Gion Condrau. Obituary. Daseinsanalyse and Existential Analysis (2007) (July 2007)

Gion Condrau


Anthony Stadlen

Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 2007, 2020
[Existential Analysis 18.2 (July 2007): 358-370]
[Daseinsanalyse 24 (2008): 116-127]

Gion Condrau

Gion Condrau was born on 9 January 1919 in Disentis, in the Romansh-speaking canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. He died, aged 87, on 21 November 2006 in Zürich.
He lived a few months longer than Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) and Medard Boss (1903–1990), the other two founders of ‘Daseinsanalysis’, if by that term is understood the theory and practice they developed while denouncing Binswanger’s ‘Daseinsanalysis’ as based on his ‘misunderstanding’ Heidegger. In this sense, Condrau was, after Boss, the world’s leading Daseinsanalyst. Condrau himself regretted the split between Binswanger and Boss, and was careful to give Binswanger full credit for having been the first to attempt a psychiatric and psychotherapeutic Daseinsanalysis.[i]
In his autobiographical account, ‘Curriculum Vitae’[ii], in the book, Ama et Fac Quod Vis[iii] (Love and Do What You Want), edited for his eightieth birthday in 1999 by his sons, Gion Fidel and Claudius, Condrau told[iv] how, on 2 September 1939, the day of the Swiss mobilisation, still at recruit school at the age of twenty, he met in the rose garden at Chur a ‘smart and dashing captain of the medical corps’, Dr Medard Boss, to whom he was assigned as a ‘medical soldier’. He became Boss’s comrade-in-arms, analysand, pupil, colleague, friend. After Boss’s death in 1990, he became Boss’s successor. After Condrau’s fall and illness in 2003, his elder son, Gion Fidel, the second of his three children, succeeded him as President of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis.
Condrau first trained in psychiatry, neurology, and neurosurgery. He studied the outcome of lobotomy and leucotomy, and as Walter Fritzsch put it[v], ‘the findings were not encouraging’. Fritzsch commented: ‘Remarkably, as Condrau admits today, one did not at that time trouble oneself about the ethical dimension.’ Condrau also started a training analysis with a Jungian. But Boss’s 1947 book on the sexual ‘perversions’[vi] almost decided Condrau against a career as a psychoanalyst, let alone a ‘Daseinsanalyst’. He wondered whether a psychotherapist ‘ever had to treat other patients than the sexually perverse’. Boss’s language seemed like ‘Kauderwelsch’ (‘double-dutch’) and one of Condrau’s former teachers told him Boss was a ‘Dadaist’.[vii]
Condrau was, however, sufficiently impressed by Boss’s ‘fascinating personality’ to enter training analysis with him in place of the Jungian he had started with. And then[viii]:

In acknowledging my own tightrope-walking through life, it dawned on me that the ‘world’ had much more to offer if one showed oneself more openly to it. Only an immense arrogance could lead a ‘trainee analysand’ not to treat his own ‘training analysis’ as a necessary therapeutic path to the greatest possible world-openness and freedom. The motivation to become a Daseinsanalyst thus sprang, first, from my personal experience during my training [analysis] years with Medard Boss. In the second place, however, it was based on the difference in supervision with Medard Boss and Gustav Bally. But decisive was the encounter with Martin Heidegger, whose Zollikon seminars[[ix]] I attended with my colleagues for ten years, from 1959 to 1969.

Condrau was a prime mover of the Swiss Society for Daseinsanalytic Anthropology, the Daseinsanalytic Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (as Director), and the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis (as President). Indeed, he told me that Boss’s account[x] of the founding of the Daseinsanalytic Institute in 1971 was wrong: ‘It was my idea and I founded it,’ he said. He was a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and an Honorary Visiting Fellow of the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at Regent’s College, London. He was editor of Daseinsanalyse, and on the editorial board of Existential Analysis. His colleague Alois Hicklin wrote[xi] that ‘nobody has yet counted’ how many societies and associations Condrau founded. They include the Bob Club of his home town, Herrliberg, which has produced world masters and Olympic gold- and silver-medallists. Condrau was also active until 1979 as a politician, a member of the Christian-Democratic People’s Party, first in the Herrliberg local council, then in the Zurich cantonal and Swiss national parliaments.[xii] Working for the Red Cross at the end of the Second World War, he visited the Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen, three times; and he insisted[xiii] that it was an extermination camp (although what he described to me was ‘gas ovens’, presumably therefore a crematorium, not gas chambers). He worked for seven months in 1953–54 with the Neutral Nations Repatriation and Supervisory Commissions in Korea.[xiv]
The Festschrift[xv] for Condrau’s eightieth birthday in 1999 listed one hundred and ninety-five of his publications.
His books cover an astonishing range: general psychotherapy[xvi], daseinsanalytic psychotherapy[xvii], anxiety and guilt[xviii], psychosomatics[xix], women’s illnesses[xx], death[xxi], Daseinsanalysis[xxii], Freud and Heidegger[xxiii], the heart[xxiv], the skin[xxv], and politics[xxvi]. He edited a book on his birthplace, Disentis[xxvii]. His two-volume work[xxviii] on fatal flight accidents of the Swiss Flugwaffe remains unpublished. He sent me his last book[xxix], Ich bin, ich weiss nicht wer, shortly before his fall in 2003, which incapacitated him for the rest of his life.
He also edited and co-edited books and series of books on many themes, as well as the journal Daseinsanalyse. He contributed many papers to books and journals.
He was a lively, independent thinker. He expounded Boss and Heidegger with careful attention to detail, but with a critical appraisal of Boss’s arguments.
But not one of the sixteen German books of which Condrau was sole author, nor any of those he co-authored or edited, has been translated into English, though some have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew, Czech and Serbo-Croat.
Condrau tried to remedy this situation by writing a book in English, Martin Heidegger’s Impact on Psychotherapy (1998)[xxx]. But the book’s publishing history was a disaster. Condrau’s other books were professionally produced, carefully annotated, scrupulously referenced and indexed; but this one looked like a draft. Condrau said it was a draft. The publisher, a Tibetan, seemed to have used no readers, editors, or copy-editors, at least for this book. He failed to keep an appointment for which Condrau travelled from Zürich to Vienna. Eventually, from a chance encounter with a visitor to his local library in Küsnacht, Condrau learned that the firm, Mosaic, had gone into liquidation. The publisher was dead, and almost the entire stock destroyed. Condrau told me he had managed to rescue about thirty copies.[xxxi]
The late Tibetan publisher, unlike the ‘international publishing house in the UK’ to which Condrau first submitted his manuscript[xxxii], at least understood enough of the importance of this book to publish it. Any English-speaking reader lucky enough to find one of the few surviving copies will find an interesting introduction to Daseinsanalysis, as well as much with which he or she may wish to argue.[xxxiii]
Condrau’s works are, therefore, almost entirely a set of closed books to the English speaker who has no German.
However, Condrau did write one highly significant piece in English, for the Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. For all its brevity, it is one of the most important texts in daseinsanalytic literature. No student of existential analysis or Daseinsanalysis should neglect to read and ponder it.
Sarah Young elicited it with her response[xxxiv], ‘Everything is what it is, not something else’, to Condrau’s paper[xxxv] ‘Dream Analysis: Do we need the unconscious?’, which he had given at the 5th Conference of the Society for Existential Analysis and had also published in the Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis.
Condrau had explained, during discussion of his paper, that trainees in the Zürich Daseinsanalytic Institute are examined on their ability to analyse dreams: without meeting or communicating with the dreamer, without being told the dreamer’s associations to the dream, and without being told anything else except the reported dream and the dreamer’s age and sex.
Young questioned this. She argued[xxxvi]:

Ultimately it must be for the dreamer to decide on the meaning of their dream. So why this exercise?

Condrau’s reply was unequivocal[xxxvii]:

If we did, indeed, base our thinking on the idea that the dreamer decides on the meaning of his/her dream, this would open the doors wide to a subjectivistic phenomenology. Isn’t it precisely the essence of neurotic (or psychotic) perception, namely not to be able to distinguish phenomena from personal prejudices or projections?

This is the daseinsanalytic approach expounded by Boss in his first and second dream-books[xxxviii] and in his Existential Foundations of Medicine and Psychology[xxxix], and by Heidegger in the Zollikon seminars, though few existential psychotherapists appear to have noticed this. This passage by Condrau on dreams is crucial because he, like Boss, takes the understanding of dreams as paradigmatic for Daseinsanalysis as a whole, as Freud did for psychoanalysis as a whole.
The daseinsanalytic position, accurately summarised in Condrau’s response to Sarah Young, was described by Martti Siirala[xl] as ‘violent’ and ‘absolutist’.
Siirala claimed that the Finnish language approaches all beings with a ‘humble but passionate’ questioning: ‘Who are you? Could it be that you might be…?’, while the German language tries to grasp and dominate.
Siirala acknowledged that Daseinsanalysis has ‘essentially contributed to the defence of the unreducibility of human bodily existing’, but he warned of the ‘violent elements in the absolutist claims for “Daseinsanalysis” to a direct access to the phenomena in an adequate, undistorted way’.
Daseinsanalysts would, of course, deny that the central claim of Daseinsanalysis is ‘absolutist’ or ‘violent’. But Condrau’s statement leaves no room for doubt as to what that claim is.
Most existential psychotherapists, however, appear to suppose that Daseinsanalysis is itself epitomised in Sarah Young’s words: ‘Ultimately it must be for the dreamer to decide on the meaning of their dream.’ Condrau’s response shows that, on the contrary, at least Daseinsanalysts of the main stream condemn such an approach as ‘subjectivistic phenomenology’.
There is a school of thinking on dreams that does trust dreamers, even ‘neurotic’ ones, to discover the meaning of their own dreams. One would expect existential psychotherapists to be attracted to such statements as the following:

Well, what do you do if I make an unintelligible utterance to you? You ask me, don’t you? Why should we not be allowed to do the same thing, ask the dreamer what his dream means? [...] So the dreamer himself should also tell us what his dream means.

Unfortunately, the man who wrote this was Sigmund Freud[xli], and existential psychotherapists ‘know’ that he is not ‘existential’, and should be ignored.
Existential psychotherapists tend to imagine that they are in sympathy with the daseinsanalytic paradigm, often without much knowledge of what it is. Their sentiments are, in fact, often closer to the psychoanalytic paradigm which they believe they have rejected.
In Boss’s first dream-book, The Analysis of Dreams, he asks[xlii]: ‘Or are there perhaps in reality no dream symbols at all?’ (‘Oder gibt es am Ende in Wirklichkeit gar keine Traumsymbole?’) Boss insists that the dreamer of the ‘strange dream of an urn’, who interprets the urn in her dream as a ‘symbol’ and so, in Condrau’s words, ‘decides on the meaning of her dream’, is wrong.
But Freud also, in his original theory in the first edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, largely rejected[xliii] symbolism, though few notice this.
Freud did come, under the influence of Stekel, to acknowledge[xliv], with reservations, that symbolism and symbols played a minor part:

They allow us in certain circumstances to interpret a dream without questioning the dreamer [...] But do not let yourselves be seduced by this. […] Interpretation based on a knowledge of symbols is not a technique which can replace or compete with the associative one. It forms a supplement to it […]

Symbolism remained, for Freud, an ‘aid’ or ‘auxiliary method’ (‘Hilfsmittel’)[xlv]. ‘Existential’ authors often give the false impression that symbolism is central in psychoanalytic dream interpretation. Thus, in Hans Cohn’s misleading caricature[xlvi]: ‘Psychoanalytically the umbrella might be seen as an erect penis displayed at an inappropriate time.’ But in fact, for Freud, it was the method of asking the dreamer for his ‘associations’ (a poor translation of ‘freier Einfall’) that was central, whereas for Boss and Condrau ‘associations’ were a distraction from the dream itself, which could be understood without any help from the dreamer.
Condrau’s writings, including his letter in response to Young, are thus a fundamental contribution to clarifying the philosophy of Daseinsanalysis. (He does not seem to have been consistent, however, when extending the daseinsanalytic thinking on dreams to slips.[xlvii])
Alice Holzhey has criticised, from within the daseinsanalytic tradition, the fact that ‘Martin Heidegger in the Zollikon seminars conducted with Medard Boss defined the phenomenological method as “essential vision” and thus made it easy for authority-persons to claim “essential seeing” for themselves’.[xlviii] This was Siirala’s point too.
Condrau also made an important contribution to clarifying the history of Daseinsanalysis, in which he was himself a leading protagonist. His paper Anmerkungen zur Geschichte der Daseinsanalyse[xlix] (2000) is a valuable source. In it, he is clear-sighted about what he described as Boss’s romanticising of the history of Daseinsanalysis and idealising of Heidegger. Condrau was no respecter of what, in fine Anglo-Saxon, he classified as ‘bullshit’[l].
I first met Gion Condrau in July 1989 when he gave a lecture to the Sixth Annual International Conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams in London. I had briefly spoken with Boss nearly twenty years earlier, but had not asked him about daseinsanalytic dream theory. Over lunch I asked Condrau and his colleague Heidi Brenner whether, apart from a few perfunctory comments by Boss, Daseinsanalysts had analysed Freud’s own dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams. According to daseinsanalytic principles, Daseinsanalysts should be able, without Freud’s associations, to give interpretations of Freud’s dreams superior to his own. Condrau promised to send me his own then still unpublished daseinsanalytic interpretation of Dora’s first dream in Freud’s case study of her. He did so, and later published[li] it in his English book. However, when I read it, I was disappointed. Although I had criticised[lii] Freud’s approach to Dora’s dream, I found it in some ways more phenomenological, more daseinsanalytical, than Condrau’s[liii].
I drove Condrau and Brenner to the Freud Museum, where I was a Research Fellow. Among other things, they watched a film of Freud’s golden wedding celebrations. Condrau was incredulous. ‘Whose golden wedding?’ he asked. Freud is indeed the centre of attention, and his wife Martha seems hardly there. I warmed to Condrau.
I said it was a pity that Boss, who was still living, and had described his analysis with Freud in Vienna, was not with us to see Freud’s London house. ‘When Boss says he was analysed by Freud in Vienna,’ said Condrau darkly, ‘he probably once saw Freud get on a bus in Vienna.’ I was startled. I asked why he doubted Boss’s word. ‘Boss never mentioned Freud all the time we were together during the war,’ Condrau said. He said the first time Boss said anything about an analysis with Freud was in his autobiographical chapter[liv] in Pongratz’s 1973 book[lv] Psychotherapie in Selbstdarstellung. In that chapter, Boss claimed that when he was a student in Vienna in 1925 he was analysed by Freud. (Actually, Boss does speak of meeting Freud in Vienna, and compares his eyes to Heidegger’s, in an earlier letter[lvi] published for Heidegger’s eightieth birthday in 1969. But Boss’s chronology is oddly contradictory.)
This was the beginning of my collaboration with Condrau to clarify the historiography of Daseinsanalysis. The other person who had an equal enthusiasm for establishing the truth in these matters, wherever the search might lead, was the late Erna Hoch, who helped re-evaluate, for example, Boss’s accounts of his discussions with sages in India and with his guru Gobind Kaul in Kashmir.[lvii]
After some years, Condrau telephoned to tell me that he had found, and was sending me, Boss’s army records for 1925. These did appear to contradict Boss’s account in Pongratz’s 1973 book, and even more Boss’s 1976 interview[lviii] in an obscure Korean journal. I had noticed that, in this interview, the thirty sessions of analysis with Freud that Boss had reported to Father William Richardson[lix] had increased and multiplied to six a week for six months[lx]. Freud might have analysed Boss in Vienna during term-time, as Boss said, but could hardly have done so during the summer holidays, as Boss also claimed, if he was then doing Swiss army service.
Between 1989 and 2003, Condrau was also unfailingly helpful with the daseinsanalytic part of my own historical research on the paradigm cases of psychotherapy. He would direct me to this or that informant, sometimes chuckling to himself for reasons that only became clear years later.
When I mentioned Heidegger’s repeated ‘Abitur’ (‘matriculation’) dream of being interrogated by his professors at school, which Boss claimed[lxi] was the only dream Heidegger could remember, Condrau instantly said: ‘But Heidegger said he had other dreams!’ Condrau recalled sitting up half the night with a girlfriend of Heidegger’s, reading Heidegger’s love letters to her, in which Heidegger wrote poetically of his dreams about her. Some years later, I visited this lady [Note, 2022: Ragnvi Wesendonck], who showed the letters to me.
When I asked Condrau whether, from his experience of Heidegger in the Zollikon seminars, he thought Heidegger had achieved ‘Gelassenheit[lxii] as Boss claimed, his response was, in effect, ‘You must be joking!’
Condrau was determined to demystify and to demythologise. He disliked the cult of personality. But he devoted his life to Daseinsanalysis. He passionately believed in it, and indeed lived it. His debunking of what he called Boss’s ‘tendency to legendmaking’[lxiii] was intended to strengthen and purify Daseinsanalysis. Although he bluntly spoke of Boss as a ‘fantasist’, and although he argued with nuances of Boss’s theoretical position, he still revered Boss as his ‘Meister’.[lxiv]
In October 2003, the centenary month of Medard Boss’s birth, Gion Condrau was expecting to address the 5th Forum of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis in Vienna. He had also arranged to conduct one of my Inner Circle Seminars in London for the Boss centenary. But he had a bad fall, from which he never recovered. He was unable to attend either event. We postponed his seminar until his own eighty-fifth birthday month, January 2004, but he was still too unwell to come.
I was invited to give a paper at the eightieth-birthday celebrations of each of three of the world’s great original psychotherapists: Gion Condrau (Zürich, 1999), Thomas Szasz (Syracuse, NY, 2000), and Martti Siirala (Helsinki, 2002). Each of these three rugged individuals was revered and loved for his life and work by those who came to pay tribute. But Condrau’s particular kind of individualism somehow enabled him to found and be spiritus rector of innumerable societies and clubs, as Hicklin said, including the central institutions of Daseinsanalysis, without losing his anarchic mischievousness and irreverence. Despite his role as institutionaliser of Daseinsanalysis, he seemed uninstitutionalisable. His integrity, his commitment to Daseinsanalysis and his honesty about its shortcomings enabled it to become creative and independent of him. (According to Alice Holzhey, in the early days Daseinsanalysts were dependent on him ‘to a high degree’ for work, because ‘the [Daseinsanalytic] Institute was, thanks to the great fame of Gion Condrau, for many GPs of the canton of Zürich the address to which they referred patients for psychotherapeutic assessment and treatment’. Holzhey also writes that ‘it is an open secret that Condrau’s style of leadership was not everyone’s cup of tea’.[lxv])
The 6th Forum of the International Federation of Daseinsanalysis in Prague last year was a spirited affair under the Presidency of his son Gion Fidel. Daseinsanalysis seemed a living and autonomous discipline, although Gion Condrau was approaching the end of his life, unable to attend.


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[i] Condrau 2000: 21.
[ii] Condrau 1999.
[iii] Condrau/Condrau 1999.
[iv] Condrau 1999: 45–49.
[v] Fritzsch 1999: 60; my translation.
[vi] Boss 1947; 1949 [1947].
[vii] Condrau 1999: 48.
[viii] Condrau 1999: 49; my translation and brackets.
[ix] Heidegger 1987; 2001 [1987]; Stadlen 2003b; 2005.
[x] Boss 1988 [1977b]: 12.
[xi] Hicklin 1999: 14.
[xii] Condrau 1999: 42–45.
[xiii] Condrau 1999: 32.
[xiv] Condrau 1999: 26–29.
[xv] Condrau Verzeichnis 1999.
[xvi] Condrau 1963a.
[xvii] Condrau 1963b, 1965a.
[xviii] Condrau 1962.
[xix] Condrau 1968.
[xx] Condrau 1965b.
[xxi] Condrau 1984.
[xxii] Condrau 1998a [1989].
[xxiii] Condrau 1992.
[xxiv] Condrau/Grossmann 1989.
[xxv] Condrau/Schipperges 1993.
[xxvi] Condrau 1972, 1976.
[xxvii] Condrau 1996.
[xxviii] Condrau 1949.
[xxix] Condrau 2003.
[xxx] Condrau 1998b; Helting 2000; Stadlen 2003a.
[xxxi] Condrau (personal communication).
[xxxii] Condrau 1994: 47; Stadlen 2003a: 165.
[xxxiii] Stadlen 2003a.
[xxxiv] Young 1993.
[xxxv] Condrau 1993.
[xxxvi] Young 1993: 15.
[xxxvii] Condrau 1994: 46; Stadlen 2003a: 172.
[xxxviii] Boss 1953; 1957 [1953]; 1991 [1975]; 1977a [1975].
[xxxix] Boss 1971; 1979 [1971].
[xl] Siirala 1980: 137; Siirala/Stadlen 2003: 137.
[xli] Freud GW 11: 98; SE 15: 100–101; my translation.
[xlii] Boss 1953: 97; 1957 [1953]: 90; my translation).
[xliii] Freud GW 2/3: 100–104; SE 4: 99–100.
[xliv] Freud GW 11: 152; SE 15: 151; my translation.
[xlv] Freud GW 2/3: 365; SE 5: 360.
[xlvi] Cohn 1997: 85.
[xlvii] Condrau 1998a [1989]: 177–178; Stadlen 2007: 123–124.
[xlviii] Holzhey 2007; my translation.
[xlix] Condrau 2000.
[l] Condrau (personal communication).
[li] Condrau 1998b: 185–189.
[lii] Stadlen 1985: 31; 1989 [1985]: 201–202.
[liii] Stadlen 2003a: 172–173.
[liv] Boss 1973: 81–82.
[lv] Pongratz 1973.
[lvi] Boss 1969; Heidegger 1987: 363–364; 2001 [1987]: 293–294. When Boss republished in Zollikoner Seminare his letter originally published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 5 October 1969, he (or the newspaper) shortened it without informing the reader, and misstated its original page number in the newspaper as 5; it should be 52.
[lvii] Hoch 1993a: 282–283.
[lviii] Boss/Rhee 1992 [1976].
[lix] Richardson (personal communication).
[lx] Boss/Rhee 1992 [1976]: 40.
[lxi] Boss 1982a [1977b]: 218–220; 1988 [1978–9]: 12–13, 20.
[lxii] Heidegger 1992 [1959]; 1969 [1966].
[lxiii] Condrau 2000: 31.
[lxiv] Condrau 2000: 31.
[lxv] Holzhey 2007; my translation.

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