"We are living - nebbish - in a great time!"

Ferenc Erõs

The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi. Volume 2, 1914-1919
Edited by Ernst Falzeder and Eva Brabant with Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch under the supervision
of André Haynal. Translated by Peter T. Hoffer, with an Introduction by Axel Hoffer
Cambridge- London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996. 397 pp.
* Taken from Budapesti Könyvszemle - BUKSZ, Summer 1996, pp. 292-300.


The first volume closes with a letter dated June 28, 1914, in which Freud mentions, as an aside, something that happened that day: "I am writing under the impression of the surprising murder in Sarajevo, the consequences of which cannot be foreseen."

June 28, 1914 was a real turning point in the lives of Freud and Ferenczi. The personal character and a certain narrowness of focus typical of the letters of the first volume gradually changes with the outbreak of war and is replaced by a concern with history, which so drastically altered the lives of the two psychoanalysts. The five momentous years during which they exchanged the 828 letters included in the book forced them out of the ivory tower, altered the world around them almost beyond recognition, transformed their lives and working conditions, and confronted them with the new faces of enthusiasm, disappointment, anxiety, and fear.


During the First World War, Ferenczi became Freud's closest and most important colleague: "You are now really the only one who still works beside me," Freud wrote Ferenczi on July 31, 1915; after all, he adds, "the others are militarily paralyzed." While Freud's closest Viennese colleagues are all at the front, Ferenczi is stationed in the peaceful garrison town of Pápa, then at the Mária Valéria Hospital in Budapest, where his military duties leave him sufficient free time to reflect, correspond, and even continue his analytical practice. (For instance, as he wrote Freud on February 22, 1915, he had analyzed his superior officer on horseback. - See our insert. )

The basis for the "intimate community of lifegoals, emotions, and interests" was the friendship the two men had forged earlier, but it was further strengthened by the war, Freud's growing isolation, and their mutual dependence. As time went on, the Budapest connection also became vital for Freud because he hoped that after the war it would be the Hungarian capital where the psychoanalytic movement could be renewed and reorganized. Ferenczi's growing popularity and professional renown, as a result of which, in the spring of 1919, he was appointed professor of the department of psychoanalysis at the medical faculty of Budapest University, also bolstered Freud's hopes. The Fifth Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association, held in Budapest in September, 1918, which elected Ferenczi as its new president, also fired Freud's hopes for Budapest as the new European center of psychoanalysis, as did the very important fact that philosopher-turned-industrialist Antal Freund (Anton von Freund) of Tószeg, or Toni, as he was referred to in the correspondence (he was the owner of the Kõbánya Brewery), who was a friend of both Freud and Ferenczi, donated substantial sums to the international association and its publishing house, the International Psychoanalytic Press [Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag].

Yet the mutual dependence and "the community of lifegoals, emotions, and interest" never developed into fully reciprocated equality. As we learn from the second volume of the correspondence, Ferenczi continued as the disciple fighting for his emancipation , yet incapable of relinquishing his subordinate position, who tried in vain to win his master's true, unconditional love.


Pápa, February 22, 1915

Dear Professor,

Since I am -  accepting your opinion -  "ignoring" self-analysis altogether, I can't tell you why I have been silent for so long; as a curiosity, however, I must tell you this much, that I am also in arrears to Frau G. for a reply in the amount of about as many days as I owe you. An interesting inhibition! N.B.: for approximately the same time I have also been scientifically sterile and incapable of work.

I don't know whether you consider the following explanation (for the acute onset of this condition) sufficient: I am now learning -  as I already wrote -  how to ride, and, in fact, quite seriously: in the morning I ride for one -  sometimes three, even four hours with the company. This new corporeal pleasure -  connected with some anxiety and pain -  seems to have wrenched great quantities of libido from other (mental and emotional) spheres. From this experience I remembered, however, that as a child I was uncommonly strongly "motor" and especially indefatigable when playing "horsey." Later, I transformed this into an interest in dancing, i.e., in neurotic inhibition at dance parties; in theory and as an observer I am still a devoté of dancing -  I even invent new dances in fantasy. A large piece of motor pleasure seems to have evaded sublimation and been repressed. I believe that a part of the "neurasthenic" symptoms that I produced can be explained as a neurotic expression of the motor pleasure which has been particularly strongly curtailed since my taking up Z` (Perhaps a key to the understanding of "neurasthenias," "intestinal disturbances," etc. in sedentary life-styles.)

Only now -  at a time when I can (even have to) work out on horseback -  does it become apparent how much the overcoming, the suppression of such instinctual forces must have cost. It was no small thing to tame the murderous, incendiary and (as we now see), eternally restless devil in me and also to conceal him so deeply from myself that I was able to consider myself a peace-loving man of science.

The possibility for compromise formation is even, however, not only conceivable between riding pleasure and science, but it has also become a historic fact. Since today I have been having an analytic hour on horseback: I am analyzing my commandant, who has been neurotic since suffering a head wound in Galicia, but who in reality suffers from libido difficulties. So, the first hippic analysis in the history of the world! What by-products the war brings about! -  Incidentally, the analysis is going very well; the transference has already been brought finished into the treatment.

I find the idea of melancholia very good . Judging by your assumption, melancholia is an intermediate thing between the transference -  and the actual narcissistic neuroses: mourning over the loss of the love object is transformed into mourning over the loss of the narcissistic ego. The fixation point thus lies perhaps at the stage of transition from narcissism to object love. What would speak especially in favor of that would be the fact that it has to do with a disturbance of the mechanism of pro- and introjection (demarcation of the ego from the non-ego). Melancholia would thus be (according to its mechanism) the actual introjection psychosis (displacement of affect from the object onto the ego), whereas hysteria, etc. would only bring about a displacement from one object to the other; paranoia brings about projection from the ego to the outside world. With your permission I would like to keep the melancholia sheet here for a day or two and then send it to Abraham.

My publisher writes me that the second edition of the "Five Lectures" 1 is becoming necessary. He wants to publish it simultaneously with the "Three Essays."

I received a field postcard from your Ernstl; he seems to have made friends with one of my previous auditors there.

Kind regards from
Your ridden-out friend,

1. * The Hungarian edition of Freud 1910a [1909], acquired by Ferenczi, had been published by Manó Dick in 1912. The second edition appeared in 1915.

It is no wonder that his relationship to Freud should also prove ambivalent. In a letter dated May 23, 1919, he thanks Freud for the "care, benevolence, -  indeed, I may say: love," with which the latter accompanied, guided, and supported him on his difficult path of development. Then he continues:

Since the moment in which you advised me against Elma, I have had a resistance toward your own person which could not even be overcome by an attempt at a Z`. [psychoanalytic] cure, and which was responsible for all my sensitivities. With the ucs. [unconscious] resentment in my heart, I, as a loyal 'son', nevertheless followed all your suggestions, left Elma, again turned to my present wife, with whom I have stayed, despite countless temptations from other quarters. The marriage, sealed under such unusually tragic circumstances -  did not at first bring about the hoped-for inner consolidation. Yet the resistance seems to be gradually exhausting itself -  and a letter such as the present one may show you that I am willing to resume -  perhaps, actually -  to begin the frank intercourse with you, free from petty sensitivity. It appears that I can be happy in life and content in work only when I can be and remain in good, indeed, in the best relations with you. The realization that in Frau G. [Gizella Pálos]] I have the best that could befall me -  with my constitution -  , is the first fruit of my inner reconciliation with you.

I ask you, don't lose patience with me in the future, either. I hope to offer you less occasion for that than in the past.

This letter is startling, for behind the grateful, indeed almost humble sentiments, we can feel an elemental force breaking out -  Ferenczi's bitterness at the "Professor" having taken Elma from him and forcing him into the marriage with Gizella. However, the prodigal son promises to be a good, obedient, and loving child, provided that the "father" will be patient with him. But neither repentance nor reconciliation was, or could be, real or complete.


Both  Freud and Ferenczi placed their libidos at the service of a world (the Monarchy and the Globus Hungaricus) whose disintegration they could anticipate from the very start of the war. On November 17, 1918, Freud wrote about events in Hungary: "I would like to summon up very much sympathy for the Hungarians, but I am unsuccessful in doing so. I can't get away from the savagery and immaturity of this very uneducated people. I was certainly no adherent of the ancien régime, but it seems doubtful to me whether it is a sign of political shrewdness to beat to death the smartest of the many counts [Count István Tisza] and to make the stupidest one [Count Mihály Károlyi] president."


On November 7, 1918, Ferenczi wrote Freud: "Your prophecy about our imminent proletarianization has come true -  but the magnates and the capitalists are now hovering in the same danger. If Bolshevism gets its way in Germany, then the collapse of the entire civilization of the world is unavoidable -  France, England, America, and Japan will also get their turn, and an epoch of brutalization and infantilization will confront the world. We are living -  nebbish -  in a great time!"

The "great time" was soon to make Ferenczi into a professor. But a couple of months later, the former college professor and his wife Gizella were sitting in fear in their Nagydiófa Street apartment, and Ferenczi wrote the following report to Freud about the situation in Budapest: "The police jails are full of anonymously reported 'Bolshevists,' who are being mistreated there. The blackest reaction prevails at the university. All Jewish assistants were fired, the Jewish students were thrown out and beaten. From these few data you may get a picture of the situation that prevails here!"

For Freud and Ferenczi, this is how the war ended. The third volume was yet to be written. Nebbish…


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