The Trauma of Birth  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
birth trauma

Das Trauma der Geburt (translated into English as The Trauma of Birth in 1929) is a book by Otto Rank first published in 1924. It explored how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety in the “phase before the development of the Oedipus complex” (p. 216). But there was no such phase in Freud’s theories. The Oedipus complex, Freud explained tirelessly, was the nucleus of the neurosis and the foundational source of all art, myth, religion, philosophy, therapy – indeed of all human culture and civilization. It was the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that the Oedipus complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis. It was also the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that there was a “pre-Oedipal” complex – a term that did not exist at that time. Rank was the first to use the term “pre-Oedipal” in a public psychoanalytic forum in 1925 (Rank, 1996, p. 43). In the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Rank will be credited with coining this term, which is now mistakenly thought to have been introduced by Freud in 1932.

After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from The Trauma of Birth, signalling to other members of his inner circle that Rank was perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy. Confronted with Freud’s decisive opposition, Rank chose to resign in protest from his powerful positions as Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, director of Freud’s publishing house, and co-editor of Imago and Zeitschrift. His closest friend, Sandor Ferenczi, with whom Rank collaborated in the early twenties on new experiential, object-relational and "here-and-now" approaches to therapy, abandoned him. The break between Freud and Rank, and the loss of Rank's tremendous vitality, left a gaping hole in "the cause" that would never be filled by anyone else. Anna Freud replaced Rank on the secret "committee," but could not match his intellect, although Freud loved her dearly. Ferenczi became more and more alienated from Freud and died broken-hearted in 1933.




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