OTTO FENICHEL AND HIS LEGACY. FEAR OF STRANGENESS: Antisemitism, xenophobia and uncanny experience.

October 23-25, 2015 - Prague, Chech Republic

First year of our conference is aimed at creating a space for psychoanalytic exploration of worries of „the strange“ and „the strangers“ in the clinical situation, but also invites experts from humanities into a dialogue and rethinking these phenomena in different contexts.

Contact information: www.fenichelspragueconference.com/en/

For more information, write to: info@fenichelspragueconference.com

To register, write to: registration@fenichelspragueconference.com

Otto Fenichel and His Legacy - by Michael Sebek

Otto Fenichel was born 2.12.1897 in Vienna and died on 22.1.1946 in Los Angeles. He was and is one of the most fascinating figures of the second generation of psychoanalysts. Although his work could have been forgotten in the jungle of subsequent new theories, part-theories and overlapping new concepts, and the force of time – it has been nearly 70 years since his death – could have pushed Fenichel to archives of psychoanalysis, it did not happen. Whoever returns to the essence of psychoanalysis as formulated by Freud (libido, unconsciousness, repression, topographic and structural models, dynamic and economic points of view), will sooner or later come across Fenichel. A vigorous critic of contemporary writings, and of divergent tendencies in psychoanalysis which emerged as early as in the twenties and thirties (represented predominantly by Klein and her followers), Fenichel was an orthodox Freudian in a positive sense of the word: with brilliant theoretical and clinical insights, an excellent teacher and a prolific author who contributed virtually to all features of contemporary psychoanalysis between the years 1920 – 1945. One of his many important historical credits is formation and recognition of the Prague psychoanalytical group as the Study Group of the IPA in 1936 on the 14th IPA Congress in Marienbad.

Otto Fenichel studied medicine in Vienna between years 1915 – 1921. He begun to visit lectures of Sigmund Freud already in 1915 and participated in meetings of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society since 1918 and since May 1920 he was a member of the Society. He started his personal analysis with Paul Federn, and he continued his analysis in Berlin Institute with SándorRadó after his move to Berlin in 1922. Before Berlin, being still in Vienna, he was engaged in Jugendbewegung (youth movement) where also other future analysts took part, like Siegfried Bernfeld, Wihelm and Annie Reich and Ernest Simmel. This movement were connecting the sexual science inspired by psychoanalysis with social freedom. This Fenichel’s interest found its continuation in so called “Kinderseminars” (child seminars) organised outside of the Berlin Institute as a “left fraction” of young psychoanalysts where both Reichs also E. Jacobson, E. Fromm, G. Gero and some others took part. Their goal was to unify Marxism and psychoanalysis. In 1930 Fenichel became a member of the German Psychoanalytical Society. After the Hitler ‘a fascist party (NSDAP) had taken over the political power in Germany, Fenichel moved to Oslo where he helped to form the Norwegian psychoanalysis. In 1934 he started to write and send so called circular letters (Rundbriefe) to his political “small circle”, colleagues from Berlin “Kinderseminar”. In autumn 1935 (September/October) he moved to Prague to take over the leadership (instead of Frances Déri who moved to Los Angeles) of small psychoanalytic group consisting of Jewish analysts (Annie Reich, Stef Bornstein, Henry Loewensfeld) who emigrated from Hitler’s Germany, and also of some Czechs (and some others). This group had started its work in summer 1933. Fenichel stayed in Prague until the beginning of May 1938, when he moved to Los Angeles in the USA. In Prague he wrote 29 circular letters/Rundbriefe.

Otto Fenichel published around forty articles between “Introjektion und Kastrationkomplex” (1925) and “Neurotic Acting Out” (1945). Building on his works, and upon countless other analysts of his time, Fenichel produced his famous encyclopedic textbook of 1945 Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis, which belonged for a long time to basic readings in majority of psychoanalytic institutes in the world.

Fenichel’s work Problems of Psychoanalytic Technique (1941) is until now inspiring reading, still today recommended to students of psychoanalysis. Fenichel’s essay on Anti-Semitism is excellent original work in which external and internal realities are integrated into deep insightful understanding of anti-Semitic and xenophobic behaviors. After his emigration to the USA Fenichel was hiding his interest in Marxism but he has never given up an idea that broader social factors – external reality – play an important part if the formation of neurotic disorders. Strong belief in Marxism was historical error of many left intellectuals in the 30ties (XX.century), and Fenichel belonged to them. Nevertheless, external reality and its influences (not only traumatic ones) cannot be overlooked in current psychoanalytic theorizing. Because of detrimental external reality Fenichel had to repeatedly emigrate (Oslo, Prague, Los Angeles). Nazi and communist ideologies interfered severely also with the development of Czech psychoanalysis (psychoanalysis had to be kept dozens of years in the social underground).

Fenichel with his complicated personal traumatic history, with his Freudian orientation, with his substantial contribution to origins of Czech psychoanalysis, with his extensive stress on external social reality, and with his wandering Marxism, with his tremendous effort to spread and develop Freudian psychoanalysis – all this fits well to Czech psychoanalytic mind as it had been formed during the XX. century. It is then more than logic that the Czech Psychoanalytical Society has decided to organize in Prague regular Fenichel Conferences devoted to his legacy. We plan to choose psychoanalytic topics and their overlap to philosophy, history, politics, and social sciences. We want to choose various Fenichel’s works or ideas and let them test by current psychoanalytic views. We plan to have small discussion groups on each conference. We plan to invite not only psychoanalysts but also professionals from other specialities. We will welcome as participants also students from various universities. We would like to create a forum for open exchange of psychoanalytic ideas and concepts within current multi-theoretical psychoanalysis, and to create a dialogue with other humanities.



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