"Strozier faced a truly daunting task in probing the life of a man who was as complex and duplicitous as he was gifted. Yet he succeeds brilliantly in conveying Kohut's intellectual power, and in making clear how and why he became the most influential clinical psychoanalyst of the last half-century. Strozier brings an extraordinary combination of empathy and breadth to this masterful biography." Robert Jay Lifton, co-author of Who Owns Death?: Capital Punishment, the American Conscience, and the End of Executions
"A thoughtful, scholarly, penetrating biography of one of the most original contributors to psychoanalysis in this country. while evidently sympathetic to Kohut's contributions, Strozier successfully avoids idealizations and, implicitly, raises fascinating questions about the relationship between Kohut's personality and the subject matter of his dominant concern, normal and pathological narcissism. This book provides an appropriate tribute to a courageous pioneer who dared to challenge traditional assumptions."
Otto F. Kernberg, M.D., author of Love Relations and Severe Personality Disorders
Heinz Kohut was a psychoanalyst who changed the field into its modern form as we know it today. Born into a middle–class Jewish family in Vienna in the early part of the last century, Kohut quickly showed promise as a gifted intellectual. He finished his university studies during the Anschluss &, because he was a Jew, was reluctantly allowed to take the final exams to qualify him as an M.D.
In 1939, he fled to the U.S. & in the years after World War II he became a paradigmatic figure in the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis & changed the face of psychoanalysis. He rose to prominence & eventually became the most prestigious analyst in the country, serving as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
He early recognized the limitations of classical psychoanalysis & worked to put a more humanistic face on it until his death in 1981.
He often confounded his closest friends with his astonishing stubbornness & almost surreptitious need for privacy, his legacy, however, in the field of U.S. psychoanalysis is legendary.
Biographer, Charles B. Strozier, has produced a sympathetic & readable narrative of this eminently human’s life & work. He addresses Kohut’s sexual ambivalence & his tormented feelings about his Jewishness. These feelings were so complex that Kohut would make scenes in kosher restaurants by insisting on having a ham sandwich with a glass of milk — challenging one of the fundamental kosher laws against mixing meat & dairy products. Kohut was as complicated as his field of study & Charles Strozier has skillfully offered an intense look at an intensely lived life.
This biography will appeal to those who have lived through the same era as Heinz Kohut & who have encountered the less authoritarian & more compassionate school of psychoanalysis now known as self–psychology which made major changes in reformatting the revered Freudian theory & practice.
Strozier leaves no stone unturned & recounts the moving & informative story of this driven, creative intellectual, who was respected as a teacher & therapist yet universally disliked for his arrogance & coldness. This is a profound biography of a charismatic man from a complex era.
A deep drink from an unusual well — well–written, if somewhat dense in places. Well worth it, however, if you are at all interested in the signs of intelligent life during America’s post WWII years which led up to the human potential movement.
More from Charles B. Strozier:
Freud, American Style
He called himself "Mr. Psychoanalysis," and (at least on these shores) that wasn't far from the truth. In the four decades after Viennese emigre Heinz Kohut arrived in Chicago, in 1940, he became the most influential psychoanalyst in America. By founding self psychology–a less rigid more emphatic form of analysis than Freud's–Kohut led the first and most significant psychoanalytic movement to originate in the United States.
Although he would never have been mistaken for a typical Chicagoan–he was surrounded by other emigres, often wrote in German, and wore a hairnet to bed–he came to love the city, enjoying the opera and The Art Institute of Chicago, and shopping at Marshall Field's (where he once took Anna Freud, the master's daughter). He and his wife Elizabeth–a psychotherapist at the University of Chicago–lived at The Cloisters on Dorchester Avenue, overlooking Jackman Field.
Nevertheless, awareness of Kohut has been confined mostly to the therapeutic community–until now, with publication of Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, by Charles B. Strozier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Strozier, who is both a historian and a psychoanalyst, was an acquaintance of Kohut's–yet he manages to bring an objective eye to his subject, often punctuating the analyst's well-known penchant for mythomania.
Some of Kohut's tales about his upbringing in Vienna are amusing and–like the claim that he bade Sigmund Freud goodbye when Freud fled Nazi Austria in 1938–may be true. But Kohut frequently dissembled the facts about his Jewishness, his failure to serve in the U.S. military during World War II, and what many believe to have been his sexual ambiguity.
Strozier argues Kohut's move to America–the land of reinvention–allowed him to realize his full potential as an analyst and thinker. Originally an M.D. specializing in neurology, Kohut turned gradually toward psychotherapy and became an assistant professor at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis in 1947. The change seemed to allow freer reign to his natural expansiveness–or to what some who knew him called his narcissism.
Beginning in the mid-sixties, Kohut, a traditional Freudian, began to think Freud's dogma was too restricting, as it reduced life to drives and conflicts centered on the Oedipus complex. He came to develop the theoretical school of self psychology, which rests partly on Kohut's belief that people are not determined wholly by their infant and childhood experiences.
His knowledge of the Holocaust (he lost several relatives to the death camps) convinced him that events later in adulthood also provoked anxieties, caused trauma, and called for treatment. Unlike Freud, who said the analyst must remain objective and detached, Kohut decided empathy was essential to the therapeutic process. The gap between Kohut and Freud widened, and by 1971, Kohut's groundbreaking ideas crystallized with the publication of his first book, The Analysis of Self. By the time he died a decade later, he had "left psychoanalysis radically changed," says Dr. Marian Tolpin, of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, who was a long-time colleague of Kohut's. "And if anything, his influence is even stronger now."
Although Kohut's ego prevented him from admitting as much, the city he lived and worked in played a crucial role in his career. "As Napoleon came from Corsica, Genghis Khan from Siberia, or even Lincoln from Springfield, great nation builders are often from the periphery," Strozier writes. "The distance from the center brings freedom and clarity, particularly for someone as insecure and needing of constant affirmation as Kohut. Had he been a part of the New York psychoanalytic scene he might well have been stifled. He could never have been the star he was in Chicago."
June 3, 2001
I'm O.K., and Then Some
Heinz Kohut made his career by elaborating Freud's idea of narcissism.
By MARK EDMUNDSON
O nce upon a time, the story goes, a beautiful boy became entranced with his image in a pool. Nothing could pull him away from the gorgeous sight. He stopped eating; he didn't deign to drink. Eventually he wasted away and died. Where he had knelt, pining, there grew a lovely flower; we call it the narcissus.
In the ''Metamorphoses,'' Ovid's great poem about love and change, the Narcissus tale is one of a panoply of myths. In his 1914 paper ''On Narcissism: An Introduction,'' Freud took the Narcissus story, translated it into the language of psychoanalysis and designated it as the ultimate story about the human psyche in love. Why do we fall in love? Freud's answer is gratingly debunking and meant to be: we fall in love when the quotient of erotic energy -- Freud calls it libido -- that we have invested in our own egos exceeds a certain degree. If we kept that excess energy dammed up, we would become ill, presumably from anxiety.
On this view, love is not a generous going-out from the self to embrace the ideal and the beautiful, as Shelley believed, but rather a self-interested, self-saving redeployment of energy. The ideal state, Freud implies, would be one in which we could sustain the maximum measure of self-love without ever becoming ill, so avoiding the inevitable grief attendant on searching for others outside ourselves to love. Though we imagine ourselves to be devoted to others -- and though the essay tries, with little success, to maintain an ideal of ''object love'' -- Freud suggests that we are all descendants of Narcissus, loving ourselves first, last and always.
Freud introduced the metaphor of the self as Narcissus, but he did not work out all of its various possibilities, as he did with many of his other ideas. The elaboration of the Narcissus metaphor, in psychoanalytical terms, was left to Heinz Kohut, about whom Charles B. Strozier has written a deeply informed, absorbing biography, ''Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst.'' Strozier, who is the author of a fine psychoanalytic study of the 16th president, ''Lincoln's Quest for Union,'' is well qualified for the task.
For a long time, Kohut did little to distinguish himself besides playing expertly by the rules. Born in 1913 in Vienna, he came to America, fleeing the Nazis, and settled in Chicago, where he eventually became the figure that Strozier refers to as ''Mr. Psychoanalysis.'' For many years he was a highly orthodox professional, circumspect, studious about the advancement of his career, paying assiduous court to Anna Freud, her father's designated heir, and other senior figures in the analytical world. Kohut did not come out with his first book, or find the force of his originality, until he reached his 50's, and it is at this point in the story that Strozier's book begins picking up steam. ''It is a curious fact of Kohut's creativity,'' Strozier observes, ''that his major theoretical work came in the second half of his sixth decade.''
Published in 1971, ''The Analysis of the Self'' takes the image of the narcissistic ego that Freud put forward in 1914 and explores its multiple implications. Kohut, in Strozier's rendering, argues that children tend to begin life with fantasies about a grandiose self and ideal parents. ''In the core of our beings,'' Strozier says, ''we retain the tightly interwoven notions that 'I am perfect' and 'you are perfect, but I am part of you.' '' As the child develops, these illusions are tamed and integrated into a mature personality. Grandiosity is repressed, giving way to self-esteem; the idealization of the parent becomes the basis for our strongest values. But if trauma occurs, the most primitive -- the most grand and narcissistic -- version of the self abides unchanged. The grandiose self is never subdued. And the result is what Kohut famously termed Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
This personality type -- which Christopher Lasch took to be characteristic of our age -- is depressive, irritable, edgy, easily angered. The narcissistic personality, dependent on affirmation from without, is continual prey to the slings and arrows of everyday life. In one part of himself, he believes that he's a superstar, a celebrity, a hero. Yet experience, alas, continually assaults these delusions. The result, frequently, is rage, turned against the self or the world without. Freud took this to be a biologically based eruption of natural, self-preserving energies. Kohut, by contrast, viewed rage as the result of a narcissistic wound, a blow delivered against our idealized sense of who and what we are. By analyzing rage -- what kinds of slights result in disproportionate anger, in blowups? -- we might come to see where our narcissistic illusions lie, and perhaps even do something about them.
Part of what is most intriguing about Kohut, as Strozier adroitly shows, is that he had a dialectical understanding of self-love. In a 1966 paper titled ''Forms and Transformations of Narcissism,'' Kohut is able to see self-love in more than simply negative or pathological terms. Ambition and ideals, a healthy sense of resilience, even empathy, can arise from narcissism, once it has undergone transformation, once it has been influenced by experience or, perhaps, by an astute psychoanalyst. The question naturally arises whether Kohut succeeded in transforming his own narcissism. Strozier's portrait indicates that his self-love was very strong indeed. His Kohut is self-obsessed, often unable to entertain any subject but his own work. His need to dominate every conversation seems to have been nearly maniacal. Yet he was also an able teacher and a superbly dedicated therapist, who insisted that empathy, not Freudian aloofness, is central to the therapeutic process. As he grew older and developed cancer, he became more humane and generous. Feeling his own mortality seems to have made Kohut even more responsive to the sufferings and hopes of others.
Kohut came to believe that he was reshaping psychoanalysis to respond to the cultural climate in which he found himself. Freud's emphasis on the Oedipal complex might have been apt in a society that almost totally repressed sexuality and where many patients grew up in hothouse families, with three generations living under a single Viennese roof, along with a clutch of maids, nurses, manservants and other potential objects or initiators of seduction. But times had changed. In midcentury America the self was the central preoccupation, narcissism was the central pitfall, and analysts had to reset their instruments. Strozier's book is an exemplary study of a psychoanalyst who threw himself into the task of transforming a major tradition.
Mark Edmundson is a professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of ''Towards Reading Freud.''