┐ Otto Gross – Analysis and Radical Politics └

@ Monte Veritá

“I have only mixed with anarchists and declare myself to be an anarchist,” Otto Gross said in 1913. “I am a psychoanalyst and from my experience I have gained the insight that the existing order … is a bad one. … And since I want everything changed, I am an anarchist” (Berze/Stelzer 1999, p.24)”. He was the first psychoanalyst to link analysis with radical politics and wrote: “The psychology of the unconscious is the philosophy of the revolution” (Gross 1913c). So, when Coline Covington recently wrote, “Analysis is essentially a tool for revolution (Covington 2001, p.331)”, she was just echoing something that Gross said nearly 90 years before. He was not just a psycho-analyst – he was a psycho-anarchist and thus stands for the subversive potential of analysis – which earned him the epithet of the “devil underneath the couch” (Raulff 1993).


Although Gross played a pivotal role in the birth of what today we are calling modernity, with wide-ranging influences in psychoanalysis, psychiatry, philosophy, radical politics, sociology, literature, and ethics, he has remained virtually unknown to this day. Already in 1921, less than a year after Gross’ death, the Austrian writer Anton Kuh wrote of him as, ‘a man known only to very few by name – apart from a handful of psychiatrists and secret policemen – and among those few only to those who plucked his feathers to adorn their own posteriors’ (Kuh 1921, pp.16-7). Today, still, most analysts have never heard of Otto Gross, or their knowledge is confined to, ‘Isn’t that the one who became schizophrenic?’ To a large extent this is the result of an analytic historiography which Erich Fromm has rightly called “Stalinistic” (Fromm 1957, p.133): dissidents become non-persons and vanish from the records. This practice of purging history makes the story of Otto Gross a secret one: it was hoped that we would never know.


Yet Adam Philips recently said: “There is no future for psychoanalysis if it doesn’t want to look in other places for regeneration, and particularly if it doesn’t look to the places it wants to exclude. By its own logic, that’s where the life is, that’s where the action is” (Philips 1997, p.164).


Psychoanalysis was created as a tool to create a better future by turning from the present to the past. It is a “looking backwards to the future” (Handy 2002). What was repressed, powerfully returns, and thus the past gets continually created anew. History has exactly the same function on the collective level. The historian Edmund Jacobitti calls it “composing useful pasts – history as contemporary politics” (Jacobitti 2000). Mindful of this, let me take you “where the action is” – to look at the repressed aspect of analytic history that is Otto Gross.


Of course, his story was not always a secret one. There was a time, in the first decade of the last century, when the greatest minds in psychoanalysis were full of the highest praise for Otto Gross. In 1908 Freud wrote to Jung, “You are really the only one capable of making an original contribution; except perhaps O.Gross” (Freud/Jung 1974, p.126). A few months later, after Gross had been in an analysis with Jung that at times became what we would today call a mutual analysis, Jung replied to Freud, “In Gross I discovered many aspects of my own nature, so that he often seemed like my twin brother” (ibid., p. 156). Thomas Kirsch (Kirsch 2000) in his recent study of “The Jungians” does not mention Gross, although, in view of these feelings expressed by Jung, Gross might well be called the first Jungian. The writer Emil Szittya (1886-1964) even went as far as calling Gross “a friend of Dr. Freud and the intellectual father of Professor Jung” (Szittya n.d., p.211). As late as 1986 the eminent scholar of psychoanalysis Johannes Cremerius wrote about the C.G.Jung of 1909, ‘He is still completely and entirely the pupil of Otto Gross’ (Cremerius 1986, p. 20). So we might as well call Jung an early Grossian. In 1910 Ferenczi wrote to Freud about Gross, “There is no doubt that among those who have followed you up to now he is the most significant” (Freud/Ferenczi 1993, p.154). Ernest Jones in his autobiography wrote: Gross “was my first instructor in the technique of psychoanalysis” (Jones, 1990, p.173) and he called him “the nearest approach to the romantic ideal of a genius I have ever met” (ibid.).

excerpt from article “The Devil Underneath the Couch: The Secret Story of Jung’s Twin Brother”, by Gottfried HEUER

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