The suppressed psychoanalytic and political significance of Otto Gross

Gottfried M. Heuer:
Freud’s ‘Outstanding’ Colleague/ Jung’s ‘Twin Brother’:
The suppressed psychoanalytic and political significance of Otto Gross

London and New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. xvii + 252. ISBN: 978-1-138-89969-8

In this fascinating and informative book, Gottfried M. Heuer presents the most comprehensive study to date of Otto Gross’s psychoanalytic theories and clinical practices, his relationship with Freud, Jung and other psychoanalysts of the time, his significant and continuing impact on psychoanalysis, the development of his radical politics, as well as his influence on literary and artistic trends of his time. Heuer defines his central focus as “a redemptive undertaking to clarify the impact Otto Gross had on the development of psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice, particularly in terms of his linking of psychoanalysis with revolutionary politics” (p. 201), and in this he succeeds admirably.

Heuer has long been known as a leading authority on Gross. He has spent over twenty years researching Otto Gross, collecting materials on or by Gross for the now extensive Otto Gross archive, interviewing people who knew Gross, including Gross’s daughters Camilla Ullmann and Sophie Templer-Kuh. Together with Raimund Dehmlow and Anthony Templer, Gross’s grandson, he co-founded the International Otto Gross Society, of which Sophie Templer-Kuh is honorary president. The society’s congresses and publications since 1999 have aroused interest in Gross and have fostered research not only on Gross, but also on people who were connected to him.

Heuer creates a dynamic trans-historical methodology to approach the subject of his book. He defines his methodology as “a trans-temporal, trans-generational and trans-personal approach to the past as an intersubjective web of ideas and concepts centring on Gross and my being in relationship with him” (p. 3). This trans-historical method “arcs backwards to the past with the intention to contribute to healing present and future” (p. 3). For Heuer, “healing wounded history,” the title of his first chapter, is an integral part of his purpose in the book. His approach is thus in “the tradition of reconciliatory justice as practiced by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (p. 3).

Another important aspect of Heuer’s methodology, unusual in most scholarship, is to make transparent his subjective reasons for writing about Gross. He does this to avoid what he terms “a pseudo-objective manner, in which the subjectivity of my life-experience would seem to have played no part at all” (pp. 3-4). In his chapter “Author and subject,” Heuer explores “how key themes and core issues of my own life interrelate with corresponding ones in that of Otto Gross” (p. 28). These “elective affinities” drew him to engage with Gross. Heuer also points out that his research was at first motivated by indignation and outrage, “anger about the way the founding fathers of psychoanalysis and their followers had taken ideas from Gross” (p. 38), without acknowledging where they came from. Heuer argues that their mistreatment of Gross went far beyond this lack of acknowledgment. He writes: “in damnatio memoriae, they also actively and intentionally falsified history by character assassination in order to render his contributions and his name forgotten” (pp. 38-39).

In his chapter on Gross’s psychoanalytic theories and their impact on psychoanalysis Heuer includes testimonies from some of Gross’s patients, most of whom praise his clinical practices and the help Gross gave them. Unlike Freud and other psychoanalysts, who followed the traditional model of a doctor/patient relationship, Gross insisted on a non-authoritarian mutuality in his clinical practice. As Heuer shows, central to Gross’s practice was an emphasis on empathy and relationship (p. 58). Relationships, he believed, should be free of all force or violence and he stressed freedom and equality for women. Gross was one of the first, if not the first, psychoanalyst, to reject views of homosexuality as pathological (p. 61). As Heuer points out, Gross’s work at first was purely medical. He then moved to psychiatric and analytic concerns and finally towards “an artistic and increasingly radically psycho-political orientation” (p. 60).

Gross’s increasingly vocal political views that led him to conceive of psychoanalysis as a weapon for radical change of the patriarchal society of his time, not as a method of making people adapt to a society that in his view was responsible for mental illness, resulted in his conflicts with Freud and Jung and ultimately made him a persona non grata in the psychoanalytic community. As Heuer shows, at first Freud highly respected Gross, seeing him as one of his most talented disciples, a view that changed sharply when Gross increasingly linked psychoanalysis to radical change, whereas Freud believed that doctors should not be involved in politics. Particularly important in this chapter is Heuer’s discussion of Jung’s and Gross’s close relationship. Heuer presents evidence that their mutual analysis, Jung’s case notes, and his letters to Freud demonstrate that Gross’s influence on Jung was far greater than Jung ever acknowledged. Jung later deleted references to Gross in his work. Gross’s influence on Jung can be traced, for example, in Jung’s development of theories of individuation, sexuality and society, and the significance of the father. Heuer also points to Jung’s misdiagnosis of schizophrenia that effectively damaged Gross’s reputation and called into question the validity of his work as a psychoanalyst. Heuer acknowledges the difficulty of finding direct traces of Gross’s influence on Freud’s other followers, but he points out that Gross formulated several psychoanalytical concepts before anyone else (p. 106). In his discussion of Alfred Adler, Sándor Ferenczi, Nicholas Trigant Burrow,Vittorio Benussi, Dorian Feigenbaum, and Wilhelm Reich, Heuer seeks traces of Gross’s influence and he also points out here areas that need more research.

Heuer shows that Gross’s increasingly radical rejection of patriarchal society led him to find a “political-ideological framework” in anarchism,” (p. 123). Through his friendship with Johannes Nohl and especially with Erich Mühsam Gross was introduced to anarchist thought, in particular the ideas of Peter Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer. Heuer sets Gross’s views into the framework of the history of anarchist thought and discusses how anarchism shaped Gross. Gross wanted, for example, to found a school for anarchists in Ascona, at that time the countercultural center of Europe, a plan that he was unable to accomplish.

Heuer vividly portrays the many conflicts in Otto Gross’s personality. He grew up in a family with an authoritarian father and an emotionally distant mother. Heuer discusses Gross’s life-long conflicts with his father, the famous criminologist Hans Gross, who sought through psychiatric and legal means to “rescue” his son from his bohemian life-style and drug addiction, as the book’s appendix on Gross’s stay at the clinic in Mendrisio in Spring 1911 makes clear. Heuer is the first historian who has been granted full access to the clinic’s Gross-file, including the letters both of Gross’s parents sent to the psychiatrists treating their son.   

Heuer presents a portrait of Gross as a dynamic and charismatic man who yearned to change the authoritarian patriarchal structure of society, a man who had many faithful friends, yet nevertheless remained lonely, a man whose ideas were significant to the psychoanalytic movement, but who during his life time and later was ignored and ostracized. Heuer does not ignore the dark side of Gross’s personality – for example, his often callous treatment of his friends, his long drug addiction which he unsuccessfully battled, and his neglect of his four children, Peter Jaffé the son of Gross and Else Jaffé, Wolfgang Peter Gross, the son of Gross and his wife Frieda, Camilla Ullmann, the daughter of Gross and the writer Regina Ullmann, and finally Sophie Templer –Kuh, the daughter of Gross and Marianne Kuh.

Throughout the book, Heuer sets the development of Gross’s concepts into the history of cultural, social, philosophical and scientific thought, and he persuasively argues that Gross’s concepts shaped the development of psychoanalysis not only during his life, but also continue to resonate today. Because of its broad scope, the book should attract a wide readership, ranging from scholars of psychoanalysis and its history to scholars of anarchism and cultural studies. Heuer’s engaging style will also make the book accessible to general readers.

Jennifer E. Michaels
Emerita Professor of German, Grinnell College