Self Help

The Denial of Death - Ernest Becker

Author Photo

Matheus Puppe

· 67 min read



Here is a summary of the reviews and commentary provided:

The reviews praised The Denial of Death as a brilliant, profound, powerful, original, and magnificent work that was one of the most important books of the 20th century. It was described as courageous, balanced, suggestive, and a brave synthesis that resurrected and revitalized important ideas. Reviewers said it would stimulate thought and the soul.

The book was called a passionate synthesis of human sciences, psychology, philosophy and theology. It attempts to explain how humans can survive meaningfully and sanely. It puts together disciplines that others had torn apart.

Becker’s writing was said to move unflinchingly toward a masterful articulation of limitations and have amazing concision. He manifested astonishing insight and fused complex ideas clearly and beautifully.

The Denial of Death was called electrifying in intelligence and passion, optimistic and revolutionary. It was said to be a necessary work that spoke not just to academics but to all humans. Overall, the reviews painted it as an enormously important and influential work.

  • Ernest Becker explored how the fear of death is a fundamental driver of human behavior and motivations. Our desire to deny or overcome mortality influences all aspects of human society and culture.

  • Societies construct heroic systems that allow members to feel immortal or achieve lasting significance through sacrificing for causes like building empires, temples, writing books, establishing families, accumulating wealth, etc. These provide symbolically religious ways to deny one’s mortality.

  • Ideological conflicts between cultures are essentially battles between different “immortality projects” or ways of achieving symbolic immortality. Organizations and nations may be driven by unconscious motives related to mortality denial rather than stated goals.

  • Our heroic, virtue-signaling projects aimed at destroying evil paradoxically bring more evil into the world. We project our own guilt and deficiencies onto enemies to cleanse and scapegoat. This fuels conflicts, war, genocide and atrocities.

  • Becker developed a “science of evil” explaining how we create excessive harm by immortalizing ourselves through righteous, purifying conflicts with supposedly evil outgroups. Mortality denial is the root cause of much human-caused suffering.

  • The best solutions involve developing impersonal goals like combating poverty/disease rather than scapegoating others, and cultivating individual awareness of mortality to disentangle from collective solutions of denial.

  • The passage discusses the state of knowledge production today, arguing it is in a state of “useless overproduction” where insights are scattered and fragmented rather than unified.

  • It cites the need for more “Eros” or unification of experience in the intellectual world, to reveal the harmonies between different views and abate “sterile and ignorant polemics.”

  • The author wrote this book to synthesize different views on human nature and psychology in order to achieve this harmony and unification. They tried to incorporate valid insights from different fields and perspectives rather than oppose or demolish views.

  • A major focus is presenting a summation of psychology after Freud by linking it back to Kierkegaard and merging psychology with mythico-religious perspectives. It attempts to comprehensively transcribe the insights of Otto Rank, who the author sees as extremely brilliant but difficult to access.

  • The passage provides context on Rank’s background and relationship to Freud, disputes common mischaracterizations of Rank, and argues he developed a unique and sophisticated philosophical system on par with Adler and Jung. However, Rank’s insights have yet to be fully incorporated.

This summary captures the key points:

  • The concept of heroism helps people understand human nature and their dilemmas in difficult times. It represents a scientific understanding of what drives human behavior.

  • Freud’s idea of narcissism - being self-absorbed and prioritizing one’s own interests - reflects our basic nature according to evolution. This keeps people fighting even when facing death.

  • Narcissism is tied to self-esteem, which humans need to feel secure. But self-esteem is also constructed symbolically through ideas, images, words. This allows narcissism to feed limitlessly without physical constraints.

  • Childhood shows the struggle for self-esteem openly, as children compete for “cosmic significance” and value through comparisons to siblings. This reflects the human condition - the need to justify oneself as a being of primary importance.

  • However, modern culture obscures this need for heroism, which people only privately or indirectly pursue through wealth, status, family etc. The concept is considered too big or people too small for serious heroism.

  • Society functions as a symbolic hero system that defines roles and statuses for people to perform heroism and earn a sense of significance and meaning. All cultural systems do this to some degree, from primitive to modern societies.

  • The urge to heroism is natural and fulfills a basic human need for self-esteem. However, modern societies may not adequately provide opportunities for people to feel heroic. This causes issues like youth disengagement and rise of anti-heroes.

  • Religion is also experiencing a crisis as traditional cultures that underpin religious hero systems lose credibility. Religion must either work to discredit current culture or position itself in opposition to mainstream ways of life.

  • Exploring the problem of heroism honestly reveals truths about human nature and motivation that could profoundly impact society. A key insight is that all cultural creation serves a “religious” function by establishing meaning and the significance of human life.

  • To understand heroism fully requires examining the underlying factor of humanity’s terror of death and unconscious attitudes towards mortality that are normally suppressed. Uncovering these deeper psychological realities gets at the core of what drives human heroics.

  • There are two schools of thought on whether the fear of death is natural or developed through experiences. The “healthy-minded” view argues it is not innate and developed through bad parenting/experiences. The “morbidly-minded” view argues it is the basic, universal fear that influences all others.

  • Zilboorg, Freud and others argue the fear of death is universally present underneath everything. It manifests in complex ways and is rarely admitted openly.

  • Early research found children have no concept of death until ages 3-5 and gradually learn it means permanent disappearance. But they do have anxieties about object/mother loss that may relate to a fear of annihilation.

  • The “healthy-minded” view is that with good mothering, these anxieties develop moderately and one accepts death rationally later on without horror. But others argue everyone has some fear, whatever their experiences.

  • The debate questions whether the fear can ever be definitively proven innate vs. developed. Most take a side based on which authorities seem most compelling to present arguments from both perspectives.

This summary analyzes the idea that fear of death is ever-present in human mental functioning and psychopathology. Some key points:

  • Both James and Zilboorg acknowledged the fear of death plays a role in mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, phobias, and depression. However, Zilboorg’s view was informed by more clinical experience over a half century later.

  • Zilboorg argues fear of death is necessary for the biological instinct of self-preservation. Constant vigilance against threats to life requires this underlying fear.

  • The fear must be largely repressed to allow normal functioning. People claim not to worry about death but this is just intellectual denial; fear is actually constantly repressed.

  • Psychoanalysis showed how a child’s perceptions - magical thinking, inability to understand cause-and-effect, feelings of lack of control - lead to immense terror and sense of chaos. This helps explain persistent fears.

  • The “fear of death” actually represents complex, contradictory symbols to a child, not a single sharply defined concept. Nightmares and phobias reflect inadmissible anxieties.

  • Most children seem to overcome such fears with time as the ego strengthens. But some argue this just means fear of death was exaggerated or drawn from bad early experiences, not that it’s a normal part of mental functioning.

The passage discusses the concept of repression in relation to the fear of death. It makes several key points:

  • Repression is a real psychological phenomenon that allows people to deny or unconsciously block out fearful concepts like death. Studies show unconscious anxiety lingers beneath outward calm.

  • Major life shocks or dangers can sometimes cause repressed fears to surface, like children expressing more anxiety after earthquakes.

  • However, repression is not simply negative - it allows people to absorb fears into normal living through mechanisms like narcissism, vitality, confidence gained from a nurturing childhood, etc. This helps people ignore mortality and plunge into daily life.

  • Developmental processes where children take on parental power further reinforce repression of death fears. People come to exist through identification with powerful external forces and cultural conditioning.

  • Repression is thus transformative - it hides fears but also gives people the psychological resources to manage life without conscious anxiety. Different levels of inner stability explain variability in death fear intensity.

  • Various cultural practices also help transcend death anxiety, like immortality beliefs, focusing only on the present moment, and communal peasant mindsets with their rigid routines.

So in summary, the passage reconciles innate and environmental views of death fear, arguing both are part of how repression disguises but also empowers people to live without conscious thoughts of mortality.

  • The author discusses the existential paradox of being both an animal and a symbolic self. As animals, humans are finite and will die, but as symbolic selves they have abstract thinking and self-awareness. This creates an impossible dilemma.

  • Fully grasping this paradox would drive one insane, which is why humans engage in various forms of “disguised and dignified madness” like social games and personal preoccupations to deny their fate.

  • Children experience this paradox acutely from an early age. As symbolic selves, they are bombarded by concepts and rules they don’t understand. Yet physically, they are helpless infants overwhelmed by sensations. They cannot master either their minds or bodies.

  • This existential dilemma of being caught between the animal and symbolic self is the fundamental problem of human psychology and existence. Figuring out how to reconcile these two halves will be a major focus of the chapter.

The passage discusses the concept of “anality” in psychoanalytic theory. It argues that anality reflects the fundamental duality of the human condition - that of the body and the self. As children discover their bodies’ functions and needs, they realize they are not fully in control. The anus and defecation represent this bodily determinism and our inevitable decay and death.

Psychoanalysts call certain traits “anal” when they reflect a protest against this natural reality and an attempt to assert control through culture and symbols. All human civilization is in part a constructed denial of our physical nature. This is seen across cultures in taboos around bodily functions. When people rebel against artificiality, they fall back on physicality or emphasis on basic life processes.

Anality thus reveals that culture is a way of forgetting our pathetic animal reality. It points to an irreconcilable contradiction at the core of being human. The passage discusses how this was a source of revulsion for writers like Jonathan Swift. In summary, it analyzes the concept of “anality” as reflecting our fundamental dilemma of being both body and mind.

  • Freud viewed the Oedipus complex as central to psychoanalytic theory. He believed boys had innate drives for their mother and viewed their father as a competitor to be conquered or feared due to potential castration.

  • Later theorists like Rank and Ferenczi criticized Freud for sticking too rigidly to simple sexual formulas. However, Freud’s ideas contained elemental truths about the human condition.

  • Norman Brown argues the Oedipus complex is better understood as the “Oedipal project” - the child’s quest to overcome helplessness and achieve mastery over their world and destiny. It’s a drive for narcissistic inflation and becoming “God” (causa sui), not just sexual desire.

  • The Oedipal project reflects the child’s ongoing search for independence and control at each developmental stage (oral, anal, etc.). Their aim is to shape themselves as absolute controllers through cultivating self-mastery, not just sexuality toward parents.

  • However, this quest is impossible and doomed to failure, inevitably shaping each individual’s character in an imperfect, mechanized way like an obsessional symptom. This failure leads to the power of Freud’s concept of the castration complex.

In summary, it reframed the Oedipus complex from a narrow sexual theory to a broader drive for narcissistic mastery and overcoming helplessness, rooted in the child’s basic developmental needs and quest for independence.

  • The castration complex arises from the child’s confrontation with the mother, not from threats from the father.

  • The mother dominates the child’s world initially. The child depends on her for survival but must also separate from her to gain independence and control over their own self.

  • The mother represents both pleasure/security and a threat to the child’s independence.

  • The child comes to perceive the mother as a threat when noticing physical differences, like her lack of a penis. Freud described this as “horror at the mutilated creature.”

  • However, this “horror” is contrived by the child themselves as a way to assert independence from the mother and gain a sense of control/power over their own body and identity.

  • Both boys and girls tend to turn away from the mother and identify more with the father, who seems less physically dominated.

  • Encountering the mother’s body reveals the arbitrariness and vulnerability of the child’s own body and sex, confronting them with their limitations and finitude.

  • This realization that the quest for self-sufficiency cannot be achieved through the body contributes to the “hopeless terror” of the castration complex.

  • Sexuality is a universal problem because it highlights the dualism between the inner self and physical body, and the body can undermine a sense of free, unique identity.

The passage discusses the existential paradox of sex and the guilt that can accompany it. It argues that love allows one to overcome this paradox and guilt by collapsing individual boundaries and surrendering to one’s animal/physical nature with trust rather than fear.

It discusses Freud’s idea of the “primal scene” where children witness their parents having sex. It argues this could be traumatic not because the child can’t participate, but because it confuses the child’s understanding of their caregivers and the messages they receive about the body. Seeing parents indulge physically undermines the social/cultural messages discouraging such physicalness.

Sex emerges as a prominent part of human life and confusion because it sits at the intersection of our animal/physical nature and our symbolic/cultural nature. People often unsuccessfully try to use sex and the body to answer existential questions or assert individual autonomy, when it can only provide physical pleasure and not metaphysical answers.

Love allows one to surrender to sex and physical intimacy without this conflict, by providing trust that one’s individuality and freedom will not be negated by such surrender. But often people use sex instead to avoid facing reality and their own freedom and existence directly.

The passage discusses why so few people are truly courageous and able to stand on their own. It explores some psychological reasons behind the human tendency towards cowardice.

Abraham Maslow believed courage involves facing one’s greatest potential and destiny, but people have a “fear of their own greatness.” They avoid realizing their full powers due to a “lack of strength to bear the superlative.”

This relates to a more basic human response - an awe and fear in the face of reality and the “terror of the world.” As children, we are “natural” cowards unable to withstand the overwhelming nature of creation. But we repress this perception as we develop.

Freud’s contribution was realizing that humans had to invent self-limitations and defenses to live in such an ambiguous world without instincts. Character involves “vital lies” to avoid fully knowing oneself and reality. People fear knowledge of their true potential and nature due to a need to protect self-esteem. This explains both cowardice and psychological illness. In short, humans lack courage due to a basic inability to face the grandeur and terror of existence without repression.

  • People naturally repress unpleasant truths about themselves that could make them feel inferior, worthless, or shameful in order to maintain a positive self-image. Repression is a defense mechanism to avoid becoming conscious of dangerous truths.

  • Children in particular must repress aspects of their experiences like feelings of inadequacy, guilt, unwanted thoughts/desires, their parents’ flaws, and the overall “awesomeness” of the world in order to feel a basic sense of self-worth and security.

  • Freud later acknowledged that what really bothers children is not just their inner drives but the nature of their unpredictable and dangerous world. Anxiety stems from a reaction to feelings of global helplessness, abandonment by caring forces, and the inevitability of death.

  • Psychoanalysis understands that a person’s character and way of life is shaped by their way of using outside support systems like culture, ideas, or other people/passions to deny or escape the anxiety of their natural impotence and vulnerability in the world.

  • This vital repression allows people to feel in control, meaningful, powerful, and secure but relies on turning away from uncomfortable truths about reality and one’s true situation. Our “courage to be” ultimately depends on transcendent supports we deny relying on.

  • People are driven to avoid self-knowledge and rely on illusions of character, instead seeking things that reinforce the lie while also drawing toward what makes them anxious in an attempt to face and master it.

  • Kierkegaard argued that anxiety drives us and pushes us to be active and grow. However, we often do this dishonestly by avoiding confronting the true sources of our anxieties.

  • We enter relationships to find security and relief from anxieties, but these relationships also constrain us and we strain against them to feel free, though often unconsciously.

  • Modern psychoanalysis helped explain that our personality/character is like armor that shields us from despair about the human condition. Letting go of this armor risks confronting the “common misery of life.”

  • True psychological rebirth or seeing reality requires “dying” as one’s former self and letting go of defensive structures. But this subjects one to the paradox and ambiguity of life without defenses. It’s a difficult process associated with fear, anxiety, and humility.

  • Gaining full awareness of the human condition through letting go of defenses means facing genuine despair. It undermines a sense of secure living. While granting freedom, it leaves one vulnerable and trembling in the cosmos without illusions.

So in summary, it discusses how anxiety and insecurity drive us to develop personas and relationships for security, but these also constrain us, and fully confronting the human condition means facing despair without defenses, gaining awareness but also vulnerability.

This passage discusses the development of psychoanalytic thought around understanding childhood development and personality formation. Some key points:

  • Freud originally saw the child as antagonistic towards their world due to innate drives of aggression and sexuality. Thwarting of these drives lead to resentment and antisocial tendencies.

  • The post-Freudian view rejected innate instincts, seeing the child as neutral/malleable and parents as wholly responsible for character formation through environment/molding.

  • Norman Brown critiqued this view, arguing the child’s situation is impossible and they must fashion their own defenses against the world to survive.

  • Adler and Rank understood the child’s desperate situation without blaming instincts or environment alone. The child creates defenses of freedom out of necessity.

  • Modern psychoanalysis has incorporated Adler/Rank equally with Freud, achieving a balanced and sober understanding.

  • Views on schizophrenia show less parental blame, conveying the deeper tragedy of human life and inability to deny existential anxieties/reality without strong defenses.

The passage represents a synthesis of psychoanalytic thought where the child is negotiating their own survival based on the deeper tragic realities of human existence, not just parental influences or innate instincts.

  • Kierkegaard anticipated many of Freud’s insights and can be considered an early psychoanalyst, though writing over 50 years before Freud. His work provides an in-depth empirical analysis of the human condition.

  • The foundation of Kierkegaard’s view of humanity is the biblical myth of the Fall from the Garden of Eden. This represents the basic paradox of human existence - being conscious individuals set against the backdrop of mortality and decay.

  • Through gaining self-awareness, humans become conscious of their individuality, divinity, and the beauty of existence, but also aware of death, decay, and the “terror of the world.” This existential paradox is the essence of what it means to be human.

  • For Kierkegaard, psychology cannot progress beyond understanding this fundamental paradox. All further observation and analysis reinforces this foundational insight about the dual nature of human consciousness and embodiment.

  • The emergence of self-awareness marks both the beginning of psychology, in trying to understand this paradoxical human condition, and the beginning of religion, in seeking meaning and answers to existential questions in the face of mortality.

So in summary, Kierkegaard viewed the biblical Fall as representing the core existential paradox that defines the human experience and drives both psychology and religion as attempts to grapple with our dual consciousness of self and mortality. His analysis anticipates many modern psychological understandings.

  • Kierkegaard argued that man experiences anxiety and dread due to his self-consciousness and awareness of mortality. Animals do not have self-awareness or fear of death, so they do not experience anxiety.

  • To avoid this existential anxiety, humans develop “character defenses” or styles of living that allow them to function automatically without confronting reality or their own condition. These include repression, denial, being “shut-up” or closed off.

  • Failure to allow a child to explore freely and develop self-confidence results in more rigid “mistaken shut-upness” as an adult. The ideal is a more flexible “lofty shut-upness” that leaves room for openness.

  • This shutting-off of one’s true situation through character defenses amounts to a “lie of character” and results in fragmentation, lack of freedom, and inability to perceive reality clearly.

  • Kierkegaard sought to understand and describe the different character types or “lies” that people employ to avoid anxiety and live “inauthentically” without recognizing their own freedom and potential.

  • Kierkegaard describes the “automatic cultural man” who is confined and enslaved by culture. This man derives his identity from external things like insurance policies, possessions, and following social norms, rather than developing a true inner self.

  • Living this trivial, philistine existence provides a dull security and avoids facing the freedom and possibility of life. But it prevents one from truly realizing their nature and facing reality.

  • Pushing this avoidance to the extreme can lead to psychosis or mental derangement. Too much focus on possibility without acknowledging limitations can lead one to become “fantastic” and split from the body, resembling schizophrenia.

  • Kierkegaard sees psychosis on a continuum with everyday inauthentic living. Both involve a lack of truly developing the self by acknowledging both inner freedom and outer necessity/limits. One can become so lost in possibility that they lose themselves and their connection to reality.

  • Even those who seem able to function socially may lack a securely unified self and body, centred on their own ego, and instead be vaguely directed by inner energies and fantasies not grounded in reality.

So in summary, Kierkegaard presents a rich analysis of both normal cultural pathology and psychosis as different extremes of avoiding a true self by denying either possibility or necessity in human nature.

  • Kierkegaard outlined three types of responses to the existential dilemma of freedom and necessity: psychotic extremes (schizophrenia and depression) and normal neurosis (philistinism).

  • Schizophrenia involves “too much possibility” and lack of grounding in the real world. Depression involves “too much necessity” and inability to imagine alternatives due to feeling overwhelmed by obligations.

  • Normal neurosis/philistinism involves playing it safe and avoiding extreme possibility or necessity through embracing the trivial and conventional. However, this comes at the cost of spiritlessness and being a slave to social norms.

  • In addition to these types, Kierkegaard acknowledges some individuals try to cultivate their interiority and individuality more through introspection, solitude, and focusing on their unique talents/vocations. This “introvert” type represents a somewhat greater concern with developing one’s inner self and uniqueness.

  • However, most people become absorbed into standardized social roles and activities, covering over their inner selves and individuality in order to conform and gain acceptance from others. This comes at the cost of truly developing one’s potential.

So in summary, Kierkegaard analyzed different responses to existential freedom and responsibility, with psychosis representing defeat and normal neurosis a limited defense, while also acknowledging some seek greater interiority and self-realization.

Kierkegaard describes a type of introverted man who feels different from the world but not too different. Outwardly, he appears successful - a university graduate, husband, father, civil servant - but avoids deeply examining issues of faith or identity. He attends church rarely and fears going too far in his thoughts.

This man lives in a sort of “incognito” by focusing on superficial roles and avoiding confrontation with who he really is. However, this position is difficult to maintain, and introspection may lead to frustration with dependencies on family and job. For some strong personalities, this becomes intolerable.

They may try to break out of this introversion through risky behaviors like obsession with success, sensuality, or debauchery as a defiance of weakness and lack of control. At the extreme, this defiant self-creation becomes demonic, revolting against one’s own limitations.

Kierkegaard analyzed these introspective character types to show the failures of hiding from one’s true condition. True freedom comes from acknowledging reality, breaking defensive character imprisonments, and transcending oneself - though this terrifies those comfortable within limitations. His goal was to describe a fully realized self by overcoming distortions and facing existence authentically.

  • Being a self-conscious animal is paradoxical and even monstrous, as it means knowing that one will ultimately die and be food for worms, despite having consciousness, feelings, and a desire to live. This creates an existential anxiety and terror.

  • Kierkegaard argues that confronting this anxiety through “the school of possibility” can allow one to transcend it. By facing the truth of our finite and helpless condition, we shed the “lie of character” and cultural conditioning that hide this truth.

  • This demolishes our unconscious supports and power linkages, forcing us to reconsider our relationship to power and reality. It opens us up to relating to an infinite, creative divine power as the ultimate ground of our being.

  • Only through this “leap of faith” does the new awareness of possibility and vulnerability gained in “the school of anxiety” avoid becoming a constant state of sheer terror. Faith gives meaning and purpose to our creaturely existence by placing it within an eternal scheme created by God.

  • In this way, possibility through anxiety can lead to “cosmic heroism” by linking one’s inner self and desire for significance to the ground of all creation, rather than just cultural standards of heroism. One transcends a merely cultural self.

  • Kierkegaard understood human character and growth with a profound insight that anticipated psychoanalytic theory. However, he pushed beyond theory to the deeper issue of faith and man’s existential questions, whereas Freud did not.

  • Freud insisted dogmatically on his instinctual/sexual view of human nature. He saw this as an “unshakable bulwark” against notions of spirituality or the occult that portrayed humans as non-animal creatures.

  • Jung disagreed with Freud’s overemphasis on sexuality as a fixed theory rather than hypothesis. Jung saw Freud as too emotionally invested in his sexual theory.

  • Freud’s dedication to revealing human “creatureliness” was correct, even if his specific sexual theory was wrong. His insistence reflected intuitions of genius about man’s basic embodied nature, even if he misidentified the primary repression as sexuality rather than consciousness of death.

  • While both Freud and Kierkegaard grasped human creatureliness, Kierkegaard pushed further to existential questions of faith that Freud did not embrace in his insistence on an instinctual view of human nature. This influenced their differing views of reality and growth.

This passage summarizes some key ideas about Freud and psychoanalysis:

  • The crucial concept of psychoanalysis is the repression of death. Culture and civilization are built on this unique human repression of our own mortality.

  • Freud realized humanity’s “curse” of facing our mortality, but he missed the precise scientific reason for why death is so repressed.

  • Freud struggled throughout his life and work to more clearly understand human motives. He was willing to rethink and retract ideas, which shows his honesty as a scientist.

  • However, Freud was reluctant to fully abandon his theory that sexuality is the main driver of human behavior. He clung to this “sexual dogma.”

  • To try to shore up flaws in his instinct/libido theory, Freud introduced the concept of a “death instinct.” But this was really just a way to preserve his earlier theories while attributing human evil and aggression to deeper biological instincts.

  • Freud failed to establish that the fear of death, rather than an innate urge toward it, is the primary existential problem and motivator for human behavior and culture.

  • Biographical evidence shows Freud struggled with his own health problems and mortality. The “death instinct” concept may have brought him some personal comfort by framing death as a natural goal rather than an unavoidable fact we repress.

  • Freud had an authoritarian personality and created a patriarchal atmosphere around his psychoanalytic work and family life. He was reluctant to accept criticism or dissent.

  • Freud staged his own greatness and importance within his family, deliberately arranging his life to reflect his sense of mission and importance. This included taking long vacations only with his brother, not his wife, and prioritizing his work over family life.

  • His mother had raised him to be the central focus of attention and had high hopes for him, calling him her “golden Sigi.” His entire lifestyle seemed tailored to uphold the image she cultivated of him.

  • However, this sort of self-centeredness and need to be the central focus is not unusual. Many great men stage their lives in similar ways to achieve a sense of immortality through their work. What set Freud apart was his extreme self-analysis and drive to understand his own unconscious motivations.

  • Freud was unusually preoccupied with death from a young age. He had both compulsively superficial ways of “toying” with ideas of death dates, but also real emotional anxiety attacks focused on his own dying. This deep self-analysis and confrontation with his mortality likely fed into his genius.

  • Freud had an ambivalent stance toward spirituality and the supernatural. On one hand he fought against spiritual trends within himself, but on the other hand he showed signs of superstition and openness to spiritualism.

  • Zilboorg analyzed episodes where Freud seemed open to supernatural beliefs, like thinking a deceased brother returned when seeing his sister. Freud had emotional “streaks” bordering on superstition and belief in immortality.

  • Freud deliberately fought against these spiritual tendencies within himself. He was in an internal conflict between his rational, positivist self and an unconscious potential believer.

  • These spiritual trends tried to assert themselves through mechanisms like distortion and dreams. The most Freud would allow was common superstitions.

  • Jung reported two occasions where Freud fainted - once when discussing corpses with Jung, and another time during a discussion of Egyptian pharaohs that mentioned the father complex.

  • Roazen’s interpretation was that psychoanalysis was Freud’s “causa sui” project, or way to earn value and justify himself by transcending limitations through his work. The faintings were denials of threats to this project and fantasy of self-creation and immortality.

  • A genius cannot internalize their parents or culture through a normal Oedipal development, as their project is unique and stems from a renunciation of their parents and what they represent culturally. This gives the genius extra guilt for renouncing the father both spiritually and physically.

  • Freud would have been particularly sensitive to ideas of father-murder, as it represented an attack on his own identity as a father, on the psychoanalytic movement as his life’s work, and thus on his immortality and significance.

  • Jung was chosen by Freud to be his heir and carry on psychoanalysis, but began drifting away intellectually and threatening a rivalry from Switzerland. This invoked Freud’s complex fears around father-murder and the death of his legacy.

  • Freud fainted when arguing with Jung over priorities and credit in establishing psychoanalysis in different regions, as this threatened Freud’s view of himself as the founder of a new discipline like Amenophis IV establishing a new Egyptian religion by rejecting the old gods.

  • Freud later analyzed his own fainting incidents as being cases of being “wrecked by success” when defeating a rival like Jung, reawakening his guilt from wishing death upon his baby brother as a child. Victory over a father figure, even symbolically, triggered Freud’s anxieties.

The passage discusses Freud feeling anxious and exposed about his own success. It suggests that a key reason for this was the immense burden and responsibility Freud felt in leading the psychoanalytic movement and defending its revolutionary ideas against opposition. This placed tremendous weight on his shoulders alone. Seeing Jung gain independence and argue against his theories added to this sense of being overwhelmed. More broadly, Freud hated feeling helpless or dependent on others, as it threatened his project of being “father of himself” (causa sui) and determining his own destiny. There was an emotional ambivalence between wanting to relinquish this burden by depending on a father figure like Jung, versus needing to maintain his independence and unique vision. His relationship with Fliess showed similar dynamics of dependency and overwhelmed feelings. So in summary, Freud felt anxious about his success because it exposed his deep-seated fear of helplessness and burden of singular responsibility for psychoanalysis.

  • The passage discusses Freud’s views on masculinity, heterosexuality, and causa sui (being the author of oneself). It argues Freud harbored a spiritual homosexuality as a way to avoid dependency on women and retain control over his own meanings and identity.

  • Sexually, Freud’s relationship with his wife ended around age 41 and he remained strictly monogamous. This behavior aligned with his causa sui project of denying bodily and gender dependencies.

  • Freud poured his passion into psychoanalysis and ensuring his own immortality/legacy. This was his “higher aspiration” which could include a spiritual homosexuality that avoided “animal needs.”

  • There is conceptual ambivalence around causa sui. While one can claim to author themselves, human meanings are still fragile and fleeting. Freud grappled with how to give his own life meaning in the face of death and nature’s indifference.

  • Psychoanalysis became Freud’s private religion and path to the “this-worldly” immortality of living on through his works and influence on others. But he also questioned whether the mind really matters to indifferent nature.

  • In trying to establish psychoanalysis as a competitor to religion, Freud was defiantly asserting man’s will and mind against nature, trying to compel nature to acknowledge the products of “mysterious mind.”

To summarize:

  • Freud identified the phenomenon of transference in psychoanalysis - when patients develop intense feelings of attachment, dependence, and admiration for their analyst, similar to how a child feels toward their parents.

  • This helped explain the “fascination” or “spell” that certain powerful or charismatic individuals seem to cast over others throughout history. People transfer childlike feelings onto these figures.

  • The willingness to be hypnotized or dominated shows an underlying unconscious slavishness and suggestibility in human nature. We are not truly as independent and in control of ourselves as we consciously believe.

  • Admitting this helps explain paranormal phenomena like hypnosis that seem mystifying. It reveals our unconscious motivations and need to deny our own capacity for passive surrender to authority figures.

  • Ferenczi further elucidated how important traits like social rank, self-confidence, and knowing how to frighten and placate like a parent makes some individuals more effective at casting their “spell” over others through transference.

So in summary, it means being so driven by one’s unique talents or gifts that one becomes rigidly attached to promoting a single vision, unable to compromise, even at the cost of being “tragic” or self-defeating in some way.

  • Ferenczi discovered a universal predisposition in humans towards hypnosis, which he explained as the inner urge to return to a childlike state of obedience and belief in powerful figures. This predisposition gives rise to transference, where strong feelings originally directed at parents get redirected towards other authority figures.

  • Freud built on this insight to provide novel perspectives on group psychology. He argued groups don’t activate new instincts, but rather satisfy deep-seated childhood desires to submit to powerful figures. Groups are bound together by the hypnotic, magnetic powers of the leader, whom members unconsciously merge with and transfer their will to.

  • Members of groups don’t feel individual vulnerability because they identify with the leader’s seeming omnipotence. This helps explain dangerous and delusional behaviors in groups. Groups also demand collective illusions from leaders that elevate members’ sense of self and block out reality of mortality.

  • Fromm further developed Freud’s ideas, emphasizing narcissism, fear of independence, and desire for “incestuous symbiosis” with encompassing powers as driving forces behind slavish group behaviors and hostility to outsiders. He saw these as rooted in early family dynamics.

  • While not accepting Freud’s theories uncritically, his work on group psychology provided novel and enduring insights into the psychological roots of obedience, collective action, and the allure of charismatic leaders. This helped establish psychology’s potential to critically analyze human social and political behaviors.

This summary discusses Freud’s concept of groups being dominated by a strong leader, and Redl’s refinement of that theory. Key points:

  • Freud saw groups as living under the tyrannical rule of a dominant male leader. People craved the strong personality and admired their equanimity.

  • Redl showed domination by a strong personality only occurred in some groups, not all. But all groups had a “central person” who held them together through certain qualities.

  • Redl identified ways groups use leaders beyond just domination, like relieving guilt through “initiatory acts” and seeing the leader as exempt from conflicts. This allows a more nuanced view of group dynamics.

  • The leader allows forbidden impulses, admiration of their lack of internal conflicts, and permitting feelings of omnipotence within the group.

  • Redl’s concepts like “infectiousness of the unconflicted person” and “priority magic” help explain group sadism and killing with equanimity.

  • Groups often use leaders primarily to fulfill their own needs and urges, not because of the leader personally. The leader reflects the group’s assumptions.

  • Most group “heroisms” lack true passion and surrender, as people follow leaders timidly while reserving responsibility for themselves.

  • Transference relates to human cowardice and the basic need to feel in control of one’s environment and feelings of anxiety. Through transference, people project their qualities, power, and issues onto another person to gain a sense of safety, strength, and control.

  • Transference allows people to establish an illusion of control and dialog with nature/reality. It reflects the broader human problems of alienation, need for security, and struggle with feelings of inner emptiness and impotence.

  • The transference object, whether someone admired or hated, gives people a target to relate feelings to and fix themselves within the world. It anchors one’s own psychological problems outside of oneself.

  • Transference is a form of fetishism through which people take their helplessness, guilt, conflicts, etc. and project them onto something in the environment, like another person, to regain a sense of control and dialogue with reality. At its core, transference reflects basic human slavishness and the need to rebel against one’s true inner experience.

In summary, transference is portrayed as a regressive mechanism rooted in human cowardice, through which people seek to gain illusory control over feelings of anxiety and alienation by projecting inner issues onto external objects.

This passage discusses transference as it relates to the fear of life and death. It argues that transference is a way for individuals, especially children, to tame the terror they feel about the overwhelming powers in the universe. Children focus all that awe and terror onto specific individuals (parents, authority figures), endowing them with transcendent powers over life and death. This allows the child to feel in control of their fate by binding themselves emotionally to the transference object.

However, this also causes “transference terror” - the fear of losing the object, displeasing them, or not being able to live without them. The transference object comes to represent one’s whole fate. Both positive and negative transference objects are an attempt to control one’s destiny in an automatic way by focalizing all natural powers and dependencies onto that single person. This helps explain the intensity and universality of transference across normal and neurotic individuals. It is a means of taming the fundamental fear and terror of the human condition.

  • Groups and individuals both have an innate desire for eternalization and immortality, which manifests in the creation of heroes. People form strong attachments to leaders who represent power over life and death.

  • When a prominent leader dies, it can cause massive public mourning and hysteria. This comes from a fear of one’s own mortality - if the powerful leader can die, then one’s own immortality is in doubt. People seek to immortalize the dead leader by renaming things after them.

  • This explains displays of grief like when Kennedy, de Gaulle, and Nasser died. It also explains Russia’s elaborate preservation of Lenin’s body. Even secular societies still engage in religious-like behaviors around heroic figures. Terror and fear will always have a holy or ultimate quality.

  • Humans also have an innate impulse for self-unfolding and heroism. This comes from an internal conscience or urge to feel “right.” Freud showed how morality is socially constructed, but an inner desire to feel good still exists independently.

  • There is a paradox between the urges to merge with something larger for security, and the urge to be unique and separate. The first comes from a fear of isolation, the second from a desire for distinct identity. Both point in opposing directions.

So in summary, it discusses the innate psychological motives and behaviors behind immortalization of leaders, creation of heroes, and religious/quasi-religious behaviors even in secular groups and societies. It centers on the paradoxical human urges toward both self-transcendence/oneness and uniqueness/separation.

  • Transference fulfills vital drives toward human wholeness by allowing people to infuse their lives with value and meaning. It provides a way to pronounce one’s life as “good”.

  • The transference object becomes a natural fetishization for one’s highest yearnings and strivings, like immortality andheroism. It allows people to address their performance of heroics to another human for approval.

  • This gives a sense of individuality, a point of reference for striving to be “good”, and a degree of safety and control, unlike true heroism which defies safety.

  • While not necessarily cowardly, transference heroics is demeaning when unconscious and reflexive rather than fully in one’s control. Psychoanalytic therapy addresses making it conscious.

  • Beyond that, relating one’s performance to others is natural and inevitable as fellow humans are what mediate meaning and give the only human meaning we can know.

  • Transference fulfills a strong, natural “kinship libido” or instinct for human connection that cannot be satisfied abstractly. It is impossible to argue away as relating to others is how we relate to ourselves.

This summary captures the key ideas from the passage:

  • Otto Rank saw that modern man still needs to feel heroic and feel his life has meaning, as in religious traditions. Without God, he looks to romantic love objects to fulfill this need.

  • The love partner becomes deified and absorbs the role that God once played in providing meaningful purpose, salvation, and justification for one’s life. One looks to be elevated and redeemed through consummation with the “divine” love object.

  • This allows modern man to deny his creatureliness and feel heroic self-expansion by merging with a higher meaning, just as was done through religion. Sexuality becomes a way to work out problems and find meaning.

  • Rank argued this is a result of losing collective spiritual ideologies/religions, so one grasps onto an individual love partner or authority figure instead of God to provide an “individual ideology of justification.”

So in summary, it outlines Rank’s view that romantic love replaced religion as a way for modern man to deny his finitude and feel purpose/meaning through merging with a deified other, since God was no longer available to play that role.

The passage discusses the relationship between sex, death, and human identity. It argues that while sexual intimacy can provide momentary relief from self-consciousness and guilt about the body, it ultimately fails to resolve the fundamental human dilemma.

Sex is a bodily function that connects humans to their animal nature and mortality as procreating beings. But humans seek to develop a distinctive personality and sense of immortality. Sex thus represents both the negation of individuality through participation in the species, as well as the negation of personality through physical death.

This contradiction explains why sexual taboos have been so central to human societies as a way to assert control over the body and affirm humanity’s triumph over animal nature. It also explains the profound questions children ask about sex - they are really asking about the meaning and mystery of having a body.

While romantic love aims to provide fulfillment and escape from this conflict, ultimately depending on another person for one’s identity and self-justification destroys individuality. No other human can fully resolve the paradox of being both a mortal creature and a transcendent personality. This double failure of sex and love to answer life’s deeper questions is the root of modern frustration.

The passage discusses how modern man seeks perfection, spirituality and redemption from human relationships, but no human partner can fulfill this role. Humans have their own wills, faults and limitations that inevitably conflict with the partner’s ideals and needs for a perfect reflection of themselves.

It argues romantic love places an impossible burden on both partners by expecting one to be a “god-like everything” to the other. Humans cannot bear the demands of godhood in a relationship. While we want an object that allows our complete expression and reflects an ideal self-image, no human can do this without also asserting their own desires that may clash.

Seeing a partner’s imperfections undermines the investment one has made in them as an ideal. Their human failings remind us of our own mortality. Both romantic lovers and sensualists seeking refuge in physical pleasures ultimately fail to find the absolute and cosmic heroism they strive for through other humans.

True freedom and individuation require transcending human relationships and standards to find meaning elsewhere. While most people understandably seek fulfillment of needs through standard social and cultural solutions, these inevitably limit one’s growth and heroism potential. The passage discusses these dilemmas in relationships and the search for perfection, redemption and absolutes.

  • The passage discusses the challenges and tensions faced by women in separating their social and gender roles from their individual identities. It’s difficult to disentangle natural desires for self-surrender and being part of something larger from masochistic self-sacrifice.

  • It then moves to discussing the challenges faced by creative individuals in distinguishing themselves through individuation and forging their own identities and meanings. This separates them from shared meanings and exposes them to feelings of isolation and having to justify their heroism alone.

  • The work of art is the artist’s attempt to objectively justify their heroism and uniqueness, but the artist also recognizes the work comes from and exposes themselves. They are trapped by their own creations.

  • Full renunciation and giving one’s life as a gift to the highest powers is presented as the only way to resolve these conflicts. Creative genius requires intensely combining self-expression and self-surrender, which is difficult.

  • Freud is used as an example, having lived his drive for self-expression through psychoanalysis intensely but lacking religious ideals to fully surrender to, exposing the spiritual challenges of creative genius.

  • Neurosis encompasses three interrelated aspects: difficulty living with the truths of life, a personalized reaction style, and a historical component as traditional ideologies providing relief have faded.

  • Neurosis is universal - everyone struggles with the truths of life and uses repression/partialization to function. This is a normal adaptive process.

  • The well-adjusted person has an effective capacity to narrow their experience and limit perception to manageable pieces. This refusal of full reality is the essence of normality.

  • Neurosis enters when one’s lies about reality begin to restrict and damage the individual. It is a miscarriage of clumsy lies used to cope.

  • There is no clear line between normal and neurotic - we all use repression. Neurosis is something we all share to some degree. Calling someone neurotic depends on the level of problems their coping mechanisms cause.

  • Rank saw neurosis as inevitable given humanity’s existential struggles, and as historically shaped by loss of traditional ideologies once providing relief for these struggles.

This passage discusses neurosis and different types of neurotic behaviors. Some key points:

  • Neurosis refers to a lifestyle that constricts free movement or growth in unhealthy ways. It prevents moving forward.

  • An overly narrow focus on a relationship to find salvation can be neurotic, making one too passive, dependent and fearful of independence.

  • Obsessions, compulsions and phobias represent extreme narrowing down of the world for safety, but it backfires by getting stuck in that narrowness.

  • Not being able to narrow down experience and taking in too much of the world can also be neurotic, overwhelming one’s ability to live.

  • Neurosis serves to simplify and control life’s meaning through symptoms, shielding one from existential anxieties like death and insignificance.

  • Both an inability to separate from the world and an inability to unite with it can lead to neurosis by losing the balance between engagement and separateness.

  • Neurotic tendencies often stem from greater life-and-death anxieties and difficulties relating to and engaging with others.

So in summary, it discusses different neurotic behaviors as extremes of either narrowing down or taking in too much of the world, and how both stem from anxieties around death, meaning and relating to others.

  • Neurosis involves overvaluing one’s self-image and trying to avoid the natural experiences of aging, illness, injury and death. Instead of living through real experiences, the neurotic person ideates experiences in their head.

  • Everyone is neurotic to some degree, as no one fully embraces life and holds back in some ways. Artists are among the most neurotic as they see the world as a totality to analyze and recreate symbolically.

  • Neurosis becomes a clinical problem when it produces debilitating symptoms or overly restrictive lifestyles. The neurotic tries to cheat nature but remains sensitive to life’s terrors at some level.

  • Artists often avoid full neurosis because they can externalize their introspections and anxieties through creative works, while neurotics cannot. Neurotics exhaust themselves through self-preoccupation and dependence on others.

  • The difference between artists and neurotics comes down to talent - those with talent can glorify themselves through their work, while neurotics are trapped criticizing themselves without an objective outlet. Neurosis, adolescence and normality exist on a spectrum separated by circumstances like talent.

So in summary, neurosis involves an avoidance of reality through overreliance on self and symbols rather than experience, and it becomes maladaptive without an external creative outlet, according to Rank’s perspective. Talent is what allows artists to channel their introspections productively.

The passage discusses neurosis from three perspectives - as a problem of character, illusion, and history.

On character, neurosis arises when one cannot maintain the illusion that they are powerful and protected. The neurotic perceives their true vulnerability.

On illusion, everyone needs illusions to live and find meaning. The neurotic cannot engage in the cultural illusions that give others a sense of purpose. They see through society’s deceptions about the human condition.

Historically, neurosis increases when immortality ideologies (ideas that give life meaning) fail to absorb people’s desire for heroism and self-perpetuation. In modern times, traditional ideologies have faded, throwing people back on their own resources for meaning. They lack convincing dramas of heroic purpose.

Overall, neurosis emerges when one faces the “possible horrible truth” about human weakness and mortality without the protection of collective illusions. It reflects an inability to live fully through cultural deceptions, whether due to personal sensitivity or a lack of compelling deceptions in one’s historical moment.

  • Darwin’s theory of evolution stripped away people’s sense of being “specially created” and unique in the universe. This threatened traditional religious beliefs in the 19th century.

  • Scientific psychology aimed to understand human behavior and alleviate suffering by discovering conscious and unconscious motives. It sought to replace religion by explaining everything through early conditioning and interpersonal relationships.

  • However, psychology could only explain part of human unhappiness - the portion caused by early life experiences and relationships. It did not address deeper existential questions about the meaning of life, death, and how to find purpose and redemption.

  • Otto Rank argued that psychology is only a “partial ideology” and can exacerbate feelings of isolation and introspection. Understanding early influences is important but does not provide a comprehensive worldview.

  • Rank saw similarities between Freudian concepts of neurosis and Kierkegaard’s ideas of sin - both reflect an individual attempting to manufacture purpose and meaning on their own, cut off from a larger communal or spiritual context.

  • Psychology risks further damaging people by not recognizing that some unhappiness stems from universal human conditions like mortality, not just personal history. A larger spiritual or communal context is still needed to address existential questions.

The passage discusses how modern neurosis arises from man’s inability to justify his own heroism and importance in the cosmic scheme of things. Traditionally, religion provided narratives and worldviews that gave cosmic meaning to human suffering and sin. However, in modern times religion has lost its persuasive power, stripping neurotics of this symbolic context.

Neurotics alternate between feelings of grandiosity (“I am everything”) and worthlessness (“I am nothing”), as they try in vain to artificially inflate or criticize themselves. The more they separate themselves from others, the more anxious they become. Traditional religion transformed sin into a condition for salvation, but neurotics today have no such framework and feel like sinners without meaning.

The author argues health requires a collectively-shared worldview that gives purpose and meaning to one’s smallness within the larger scheme. Neurosis stems from historical circumstances that have robbed modern man of ready-made myths and rituals to channel his obsessions. While prescription of a new ideology seems hollow, modern man also cannot make the lonely Kierkegaardian leap of faith without external support. His analytic mind has banished mystery and naive belief, characteristics which ironically typify neurosis itself.

The passage discusses some key differences between neurotic or mentally ill people and sane people. The main trait neurotic people lack is the ability to be careless or non-serious. They cannot relax, laugh at themselves, or believe in concepts that seem absurd or fanciful.

It notes that religion traditionally asks people to have faith and believe in justifications for life that seem illogical. Neurotic people are unable to do this - they see themselves as inherently absurd but view nothing else as absurd.

Modern society lacks collective beliefs and dramas that make fantasy and faith seem real. This further constricts neurotic individuals, as they have nothing to lean on for meaning or justification.

The passage suggests that having an “illusion” or belief system to live by is important for mental health. It discusses different religious and philosophical views on the role of belief, play, and imagination. There needs to be a balance between honesty and having a life-enhancing illusion.

Overall, it argues that some level of “legitimate foolishness” or expansive, hopeful belief system is necessary for freedom, dignity and creative living. Not having this leaves individuals feeling constrained and lacking meaning or justification for their existence.

  • Mental illness represents styles of “bogging-down” or failing in the denial of one’s creatureliness and humanity. It reflects a failure to achieve heroic transcendence over one’s fate and mortality.

  • Depression or melancholia in particular develops in people who are afraid of life and have not taken on risks and difficulties. They live lives of “systematic self-restriction.”

  • As one shrinks back from life through a series of “silent retreats,” they become more helpless, dependent, and have a low self-evaluation. Their life has nowhere left to retreat to.

  • Not daring to move or take part in the world leads to excessive fear of both life and death. One ends up feeling as though dead in trying to avoid these concepts.

  • Depression thus represents a failure to openly and responsibly take on one’s possibilities and relate to the world in a way that constitutes one’s genuine self. It is an inability to pay with life through consenting to die daily via risks and dangers of the world.

In short, mental illness in general and depression specifically reflect failures of courage, heroism, and engagement with life that result from deeply entrenched fears and the denial of one’s humanity and mortality.

  • Depression arises from the fundamental human condition of facing death and the terror of individuation. People strive to avoid this existential anxiety by embedding themselves in the powers and expectations of others through various “life-lies.”

  • When one’s tactics for maintaining connectedness to others fail, it can lead to depressive withdrawal as a “defense.” Dependency is a basic survival mechanism, so depression reduces one to a state of helpless dependency as a “plea for survival.”

  • The guilt feelings of depression stem from failing to live one’s own life and potential, due to constantly turning and twisting to please others and conform to their ideals of worthiness. This leaves one feeling guilty over an “unlived life.”

  • One clings to exaggerated guilt not just from this sense of unfulfilled potential, but also because it provides a sense-making framework and allows one to control others through eliciting pity. Guilt is preferable to facing freedom and responsibility.

  • The dynamics of depression are complex because they touch on fundamental human anxieties. Various theorists provided important insights but often with incorrect accents that hindered understanding or led to oversimplification. The language used, like Freud’s focus on Oedipus, also complicated communication of these ideas.

  • The passage discusses theories of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, from a psychoanalytic and existentialist perspective.

  • It argues that Freud’s focus on castration anxiety needs to be broadened to include the more fundamental fear of death. Menopause awakens this fear by reminding women of their physical mortality and decline.

  • Social roles are important for masking existential anxiety and providing a sense of purpose or “heroism.” Without this, one feels condemned to an “eternity of destruction.”

  • Schizophrenia in particular reflects an inability to cope with the “terror of life.” Schizophrenic individuals are not securely rooted in their bodies and lack a natural “animal faith” that buffers others from existential fears.

  • Their experience is split between a symbolic self and untrustworthy physical body. This leads to an unintegrated and magnified reliance on complex ideational systems rather than natural neurophysical responses to cope with death anxiety.

  • In essence, schizophrenia represents an extreme evolutionary risk of creating an animal fully aware of and open to its own anxieties without innate protections or programming. It reflects being cursed beyond natural limits.

  • Schizophrenia represents the extreme condition of neurotic openness and helplessness. One loses the ability to automatically respond to objects in the environment due to a lack of connection with one’s own body.

  • This pushes man’s dualistic condition and protest over that condition to its limits. It reveals the true nature of the human condition in its most intense and frightening form.

  • By pushing these problems to the extreme, schizophrenia also reveals the nature of creativity. Those who are not programmed by social/cultural meanings must invent their own meanings and symbols. This often takes the form of revealing deeper truths about the human condition.

  • Geniuses are able to shape and give form to their unique perceptions through a strong ego or sense of self. Schizophrenics lack this ability to marshal an ego response and give creative form to their inner experiences.

  • Schizophrenia and depression show the problem of heroism in its rawest form - how does one become a hero from a position of little to no inner resources? They must fabricate feelings of inner glory through complete dependence on others.

  • The perversions reveal the core problem of human action by narrowing it down to essentials. Freud opened up understanding but also caused debate through narrow formulations. The piece aims to combine various viewpoints into a clear perspective on perversions and the problem of human nature.

  • Freud believed that perversions stem from the child’s fantasy of the “phallic mother” - the idea that the child wants to believe the mother possesses a penis. This fantasy is connected to the child’s fear of castration.

  • However, the author argues that the underlying issue is not sexual, but existential/ontological. The child desires wholeness and completeness, not being limited by their physical form/gender.

  • The image of the hermaphrodite represents a striving for wholeness and completion beyond physical dualities. It’s a desire to overcome the ruptures of existence - between self/body, self/other, self/world.

  • Witnessing the “primal scene” is deeply disturbing not because of sexual feelings, but because it shows the parents are merely physical/animal beings, destroying the idea of the mother as a godlike protector. This reveals the child’s own fragility and physicality.

  • Anxiety about the body shows the terror of being a mortal, physical being. Hypochondrias and phobias represent a desire to overcome the limitations of the physical form. Fetishism often stems from early traumatic experiences of bodily decay, death, or injury.

So in summary, the author argues perversions are driven not by sexual desires but by a deeper existential anxiety about physical form, limitation, mortality and the desire for wholeness/completion beyond the physical.

The passage discusses how early traumatic experiences with one’s body can lead to greater anxiety and vulnerability, which in turn can manifest as fetishes or perversions later in life. It notes several case examples where children had direct experiences with bodily injury, medical procedures, or vulnerability that left lasting impressions of their own physical frailty.

It argues that fetishism in particular stems from a weak sense of confidence and esteem in one’s own body. Factors like traumatic experiences, disturbed parent relations, absent fathers, or very weak fathers can all contribute to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. This then feeds the underlying castration anxiety - the generalized fear of vulnerability of the body.

The development of self-esteem is traced back to early experiences of strength, control and security with one’s own body. When these are disrupted, it threatens the sense of invulnerability that is normally developed. Perversions more broadly are analyzed as a protest against being subsumed by biological or social determinism - they represent an individual’s attempt to assert freedom and transcend standardization. Homosexuality among the Greeks is presented as an attempt at spiritual rather than just physical perpetuation of the self.

The passage discusses the psychology behind perversions and fetishism. It argues that perversions represent a weak attempt to assert individuality and defy one’s animal, physical nature when lacking the strength or talent to do so confidently. Fetishism in particular is seen as a magical way for individuals to overcome anxieties around embodied sexuality and the threat of being subsumed by one’s physicality or a partner.

The fetish object transforms natural physicality into something spiritual and transcendent. It removes sexuality from being an impersonal physical demand and elevates the partner beyond their mere body. For weak individuals who feel anxiety around their own bodies and sexuality, the fetish provides a way to engage in sex while preserving a sense of self and dissociating from the physical, animal aspect through symbolic, cultural means. Fetishism allows one to hypnotize and reassure oneself, magically transforming the threatening reality of embodied sexuality into a freeing, transcendent experience through fabricated cultural symbols and objects.

The essay argues that fetishism is a universal human tendency, as it arises from humankind’s desire to use cultural symbols and rituals to gain a sense of power and transcendence over our physical, animal nature. Fetishes take on magical or mystical qualities as objects that seem to harness and control the body through their association with it.

The shoe is a particularly common fetish object because it is intimately connected to the body through the foot, yet remains separate from it. The foot represents our degraded animality, while the shoe symbolizes cultural refinement and creativity through its contrasting elegance. For transvestites, dressing in clothes of the opposite sex allows them to dramatize denying their natural sex identity through assuming another gender role. Overall, fetishes and rituals provide an illusion of control over the givens of nature and our mortal destinies. They show how culture allows us to imaginatively transcend physical reality through symbolic systems and forms.

The passage discusses cultural practices like foot binding in China as creative acts that reshape natural reality and turn body parts into sacred symbols. However, it argues that some cultural practices can become self-defeating, like fetishism which separates the practitioner from full human connection.

Fetishism and other “perversions” are described as private, insecure forms of protest against feelings of helplessness in the face of overwhelming power or demands from others. The fetish object becomes a manageable way to transfer feelings of awe onto something controllable. But fetishists are not secure enough in their sense of self and sexual identity to engage with partners as whole people.

The passage theorizes that everyone must find ways to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed by selectively engaging only parts of reality. But fetishists and other “perverts” do so in secret, insecure ways that cut them off from normal relationships.

Finally, it argues that sadism and masochism reflect normal human tendencies towards both mastery/control and submission/humility. They express the natural “complementarity of polar opposites” in how humans assert and relinquish power to cope with the world. So these tendencies, in moderation, reflect healthy mental functioning rather than unusual abnormalities.

This passage discusses mental illness and unhealthy forms of sexuality (perversions) as resulting from a failure of courage and heroism in facing the fundamental anxieties of human existence, namely the fear of death and responsibility for one’s own life. Some key points:

  • Mental illnesses reflect an avoidance of life and exaggerated fear of death. This prevents individuals from normally exercising “cultural heroism” through personal growth and contribution to society.

  • Perversions are seen as failed or immature attempts to experience feelings of control, self-affirmation, submission, and transcendence by projecting these needs onto single relationship partners or specific acts. But this shrinks larger human and existential concerns into an unrealistic private drama.

  • Conditions like depression, schizophrenia, and paranoia coerce others through emotional dependence, magical thinking, or manufactured persecution. Perversions similarly deny partners’ full humanity.

  • All mental illnesses and perversions represent an inability to cope responsibly with the “burden of freedom” and dilemmas of the human condition. They reflect extreme fearfulness that shrivels one’s capacity for an authentic, courageous life.

So in summary, it analyzes abnormal psychology in terms of inadequate or misguided strategies for heroic self-transcendence in confronting life’s uncertainties and terrors, especially concerning death, autonomy, and relationships. Personal courage is seen as key to healthy functioning.

  • The passage discusses how different thinkers and religious figures throughout history have proposed different visions of the ideal heroic individual and what it means to be truly human.

  • It notes how each person presenting their view seems to do so with absolute certainty, yet the views often contradict each other. This creates confusion and doubt for those trying to understand which vision is correct.

  • Examples are given of Freud, Jung, Fromm, Rank, and Kierkegaard each presenting their own understandings of human nature and the ideal self, while also critiquing each other. For instance, Fromm harshly criticized Jung while Jung saw limitations in Freud as necessary parts of his genius.

  • The central problem discussed is how, from an absolute transcendent perspective, one can only talk meaningfully about an ideal human character. But each thinker presents their view from a limited human perspective without that transcendence.

  • In the end, the passage examines Kierkegaard’s concept of the “knight of faith” as potentially representing an ideal of mental health and humanity - living fully in the world but with one’s meaning and center anchored beyond it in the invisible realm of faith.

  • The passage discusses the idea of the “knight of faith” or saint, which is an challenging ideal found in many religions of living by faith alone without proof. However, true sainthood is a matter of grace, not human effort.

  • It argues that we cannot judge people like Kierkegaard and Freud based on a “balance sheet” of who caused more harm or good, as both had flaws. Living fully in either the visible or invisible world is difficult.

  • James argued that one must stand on their own feet as a human before leaning on God. It’s hard to be a saint while also accomplishing important work in the world through one’s own powers.

  • Each person faces a unique problem of “how to be a man” that requires individual solutions. Organisms are consumed by their own energies in living, and those who burn brightest may serve nature best by accomplishing things.

  • It critiques ideas like Marcuse’s that humanity could evolve beyond character limitations or emerge from nature without limits. True change requires having character first.

  • It argues against Norman Brown’s view that guilt comes from infantile fantasy rather than the reality of one’s actions and the world. Guilt and anxiety are impossible to fully overcome as creatures. Repression helps children act without being overwhelmed by reality.

The passage critiques the ideas of Norman Brown and Herbert Marcuse, who argued for the possibility of a “new man” without guilt or anxiety through a reunification of the ego with the body.

The summary argues that this idea fails to understand basic human psychodynamics and ego development. For a child to develop a sense of self and experience, they must necessarily deny immediate gratification and develop limits on their ego. Without this “stopping” of experiences, they would lack a strong ego and sense of self.

It also argues that Brown and Marcuse ignore the reality of death, which ensures a non-repressive existence is impossible. Some repression is necessary for human existence and culture. Their visions of a totally unrepressed utopia fly in the face of fundamental human dynamics like transferance, which show we inherently crave limits and authority figures.

Overall, it criticizes the prophets of unrepression for not fully understanding or accepting the realities and necessities of human psychodynamics, development, and the inevitability of some repression and limits. Their visions of a perfect new unrepressed man are unrealistic.

The passage critiques modern utopian visions of considerably prolonging human lifespan and abolishing the fear of death. While extending life is possible through medical advances, it does not solve the fundamental problem of mortality. Prolonging life could paradoxically increase anxiety about premature death, as any accident or illness would deprive one of many more years of life.

It draws comparisons to beliefs in some primitive societies about death not being the absolute end and spirits influencing events. This led to circumscribed living out of fear of displeasing spirits. Similarly, greatly extended lifespans could encourage greater compulsivity, superstition and circumscribed living driven by a “hyperfetishization” of death as a threat.

While psychotherapy can provide benefits like reduced neurosis, it cannot solve existential dread and despair that comes with human consciousness of mortality. No amount of self-knowledge or fulfillment can change the basic human predicament. While life has its joys, it remains an “insurmountable problem.” Psychotherapy should not make unrealistic promises but rather help people live with limitations and face reality. Overall, the passage critiques utopian visions that seek to abolish the fear of death through medical or psychological means.

The passage critiques certain approaches to psychotherapy and self-help that promise total liberation and paradise on earth through techniques like primal scream therapy. While patients may feel relief initially, the underlying issues of normal human suffering are not addressed.

Psychotherapy risks becoming a belief system in itself as it tries to replace traditional religions. Therapists are pressured to promise and embody constant well-being to attract clients, without acknowledging the dangers of full liberation.

For psychotherapy to truly function as an immortality ideology and belief system, it must become a lived experience through experiential techniques. It also risks the therapist taking on a guru-like role as patients transfer their faith and needs for safety onto the authority figure. Even with the best intentions, this introduces an element of subtle indoctrination as the patient’s worldview shifts to align with the therapist’s.

While tapping into deeper inner resources seems logical, initiating patients into mystical concepts risks subtly replacing one belief system with another through the influence of the therapist-patient relationship. Overall the passage questions whether psychotherapy can truly replace traditional religions and address the fundamental human needs and realities that religions purported to fulfill.

  • Spiritual disciplines like meditation and breathing techniques become like fetishes or magical means for disciples to recapture the power and support of their guru/master when they are alone. This gives the illusion that they can now stand on their own.

  • However, true independence is not really possible without outside support. Disciples are conditioned to think the support comes from within (spiritual powers), but it actually comes from the guru validating their practices and experiences.

  • Even body-focused therapies incorporate ideas from religions/mystics to provide a “magical sustaining power” for patients. Stripping people down to their aloneness is frightening, so therapies offer hope/meaning through connection to something greater.

  • There are limits to what religious/psychotherapeutic techniques can achieve, as one cannot truly evolve beyond or change their innate human character. Claims of accessing inner life forces or a “New Being” emerging are unfounded metaphysical notions.

  • While creative myths can shape reality by influencing human efforts, they do not change human limitations. The new being idea should be seen as an ideal rather than a fixed truth. At best it can call us to difficult self-improvement, not promise easy escape from reality.

This passage discusses existential philosopher Paul Tillich’s views on spirituality, psychology, and humanity’s place in the world. Some key points:

  • Tillich promotes an “ontology of immanence” where humans take more of the world into themselves and develop new strengths, rather than seeking transformation through miraculous means or something outside themselves like heaven.

  • This view represents a radical ideal of being truly centered in one’s own energies and confront potential meaninglessness, rather than evading it through things like mysticism, which Tillich argues can prevent absorbing meaninglessness and lack courage.

  • The rise of psychotherapy raises questions about how mature and critically self-aware newly “liberated” people will be, and whether therapy truly addresses the underlying tragic realities of human existence.

  • Traditional religions provide a perspective of waiting and adapting while maintaining openness to mystery, which could encourage living in harmony with creation rather than seeking to overcome or deny aspects of reality like mortality.

  • Science risks deadening perception of the “panic” and grotesque aspects of reality by seeking to make the world orderly and reduce human aggression, rather than acknowledging tragedy.

So in summary, it discusses Tillich’s existential views on spirituality, psychology, and confronting reality without denial or evasion compared to other approaches.

  • Freud initially believed that evil came from within people, but later recognized it also comes from external forces in nature, making him more pessimistic.

  • Taking life seriously means acknowledging the terror, grotesque, and panic of existence. It requires engaging our subjective energies of passion, vision, pain, fear and sorrow rather than deadening these through manipulative science.

  • Modern society seeks to help people forget life’s difficulties through drinking, drugs, shopping, etc. or bury themselves in psychology. But new shared visions/heroisms are needed to go beyond these issues.

  • The forward momentum of life is mysterious and not fully controlled or programmable by humans. The best we can do is offer our efforts/creations and let the life force determine its course. Science is limited and not the sole path; religious/mythical frameworks also have a role in giving meaning and direction.

So in summary, it argues Freud grew more realistic about evil’s sources, life should be fully experienced not deadened, new communal visions are needed to cope with life’s difficulties rather than escapism, and science alone cannot control or understand life’s mysterious drive which requires other frameworks like religion/myth.

Here is a summary of the provided sources:

Psychoanalysis (1943) discusses transference and its implications for psychoanalytic therapy. Ferenczi’s “Introjection and Transference” (1916) introduces the concept and argues it involves unconsciously redirecting feelings from early caregivers onto the analyst. Freud’s Group Psychology (1921) applies these dynamics to social groups and leadership, seeing them arising from unconscious drives. Later theorists like Bion (1957) elaborate on group dynamics and the “uses” of leaders. Transference is seen as central both to therapy and broader social-psychological phenomena like authoritarianism and fascism. Debates continue on precisely defining and understanding its mechanisms and functions. While complex, transference plays a key role in Freudian understandings of the mind, relationships, and broader social forces.

Here is a summary of pages 52-53 from Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud by Erich Fromm:

  • Rank saw that fixation at certain psychosexual stages can lead to lifelong neurotic character traits connected to those stages, like stubbornness from the anal stage. However, he recognized neurotic character is due more to general libidinal stasis rather than specific fixes.

  • Fear of death plays a central role in neurosis for Rank. Neurotic character protects against awareness of death by developing narcissistic and authoritarian attitudes. Symptoms serve avoidance of aloneness and responsibility for one’s life by seeking security in conformity.

  • Rank’s shift from Freud’s sexual drive theory to emphasis on birth trauma and life aims marked a breaking point between them. For Rank neurosis stemmed from an inability to accept separateness from mother due to premature birth, not sexual drives. This prevented independence and wholehearted aim pursuing.

  • Rank criticized Freud’s reliance on transference to resolve problems. He saw neurosis as a failure of will stemming from conflict between life and death instincts, not instinctual fixations. Cures involve reaffirming life through creative self-actualization, not genetic explanations and transference interpretations.

Here are the key points summarized from the passages:

  • Freud saw religion as an illusion based on infantile wishes and fears, but recognized it filled important psychological needs. He had an ambivalent view of religion.

  • Rank disagreed with Freud’s view of religion as illusion and had a more positive perspective on religion’s role in providing meaning and purpose. He saw the roots of religion in actual human experiences of birth, life, death rather than infantile needs.

  • Other psychoanalysts like Pfister tried to find a middle path between Freud’s antagonism towards religion and an uncritical acceptance of it. He saw potential for dialogue between psychoanalysis and religion.

  • Rank’s view that religion stems from actual human experiences of life rather than illusion influenced other thinkers like Bakan who saw links between Judaism and psychoanalysis.

  • Critics argued Freud failed to adequately account for religious experiences and phenomena like conversion that could not be reduced to infantile origins or neurosis. His view was too limited.

  • Rank developed a more existential approach that took seriously human anxieties around death, guilt, meaning and provided a framework for understanding religious ideas and experiences on their own terms rather than reducing them to infantile roots.

  • Freud developed psychoanalysis and introduced concepts like the Oedipus complex, anality, castration complex, and the primal scene. His work involved interpreting dreams and beliefs about life and death instincts.

  • Jung focused on concepts like the collective unconscious and archetypes. He disagreed with some of Freud’s sexual interpretations.

  • Kierkegaard discussed existentialism, anxiety, despair, the divide between the aesthetic and ethical, and developing authenticity vs. inauthenticity. He analyzed religion, sin, and neurosis.

  • Rank interpreted Freud and focused on birth trauma, the hero myth, religion, art, and will. He saw neurosis as the refusal to mature beyond infantile needs.

  • Transference involves projective identification of feelings onto therapists. It reflects fears of life, death, courage and patterns from early relationships.

  • Neurosis reflects historical/cultural factors and the refusal of normal human realities like finitude, guilt, responsibility. It has creative power but also reflects the limits of modern ideologies.

  • Mental illnesses discussed include depression, schizophrenia, and various sexual perversions. Mental health involves acceptance of existential realities.

  • Connections are made between psychology, religion, heroism/narcissism, and the human desire for immortality and omnipotence. Integration of science and religion is posited.

Here is a summary of the key points from the provided texts:

  • Freud saw that some people cannot handle success after achieving it and quickly give it up or have breakdowns. This is known as the “Wrecked by Success” syndrome.

  • Maslow expanded on this idea with his concept of the “Jonah Syndrome” where people feel unworthy of success and sabotage themselves.

  • Kierkegaard viewed the self as encompassing both the physical body and the symbolic/spiritual aspects. He saw humanity as inherently dualistic, containing both finitude and infinitude.

  • Transference is a fundamental phenomenon in psychoanalysis where patients transfer feelings from significant others onto their therapist. It provides crucial insights but interpretations differ on its precise nature.

  • Leaders are able to assume followers’ guilt and gain control by coercing them into further unethical acts, deepening their dependency through shared guilt and fear of consequences. The Nazis exemplified using these techniques.

  • Nazi camps used techniques like commitment to extra atrocities to induce loyalty and recruit talented individuals. This gave recruits a new criminal identity tied to the SS.

  • As the war went on and victims mounted, Nazi leaders used threats of reprisal to cement national unity. It was like a gangster tactic used to bind together a whole nation in fear and guilt.

  • What starts as a leader’s heroic mission becomes sustained by bullying and threats. Followers continue out of survival need, as quitting is not allowed and the leader’s defeat means their destruction. This explains why people stick with leaders even in defeat.

  • The paper discusses how these dynamics also applied to the Manson family and how they held together due to his threats after facing persecution. It compares this to Egyptians sticking with Nasser after his defeat.

The summary focuses on the key points about how loyalty, identity and survival motives were exploited by Nazi and other totalitarian/criminal leaders to maintain control over their followers even in the face of mounting crimes or defeat.

The passage discusses theories about female frigidity and male impotence from a psychoanalytic perspective. It argues that frigid women submit to men but are not convinced of their protection, so they do not need to fetishize anything as men do. Impotent men, on the other hand, are not convinced of their safety either and must create fetishes to perform sexually and deny their vulnerability.

It explains that sadomasochistic fantasies provide a sense of power and mastery over one’s limitations as a biological being. Such fantasies usually arise when people are stressed. Hitler’s extreme sadism supposedly arose from his deep anxieties and need to triumph over feelings of filth and decay.

In general, the passage analyzes sexual perversions and how they relate to anxieties about power, vulnerability, and the physical body. It discusses concepts like “passive autofetishism” and how perversions allow people to transform reality into something more idealized.

Author Photo

About Matheus Puppe