Max Weber Studies: Sam Whimster reviews Gottfried Heuer’s new book

Sam Whimster’s review of Heuer’s Freud’s ‘Outstanding’ Colleague / Jung’s ‘Twin Brother’ with Bertschinger-Joos’ Frieda Gross und ihre Briefe an Else Jaffé is in the January 2017 issue of Max Weber Studies.

Esther Bertschinger-Joos, Frieda Gross und ihre Briefe an Else Jaffé. Ein bewegtes Leben im Umfeld von Anarchismus, Psychoanalyse und Bohème (Marburg: Verlag, 2014), 335pp. (pbk). ISBN 978-3-936134-43-8. €19.95.

Gottfried M. Heuer, Freud’s ‘Outstanding’ Colleague / Jung’s ‘Twin Brother’: The suppressed psychoanalytic and political significance of Otto Gross (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2017), xvii + 252pp. (pbk). ISBN 978-1-138-89969-8. £31.99.

If we were to choose one life that in its multiple relationships touched on all aspects of Wilhelmine society, that person could probably be Frieda Gross. Born in 1876 and brought up in a bourgeois household in the Austrian city of Graz she was denied by her parents, through gender convention, entry into professional or vocational education. Intelligent, with striking looks, and an outgoing personality she moped around Graz, having finished her boarding school education in Freiburg i. B., looking for love, a man, and a vocation to do good in the world. That man, eventually, was Otto Gross, who she describes as ‘different from the others’, ‘impractical’, ‘shy’, ‘other-worldly’ and ‘crazy’. They married, a Catholic wedding, in Graz in 1903. Gross was a charismatic personality – this was Weber’s first use of the term, which he used to describe Gross when they met in Heidelberg in 1907. Gross was recognised as being superlatively intellectually gifted by his father Hans, a professor in criminal law and criminology, and by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Otto Gross’s great ambition was to combine Nietzsche’s philosophy with the new psychoanalytic theory of Freud. Trained as a doctor of medicine and lecturing in Graz in psychiatry, in 1907 he moved to Munich as an assistant in Emil Kraepelin’s new psychiatric clinic.

As two strongly affective personalities Otto and Frieda were enraptured with each other, role playing: ‘you be the mother’, ‘you be the queen’, ‘you be the beloved’, ‘you be the comrade’. Frieda was his constant interlocutor as Otto worked out a highly original variant of Freud’s theory of repression. Otto Gross’s brilliance came with a cost. In a letter (1902) to Else Jaffé Frieda wrote, ‘you have to realize that he has two ideals, two passions, the love of concepts and the love of Frieda’. He required a constant stream of patients for face to face psychoanalytic encounters, and he did not discriminate between hospital patients or acquaintances, friends and lovers he met in the cafés of Munich’s Schwabing. He fuelled an insatiable appetite for psychoanalysing with cocaine and opiates, his always eccentric behaviour stepping out over the boundaries of even their self-elected Bohemian lifestyle. Frieda became worn down with his incessant talking and his demand that she allow him to psychoanalyse her – something she always rebuffed. A number of drug abstinence cures were organised by his father and Frieda, who was driven to distraction and exhaustion by Otto’s monomaniacal psychoanalytic theorizing.

Otto Gross reluctantly agreed to stays at the Burghölzli clinic outside Zurich. His supervising doctor was Carl Jung. Freud greatly admired the talent of Otto Gross and he kept in touch with Jung on how the treatment of Otto should proceed. How we should interpret the events at the Burghölzli is central to Gottfried Heuer’s book, to which I will return. From Frieda Gross’s standpoint, the official psychiatric assessment of her husband, relayed to her and Hans Gross in 1908 by the director Dr Eugen Bleuler, was that Otto was suffering from ‘dementia praecox’, which then was a general label for insanity for which there was no cure. Frieda was already separating from Otto Gross before 1908, staying in the Jaffé villa in Heidelberg and conducting an affair with the Heidelberg philosopher Emil Lask. From that milieu she moved into the world of anarchism, forming a relationship with Ernst Frick during a holiday on the Adriatic coast in 1909. Otto encouraged her in this affair. Frick had escaped his working class background and manual job in a metal works, joining up with German and Swiss anarchists and forming contacts with French and Spanish ‘Genossen’. He was an idealist, self taught, and was much taken with Otto Gross’s philosophy of emancipation. He valiantly tried to support and persuade Otto to a life without drugs, something Otto himself never regarded as a problem being quite unaware of the effects of his behaviour on others.

At this point Frieda’s already eventful life lurches out of control, though a whole squadron of cavalieri come to her aid. We are well informed by the previous pioneering work of Martin Green and my own book on Ascona on Weber’s intervention on her behalf.(*) But there were always gaps in the narrative which Esther Bertschinger-Joos has rectified in a remarkably thorough way, drawing on and presenting all the extensive primary sources that have now been made available. Gruelling scholarly work has been undertaken by the Otto Gross Gesellschaft, especially by Gottfried Heuer, the jurist Albrecht Götz von Olenhusen, and the exploration and opening up of the Jaffé family archives by Guenther Roth.(**) Max Weber was particularly attracted, during his 1914 stay in Ascona, to the ‘Gesinnungsethiker’ nature of Ernst Frick, and it always has been a mystery as to what he knew about Frick’s history of sometimes violent anarchism. Weber defended Frick as a man of integrity in a court case relating to the paternity of Frieda Gross’s daughter, Eva.

Frick’s ‘back-story’ is joining a Zurich syndicalist-anarchist group that published the newspaper Weckruf, of which he became editor in 1904; also an anti-militarist league where he met fellow anarchists Erich Mühsam and Johannes Nohl. Frick and his fellow anarchists attempted to free a Polish political anarchist and political assassin from Zurich prison cells where he was being held prior to extradition to Russia. The attempt, complete with homemade bombs to create a distraction, was a failure and they were chased away by a policeman. In their flight the bombs were thrown away, but picked up later by children playing. One exploded causing them injury to the face and legs. The town of Zurich was outraged and Frick was later arrested, went to trial and was released for lack of evidence. Association with Frick was dangerous and Munich police on the basis of information from a prisoner started inquiries with the Zurich police about Otto. The Munich police had got wind of the hushed up scandal when in 1906 Otto Gross accidentally – how accidental is open to dispute – left behind a lethal amount of drugs in the room of a depressed woman he was treating. She, Lotte Hattemers, committed suicide with the drugs. Something similar happened in 1911 with Sophie Benz, a Munich artist, who was in a relationship with Otto. She died from drinking cocaine dissolved in asti, while living with Otto Gross in Ascona. Otto maintained she was only meant to rub it on her teeth for toothache. This scandal was not hushed up. The Tessiner Zeitung report (4/3/1911), complete with lurid details of Gross’s drug habit and his unforgettable appearance, was taken up by the European press. Gross escaped police inquiries by committing himself into a clinic in Mendrisio across the border.

In providing the whole narrative, despite some inevitable gaps in the record, Bertschninger-Joos allows a different judgement to be made about Frieda Gross. The predominant impression from Max Weber’s letters from Ascona is that Frieda is a victim of circumstances that have turned against her. Basically, her father-in-law no longer provided funds to the ‘family’ once he realized that her daughter, Eva, who Otto and Frieda claimed was legitimate, was in fact the child of Frieda’s relationship with Ernst Frick. The Webers supported Frieda in this pretence, which was subject to countless court cases. Frieda Gross (born Schloffer) had formed a very close relationship with Else Jaffé (born Richthofen) since their boarding school days in Freiburg (where the Webers first met them). Frieda in the correspondence, which is maintained till Frieda’s death in 1950, tells Else everything and always declares her undying love for Else. She never demurs from this adulation, while Frieda never spares Else with the details of her sorrows – her unfulfilled aspirations, her marriage, her relationships, the persecution of anarchists, her court cases etc. Frieda Gross is never far from the centre of trouble and in the anarchist period connected with Frick she is the one organizing legal defences and raising funds. Her letters are superb examples of glossing over inconvenient facts, not least her defence of Otto even as they went they own ways. Bertschinger-Joos knew Eva Verena Schloffer when they were both working in 1960 for Swiss Refugee Aid. Eva Verena said her mother was not short of money in the early days, perhaps from an inheritance from Frieda’s father, who died in 1911. And in 1911 Frieda borrrowed 3000 marks from Else, saying to Else, ‘You know I am in a position to pay you back’. Frieda was herself the instigator of turbulence, over and beyond the storms raised by Otto. She was a survivor and strong while able to command attention. Max Weber was desirous to renew contact with her after the war.

The lines of interpretation and re-interpretation remain open and multiple, which will come as no surprise to students of Max Weber. Gottfried Heuer in his long-considered book on Otto Gross offers a new methodology of historical interpretation. Gross in his lifetime had a spell-binding effect on those he met, equally he was thoroughly disliked and hated. What happens after he dies? (He died destitute and starved in the winter of 1920 in Berlin.) He, as well as Frieda, were fictionalised in novels, were remembered in memoirs and diaries, and were fixed in the official records of psychiatric clinics and courts. The dead live on in the lives of their interpreters. ‘It is not true that the dead are dead […] in reality, they possess a singular form of existence and continue to mingle with the living’ (Pierre Bayard quoted in Heuer, p. 2). Memories can also be buried, officially by historians. In the history of psychoanalysis this is what happened to Gross. Heuer’s project is to recover memory and to consider just what is implicated in recovery. Looking back to Otto, and the overlapping circles of his and Frieda’s life, there is much hurt, suffering, persecution and death. Frieda’s favourite word was ‘Leid’. We also have to reflect on the context, then described by Karl Kraus (referencing Austria’s Vienna) as ‘an experimental laboratory for the end of the world’. Heuer is guided by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What is taken from the past is an arc to the present whose purpose must be redemption and hope – also a Benjamin theme. In this spirit Heuer engages directly and personally with his subject, and this becomes an intersubjectivity, something he applies to his own psychoanalytic practice; see https://vimeo. com/196609212 .

One of the central episodes is Carl Jung’s analysis of Otto Gross in June 1908. Freud wrote to Jung of Otto Gross:

he urgently needs your medical help; what a pity, what a gifted, resolute man. He is stuck in cocaine and probably in the early phase of toxic cocaine paranoia. I feel great sympthy towards his wife; one of the few Teutonic women I have liked (quoted in Heuer: 75).

Freud’s plan was for Jung to oversee the abstinence programme and then for Freud to take over as analyst. Jung however plunged into the analysis himself, with sessions lasting twelve hours and deep into the night (Otto’s favourite time). Jung wrote to Freud: ‘Whenever I got stuck, he analysed me. In this way my own psychic health has benefited […] Psychically his condition has improved a lot, so that the future looks less sombre.’ This strikes me as psychoanalytical chess played by two grandmasters. David Cronenberg in his 2011 film A Dangerous Method has a good line on this: ‘Jung: I would say the analysis is not far from completion. Gross: Mine, yes, I’m not sure about yours.’ Jung reported to Freud on his lack of success in the following terms:

I don’t know with what feelings you will receive these news. For me this experience is one of the harshest in my life, for in Gross I experienced only all too many aspects of my own nature, so that he often seemed like my twin brother – minus Dementia praecox. This is tragic. You can guess what powers I have summoned up in myself in order to cure him (quoted in Heuer: 79).

Heuer’s reading of Jung’s failure is that the analysis became stuck when Otto’s infantile complexes were probed. They were ‘overwhelmingly powerful, being permanently fixed and drawing their affects from inexhaustible depths’ writes Jung to Freud. There is ‘no psychological yesterday for him’. From this Jung reluctantly concluded but with ‘terrible clarity: Dementia praecox’.

Gross himself had climbed over the walls of the Burghölzli and escaped to Munich. Five years later he scornfully recalled: ‘When I realized that I was no longer being understood, I did not want to stay. I knew that I was listed with the diagnosis dementia praecox, and I knew that I would have no future, once the psychiatrists there would write their report’ (quoted Heuer: 79). Such a report was a career-killer, for Gross wanted to get back to being a practising psychoanalyst and after escaping the Burghölzli he coherently developed his ideas of patriarchal repression, merging them into anarchist theory and practice. Repression was medical in symptoms but its causes lay in an authoritarian and militarised society. His was the radical diagnosis of the more general recognition in liberal, socialist and social policy circles circles that Wilhelmine society had to be prised apart and made more open. Else Jaffé’s PhD, to remember, was entitled ‘The changing attitudes of the authoritarian parties concerning the legislation on the protection of the workers…’ (see Demm in this issue, above, p. 69).

Max Weber had already pronounced on Gross in 1907 when Else had submitted a paper on his behalf to the Archiv: ‘a specialist scientific journal is no place for any article which aspires to be a sermon, and which is a poor sermon at that.’ A year later at the Salzburg Psychoanalytic Congress Gross had presented a paper which argued for the release of the unconscious for the collective problems of civilization and the imperative of the future. To which Freud responded: ‘We are doctors and we will remain doctors’ (quoted Bertschinger-Joos: 104).

Gottfried Heuer holds the last word on this matter, at least for the present. Jung and Gross’s joint analysis broke down when it reached infantile complexes. Gross’s distinctive theory of the coercive shaping of child identity was driven by his own patriarchal trauma. The fact that psychoanalysis then (and to an extent still today) cannot unlock childhood complexes should not have meant those suffering were labelled ‘dementia praecox’. No ‘psychological yesterday’ is certainly a roadblock for psychoanalysis but hardly the grounds for an objectively scientific classification. That many past subjects are denied a hearing in the present remains a wider obligation to recovery whose aim and purpose should be redemptory.

Sam Whimster

  • *) Martin Green, Mountain of Truth (London and Hanover: University of New England Press, 1986); S. Whimster (ed.), Max Weber and the Culture of Anarchy (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999).
  • **) Guenther Roth, ‘Edgar Jaffé and Else von Richthofen in the mirror of newly found letters’, Max Weber Studies 10.2 (2010): 151-88; ‘Deliberate Search and Unexpected Discoveries: Archival research on Max Weber’s milieu’, Max Weber Studies 14.2 (2014): 21-23.

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