Making friends with similar interests can be a challenge for anyone. But imagine you are the founder of an entirely new discipline, with its own peculiar jargon, set of practices, and conceptual categories. Imagine, for example, that you are Sigmund Freud, who in 1896 made his break with medicine to pursue the work of psychoanalysis. Drawing on clinical experience with patients, his own self-analysis, cocaine-induced reveries, and an idiosyncratic reading of Greek mythology, Freud invented his strange psychosexual theories within the confidence of a very small circle of acquaintances and admirers.
One of his close relationships during those productive and turbulent years, with eccentric ear, nose, and throat doctor Wilhelm Fliess—a collaborator, influence, “confessor and moral supporter”—ended badly in 1906. It was in that same year that Freud met the much-younger Carl Jung. At their first meeting, the two “talked nonstop for 13 hours,” the Aeon video above, animated by Andrew Khosravani, tells us. Thus began the intense and now-legendary six-year friendship between the psychiatrists, a “passionate and surpassingly weird relationship, which, given the people involved, perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise.” Freud settled upon Jung as his protege and successor, the “Joshua to my Moses,” overjoyed to have found a friend who seemed to understand his ideas intimately.
They traveled to the US to give joint lectures and analyzed each other’s dreams. Freud wrote to propose that Jung should think of their relationship as between “father and son,” an odd proposal in any friendship, but especially when the “father” invented the Oedipal complex; “this did not go unnoticed by Freud, and he freaked out a little.” The unsettling dynamic already presented a shaky basis for a long term bond, but it was their wildly divergent ideas that ultimately drove them apart. Jung took issue with Freud’s obsession with libido as the primary driver of human behavior. Freud cast a withering eye on Jung’s keen interest in religion, mysticism, and the paranormal as expressions of a collective unconscious.
As he had divorced himself from Wilhelm Fleiss in 1906, Freud similarly, abruptly, broke off his friendship with Jung in 1913, sending a rather nasty break-up letter to sever their “emotional tie.” Jung, he wrote, “while behaving abnormally keeps shouting that he is normal,” giving rise to “the suspicion that he lacks insight into his illness. Accordingly, I propose that we abandon our personal relations entirely.” The video ends by declaring Freud the winner of this “feud,” such as it was, though the personal conflict seems rather one-sided. As Jung would later relate, he “soon discovered that when [Freud] had thought something, then it was settled.” After Freud broke it off, Jung wrote in his diary, “the rest is silence.”
As for the legacies of both men, these seem settled as well. They both had significant influence on writers and artists of all kinds, on literary theorists, new age mystics, and philosophers. But Jung is hardly taken seriously in the mainstream of psychiatry, and Freud’s ideas have largely been abandoned, save for one: as millions who still reveal themselves weekly on therapists’ couches can attest, the talking cure of psychoanalysis is alive and well.
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