Monday, January 25, 2010

Me and Freud: Notable Parallels

The following is an excerpt from E. James Lieberman, M.D., Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank at 65 (New York: The Free Press, 1985). Dr. Lieberman is a retired Washington, D.C. psychiatrist, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry. In about the year 1990, I sent Dr. Lieberman a copy of my self-analysis, "The Caliban Complex," which he acknowledged with a humorous letter. I wonder if Dr. Lieberman remembers me or my writing?

Incidentally, the theory of creativity that Dr. Lieberman cites is "Janusian Thinking," a term coined by Albert Rothenberg, M.D. that refers to the process of holding two contradictory ideas in the mind at once. I also sent a copy of "The Caliban Complex" to Dr. Rothenberg in the fall of 1989. He responded with a referral to Stanley R. Palombo, M.D., a Washington, D.C. psychiatrist I consulted in 1990, during my tenure at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld: phone 202 362 6004. Dr. Palombo was an outstanding psychiatrist and one of the most intelligent people I have ever known.

According to one theory creativity depends on the ability to hold opposite ideas in the mind simultaneously to live and work with contradictions. "No man can engender till divided in two" wrote W. B. Yeats. Sigmund Freud not only coped with ambivalence; he raised it to a new level of consciousness. Reaction formation, denial, repression, and dream work are some of the terms he used to accommodate the phenomenon of opposites that he observed in himself and others; disgust conceals attraction, altruism conceals and sadism, behind the fear lies the wish, etc. Many people cannot tolerate such oxymorons in their lives; they feel out of control, or "crazy." Their notion of sanity stifles creativity. Freud's elucidation of the dynamic unconscious enabled people to cope better with normal inconsistency and to be more creative as a result.

Freud's own powerful impulses and emotions found their match in his intellect and self-control. He checked his passion for philosophy with the detachment of a chemist, his yen for deductive reasoning with a disciplined inductive approach. Sometimes he fooled himself, as when he denied ambition, malice, and idealism, and when he claimed to be unruffled by critics. He labeled himself an obsessive, but he showed signs of (controlled) anxiety, paranoia, homosexuality, and hysteria as well and probably used all to advantage, as he did his own dreams. As with any powerful new tool, psychoanalysis was used roughly at first and mistakes were made, even by its inventor.

From his concern with archeology, to his wish for a statue of himself in the university courtyard, Freud worked out his ambivalent relationship with the past. Ambition for greatness suggests a preoccupation with the future, but in his case the key fantasy concerns becoming a part of history, an indispensable figure who first solved the riddle of life. It was part of his struggle with mortality, his search for permanence.


Jim L said...

Dr. L does not recall the earlier contact. Nor do I recognize the material as a quote from Acts of Will. Can you cite page? Readers may be interested in more on Otto Rank at

Gary Freedman said...

The excerpt is from page 65 of Dr. Lieberman's book.