Monday, 1 January 2018

Locked Up: ‘Patients’ and their Gaolers 15. Janet Frame (1924–2004). Susannah Wilson conducts Inner Circle Seminar 250 (28 April 2019)

Locked Up: ‘Patients’ and their Gaolers
15. Janet Frame
(1924–2004)

Susannah Wilson

conducts
Inner Circle Seminar No. 250
introduced by
Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 28 April 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
                  
Janet Frame
Susannah Wilson
Janet Frame (28 August 1924 29 January 2004) was a leading, active and prolific, New Zealand writer of fiction and poetry. Her extraordinary 1980s three-volume autobiography, To the Is-land, An Angel at my Table and The Envoy from Mirror City, describes in painful detail several periods of psychiatric treatment from her early twenties onwards. After attempting suicide, she was incarcerated for eight years in New Zealand hospitals, diagnosed with ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘treated’ frequently with electric shock and insulin therapy. In 1951 a scheduled lobotomy was cancelled when her doctors realised she had won a prestigious award. She describes positively her time at the London Maudsley hospital, where she was pronounced not ‘schizophrenic’; but she evokes the helplessness and impotence of voluntary asylum patients, and the dependency at the heart of the doctor-patient power relationship.

Susannah Wilson, Associate Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick, former British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow and recipient of a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award, has already conducted enthralling seminars on Camille Claudel and Hersilie Rouy in our Locked Up series.

Venue:   Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost:    Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water, Durrants Rock included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Heidegger’s Zollikon Seminars. 12. Seminar of 18 and 21 March 1969. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 249 (24 March 2019)

Heidegger’s Zollikon Seminars
(1959-1969)
A 50th-anniversary revaluation
12. Seminar of 18 and 21 March 1969
‘The book lies here next to the glass. But how are two human beings, standing together, together?’

Anthony Stadlen
conducts
Inner Circle Seminar No. 249
Sunday 24 March 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

     Martin Heidegger
    at home, Freiburg
Martin Heidegger   Medard Boss
Feldweg, Messkirch, 1963

                                 
      










We have been trying to recreate, fifty years on almost to the day, the seminars Martin Heidegger conducted between 1959 and 1969 for psychiatrists in the Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss’s house in Zollikon near Zürich. Today we reach the last one. Heidegger, almost eighty, is becoming frail, and Boss as a doctor is reluctant to let him travel again from Germany. There is less detail than in the reports of the earlier seminars, but Heidegger’s question about how things and human beings differ in their ways of being together’ is at the heart of the questioning he has been trying to awaken in his listeners. After this, there are no more Zollikon seminars for us to try to relive, though we shall continue to explore Heidegger’s background conversations with Boss in a number of our own seminars.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Subscription: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water included; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

Laing & Esterson. 10. The Lawsons. 50 years on. Hilary Mantel & Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 248 (10 February 2019)

Laing and Esterson
Sanity, Madness and the Family
50 Years On
Family 11: The Lawsons

Dame Hilary Mantel   Anthony Stadlen
conduct
Inner Circle Seminar No. 248
10 February 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Aaron Esterson
R. D. Laing



Hilary Mantel

This utterly straightforward book is still not understood today, especially by ‘professionals’.

But Hilary Mantel, who gained courage to become a novelist through reading it when she was nearly twenty-one, understood it. She urged readers: ‘Just read the simple words the people speak.’ In eleven seminars we have had a unique opportunity actually to hear and discuss with Hilary Mantel herself ‘the simple words the people speak’, from Estersons tape-recordings of his conversations with the families in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and from Anthony Stadlen’s reports and recordings of his 21st-century conversations with surviving members of the family.

In her first Reith lecture Hilary Mantel discusses the relation between the historical novelist and the historian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/03/hilary-mantel-why-i-became-a-historical-novelist

She brings to our seminars the unique genius of an historical novelist who sees far more profoundly than the rest of us the implications of the known historical facts but does not present invention as history. Each seminar has begun with her wonderful reflections on what is given in the text of the book. She has no privileged access to the cases. She learns what Stadlen has discovered as an historian only as do the other seminar participants, when he reports or play recordings of his interviews with surviving members of the family half a century later and explore Estersons original library of tape-recordings on which the book is based.

Nine of the original eleven women diagnosed schizophrenic are now dead; but Mantel recalls Auden:

... the crack in the teacup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

She could have also have quoted Eliot:

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Stadlen spoke to five of the supposedly schizophrenic women and many of their surviving relatives in the twenty-first century.

Why is this nowadays rarely read or even referenced book of 1964 so important? It is, after all, absent from almost all discussions either of the family or of schizophreniaThe extremely rare discussions of it patronise it, as if they had long passed beyond it; but without having begun to understand it, let alone catch up with it.

And yet it is so simple.

It is true that R. D. Laing and Aaron Estersons research, reported in this masterpiece of 1964 and continued by Esterson in his profound The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), was a concrete embodiment of the complex theoretical work of their most advanced and radical contemporaries of the 1960s: Jean-Paul SartreCritique of Dialectical Reason and The Question of MethodThomas SzaszThe Myth of Mental Illness; and Martin Heidegger and Medard BossZollikon Seminars.

Sartre highly esteemed Laing and Esterson’s work on families. Szasz had enormous respect for Esterson; he thought this book was on a higher level than Laing’s other books; he also thought Stadlens research following up the eleven families important. Heidegger would surely have loved the book, though it is unlikely he knew it; it embodies that straightforward openness and humanity he tried to convey in his Zollikon seminars, though he might well have asked: Why drag in Sartre? Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann of FreiburgHeidegger’s personal assistant whom he entrusted with editing posthumously his 102-volume Collected Works, and his wife Frau Dr. Veronika von Herrmann, particularly admire Laing and Esterson’s work. But almost all Daseinsanalysts, existential therapists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists  and of course psychiatrists – ignore it.

But the book is essentially simple. What did Laing and Esterson say that was so simple: too simple for ‘professionals’ to understand?

We believe that the shift of point of view that these descriptions both embody and demand has an historical significance no less radical than the shift from a demonological to a clinical viewpoint three hundred years ago.

Thus they introduced their great phenomenological descriptions of eleven families of ‘schizophrenics’. But, more than fifty years on, the ‘clinical viewpoint’ still reigns supreme. ‘Existential’, ‘Lacanian’, ‘Laingian’, ‘humanist’, ‘person-centred’ therapists and a galaxy of similarly impressively titled psychoanalysts and psychotherapists love to call themselves ‘clinicians’.

The great and the good, including younger members of our royal family, seek ‘parity’ for ‘physical’ and ‘mental health’. This is well-intentioned but confusing. Indeed ‘it is good to talk’ – but not in this mystifying, pseudo-scientific language. 

Have Laing and Esterson been proved wrong? They wrote:

Nobody can deny us the right to disbelieve in schizophrenia.’

Why, then, do most psychiatrists and psychotherapists claim Laing and Esterson said ‘families cause schizophrenia’? They can not have understood, if they have ever remembered, if they have ever read, the first sentences of the second edition (1970) of the book:

There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion.’

Hilary Mantel wrote that ‘the simple words the people speak’ in Laing and Esterson’s book gave her, when twenty years old, the courage to write her own books, which have been internationally acclaimed. Her introductions to the seminars in this series have enthralled participants with their sensitive understanding of, and deeply perceptive insight into, each family in turn.

As she has written:

Some of us need a little push, before we recognise we have the right to pick up a pen. In my case it came from a book by the psychiatrists R. D. Laing and Aaron EstersonSanity, Madness and the Family... The people in it seemed close enough to touch... Each interview is a novel or play in miniature. So many of these family conversations seemed familiar to me: their swerves and evasions, their doubleness... For most of my life I had been told that I didn't know how the world worked. That afternoon I decided I did know, after all. In the course of my twenty-one years I'd noticed quite a lot. If I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have to worry about inventing material, I'd already got it. The next stage was just to find some words.

Hilary Mantelat least, had no difficulty understanding what Laing and Esterson were talking about:

All the patients profiled in the book are young women. I know their names are pseudonyms, but over the years I've wondered desperately what happened to them, and if there's anyone alive who knows, and whether any of them ever cut free from the choking knotweed of miscommunication and flourished on ground of their own: Ruth, who was thought odd because she wore coloured stockings; Jean, who wanted a baby though her whole family told her she didn't; and Sarah, whose breakdown, according to her family, was caused by too much thinking.

(http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/sep/06/1)

Anthony Stadlen, through his historical research, is able to answer some of Hilary Mantels questions.

Laing and Esterson wrote:

Surely, if we are wrong, it would be easy to show that we are, by studying a few families and revealing that schizophrenics really are talking a lot of nonsense after all.

Stadlen accepted this challenge. He studied the very same families they studied. In these seminars we have been able to judge whether the very same supposed schizophrenics’ they studied really were talking a lot of nonsense after all’.

Today we study the eleventh family, the Lawsons, with their daughter Agnes, who had been diagnosed schizophrenic

If Laing and Esterson were not wrong, then, as they say (in connection specifically with the case of Agnes Lawson), we can begin to make sense of what psychiatrists, by and large, still regard as nonsense’. If we have been able to do this in these eleven cases, what does this say about psychiatry, which has scarcely begun to understand this book?

In this second series of seminars about the families (the first was ten years ago, to mark the 40th anniversary of the books publication) we have succeeded in understanding them at a deeper level.

We shall have a concluding, stocktaking, twelfth seminar on 19 May. And perhaps we shall resume, with a third series of seminars to mark the 60th anniversary, in 2024...

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water, Durrants rock included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling. 2. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 247 (20 January 2019)

Søren Kierkegaard
Fear and Trembling
Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (1843)
2. Tuning up

Anthony Stadlen

conducts
Inner Circle Seminar No. 247
20 January 2019
                
Søren Kierkegaard   
Abraham and Isaac
Rembrandt




















This is the second of a subseries of eight all-day seminars devoted to one short book, which is much cited and quoted, as well as misquoted, by existential and other therapists, but often with little understanding of, or even relation to, the text. These eight seminars are an attempt to remedy this situation.

The book is Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric, by a certain ‘Johannes de silentio’, published in Copenhagen on 16 October 1843. The first of our eight seminars, therefore, will celebrate the book’s hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary (two days early).

The actual author was of course Søren Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855), as he acknowledged in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846). But Kierkegaard insisted:

... if it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.’

Johannes de silentio and the other pseudonyms are like characters in a drama by Kierkegaard. He called it ‘indirect communication’, a dialectic of different possible perspectives through which the reader is invited to work out his or her own point of view. Much commentary on Fear and Trembling and the other pseudonymous works is therefore naive and misleading, because it ignores Kierkegaard’s urgent request that their pseudonymous nature should be respected.

Kierkegaard was the thinker who introduced, sometimes through this or that pseudonym, and sometimes directly, in his own name, the word existential’ to convey the project of thinking with the whole of one’s being, as an ‘existing’ thinker, rather than constructing a ‘theory’ or system’ which he said was like a house in which one does not live.

Feuerbach also sometimes used ‘existence’ in this sense, but his project was to secularise religious thinking, whereas Kierkegaard’s primary aim was to affirm religion as irreducible to social ethics.

Fear and Trembling is itself a fundamental document for existential thinking. HeideggerJaspers, Binswanger, and Sartre acknowledged their indebtedness to it. The meaning of Kierkegaard’s (pseudonym’s) interplay of interpretations in Fear and Trembling has also been the contentious subject of a continuing comprehensive conversation by generations of theological, philosophical, and psychological scholars for one hundred and seventy-five years.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, himself generally regarded as one of the most profound thinkers of the 20th century, held that Kierkegaard was ‘by far the most profound thinker’ of the 19th century. However, Ernesto Spinelli, widely regarded as a leading existential therapist, has recently denounced Abraham’s ‘self-evident lunacy’ and Kierkegaard’s ‘dangerous folly’. This is in line with traditional clinical-psychiatric thinking, for example the psychiatrist Abraham Myerson’s 1945 diagnosis that Kierkegaard was ‘a psychiatric case’, whose writing was ‘a schizoid and certainly utterly incomprehensible presentation by a mind which is quite deviate’.

Are these important demystifying insights into a pretentious and over-rated writer? Or is the existential tradition here degenerating into abject capitulation to uncomprehending psychiatric reductionism?

Fear and Trembling is a searching analysis of the Akedah, the Biblical account of Abraham’s ‘binding’ of Isaac (Genesis, 22:1-19), fundamental for all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The meaning of the Akedah has been debated and disputed for thousands of years by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (more recently) atheist thinkers. (The Quran does not name the son, and there has been debate in Islam as to whether it was Ishmael or Isaac, though today it is generally held to have been Ishmael.)

Kierkegaard emphasised that the sole purpose of his entire vast authorship, both direct and pseudonymous, was religious. But existential therapists in particular routinely ‘secularise’ his writings, thus betraying them by purporting to reduce the religious to the secular-social in precisely the way that Johannes de silentio is questioning and trying to get beyond in Fear and Trembling.

One of Heidegger’s most important early courses of lectures was on The Phenomenology of the Religious Life. But existential therapists all too often disparage the religious experience of their clients and are ignorant of its phenomenology. We shall try to show that Kierkegaard’s work is a fundamental investigation of the existential phenomenology of religious experience, indispensable for an unprejudiced understanding of our clients.

We shall be greatly helped by the participation in a number of the seminars of one of the world’s authorities on Fear and Trembling, Professor John Lippitt, Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Hertfordshire and Honorary Professor in the European Philosophy and History of Ideas research group at Deakin University in MelbourneJohn Lippitt is the author of many books and papers on Kierkegaard, including the pellucid and comprehensive Routledge Guide to Fear and Trembling (second edition, 2016).

In eight seminars, of which you may attend any or all, you are invited to explore in depth the rich variety of interpretations of both the Akedah and Fear and Trembling and their relevance for psychotherapy, and perhaps arrive at your own.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Heidegger’s Zollikon Seminars. 11. Psychoanalytic Theory of ‘Projection’. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 246 (9 December 2018)

Heidegger’s Zollikon Seminars
(1959-1969)
A 50th-anniversary revaluation
11. Heidegger and Boss discuss Freud (4)
(Taormina, April 1963)

‘If ... it were really a question of a projection here,

then ... I myself would suddenly be a good man.’

Anthony Stadlen
conducts
Inner Circle Seminar No. 246
9 December 2018

Martin Heidegger
at home, Freiburg
Martin Heidegger  Medard Boss
Feldweg, Messkirch, 1963

      

















We are exploring the background discussions between the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the psychiatrist Medard Boss to Heidegger’s 1959-1969 seminars in Boss’s Zollikon home as reported in the book Zollikon Seminars. We have seen that, in their April 1963 conversations in TaorminaSicily, Heidegger confirms Freud’s discoveries of transference, repression, etc. – but as ecstatic-intentional world-relationship’, not as natural scientistic metapsychology’. You are cordially invited to join our discussion of Heidegger’s fundamental restatement of Freud’s concept of projection’ as just such an ecstatic-intentional world-relationship’.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, berries, nuts, mineral water included; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

A Most Worthwhile Thing. 2. Rogers: 'A Silent Young Man'. Inner Circle Seminar 245 (18 November 2018)

A Most Worthwhile Thing
   
‘Psychotherapy is one of the most worthwhile things in the world.
       Thomas Szasz, 2007                                   
   
2. Carl Rogers: ‘A Silent Young Man (1967)

Anthony Stadlen
conducts Inner Circle Seminar No. 245
Sunday 18 November 2018
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers published, in his 1967 book The Therapeutic Relationship and its Impact: A Study of Psychotherapy with Schizophrenics, a transcript of two interviews, with lengthy silences, from his 166-session psychotherapy of a hospitalised silent young manJames Brown’, whose diagnosis was ‘schizophrenic reaction, simple type’. Rogers wrote: I hope and believe that the interaction of the two hours speaks for itself.’ He included a letter from James Brown reporting his independent life two years after leaving therapy. Rogers added fifteen randomly selected four-minute transcripts from the therapy with detailed evaluations and criticisms from six leading therapists, including existential analyst Rollo May and family therapist Carl Whitaker. In todays seminar you are invited to examine the two interviews; the letter; the fifteen extracts; and the comments of Rogers and the other therapists. Does this case of ‘a silent young man’ confirm that psychotherapy can be, as Thomas Szasz said, one of the most worthwhile things in the world’?

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Subscription: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, berries, nuts, mineral water included; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857   +44 (0) 7809 433 250
                  E-mail: stadlen@aol.com   stadlenanthony@gmail.com      
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling. 1. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 244 (14 October 2018)

Søren Kierkegaard
Fear and Trembling
Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (1843)
1. Preliminary overview and Preface

Anthony Stadlen

conducts
Inner Circle Seminar No. 244
14 October 2018
                
Søren Kierkegaard   
Abraham and Isaac
Rembrandt






















This is the first of a subseries of eight all-day seminars devoted to one short book, which is much cited and quoted, as well as misquoted, by existential and other therapists, but often with little understanding of, or even relation to, the text. These eight seminars are an attempt to remedy this situation.

The book is Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric, by a certain ‘Johannes de silentio’, published in Copenhagen on 16 October 1843. The first of our eight seminars, therefore, will celebrate the book’s hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary (two days early).

The actual author was of course Søren Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855), as he acknowledged in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846). But Kierkegaard insisted:

... if it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.’

Johannes de silentio and the other pseudonyms are like characters in a drama by Kierkegaard. He called it ‘indirect communication’, a dialectic of different possible perspectives through which the reader is invited to work out his or her own point of view. Much commentary on Fear and Trembling and the other pseudonymous works is therefore naive and misleading, because it ignores Kierkegaard’s urgent request that their pseudonymous nature should be respected.

Kierkegaard was the thinker who introduced, sometimes through this or that pseudonym, and sometimes directly, in his own name, the word existential’ to convey the project of thinking with the whole of one’s being, as an ‘existing’ thinker, rather than constructing a ‘theory’ or system’ which he said was like a house in which one does not live.

Feuerbach also sometimes used ‘existence’ in this sense, but his project was to secularise religious thinking, whereas Kierkegaard’s primary aim was to affirm religion as irreducible to social ethics.

Fear and Trembling is itself a fundamental document for existential thinking. Heidegger, Jaspers, Binswanger, and Sartre acknowledged their indebtedness to it. The meaning of Kierkegaard’s (pseudonym’s) interplay of interpretations in Fear and Trembling has also been the contentious subject of a continuing comprehensive conversation by generations of theological, philosophical, and psychological scholars for one hundred and seventy-five years.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, himself generally regarded as one of the most profound thinkers of the 20th century, held that Kierkegaard was ‘by far the most profound thinker’ of the 19th century. However, Ernesto Spinelli, widely regarded as a leading existential therapist, has recently denounced Abraham’s ‘self-evident lunacy’ and Kierkegaard’s ‘dangerous folly’. This is in line with traditional clinical-psychiatric thinking, for example the psychiatrist Abraham Myerson’s 1945 diagnosis that Kierkegaard was ‘a psychiatric case’, whose writing was ‘a schizoid and certainly utterly incomprehensible presentation by a mind which is quite deviate’.

Are these important demystifying insights into a pretentious and over-rated writer? Or is the existential tradition here degenerating into abject capitulation to uncomprehending psychiatric reductionism?

Fear and Trembling is a searching analysis of the Akedah, the Biblical account of Abraham’s ‘binding’ of Isaac (Genesis, 22:1-19), fundamental for all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The meaning of the Akedah has been debated and disputed for thousands of years by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (more recently) atheist thinkers. (The Quran does not name the son, and there has been debate in Islam as to whether it was Ishmael or Isaac, though today it is generally held to have been Ishmael.)  

Kierkegaard emphasised that the sole purpose of his entire vast authorship, both direct and pseudonymous, was religious. But existential therapists in particular routinely ‘secularise’ his writings, thus betraying them by purporting to reduce the religious to the secular-social in precisely the way that Johannes de silentio is questioning and trying to get beyond in Fear and Trembling.

One of Heidegger’s most important early courses of lectures was on The Phenomenology of the Religious Life. But existential therapists all too often disparage the religious experience of their clients and are ignorant of its phenomenology. We shall try to show that Kierkegaard’s work is a fundamental investigation of the existential phenomenology of religious experience, indispensable for an unprejudiced understanding of our clients.

We shall be greatly helped by the participation in a number of the seminars of one of the world’s authorities on Fear and Trembling, Professor John Lippitt, Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Hertfordshire and Honorary Professor in the European Philosophy and History of Ideas research group at Deakin University in Melbourne. John Lippitt is the author of many books and papers on Kierkegaard, including the pellucid and comprehensive Routledge Guide to Fear and Trembling (second edition, 2016).

In eight seminars, of which you may attend any or all, you are invited to explore in depth the rich variety of interpretations of both the Akedah and Fear and Trembling and their relevance for psychotherapy, and perhaps arrive at your own.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.