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Psychoanalysis And Its Vicissitudes

The fate of psychoanalysis seems emblematic of the whole history of the Western world during the twentieth century. Psychoanalysis first flourished in the final days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at a time of unrivaled prosperity and intellectual ferment. World War I disrupted the progress of analytic institutions, but its barbarities may have played a role in Freud's revisiting some of his fundamental assumptions, most notably about the role of aggression in the human psyche, which led him ultimately to the death drive.

World War II forced the mass exile of psychoanalysts from Europe, many of whom, like Freud, were Jews from the occupied nations. Four of Freud's sisters perished in concentration camps, as did many of those analysts who remained in their home countries. Many of the émigrés resettled in England, the United States, and South America, and the field flourished in these areas as a result. Psychoanalysis in each of these regions is marked by its local influences, and the variety of psychoanalytic discourses in the early twenty-first century is such that one group may find the theories and practices of another unrecognizable.

Even within each region, the evolution of psychoanalytic theory and technique since the death of Freud has been marked by discord and schism, perhaps stamped by the Oedipal struggles whose mysteries psychoanalysts seek to plumb. This has been the case since the birth of the field, and the history of psychoanalysis is replete with examples of this: Alfred Adler (1870–1937), Wilhelm Stekel (1868–1940), Jung, Otto Rank (1884–1939), Ferenczi, Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957)—all were close members of Freud's circle, and all broke with Freud, in disputes fueled as much by personal as theoretical tensions.

Later fissures in the analytic community include the secession of Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) from the "classical" French establishment; in London, the intense conflict between adherents of Klein and Anna Freud; and in New York, the divisions that caused Karen Horney (1885–1952), Sandor Rado (1890–1972), Harry Stack Sullivan (1891–1949), and others to leave their places of training to found independent institutes. This discord has persisted into modern times, though the diminished influence of psychoanalysis and the proliferation of rival therapies and theories of mind have muted and submerged the original tensions, even as new voices constantly emerge to challenge their predecessors.

Though its impact has been felt most strongly in the West, analytic ideas have traveled around the world. By the early twenty-first century, analytic institutes had been founded in India, Korea, and Japan.

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