Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Towards an Existential Understanding of Mourning: Freud, Rilke, Andreas-Salomé. Inner Circle Seminar 194 (15 September 2013)

Sigmund Freud
Hotel Marienbad, Munich
where Rilke stayed in September 1913
Rainer Maria Rilke
Towards an Existential Understanding of Mourning

Lou Andreas Salomé
A critical examination of Freud’s theory of mourning in the light of Rainer Maria Rilke’s and Lou Andreas-Salomé’s poetic and existential thinking of mourning

For the centenary of Freud's walk (if it was a walk) with a ‘young poet’ and a ‘silent friend’, described in his essay ‘Transience’ (1916)

Anthony Stadlen
(with the help of
Karin Weisensel)
Inner Circle Seminar No. 194
Sunday 15 September 2013
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This seminar is an exploration of the existential phenomenology of mourning.

Our starting-point will be a conversation which Sigmund Freud reported having had a hundred years ago. In ‘Vergänglichkeit’ (‘Transience’, 1916), a short essay (eight paragraphs; 1,103 words), he describes his walk with a silent friend and a young poet through a ‘blossoming summer landscape’. The poet, says Freud, could not enjoy the beauty because of its transience. Neither the poet nor the ‘silent friend’, Freud tells us, was convinced by his argument that transience gives ‘scarcity value in time’. Freud claims that their failure to be impressed with his reasoning was due to their resisting the experience of mourning.

But how well did he himself understand mourning? Did he understand what his companions, whoever they were, were saying? Freud tries to explain mourning psychoanalytically and scientistically, in terms of an ‘object’ ‘cathected’ with ‘libido’ which must be ‘withdrawn’ when the ‘object’ is ‘lost’. He expounds this theory in his paper ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917) and summarises it succinctly in the essay ‘Transience’ (1916). But how valid is this theory? Apart from its scientism, is it not essentially a theory of love as applied narcissism? Does it do justice to the human reality of mourning?

It is generally thought that the poet was Rainer Maria Rilke and that the ‘silent friend’ was Lou Andreas-Salomé. But how likely is this? The three met briefly in September 1913, in a hotel in Munich: where was the ‘blossoming summer landscape’ Freud described? And Rilke is the existential poet of mourning. He had already written, for example, two of his Duino Elegies, as well as his ‘Requiem’ for Paula Modersohn-Becker. Andreas-Salomé was also a profound and sensitive thinker, in tune with both Freud’s and Rilke’s quests. Have Freud’s companions been misidentified? Whether or not this is the case, does not Rilke’s and Andreas-Salomé’s poetic and existential thinking do more justice to mourning than Freud’s pseudo-scientific account? And if it was indeed with them that he discussed transience, might he not have misunderstood their position?

The discussion of these questions will introduce our investigation of mourning. What really happens when we mourn? Are we mourning an ‘internal object’ or ‘image’, or a person?

Karin Weisensel is a psychotherapist who has researched Lou Andreas-Salomé as an existential thinker. Anthony Stadlen is an existential psychotherapist and historical researcher, convenor of the Inner Circle Seminars. You are cordially invited to contribute to the discussion.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £116, others £145, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water and biscuits 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 colleges.

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