Monday 1 January 2018

Heidegger's Zollikon Seminars. 10. The Psychoanalytic Life History. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 241 (21 January 2018)

Heidegger’s Zollikon Seminars

A 50th-anniversary revaluation

10. Heidegger and Boss discuss Freud (3)
(Taormina, April 1963)

‘... the psychoanalytic life history is not a history at all, rather a causal chain’

Anthony Stadlen
conducts Inner Circle Seminar No. 241
Sunday 21 January 2018
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Martin Heidegger
at home, Freiburg
Martin Heidegger   Medard Boss
on the Feldweg south of Messkirch


Between 1959 and 1969 the philosopher Martin Heidegger gave seminars, now renowned as the ‘Zollikon seminars’, for psychiatrists and psychotherapists in the home of the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Medard Boss in Zollikon, near Zurich. In April 1963 Heidegger and Boss had a holiday in Taormina, Sicily, during which they intensively discussed the foundations of human relationships and psychotherapy. Heidegger tried to show how Daseinsanalysis could demystify psychoanalysis. He did not throw Freud’s phenomenological insights out with the ‘metapsychological’ bathwater, but understood them as ‘ecstatic world-relationship’ rather than as ‘psychic mechanism’. Today we focus on Heidegger’s critique of ‘the psychoanalytic life-history’ (‘Lebensgeschichte’, mistranslated in the standard translation as case-history), which he claimed to Boss ‘is not a history at all, rather a causal chain...’.

Heidegger is not reported in the book Zollikon Seminars as mentioning, far less examining, any actual psychoanalytic ‘life-histories’ (or case-histories). Nor do I know of any place in his 102-volume collected works where he does so. Boss reports showing Heidegger, first, some of Freud’s ‘metapsychological’ papers; they apparently made Heidegger feel ‘physically ill’. Next Boss offered some of Freud’s papers on so-called ‘technique’, to which Heidegger was more open. But why did not Boss show Heidegger some of Freud’s remarkable case-studies, with their detailed, flawed, fascinating human accounts of human relationships? Indeed, why should Heidegger need to be seduced into reading Freud at all, and especially in this back-to-front way, rather than simply reading him himself, if he was going to comment on him?

In fact, the term ‘psychoanalytic life-history’ (‘psychoanalytische Lebensgeschichte’) occurs nowhere in Freud’s collected works, although ‘Lebensgeschichte’ itself occurs fifty-one times. We shall explore how Freud actually uses it, for example in Studies on Hysteria,  the ‘Dora’ case, his essay on Leonardo, and his paper On Beginning the Treatment. We shall see that, while Freud does want to be seen as a natural-scientist in his theorising, in his great case-histories he is explicitly writing in the very advanced German Novelle tradition. He discusses in detail his task of creating his own narrative of narrative of how he helped his patient create from his or her initial narrative a deepening and clarifying passion narrative or suffering history (Leidensgeschichte). This is far from the presumption of a mechanistic linear causality. Yet so-called existential therapists often do not see this existential and phenomenological Freud because they have been taught not to see it and rewarded for not seeing it. This is a disaster.  

We shall ask whether Heidegger’s critique is nevertheless to some extent justified. If so, then what can be salvaged daseinsanalytically from such psychoanalytic ‘histories’, and how might they be modified, to meet his criteria of authentic ‘history’? Or does his critique itself need to be modified?

Is there some kind of authentic ‘daseinsanalytic life-history’ somewhere, perhaps in Boss’s or Condrau’s works? If so, can it simply ignore the insights of psychoanalysis? Or should it, as in Sartre’s biographies of Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert, include a more accurate, more specific, ‘existential-psychoanalytic’ investigation of each person's unique childhood?

Sartre thought Freud was not interested enough in the past. He thought Freud too readily settled for certain stereotypical constellations of childhood: the Oedipus complex, primal scene, castration, and so on. Sartre sought the original and unique project, freely chosen, by which each child responds to his or her unique family situation. What would Heidegger think of this? Presumably he would criticise Sartreexistential psychoanalysis as itself settling for the existentiell’. But has Bossor Condrau, or any other Daseinsanalyst, written life-histories or case-histories that are, in Heideggers sense, existential

The above are some of the issues we shall explore in this seminar.

Anthony Stadlen is the only UK Daseinsanalyst, an existential, psychoanalytic and family psychotherapist; he has also researched for decades the case-histories of Freud and other great pioneers of psychotherapy. He is a former Research Fellow of the Freud Museum, London, and convenor of the Inner Circle Seminars.

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     E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

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.

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