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.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test