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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week