Obituary: Kurt Eissler

KURT EISSLER, the Viennese psychoanalyst, was one of Freud's most faithful adherents.

An eminent scholar and historian of the international psychoanalytic movement, Eissler was a distinguished clinician. He combined a profound understanding of Freud's metapsychology with practical application and, alongside Freud's daughter Anna, is one of the only successors who developed and expanded Freud's concepts without distorting them.

He was the author of 12 published books and almost 100 articles, many of which are cornerstones for psychoanalytic training. His most important role was as a Freud biographer, with a special understanding of trauma, creativity, and genius. He subsequently founded the Sigmund Freud Archives, and established the Anna Freud Foundation and the Freud Literary Heritage Foundation.

Among the psycho-biographical books Eissler published is a notable study of Leonardo da Vinci (Leonardo da Vinci: psychoanalytic notes on the enigma, 1961), a two-volume work on Goethe (Goethe: a psychoanalytic study, 1775- 1786, 1963), and another on Shakespeare's Hamlet. He wrote a pathbreaking book in The Psychiatrist and the Dying Patient (1955), and another on medical orthodoxy and the future of psychoanalysis. His "irreverence" - his own word - for rigid orthodoxies defined his consistent stance as a classical psychoanalyst impatient with institutional inflexibilities, which he believed endangered the future of psychoanalysis.

Eissler's radical open-mindedness allowed him to introduce new rules for treatment of patients, to address questions of fees and the effect on the analyst of his own ageing process, and to write definitive essays on mechanisms of defence such as isolation, on the death drive, on the metapsychology of the preconscious, and on ego structure and psychoanalytic technique.

Bold in argument, he refuted the mis-statements and errors of Freud's would-be biographers and detractors by simply demonstrating that they did not read closely or accurately enough: he wrote two books to correct lesser scholars' views on the suicide of Freud's patient Viktor Tausk. Most recently, he combated injustices of many kinds, including the fashionable misapprehensions of Freud's seduction theory, the topic of his Nachlass, a book-length manuscript.

Indefatigable and enormously disciplined, he owed his stamina to his early rigorous training in Vienna, where he assisted August Aichorn, a specialist in adolescence and delinquency, and also to his service as a psychiatrist in the US Army during the Second World War. His writings on schizophrenia, delinquency, efficient soldiers, and malingering indicate his mettle.

He wrote a book on Freud as an expert witness in the trial of Julius Wagner-Juaregg. After the war, he wrote a prescient indictment of German psychiatry which defended against compensating survivors of the concentration camps, including parents who saw their children killed. His own sibling was murdered in a concentration camp in the autumn of 1943.

K.R. Eissler (as he preferred to style himself) was born in Vienna in 1908. He received a PhD in Psychology in 1934 and an MD in 1937 from the University of Vienna. His PhD thesis under Professor Karl Buhler was on the constancy of visual configurations in the variations of objects and their representation. He underwent psychoanalytic training at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute in its most fertile period among colleagues such as August Aichorn, Paul Federn, and Richard Sterba, and became a member of the Vienna Psychoanlaytic Society in 1938.

His psychoanalytic practice was interrupted by Germany's annexation of Austria. He fled to the United States, to Chicago, where he qualified for the American Board of Psychiatry, and contested the hegemony of Franz Alexander's technique. He once again interrupted his practice and volunteered in 1943 for service in the army and, as Captain of the Medical Corps, he directed a consultation service in a training camp of the US ground forces. After the war, he moved to New York, where he remained in psychoanalytic practice until three weeks before his death.

A footnote to his legacy is the controversy which arose during the establishment of a line of succession to the directorship of the Sigmund Freud Archives which he founded in 1952 with a group of psychoanalysts, with himself in the capacity of secretary. The purpose of the archives was to collect original documents relating to the history of psychoanalysis, especially letters to and from Freud and interviews with those who knew him.

A recent exhibition of a small sample of the collection housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and soon to travel to the Jewish Museum in New York, and then to Vienna and Los Angeles, does not do justice to the scope of Eissler's original project which arose out of his traumatic flight from Vienna: all his papers had been left behind and after the war he longed to find an answer Freud had published to a newspaper questionnaire regarding "10 good books". It was the frustration of that quest which led Eissler to conceive of establishing an archive "fur Ewig".

He was predeceased in 1989 by his wife, Dr Ruth Eissler, an editor of the book series "The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child".

Jennifer Stone

Kurt Robert Eissler, psychoanalyst: born Vienna 2 July 1908; married 1936 Ruth Selke (died 1989); died New York 17 February 1999.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions