In telling the story of Gross' known life, Hurwitz' (1979) and
Green's (1974, 1986, 1998) works have been most valuable.
Otto Hans Adolf Gross (also Grob) was born 17 March 1877 in
Gniebing near Feldbach in Styria, Austria. His father Hans (or
Hanns) Gross was a professor of criminality and one of the leading
authorities worldwide in this field. (He is, for example, seen
as the originator of dactyloscopy, the science of interpreting
and using finger prints.)
Gross was mostly educated by private tutors and in private
schools. He became a medical doctor in 1899 and travelled as
a naval doctor to South America in 1900 at which time he became
addicted to drugs. In 190102 he worked as a psychiatrist
and assistant doctor in Munich and Graz, published his first
papers and had his first treatment for drug addiction at the
Burghölzli Clinic near Zürich. His initial contact
with Freud was either at this time or by 1904 at the latest.
The writer Franz Jung (no relation to C.G. Jung) claims that
Gross became Freud's assistant much earlier than that but there
is no evidence that Gross had any contact with Freud before 1904
other than his (F. Jung, 1923, P. 21) (2),
except for a passage in a letter to Freud from C.G. Jung after
his treatment of Gross, "I wish Gross could go back to you,
this time as a patient" (Freud / Jung Letters, p.
161; my emphasis).
In 1903 he married Frieda Schloffer and was offered a chair
in psychopathology at Graz university in 1906. The following
year his son Peter was born as well as a second son, also named
Peter, from his relationship with Else Jaffé, born Else
von Richthofen. In the same year Gross had an affair with Else's
sister, Frieda Weekley, who later married D.H. Lawrence. By that
time Gross lived in Munich and Ascona, Switzerland, where he
had an important influence on many of the expressionist writers
and artists such as Karl Otten and Franz Werfel as well as anarchists
and political radicals, like Erich Mühsam, who later was
the first to proclaim the republic during the Munich Revolution
of 1919. In 1908 Gross had further treatment at the Burghölzli
where he was analysed by C.G. Jung - and, in turn, analysed Jung.
In the same year his daughter Camilla was born from his relationship
to the Swiss writer Regina Ullmann, who later became a close
friend of Rilke.
In 1911 Gross was forcibly interned in a psychiatric institution.
He subsequently wanted to found a school for anarchists in Ascona
and he wrote to the Swiss medical doctor and anarchist Fritz
Brupbacher that he had plans to publish a "Journal on the
psychological problems of anarchism". Two years later he
lived in Berlin where he had a considerable influence on Franz
Jung (the writer), Raoul Hausman, Hannah Höch and the other
artists who created Berlin Dada. His father had Gross arrested
as a dangerous anarchist and interned in a psychiatric institution
in Austria. By the time he was freed following an international
press campaign initiated by his friends, Gross had become one
of the psychiatrists working at the hospital. Together with Franz
Kafka Gross planned to publish "Blätter gegen den
Machtwillen" (Journal Against the Will to Power). Legally
declared to be of diminished responsibility, Gross was analyzed
by Wilhelm Stekel in 1914 (cf. Stekel, 1925), declared cured
but placed legally under the trusteeship of his father who died
a year later, in 1915, when Gross was a military doctor first
in Slavonia and then in Temesvar, Romania, where he was head
of a typhus hospital. Together with Franz Jung, the painter Georg
Schrimpf and others, Gross published a journal called "Die
freie Strasse" (The Free Road) as a "preparatory
work for the revolution". He began a relationship with Marianne
Kuh, one of the sisters of the Austrian writer Anton Kuh, and
in 1916 he had a daughter by her, Sophie. Because of his drug
addiction, Gross was again put into a psychiatric institution
under limited guardianship in 1917. He planned to marry Marianne,
although he had a relationship not only with her sister, Nina,
too, but, possibly, with the third sister, Margarethe, as well
(Templer-Kuh, 1998). He died of pneumonia on 13 February 1920
in Berlin after having been found in the street near-starved
and frozen. In one of the very few eulogies that were published,
Otto Kaus wrote, "Germany's best revolutionary spirits have
been educated and directly inspired by him. In a considerable
number of powerful creations by the young generation one finds
his ideas with that specific keenness and those far-reaching
consequences that he was able to inspire" (1920, p. 55).
Except for Wilhelm Stekel, who wrote a brief eulogy, published
in New York (Stekel, 1920), but who was a psychoanalytic outcast
himself by that time, and a mere announcement of Gross' death
by Ernest Jones at the Eighth International Psycho-Analytical
Congress in Salzburg four years later, the analytic world remained
silent, a silence that has, with very few exceptions, effectively
lasted to this day.
What were the ideas Otto Gross contributed to the development
of analytical theory and practice and what was it about them
- and himself - that finally made him persona non grata - or
an "non-person", to use the Stalinist term?
His personal experience of what appears to have been an overpowering
father and a subservient mother, early on provided Gross with
an experience of the roots of emotional suffering in relationships
within a nuclear family structure. He wrote in favour of the
freedom and equality of women and advocated free choice of partners
and new forms of relationships which he envisaged as free from
the use of force and violence. He made links between these issues
and the hierarchical structures within the wider context of society
and came to regard individual suffering as inseparable from that
of all humanity: "The psychoanalyst's consulting room contains
all of humanity's suffering from itself" (Gross, 1914, p.
In his struggle against patriarchy in all its manifestations,
Gross was fascinated by the ideas of Bachofen and others on matriarchy.
"The coming revolution is a revolution for the mother-right,"
he wrote in 1913 (Gross, 1913a, Col. 387). He focussed on sexuality,
yet soon came to question Freud's emphasis on it as the sole
root of the neuroses. In contrast to Freud's view of the limits
placed on human motivation by the unconscious, Gross saw pathologies
as being rooted in more positive and creative tendencies in the
unconscious. He wrote extensively about same-sex sexuality in
both men and women and argued against its discrimination. For
Gross, psychoanalysis was a weapon in a countercultural revolution
to overthrow the existing order - not a means to force people
to adapt better to it. He wrote, "The psychology of the
unconscious is the philosophy of the revolution . . . It is called
upon to enable an inner freedom, called upon as preparation
for the revolution" (1913a, column 385, emphasis O.G.).
He saw body and mind as one, inseparable, writing that, "each
psychical process is at the same time a physiological one"
(Gross, 1907, p. 7). "Gross joins the ranks of those researchers
who refute a division of the world into physical and spiritual-intellectual
realms. For them body and soul are the expressions of one and
the same process, and therefore a human being can only be seen
holistically and as a whole" (Hurwitz, 1979, p. 66).
Nicolaus Sombart summarizes two main points. "His first
thesis was: The realization of the anarchist alternative to the
patriarchal order of society has to begin with the destruction
of the latter. Without hesitation, Otto Gross owned up to practicing
this -in accordance with anarchist principles - by the propaganda
of the "example", first by an examplary way of life
aimed at destroying the limitations of society within himself;
second as a psychotherapist by trying to realize new forms of
social life experimentally in founding unconventional relationships
and communes (for example in Ascona from where he was expelled
as an instigator of "orgies") . . . Gross was not homosexual
but he saw bisexuality as a given and held that no man could
know why he was loveable for a woman if he did not know about
his own homosexual component. His respect of the sovereign freedom
of human beings went so far that he did not only recognise their
right for illness as an expression of a legitimate protest against
a repressive society - here he is a forerunner of the Anti-Psychiatry
of Ronald D. Laing and Alain Fourcade - but their death wishes
as well, and as a physician he helped with the realization of
those, too. He was prosecuted and incarcerated for assisting
His second thesis: Whoever wants to change the structures
of power (and production) in a repressive society, has to start
by changing these structures in himself and to eradicate the
"authority that has infiltrated one's own inner being".
In his opinion it is the achievement of psychoanalysis as a science
to have created the preconditions and to have provided the instruments
for this (Sombart, 1991, pp. 1l0f.).
Behind Gross' emphatic focus on transgression lies a profound
realisation of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything.
Therefore all boundaries may be seen as arbitrary and transgressing
boundaries then becomes a protest against their unnaturalness.
From a psychopathological perspective it would be all too facile
to diagnose - not unreasonably, though - a father complex, an
unresolved incestuous tie to the mother, a neurotic longing for
paradise as a return to the womb etc., etc. Very similar diagnoses,
incidentally, could easily be made of the other founding fathers
of analysis. But this would mean that we remain in the compartmentalized
realm of reason and rationality alone, where everything and everybody
is separated from from everything and everybody else. The historiography
of analysis will lose out if we were to brand Gross - as Jung
and Freud did - a hopeless lunatic, or maybe a puer aeternus,
nothing but a charismatic failure.
From a conceptual point of view, Gross' transgressions can
be understood as a longing for transcendence - a transcendence
via the body that does not leave the body behind
in order to fly off into a purely spiritual, uncorporeal sphere.
I see his work as an understanding of the ensoulment of matter
and flesh. Analysts do not unsually write about ecstasy, lust,
orgy. Those who did paid the price of becoming ostracized as
outcasts - Gross, Reich, Laing. It is only comparatively recently
that analytic authors have ventured as far as "the spontaneous
gesture" (Winnicott, in Rodman, ed., 1987) or "acts
of freedom" (Symington, 1990).
It seems that Otto Gross has remained largely unknown to this
day because in true mercurial fashion he travelled deep into
the underworld and high into the heavens, trying to hold together
experiences of both realms. Freud, Jung and Reich all returned
from their respective creative illnesses or night-sea journeys
comparatively intact and lived to tell of them in a coherent
manner. Gross did not.
With his advocacy of sex, drugs and anarchy, Gross corresponded
to a spectre feared by the German-speaking bourgeoisie of Europe,
a threat to values of family and state. My hypothesis is that
Gross remained relatively unknown to this day because of his
radical critique and his insistence that there is no individual
change without collective change and vice versa. There is a temptation
to romanticize Gross as a forgotten genius/martyr of the analytic
movement. Ernest Jones, who had met Gross in Munich in 1908,
where Gross introduced him to psychoanalysis, called him in his
autobiography in the late forties "the nearest approach
to the romantic ideal of a genius I have ever met" (Jones,
1990, p. 173). But to focus on this aspect alone would mean assessing
Gross uncritically, overlooking his (self-)destructive side.
(1) The biographical and theoretical surveys are excerpts
from Gottfried Heuer, Jung's Twin Brother. Otto Gross and Carl
Gustav Jung. Gross' children and grandchildren. In: Association
of Jungian Analysts, ed., Festschrift 1977 ©1998,
(2) All translations from titles quoted in German by G.H.
The Freud/Jung Letters. The Correspondence between Sigmund
Freud and C. G. Jung. Ed. by William McGuire, translated
by Ralph Mannheim and R.F.C. Hull. London: The Hogarth Press
and Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974.
Green, Martin. The von Richthofen Sisters. The Triumphant
and the Tragic Mode of Love. Else and Frieda von Richthofen,
Otto Gross, Max Weber, and D.H. Lawrence, in the Years 18701970.
New York: Basic Books, 1974.
Green, Martin. Mountain of Truth. The Counterculture Begins.
Ascona, 19001920. Hanover and London: University Press
of New England,1986.
Green, Martin. New Age Messiah. The Life and Times of Otto
Gross. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999 (in press).
Gross, Otto. Das Freudsche Ideogenitätsmoment und
seine Bedeutung im manisch-depressiven Irresein Kraepelins. Leipzig:
F.C.W. Vogel, 1907.
Gross, Otto. Zur Überwindung der kulturellen Krise, in
Die Aktion, Nr. 14, III. Jahr, 2. April, 1913, Col. 384
Gross, Otto. Über Destruktionssymbolik, in Zentralblatt
für Psychoanalyse und Psychotherapie, Vol. IV, No. 11/12,
1914, pp. 525534.
Jones, Ernest. Free Associations. New Brunswick and
London: Transaction, 1990.
Hurwitz, Emanuel. Otto Gross. Paradies-Sucher zwischen
Freud und Jung. Zürich: Suhrkamp, 1979.
Jung, Franz. Von geschlechtlicher Not zur sozialen Katastrophe.
Manuscript. Berlin: Cläre Jung Archiv of the Stiftung
Archiv der Akademie der Künste, ca. 1923. (First published
as an appendix in Michaels, 1983.)
K(aus)., O(tto). Mitteilungen, in Sowjet. Nr. 8/9,
8 May, 1920, pp. 5357.
Michaels, Jennifer E. Anarchy and Eros. Otto Gross' Impact
on German Expressionist Writers: Leonhard Frank, Franz
Jung, Johannes R. Becher, Karl Otten, Curth Corrinth,
Walter Hasenclever, Oskar Maria Graf; Franz Kafka, Franz
Werfel, Max Brod, Raoul Hausmann and Berlin Dada. New York:
Peter Lang, 1983.
Rodman, F. Robert, ed. The Spontaneous Gesture. Selected
Letters of D. W Winnicott. Cambridge, Ma., London: Harvard
University Press, 1987.
Sombart, Nicolaus. Die deutschen Männer und ihre Feinde.
Carl Schmitt - ein deutsches Schicksal zwischen Männerbund
und Matriarchatsmythos. München, Wien: Carl Hanser,
Stekel, Wilhelm. In Memoriam, in Psyche and Eros, Vol.
1, 1920, p. 49.
Stekel, Wilhelm. Die Tragödie eines Analytikers, in Störungen
des Trieb-und Affektlebens. (Die Parapathischen Erkrankungen).
VIII. Sadismus und Masochismus. Berlin und Wien: Urban &
Schwarzenberg, 1925, pp. 484511.
Symington, Neville. The possibility of human freedom and its
transmission (with particular reference to the thought of Bion),
in International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 71,
1990, pp. 95106.
Templer-Kuh, Sophie. Personal Communication. 29 June,1998.