מתוך יום העיון לכבוד צאת ספרו של
פסיכולוגיית העצמי וחקר רוח אדם
המנחה, ד"ר יחזקאל כהן:
אנו פותחים עתה בהרצאה הראשונה – זו של אורחנו המכובד פאול אורנשטיין ותרשו לי על כן לעבור לשפה האנגלית.
I am very privileged to have this honor of introducing you and we all here are very fond and very privileged to have you here with us. But, I must say that introducing Paul Ornstein without mentioning Anna Ornstein is quite similar to a vertical split. Anna and Paul Ornstein are a oneness that is a twoness to use Winnicotts paradoxes and the third here is the theoretical legacy that we have from this oneness-twoness called A.P.H.O. But there is also the thirdness – the three children of this great twoness-oneness.
When I think of their biography I am always near to tears on the one hand, and full of admiration on the other hand. Just a few words for those who do not know them though I wonder if there are people in the audience who do not know them.
Anna and Paul were good friends when they were in their adolescent years but the war separated between them. Anna was sent with her mother to Auschwitz and from there to a hard labor camp. One morning in May 1945, Anna awoke to the sunrise. She asked herself how come she avoided the 4:30 a.m. waking call and march to the factory? She lokked outside to see no guards anymore and an unattended gate. She was free. Anna and her mother made their way on foot to Czechoslovakia, hoping to get to Hungary. In Hungary she found out that she lost her father and her brother. Paul lost his mother and four siblings and was sent to a forced labor camp.
In Budapest Anna and Paul met again and quite soon got married. Both of them studied medicine in Heidelberg, Germany, and then they moved to the U.S.A. first in Newark and then to Cincinnati where they settled for many years being professors for psychiatry and psychoanalysis at the U. of Cincinnati.
Paul Ornstein is currently Lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School (Massachusetts Mental Health Center) and is a faculty member of the Psychoanalytic Institute New England East, and also teaches at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute.
He has written on psychoanalytic psychotherapy, the interpretive process in psychoanalysis (many of these were jointly written with Anna); he co-authored a book with Michael Balint on Focal Psychotherapy and edited and introduced the collection of Heinz Kohut's Selected Writings: The Search for the Self, Volumes I – IV. Both alone and with Anna, he has conducted more than two hundred seminars and workshops in most major training centers in the United States, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Holland, Israel, Italy, Indonesia (Bali & Yogyakarta), Norway, Peru, Switzerland and Turkey.
We are very grateful to you, Paul, that you are willing to present here your very personal paper: Multiple narratives of the origins of Kohut's self psychology: reminiscences and reflections.
פרופ' פול ה. אורנשטיין:
חֲבֵרִים, עֲמִיתִים, גְבִירוֹתָי וְרָבּוֹתָי,
לְגָבֵּי אָנָה וּלְגָבָּי זוֹֹהַיְיתָה תָּמִיד חֲוָויָה מְיוּחֶדֶת מְאוֹד וּמְרַגֶשֶת בְּאוֹפֶן עֲמוֹק לְהְיוֹת כָּאן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וְלַעֲבוֹד עִמָכֶם, חֲבֵרִים וָעֲמִיתִים, גָם אִם לְעִתִּים לִתְקוּפוֹת קְצָרוֹת מְאוֹד.
אוּלָם הִזְדָמְנוּת זוֹ, הַיוֹם, הֶיוֹתֵנוּ כָּאן הִיא אַף יוֹתֵר מְיוּחֶדֶת מִ״סְתָם מְיוּחֶדֶת״ כִּי אֲנוּ חוֹגְגִים אִתְכֶם אֶת הַאֵרוּעַ הֶחַשוּב שֶל הַפִּרְסוּם בְּעִבְרִית שֶל ״פְּסִיכוֹלוֹגִיָית הַעֲצְמִי וְחֵקֶר רוּחַ אָדָם״.
אַנוּ אַסִירֵי תּוֹדָה עַל שֶהוּזְמָנּוּ לַחֲגוֹג הֵישֶׂג חֲשוּב זֶה עִמָכֶם כָּאן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל ולא מְרָחוֹק, בְּאַרְצוֹת הַבְּרִית.
בְּהֶיוֹתֵנוּ כָּאן אִישִית אַנוּ יְכוֹלִים גַם לַקַחַת חֵלֵק בְּגַאֲוָותְכֶם, שֶאָתֶם רְאוּיִים לָה מְאוֹד, עַל שֶהֶעֱלֵיתֶם אֶת פְּסִיכוֹלוֹגִיָית הַעֲצְמִי עַל הַמָּפָּה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאֶמְצָעוּת פְּעִילוּת זוֹ וּפְּעִילוּיוֹתֵיכֶם הַמַרְשִימוֹת הַרָבּוֹת הַאֲחֵרוֹת.
MULTIPLE NARRATIVES OF THE ORIGINS OF KOHUT’S SELF PSYCHOLOGY:
REMINISCENCES AND REFLECTIONS
For Anna and me it has always been a very special, deeply touching experience, to be here in Israel and work with you, our friends and colleagues, even if at times for very short periods, But this occasion, today, our being here is even more special than “ordinarily special” on account of celebrating with you the significant event of the publication of the Hebrew translation of Heinz Kohut’s “Self Psychology and the Humanities.” We are grateful for having been invited to celebrate this significant accomplishment with you, here in Israel—and not just from afar. Being here in person, we can also partake in your well deserved pride for having put self psychology on Israel’s map. .
I am pleased to having been asked to reminisce about and reflect on my personal experiences with Heinz Kohut and talk to you about some of the sources of his particular psychoanalytic creativity. For someone, as steeped in classical psychoanalysis, as he was, this drastic change was emotionally not easy to accomplish. But let me start at the beginning.
I first met Heinz Kohut as a student in his two-year class on Freud’s metapsychology, later on as his supervisee, still later at close range, as a friend and collaborator. He was Viennese through and through: to the point that he even “forgot” that he was at one time a Viennese Jew. He never spoke of the humiliations and degradations he experienced after the Anschluss; he never spoke of his forced immigration—as if he could not allow the Nazi episode to cast its long shadow on his love affair with Vienna and German culture. This Nazi episode, and his Jewishness, remained a disavowed part of him. I shall return to this topic later.
The idea that Kohut as an ego psychologist par excellence, this “Mr. Psychoanalysis,” developed a drastically different theory of development, a different theory of psychopathology, and a different theory of the treatment process and “cure” (than what were then the central tenets of psychoanalysis), fascinated me from the moment I heard Kohut’s delivery of his first paper on his developing new ideas. It was “Forms and Transformations of Narcissism” (1966), at the close of his Presidency of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Simultaneously, I began to learn from him in supervision about his new ideas as he was working on The Analysis of the Self (1971).
I once asked Kohut early on how it was that from his ego psychological perspective he could formulate such a remarkably fresh and different psychoanalytic psychology and develop such a different clinical approach—meanwhile linking his ideas, especially at the beginning, to those of Freud, even in a Freudian language. His answer was simple and straightforward, even if woefully incomplete and even misleading: “By the time I was in my early twenties”—he said—“I have read and digested all that was available to me from Freud’s writings, so I could go on from there on my own.” This made sense to me then, as one link in the chain of the many contributing factors to that rare psychoanalytic creativity that led him to a systematic revamping of the entire field—however brief or long its impact may ultimately turn out to be. There were not many such contributions in the prior history of psychoanalysis—that stood the test of time..
Because Kohut’s answer intrigued me, and because I found no trace of his new ideas in his teaching of the two-year-long Freud Course at the Chicago Institute, I soon undertook a reading of all his writings in chronological order to discover the precursors of his ideas on narcissism and the decisive shift in his thinking that ultimately led him to his self psychology. Even more than that, I wanted to discover the nature of his particular psychoanalytic creativity (Ornstein, 1978).
I shall make the first, tentative steps in that direction on this auspicious occasion,
in these festive circumstances. I shall assemble here in the form of a mixture of reminiscences and reflections—highly personal and idiosyncratic as these may be—my own perception of what led Kohut to his stunning accomplishments in about fifteen years, even though he lived during the last ten years of his life after publishing The Analysis of the Self in 1971, constantly under the threat of death from his lymphocytic leukemia.
Before I proceed, however, I would like to make a general comment about the picture I am about to paint of Kohut as a person, and of his ideas that have by now spread all over the world. Everyone I know among those who got to know him at close range, and certainly among those who knew him only from a distance, or only through his writings, has a very different image of him. It cannot be otherwise; our subjective experiences of him are so varied that everyone has “his own Heinz Kohut” in his or her psychic archives—but that can now be expanded and considerably refined on the basis of Charles B. Strozier’s full scale, masterful biography: “Heinz Kohut—The Making of a Psychoanalyst.”
My image of Kohut, just as Strozier’s, is also highly subjective. My focus, here, will be on the multiple narratives I have assembled from Kohut’s writings about the origin of his ideas; from directly observing him at work and from our many conversations. So, in my subtitle I gave myself the license to mix reflections and reminiscences. The former consists predominantly of some comments about Kohut’s mode of working as well as the work itself, and the latter consists predominantly of a more subjective portrayal of the man, in whose personal history and inner life are the earliest roots of the ideas he spawned.
I shall begin the multiple narratives of the origin of self psychology, by first focusing on the various external stimuli or triggers for his work in some sequential order, (although their influence was not sequential) and then continue with searching for the wellsprings of his ideas in his life-experiences and his vulnerabilities.
- Freud’s Work as Kohut’s Platform for His Own Ideas
It is undoubtedly correct that Kohut thoroughly absorbed Freud’s work and madeFreud’s ideas his own, as he himself indicated. He absorbed those ideas apparently on a “gut level” where it counts, more than many outstanding Freud scholars have, whose knowledge might well have equaled or surpassed Kohut’s—but who have not been able to move on from Freud’s work to something as drastically different as self psychology is. But Kohut’s assertion of having absorbed Freud’s ideas thoroughly in his early twenties does not include any hints of the inner wellsprings of his new ideas. Readiness for something new and having the wherewithal for a creative, systematic contribution to psychoanalysis requires more than having mastered what he inherited from Freud. He often said that in the years just prior to the beginning of his work on narcissism, he had to take pains in dealing with the contradictions and theoretical conundrums in Freudian metapsychology. I suspect that Kohut’s early reading of Freud was not what freed him up—as he claimed—to go off on his own in psychoanalysis; that may only have been a part of it. He taught a two-year course on the development of Freud’s work for at least a decade after he graduated from the Chicago Institute, indicating—as I just stated—that he went on for some time to struggle with those ideas and try to reconcile the contradictions he discovered in them. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that Freudian psychoanalysis served Kohut as a solid platform from which he moved on to his own self psychology and frequently contrasted his ideas with those of traditional analysis initially (see also Rubovits-Seitz, 1999). But without the sources within himself, acquired in his early and later life-experiences as well as being influenced by the surrounding culture in which he grew up and the one in which he later lived, that move could not have occurred. Thus, self psychology has many roots in Kohut’s own life-history; his personal analysis, his analytic training, and his later self-analysis (see The Two Analyses of Mr. Z., 1979).
- The Groundwork for New Ideas
Kohut’s first major work—a classic by now—was his epistemologic treatise of
1957 , on “Introspection, Empathy and Psychoanalysis: An Examination of the Relationship between Mode of Observation and Theory.” He laid the groundwork
without realizing it then what was to emerge a decade later as his self psychology. He was not consciously aware where those fundamental epistemologic notions would lead him. His essay is a methodologic treatise with enormous practical-clinical consequences. It does not reveal the highly personal sources of what was to come later and become both theoretically and clinically trailblazing.
On account of its importance as a methodologic-philosophic foundation for his subsequent work on narcissism and self psychology, I shall make a few comments about it—it is one important link in the chain of the multiple narratives about the origins of self psychology I am considering here.
The essay was written barely five years after Kohut became a psychoanalyst. The ideas conveyed in it established him as a major thinker in the field—although there was considerable opposition to what he proposed. The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association did not want to publish Kohut’s essay. Through the intervention of an influential leader in American and International psychoanalysis, Maxwell Gitelson, thought-control inspiring censorship was overruled.
In response to what he saw happening in psychoanalysis at that time Kohut
was inspired to re-think the nature of the psychoanalytic method as well as the boundaries of what constituted psychoanalysis. He defined psychoanalysis as a “pure psychology” and delineated it from sociology, on the one hand, and from biology, on the other. He spelled out the principles that guided him in avoiding the use of hybrid, foreign concepts to psychoanalysis, such as psychobiology; quasi-biologic “drives” and quasi-biologic or sociologic notions, such as “dependence,” and other, similar concepts. What Kohut suggested instead—in accordance with post-positivist, avant-garde thinking in other fields was that, reality (external as well as internal reality) could never be known in its entirety; we could only know that aspect of reality which our method of observation (or instrumentation) can help us capture. He, therefore, underscored the fact that the psychoanalyst’s observational method determined his findings and theories—the main point of his essay. These ideas opened up the field for further advances, including advances Kohut himself was able to make a decade later.
I wish to call attention to the fact that in this essay Kohut has quietly undone the
Cartesian dichotomy by suggesting that there is a unity between psyche and soma and we may consider them as separate fields only because of the different methods we use to study them. When we use introspection (or vicarious introspection, empathy) we are dealing with psychology and when we use extrospection (or vicarious extrospection) we are dealing with biology or sociology. This is how empathy becomes the definer of the field of psychoanalysis and later also the central observational method in our clinical
dialogue. The essay offers a number of illustrations of what could be indigenous, rather
than foreign concepts in psychoanalysis—of which I only wish to highlight one. The quasi-biological concept of drives—Kohut says—should be viewed as experiences of drivenness, which thereupon become psychological entities open to empathy-based study in the clinical context.
In addition to this significant shift in Kohut’s theorizing, he also introduced in his essay the precursor for his later foundational construct: the concept of the selfobject. This is what he wrote: “Persistent introspection in the narcissistic disorders and in the borderline states . . .leads to the recognition of an unstructured psyche struggling to maintain contact with an archaic object [the later selfobject] or to keep up the tenuous separation from it. Here the analyst is not the screen for the projection of internal structure (Freud’s concept of transference), but the direct continuation of an early reality that was too distant, too rejecting, or too unreliable to be transformed into solid psychological structures. The analyst is therefore introspectively experienced within the framework of an archaic interpersonal relationship. [The analyst here] is the old object, with which the analyzand tries to maintain contact, from which he tries to separate his own identity, or from which he attempts to derive a modicum of internal structure” (Kohut,  1959, p. 219, italics in the original).
Although it is clearly evident from the passage just quoted that, Kohut recognized the nature of the “transferences” in psychoses and borderline states and was thereby inevitably on the road to formulate his new ideas—which took several more years to come to fruition.
- Encountering Unanalyzed Narcissism in Psychoanalysts
Kohut frequently asserted that as President of the American Psychoanalytic Association he learned a great deal about the importance of narcissism from the political wrangling of his colleagues, which he attributed to inadequate attention to the issues of narcissism in their training analyses. This—he said—triggered his interest in exploring the subject. It is undoubtedly plausible that for a man with such abiding interest in the organizational as well as scientific politics of psychoanalysis, but mainly in its clinical and theoretical aspects, these observations could have worked as stimuli for mobilizing a more personally and deeply anchored set of motives to pursue the study of narcissism and the self.
I recall vividly, even today, a small, quarterly, regional Training Analyst’s Conference in Chicago, (with attendees from Cincinnati, St Louis and Denver) where Kohut presented the analysis of a candidate-patient of his to demonstrate how he dealt with the patient’s “narcissism” along the lines of his evolving new ideas. It was a beautifully crafted, moving report. After Kohut finished, Renee Spitz (from Denver) jumped up from his seat and rushed to congratulate Kohut and said: “It was wonderful; deeply moving. All my life I wanted to do analysis like this and you accomplished it!” He included something about being envious of the way Kohut did it that I could not hear fully. To me the presentation was already then an indication that Kohut’s understanding of narcissism came from much deeper sources within his own self, than what he learned as President in observing his colleagues.
- An Example of “Deeper Sources:” on Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
The above mentioned clinical presentation prior to the publication of The Analysis of the Self also drew my attention again to Kohut’s very first psychoanalytic writing: an essay (his graduation paper) on Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1957). In it he analyzed Aschenbach’s personality and his love for the beautiful young boy, Tadzio, almost exclusively from the traditional psychoanalytic perspective of structural theory. The “central theme underlying [the story]”—he wrote—“is the father conflict,” which Kohut elaborates extensively—and relates this to Mann’s psychology as well. Significantly, this reading of what happens to Aschenbach in the novel also contains Kohut’s budding ideas about his future self psychology, without yet the coherent system and new language which he later develops. It is one of the steps in the process of his creativity. This is what he wrote: “The decisive threat to Aschenbach’s defensive system is the breakdown of sublimated homosexual tenderness and the nearly unchecked onrush of un-sublimated homosexual desire in the aging writer. Aschenbach’s last dream is an expression of the breakdown of sublimation; it describes the destruction of ‘the whole cultural structure of a lifetime’ “(p. 125).
In a footnote added later, Kohut refers to a subsequent reformulation of his understanding of Aschenbach’s aging personality and collapse of his artistic creativity with the aid of his new ideas but partly still in his old language. He now understood that, Aschenbach’s homoerotic attraction to Tadzio was both an expression of the beginning disintegration of his artistic sublimation as well as a desperate effort to ward off further disintegration and fragmentation—without lasting success. The aging writer attempted thus to regain his lost capacity for sublimation through his creative writings. Kohut now states “the essence of this beautiful novella is an almost scientifically exact portrayal of the disintegration of artistic sublimation. The artist Aschenbach . . . had throughout his long creative life been able to channel the available free narcissitic cathexes toward his artistic productions. While in his childhood he must still have been in severe jeopardy—his childhood self had been insufficiently sustained by his environment and had been in danger of fragmentation—he had later become capable of providing himself with the needed experience of psychological perfection and wholeness—i.e., the experience of basic self-esteem—through the creation of works of art . . the artist is aging, and his power to create replicas of a perfect self is waning. On the way to total disintegration, however—and here lies the focus of the novella—we see the revival of the sexualized precursor of the artistic product: the beautiful boy . . . is the symbolic stand-in for the core of the still unaltered childhood self which craves love and admiration (1976, p. 821/822).
I have adduced these quotations to state here schematically that what was at first implicit knowledge (appearing in practice but unarticulated), then on reflection became explicit knowledge and on further clinical experience and reflection was elaborated into a systematic formulation—the latter a rare gift that Kohut possessed as a significant step in his psychoanalytic creativity.
- The Relation of Theory to Treatment in Psychoanalysis
Kohut remarked repeatedly that in the 1960’s the gap between theory (that is, American ego psychology) and the treatment process has widened considerably. The available theory could no longer guide the treatment process. He set himself the task of searching for an experience-near theory that would serve to close the gap. He gave up teaching his Freud-course and set up a clinical seminar with advanced candidates (and a separate one for psychiatry residents at the University of Chicago), in order to listen “afresh” to their clinical reports and try to find a different way of organizing the data of observation. I attended those seminars at the Institute and witnessed at close range how he struggled with finding a way to understand the patient’s communications—and searched for an understanding that was more in tune with how the patient would feel understood.
Reading the edited and published transcripts of these seminars now (see Tolpin M., Tolpin, P., 1996).takes us back to an early stage as Kohut was developing his ideas of what later became The Analysis of the Self. The transcripts remarkably document the gestation and birth of self psychology—a belated, deliberate reflection on what had long been experientially a part of him—as evidenced by his understanding of Aschenbach in Death in Venice and of Thomas Mann, as indicated above. These seminars were opportunities for Kohut to formulate his growing clinical understanding as well as his theory of narcissism in a way that he could communicate them to his students and colleagues and finally explicitly know them himself. Kohut’s new understanding as I witnessed it in statu nascendi, was a mixture of searching for and finding words and images for his own inner experiences and doing the same with the patients’ and the candidate analyst’s communications; and here and there putting these in an evolving theoretical context. All this was accompanied by a tentativeness and hesitancy, appropriate to the search and listening to what the class perceived and understood.
My experiences in these seminars coincided with my supervision where I also had an opportunity to witness Kohut creativity on the spot, as he listened intently to my clinical reports every other week for four years.
- New Uses of Empathy and the Empathic Vantage Point of Observation
Kohut’s discussion of the clinical presentations of advanced candidates provided him with the opportunity to test his ideas in relation to a variety of clinical issues and to begin to formulate what he later more systematically presented in “The Analysis of the Self.“
One of his own patients, Ms F, accused Kohut repeatedly of ruining her analysis by offering her interpretations that she experienced as useless and even hurtful. She demanded that he listen and only reflect back to her what she had said. Whether this is indeed a paradigmatic, single case or one of many cases with essentially similar needs and demands, I do not know. What is important for us, however, is that the vignette dramatizes what many patients express and thereby teach us how we may be able to work with them and—equally important—how they may be able to work with us, otherwise the analysis turns into an endless struggle between the two participants.
The fact that Kohut found it necessary, and ultimately helpful to Ms F., to listen and respond to her the way she demanded it, was a crucial experience in helping Kohut to formulate his ideas about his analytic approach. Until a particular moment in the analysis, Kohut was convinced that Ms F was regressively avoiding her oedipal longings toward him and he was certain that his repeated interpretations of it were valid in spite Ms F’s vehement protestations. But as he heard her on one specific occasion, her high-pitched, little-girl-voice suggested to him that she might have been right, that she was desperately trying to convey to him a legitimate childhood need that he was unable to hear before. Now he could hear it and respond to it. Empathy, or more accurately the empathic vantage point of observation—to see the world from the patient’s perspective— thus became central to the analytic treatment process guided by the theory Kohut was gradually formulating.
This vignette vividly portrays the patient’s impact on Kohut and his impact on the patient—positive or negative as the case may be. But his attention never wavered from the recognition that it is the patient’s inner experience of him and vice versa, his inner experience of the patient that determined what went on between them and how they experienced each other. Kohut stressed an intrapsychic perspective that never lost sight of the actual, interpersonal goings on in the analytic process. Throughout the four years of my supervision with him he constantly examined with me, how the impact of my verbal and non-verbal interventions, including my unrecognized, unconscious, emotional responses were reflected in the patient’s own behavior, verbalizations, dreams and transference reactions. He taught me to “use” the patient’s experience and behavior as a mirror in which I could see myself—those aspects of me and my participation in the analysis of which I remained unaware—it was an integral part of self psychology as I learned it in the supervisory setting.
Needless to say, this lesson is directly related to the centrality of empathy in Kohut’s writings and practice—hence also in his supervisory activity. Therefore, a comment about empathy is in order. Kohut fervently believed that he did not introduce a new form of empathy, only a different theory that now guided his observational method. Arnold Goldberg equally fervently, defended Kohut’s claim. One could certainly argue that Kohut used his empathy to discern Ms F’s “regressive defenses”—which turned out to be inaccurate and necessitated a new theory, in which her complaints were legitimate.
I could not accept this argument, since Kohut’s interpretation of Ms F’s “regressive defenses” was, in my view, a theory-based interpretation and not an empathy-based assumption. It is clear in the vignette Kohut offered that he did not listen to her subjective experience of his abstract interventions. Yet, one could also argue—as I do—that Kohut’s later suggestion of a sustained or prolonged immersion in the patient’s experience represented a new and different use of empathy not evident elsewhere in the psychoanalytic literature of his time. Kohut certainly did not speak to Ms F prior to the dramatic moment he so clearly described, from the empathic vantage point—his prior theory did not guide him to do so. He spoke from the “certainty” of his theory. .It was that certainty that interfered with his empathy-based listening to the patient. Kohut illustrated in connection with his experience with Ms F, how he “listened” to his theory, convinced that it gave him the correct understanding. Kohut’s experience with Ms F ushered in a new attitude toward patients’ needs, wishes and demands in psychoanalysis—without negating the decisive influence of exploration, understanding and explanation—i.e., the interpretive process.
- The Wellsprings of Kohut’s Ideas: Life-Experiences and His Personality
Up until now I have discussed some of the important tributaries to the main stream of what led Kohut’s to his daring reformulation of psychoanalysis—rooted in a variety of actual clinical practices and in organizational experiences. I would now like to turn to his life-experiences and some aspects of his personality to catch a glimpse at the wellsprings of his creativity, in the closing section of my reflections and reminiscences and say a few words about his way of theorizing.I am reminded of my experiences on a small square on Montmartre, near Sacre Coeur, where artists can draw a picture of you with a few strokes in a very short time. Some of the drawings clearly reflect the way you look, everyone could recognize you; others draw a mere caricature of your likeness. I know that I run the risk of doing just that in a brief portrayal of Kohut’s life and personality—when Strozier took nearly five hundred pages to capture them and brilliantly related them to Kohut’s work.
But I, too, shall speak about this topic from my personal experiences. On our many walks whenever he visited Cincinnati, Kohut spoke to me freely about himself. He felt safe, I presume, that what he communicated to me would not be misused or used against him. He felt my admiration and friendship and he also felt my abiding interest in his work. He aided my collection of all his papers and some of his correspondence in the four volumes of The Search for the Self, which I edited, introduced and published. The conversations on our walks frequently turned to his childhood or later experiences, which often began thus: “You know my vulnerabilities by now,” and then he would relate an intimate episode in his life, which would shed light on one or another aspect of his personality, including the fostering of his prodigious memory by his personal tutor; the conceptual clarity he attained, which was the hallmark of his oral presentations and theorizing; and a penchant for systematization as well as a capacity for seeing things always in the larger historical, cultural and theoretical contexts. His knowledge of history, literature and music was phenomenal—he was at home in sociology, politics, religion and especially the classics; having studied Latin and Greek in the “Gymnasium” .
Of course, his “You know me by now” also reflected his awareness of all the quirks of his personality and he was therefore freer to be himself in the company of trusted friends, in contrast to his often austere and distant demeanor when in the company of strangers or potential critics. No doubt, he constantly needed to be in the center of attention—the small group of us around him good-naturedly complied with this need (although some were annoyed about this at times). It seemed clear that his accomplishments on an adult level, his psychoanalytic contributions, especially after the publication of “The Analysis of the Self” actually kept him in the limelight globally—but as he taught us, the persistent need for the limelight is an archaic one, “built into” the adult personality and cannot be adequately satisfied on that adult level; the craving for it remains because it is the remnant of an unsatisfied infantile need. Self-analysis and reflective awareness can only contain it up to a point. Outside of his family or circle of friends Kohut did not seek the limelight flagrantly—he knew how to behave as a European gentleman—but he often monopolized the conversation in small groups. Since he was interesting to listen to, I never resented his taking center stage—he deserved it.
What do these sketchy remarks indicate about the origins or sources of Kohut’s knowledge about the self? He knew about the disorders of the self first hand. In his conversations with me he was open about his lonely childhood; his difficult and yet very important relationship with his mother; the impact of his father’s absence during his earliest childhood and the marital discord between his parents—and many more specific experiences that left him with blatant vulnerabilities as well as enormous, distinctive strengths and capabilities. Strozier appropriately detailed these experiences and offered us the psychohistorical underpinnings for Kohut’s theories and clinical sophistication
The “Two Analyses of Mr. Z.,” if indeed the second analysis is a disguised
description (not too heavily as it turned out) of his own personal effort at self-healing,
provides a compelling picture of his specific self-disorder, he so well understood. There
is in this clinical report along with the necessary disguise an irresistible need to be known in his psychic depth. This is a powerful motive for self-healing through self-knowledge —it can never be as far reaching as one that may be attainable only in a two-person-psychoanalysis.
There is one additional theme I want to comment on briefly—that is Kohut’s
Jewishness and the way he dealt with it. Strozier explores this also extensively and in
depth. But since Kohut himself raised the issue with me and I see this also as an important contribution to recognizing his personal sources of knowledge about self-disorders, I wish to include here my own views of it. On one of our walks, fairly early on in our relationship, Kohut stopped for a moment and turned to me: “You probably wandered about my Jewishness, let me tell you about it. My father was Jewish, my mother is not. I decided that I was not.”
About this last point something more was said but I no longer recall it—the abruptness of the communication discombobulated me. I simply accepted his statement. His attitude was not too strange to me since I knew that many Viennese Jews converted to Christianity or simply disowned their Jewishness without conversion before WWI and afterwards—it was “in style” in Vienna to do so. Kohuy never converted formally. On later reflection I wondered (more pre-consciously then deliberately) how one could disown one’s ethnicity, even if one could do that with one’s religious beliefs, especially with all that one would have to disown along with one’s religion about one’s family relations and (often) illustrious ancestry and collective history. How could a man who considered the continuity of psychic life a significant part of emotional health disavow an important part of himself after just what happened to him in his “beloved Austria.” I did not permit myself to dwell on this question. Furthermore, I had three distinct experiences that gave me some insight as to why Kohut needed to disown his Jewishness. The first one was a conversation about the 1967 six-day war in which Israel was victorious—when we all feared disastrous defeat. In Kohut’s tone of voice as well as in the content of what he said, I sensed a degree of pride in Israel’s victory and the Israelis “dignified behavior”—as they immediately returned the Temple Mount to the Moslem clergy, for example. Later, I watched with him on television some episodes of the 1973, treacherous assault on Israel by Egypt and Syria. An episode in the cemetery, as mothers buried their dead soldier-sons, wailed and gesticulated in profound pain, Kohut was visibly repulsed by it: “Why could they not have behaved in a more dignified fashion?” I guess he meant Anglo-Saxon or Germanic dignity expressed by cold distance and proper behavior without the expression of overt pain and loud grief. I also watched with him later the Begin-Sadat encounter at the White House. He listened with admiration and pride (a bit of ethnic pride perhaps) to Begin’s off-the-cuff speech—he admired off-the-cuff speeches—and he was less impressed (even a bit critical) that Sadat had to read his brief remarks in front of the cameras.
Dignity is the key word here. Kohut—as all other Viennese Jews—must have felt
deeply humiliated and degraded by the Nazis so that he could only deal with the experience by disavowing it as if it did not happen, even at the expense of sequestering some of his past along with it. Some might argue—and I would have to agree—that this was not an unconscious disavowal but a deliberate conscious effort to get of the painful indignities he suffered. I am familiar with this conscious defense in those who felt as Jews only because the Nuernberg laws designated them as such. Their deep identification with Austro-German culture and literature, intense “Austrianness,” predisposed them to be much more deeply traumatized by their persecution than those who could draw strength from a strong and sturdy identification with their own ethnic or religious belonging.. I only found out after Kohut’s death, at the memorial service, when I met his cousin (an observant Jew), that Kohut’s mother was Jewish and descended from an illustrious Rabbinic family. She converted to Christianity in her old age, so it was technically correct when Kohut referred to her as not being Jewish at the time of our conversation.
How did all this contribute to Kohut’s profound and novel understanding of self-disorders? I submit that full awareness of what it meant to be deprived of dignity (in early life) and then again in his adulthood, in an unprecedented traumatic manner, was his way of mastering the trauma and knowing what it did to him as a person and as a psychoanalyst. Sequestering his past as much as he did (with mild, temporary breakthroughs of ethnic pride) gave him the inside view of what it did to him and of what he lost when he had to disown a part of his past. What contributed to his healing process undoubtedly was his ability to describe his experiences so faithfully and systematize them to offer us all a knowledge of the inner workings of a traumatized mind—irrespective of the specific traumata but also of those that are the result of specific assaults on both the growing as well as the adult psyche.
The road of access to the deeper origins of Kohut’s pathbreaking understanding of himself is available to us in his own introspection. His self-analysis reached into his
Infantile and childhood experiences, as we see it in the second analysis of Mr. Z; where he shows his empathy with himself—both as a child and as an adult. His creativity resides (in part) in integrating what became available to him through the various channels of his later experiences, and through his uncanny ability to put them into compelling images and words, so that many of us can feel his as our own insights—
which is what gives self psychology its clinical as well as theoretical significance on a large scale.
I am fully aware of the fact that such clinical—but especially, theoretical—significance does not last for ever. Even if the eclipse of self psychology (as already claimed by many) has not yet arrived—it will some day!—I am as certain about that as Kohut himself was. And the durable parts of his theory and clinical approach will be re-conceptualized in what will then become the leading paradigm of its time. It would please him to know that we approached honoring him on this special occasion by recognizing his impact on ourselves, on our field, and more broadly on our culture at large, and also recognized explicitly that ultimately his work will also fade into history—as all scientific contributions ultimately do—but his place in the history of psychoanalysis and in the hearts of many is undoubtedly assured; in Israel too.
As I stand here this morning and enjoy the privilege accorded to me to be one of the festive speakers on this occasion, and thereby honor my teacher, mentor, and friend, publicly once more, I am reminded of the words of Charles Kligerman, (who was another of my teachers at the Chicago Institute), who, in his eulogy 26 years ago, remarked “When the current tensions [about Kohut’s work] abate, and his contributions are viewed from a more dispassionate perspective, I am convinced”—Kligerman said—“that self psychology will be seen as central in the development of psychoanalysis, a natural step after ego psychology and supraordinate to it.” I could not have said it more eloquently and with more foresight in my own words.
Kohut, H. ( 1957: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
Kohut, H. ( 1959): Introspection, Empathy and Psychoanalysis:
An Examination of the Relationship Between Mode of Observation and Theory.
Kohut, H. (1966): Forms and Transformation of Narcissism.
Kohut, H. (1971): The Analysis of the Self.
Kohut H. (1976): Creativeness, Charisma, Group Psychology: Reflections on the Self-Analysis of Freud.
Kohut,H. (1979): The Two Analyses of Mr. Z.
Ornstein, P. H. (1978): Introduction. The Evolution of Heinz Kohut’s
Psychoanalytic Psychology of the Self..
Ornstein, P. H. ( ): The Significance of Heinz Kohut’s “Introspection,
Storzier, C. B. ( ): Heinz Kohut—The Making of a Psychoanalyst.
Rubovits-Seitz, P. F. D. (1999): Kohut’s Freudian Vision.-In collaboration with Heinz Kohut.
 In this connection Adler and Rank are the most important; Ferenczi’s ideas about development and psychopathology were in many ways very different from Freud’s, but in spite of these differences, he remained Freud’s loyal follower.