillow, and I asked him whether I should undergo analysis or not. He asked me why I wanted to be analysed. I replied because I was a depressive. I didn’t look it. He looked at his colleague and laughed, and then said “it’ll pass”. This was enough for me, I received his advice, and many years went by.
Later, in Geneva-when I was student at the economics-I met Claparède, a well known psychologist. At the economics university he taught something which wasn’t taught anywhere, not even in America, the psychology of advertising. It was very interesting. And I realized then that analysis was something very interesting.
There was a kind of religious war among Swiss analysts: one group avowing itself Protestant, the other Catholic, and this did not interest me. How can an analyst be Catholic or Protestant? I had to earn my living, I was preoccupied with that. I couldn’t undergo analysis because I did not earn enough money. I felt the Geneva analysts were not true Freudian analysts, and I wanted a Freudian analyst.
My work consisted of reading newspapers in a press monitoring bureau. It was one of the worst paid jobs. People would present us with a particular theme and we would have to send them everything that had appeared in connection to it. I was now fairly fluent in French but could not do analysis.
In 1935, when I was in Geneva, I found a Viennese analyst, Schwimmer, who came from a village next to Nagyvárad. He was in analysis in Vienna, and I thought that this was my man. I did a couple of sessions with him. But then the Spanish Civil War broke out and he went to fight against Franco. He was one of the first to die.
All forms of fascism evolved in this period, as well as communism. From certain points of view, these years were extremely interesting. I sensed this and launched a publicity campaign. I had letters written. I wrote to organisations or their representatives I thought might be interested in information I had come across during the course of my newspaper reading, and I offered to send such things regularly. My boss at the office was a Catholic. He was an office man, and didn’t realize that the 1930s under Hitler would lead to a world war. He advised my other colleagues to undertake this work, but nobody wanted to do it. They were all Catholics, Calvinists, or Jews doomed to destruction. No one else would do this job, other than “the failed ones”, like myself. But I tried. Then gradually I began earning so much that my boss began to have second thoughts. But I had a contract and I went on earning a lot of money.
Judit Szilasi: Do you attribute this to your knowing to whom you should approach with a suggestion?
Grünberger: There was a certain logic to it. For example, during that period, in every country, every city, there was an anti-gas warfare institute. The people who ran these institutes in Germany and Russia were all politicians and knew nothing about it. As they wanted to learn, they registered with us. It was their duty to provide their own people with all the relevant information. I had to imagine what it was that might interest an individual organisation and then made suggestions. And the cheques came rolling in. Office people knew nothing about it, when they registered. Then I realised what politics were. For example, as construction had just begun on the Moscow underground, I offered them all the newspaper material relating to the building of metros. They replied asking that I send them all the material about the building of the Paris, Limoges and Lyon undergrounds. They believed that Limoges and Lyon had underground systems! They were uninformed but they wanted appear informed..
My work was international, and for a while, it guaranteed protection. When I arrived in Switzerland, it was an easy thing to become a Swiss citizen: you registered in a village, and inscribed yourself as a citizen. You paid fifty or a hundred Francs and became a Swiss citizen. I went to Geneva City Hall for a document. The administrator asked whether I wanted a permis de séjour (permission to stay) or a permis d’établissement (permission to settle). I asked for a permis de séjour. But my intention was to live in France. My problems began when an anti-Semite, Rothmund, was appointed head of Switzerland’s foreign policy. But as the outbreak of the Second World War approached, my work offered increasingly less protection and it became dangerous to remain in Switzerland, because they would have handed me over to the Germans.
Szilasi: How long did this period last in Switzerland?
Grünberger: Thirteen years. I had long known that there would be a war, not from reading the newspapers, but because I had a nose for it, and sensed what was inevitable. I made preparations to go to France, I bought myself a small plot of land. Then war broke out. I arrived in France on the very last train, with flowers and music, and all the French men of an age to do military service who had been living in Switzerland. It was the first of September, 1939.
Then four years began, during which miracles happened, if one were a believer. Anyway, I survived the war thanks to the help of French friends and the Resistance.
I spent the war years in Grenoble, a very interesting and modern place. Lyon and Grenoble were then in Free France. In Grenoble there was a medical school. It wasn’t a university, but a school: the first two years. There I began my medical studies and heard of a psychiatrist who said to be a man with a modern mentality, called Faux. I thought: if he has a modern mentality, then he is familiar with psychoanalysis. And so, I went to him. He was an honest man. When I told him I had come to be analysed, he told me he didn’t know what analysis was. I said that I would explain. And we tried. I had two sessions, but evidently I said things which very much frightened his unconscious. Unfortunately, he said, it was not working. So we gave up. But I read a great deal. During the war I lived on the money I had earned in Geneva. After the war, I took all my medical exams in Lyon.
Then in Paris, I began my analysis. This would have been after the war, in 1946. He was with a well known Freudian analyst, Sacha Nacht (2). I stayed with him for four years. Six months after the beginning of my own psychoanalysis, I myself began to work as a psychoanalyst. So my own analysis and my training analysis took place simultaneously.
The language of the analysis was French. I was referred to him because the was Rumanian. I was also Rumanian, but I didn’t know a word of Rumanian, and he knew no Hungarian. We both spoke French.
Szilasi: When you finished your analysis with Nacht, did you know that you would become a psychoanalyst?
Grünberger: It was evident. I registered with the Societé Psychanalytique de Paris at a time when my analyst was its president. It was the most important association. When quickly I became a member, the others became envious. I had already begun speculating on narcissism. I was admitted to the association after a conference scientific report on my own narcissistic theory. However, I did not at that time expect to become a member. I had never submitted my own candidacy as a president, for example. I didn’t even want to be a member. I was simply interested in psychoanalysis.
Szilasi: Was that report a preparatory study for your later works on narcissism?
Grünberger: There were previous studies. Around that time, there was a French journalist, Maryse Choisy, who was familiar with analysis. I wrote an article about circumcision for her periodical, Psyche, which no longer exists. Afterwards I began my analysis. But these themes had always interested me. And they interest me now and keep me alive. When I think “why am I here?”, then I think that it is probably because I have a strong interest in unconscious recognition.
But many were opposed to my narcissism theory, including my own analyst, Nacht. There were however one or two people who saw something in it. Even now I am an isolated person. I have published two books and another under a pseudonym, and I write articles. I have a book about to be published about anti-Semitism (3), which I wrote with a colleague because at my age I require help.
Szilasi: There was disagreement in the early 1950s, when Nacht and Lacan were both in the Société Psychanalytique de Paris. Did good analysts take part in the Movement?
Grünberger: Not necessarily. The Movement is politics. An analyst is interested in analysis, not politics.
Szilasi: Was there a dispute between the followers of Lacan and the others?
Grünberger: Of course there was. But ultimately, it was not important. These people were not analytical enough to immerse themselves in differences. The Lacanian approach was from the very beginning a different type of analysis. Lacanians can’t use this word. Just a few weeks ago I wrote in a letter to a German that in his day Freud committed a serious error, by not registering at the very beginning the word psychoanalysis officially, as a copyright. That way it would have prevented nonsense from being labelled psychoanalysis. There are six thousand people in Paris who live from fortune telling, not from psychoanalysis. And the tax authorities treat it exactly the same as they do analysis. They don’t know what analysis is.
Szilasi: When did you realise that you were on the side, not of the Lacanians, but the orthodoxes?
Grünberger: I was a member of the Association at the same time as Lacan. As I often heard him speak, I quickly formed an opinion. He spoke beautifully, in good French, and he dazzled people. But this was not psychoanalysis. There are two kinds of analysis. There is Freudian analysis, and there is everything else, which is opposed to it, and which makes use of everything then to be used against analysis. This is because analysis makes the unconscious conscious, and this is something that people cannot tolerate. Lacanian approach is not analysis. Read it. Lacan’s pseudo-poetic style dazzles people, because it is unbelievably refined and very cultured. I believe that there are still followers of Lacan in Hungary. They believe what they do belongs to psychoanalysis, because they are dealing with Lacan. This is ridiculous. Lacan and psychoanalysis are two absolutely opposed concepts. I was close to Lacan. I knew who Lacan was. Lacanism is a narcissistic religion around a charismatic figure. Lacan brought people’s narcissism to the fore, about which they didn’t want to know anything.
Szilasi: When Lacan left the Société Psychanalytique de Paris, he formed his own association.
Grünberger: He founded a separate association which people flocked by the thousands. Because a lecture of his was a Mass. In an official institution, with a very well-to-do audience. Snobs went along. It was fashionable. Writers and artists became interested. Everyone left because they did not understand. Nobody understood. Among themselves, they spoke about in a way that somehow they could understand. Afterwards, some kind of meaning filtered through. But now it has no meaning. A system like this is understandable but it has no Freudian analytical basis.
Szilasi: Did Nacht’s school proceed along its own path?
Grünberger: It went further, but it went wrong. At the beginning it was an official training. There were difficulties in this training and there still are. But training is still necessary. Because people also open the door to every kind of nonsense, fraud and snobbism. The 1968 urge to freedom: everyone must be free. Do you know the Karinthy story? At that time on the railway, or elsewhere you could see “Austrian patent”, “German patent”, or “patent”, which in Hungarian is Szabadalom. This became shortened to Szabad, which means “free” in Hungarian. And so Karinthy wrote somewhere, why shouldn’t there be a “Hungarian patent”, which was a pun meaning why shouldn’t they be free. And so why shouldn’t I be an analyst? Let’s not talk about the frequency of sessions. At first they asked that there be a session four times a week, for Freud it was five Then four, then three. Then they accepted everyone. Because we must be free. Austria free, Germany free, why should Psychoanalysis not be free? In psychoanalysis there is some kind of magic. And with this magic, it is possible to live. And they destroy the reputation of analysis. Analysis was alive so along as it was possible to fight against it. But it is no longer possible. And it’s a very good thing that people know their own selves and be an analyst. But I would not advise that someone try to live from it, because now it is not possible.
My parents were cremated at Auschwitz. I was very much concerned with the Jewish question after the war. Up until then, I didn’t want to hear about my Jewishness. But then I began to understand the deep truths in the Jewish religion. I don’t know who wrote the Bible. They say it was God. But whoever wrote it was a person of genius. When I began analysis, I began to think about anti-Semitism. And I read the different theories. None were valid. And now a theory of anti-Semitism has grown out of narcissism.
My own narcissism theory was inspired by disclosures deriving from the work of Ferenczi. The foetus is a parasite within the mother’s womb, with which it constitutes a monad, a perfect unity. In every regard, it is a spontaneous coenasthesia (en entire sensory unit) of wholeness. A person later appropriates this coenasthesia for himself and interprets things such as wholeness, perfection, and “all pervasiveness”, interprets things such as infinity, the eternal life and omniscience. Ferenczi denies that it derives from some kind of external force, since coenasthesia is per definitione alien because it has an organic, bodily origin. This is why every request “works” for a narcissistic person, because for a while she has truly contributed in this to some extent. From this request, the different religions can be derived, the Other World, the belief in Heaven, the Garden of Eden, the Atlantis myth, the Schlaffenland, Utopias etc. From this the demands of a synthesis between reality and illusion raise: realisability or its lack. Or it remains in its conflicts, or in the course of psychoanalysis, the interpretation is equalled with every narcissistic belief which would choose a narcissistic solution-and this is what must be analysed-this is what it is, this new reality, this forward step, which must be accepted and which runs into “opposition”.
In any event, there is a connection between narcissism and anti-Semitism. I’m going to publish a book on anti-Semitism. The direct cause of anti-Semitism is Christianity, or more particularly Christ. The others are just fairy tales. This is something that no one else dares to say. But there are many who think it. There are also Jews who are anti-Semites. These are points very difficult to analyse, because it is a very great thing that a person reaches that point in the unconscious which effects him. Very slowly, the situation is maturing, is finally coming about. Chiefly, the German question is maturing.
There is reality; objectivity is also an important factor. But narcissism disturbs objectivity. Narcissism thus guides the thought that thought rather follows feeling, or follows passion, but not objectivity. The Jewish religion is opposed to narcissism. Against paganism and illusion. It is also possible to say that it is against imagination and poetry. However, although there is a need for imagination and poetry, you cannot make a God from it. The Jewish religion prohibits that which a person himself imagines as a god. Therefore it is opposed to Jesus.
Szilasi: Its relationship to power is different?
Grünberger: Its relation to the power of knowledge, of logic and of reason, is different. Freud describes how once he dreamt that he introduced the supremacy of reason in place of the supremacy of passion. Narcissism is not capable of that. Christianity is a narcissistic religion, because it views people as God is Christ, and everyone identifies himself with Christ. And then the thought itself identifies itself, the thought remains influenced. I have told certain Christian colleagues that they must analyse Christ. Leave Christ our of it, said one of them to me. Another said that religion is a separate theme, which is not possible to analyse: it’s a protected territory. How can there be a protected territory for an analyst? Religion is an artefact of human beings like everything else.
Szilasi: And the charges of ritual murder?
Grünberger: It is possible to confuse it with the Oedipus complex, because it is an inverted Oedipus complex. The father is killed, and then they say that the Jews murdered the child. It’s a déplacement (displacement) , or an inversion.
Szilasi: Ultimately, what distinguishes Lacan from Nacht?
Grünberger: A certain original narcissistic basis, which would not necessarily be worked out on an Oedipal basis, disturbs the objectivity of the analyst, which is to say his authority and veracity. Because the world of feeling influences narcissism, and then things become judged in a quite different manner.
Szilasi: Does it have an effect on the analyst in what form he continues his own analysis?
Grünberger: Yes. The analyst must solve this problem. Otherwise his analysis is not authentic. Because his world of senses is leading him. This is a narcissistic world of the senses.
Szilasi: A dispute concerning the importance of narcissism did divide French analysts?
Grünberger: It always divided them, whether they knew it or not. Because this is what is the landmark between two realms: the realm of consciousness and the realm of illusion.
Szilasi: Do you then believe that the concept of narcissism is one of the cornerstones of psychoanalysis? Are there equally important concepts?
Grünberger: Everything that happens in an individual’s life is influenced by his drives, and between his drives there are differing relations. Beyond this there is narcissism, which must be transformed into instinctual development. There are instances when the two oppose one another.
Szilasi: What happened after the events at the Société Psychanalytique de Paris in the 1950s? Where there any understandable questions, like narcissism, which interested you?
Grünberger: There is only one key, the knowledge of the unconscious. Because it contains everything. But you must also realise that it must be discovered within a certain framework. There are those who have this talent, and those who do not; those who fear it and oppose it, and those who do not fear it. And in order not to fear it, often a preparation is required. This is why analysis can take so long. Because the beginning phase is often just a preparation for analysis.
Szilasi: How were your works received?
Grünberger: There are a couple of analysts who know and esteem me. I have never sought popularity, nor theoretical results. I am interested in psychoanalysis. The public rather less so. I am a practising analyst, not a theoretician.
Szilasi: Is your theory of narcissism then merely accidental?
Grünberger: It is not a theory. It is a discovery. Theory is a theoretical thing, narcissism is a practical thing, you just have to recognise it.
Szilasi: Finally though, this discovery has become part of psychoanalytical theory. But you consider it a practical thing.
Grünberger: It is practical. I experienced narcissism for my entire life, but never knew what it was. Up until I discovered it in my own analysis.
Szilasi: Until what age did you continue your practice as an analyst?
Grünberger: Until the age of 93. I was still active a year ago, although less than before. I learned much. It should be like this for everyone. To live a long time, because you need much experience to be able to understand things. But talent exists. There are those who acquire it quickly. They are not yet analysts, but they have a talent for it. Then they need an entire life to work out this talent in different positions, different conflicts, because there is always something new to learn.
Szilasi: So how do you satisfy this interest if you no longer analyse?
Grünberger: By thinking, for example, about what I know and what I have read. Everything interests me. Not as much as before, but I keep occupied. I see the world through the perspective of psychoanalysis. Analysis is the key. If you possess the key, you can open the door.
(1) This conversation with Béla Grünberger was made in Hungarian in September and October 1996.
(2) Sach Nacht (1901-1977), Rumanian born French analyst.
(3) The book has now been published: Béla Grünberger & Pierre Dessuant: Narcissisme, christianisme, antisémitisme (Paris: Hébraica, Actes Sud, 1997).