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Jones's Allegation of Ferenczi's Mental Deterioration: a Reassessment

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In The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Volume III, Ernest Jones explained the third wave of dissension as an effect of the progressive mental deterioration of two members of the Committee, who had governed the psychoanalytic movement: Rank and Ferenczi. While in relation to Rank, Jones made a partial recant, in relation to Ferenczi, he did not modify his assertions. Erich Fromm collected various testimonies by witnesses of Ferenczi's last years, all contrasting Jones's assertions, and challenged Jones's manner of writing history. However, since Fromm was himself a dissident, and his witnesses were pupils, relatives or friends of Ferenczi's, they were discarded as “partisans.” The present study aims at reconsidering the question on the basis of many documents, among which the 1958 report of Lajos Levy (Ferenczi's physician) to Anna Freud. The consulted documents do not support Jones's allegation of Ferenczi's insanity. At the same time, they show that Jones's allegation was not a one-man fabrication, but reflected a shared belief. Finally, the author attempts a reading of the possible function of this belief within the psychoanalytic community. It is pointed out that Ferenczi's emphasis on the analyst as a real person was incompatible with the strict conception of psychoanalysis, based on the theoretical rejection of the affective factors which was becoming dominant around 1957, and it is argued that the narrative of Ferenczi's “falling into insanity” represented an expression of the fear of remaining embroiled in the patient's affective net.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 31, 1998

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