Freud in Context

In David Cronenberg’s 2011 film about the brief, intense, profoundly important friendship between Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung, it is Jung who takes center stage.

Twenty years younger than Freud, Jung had a far sexier role to play in this particular story – he was, in turn, psychiatrist, supervisor, lover and colleague to Sabina Spielrein, played by Keira Knightly in A Dangerous Method, which comes out on DVD tomorrow.

Contrary to expectation, Jung actually deserved the greater prominence, according to John Kerr, upon whose book Christopher Hampton’s screenplay and play are based and to which they are remarkably faithful:

At the time [i.e. the early 1900s], the people who mattered were Jung and his Zurich mentor, Eugen Bleuler, not Freud. Jung and Bleuler already possessed international reputations as pioneering psychiatrists. Moreover, they had the prestige of the Zurich medical school behind them and they commanded the Zurich Psychiatric Clinic with its attached psychological laboratory, where interested physicians could receive training. In short, it was Jung and Bleuler who possessed the institutional resources needed to turn psychoanalysis into a scientific movement. The rise of psychoanalysis directly reflected these institutional realities. It was when Jung and Bleuler first began reporting that they could confirm some of Freud’s theories with their own patients that the controversies began in earnest.

It was Zurich where almost all of Freud’s most important early followers first received training in the new methods. And it was Zurich that ultimately provided psychoanalysis with its first official institutions: the first congress, the first journal, the International Association when it was founded – all these initially were run out of Zurich, not Vienna. It was Jung and Bleuler who put Freud on the scientific map, not the other way around.

Just a page later, Kerr makes the point even more explicitly:

…the story of the psychoanalytic movement cannot be adequately told without Jung. Indeed, such was his pivotal role in it that were one to put it in the form of a drama, one would perforce make Jung the protagonist: dramatically speaking, he is the motor of the story, the engine that makes things happen.

Image: Freud (front, far left) with Jung (front, far right) at Clark University, September 1909.


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