Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

  ErN 154, entry Nov 2011             

he Lady Shrink, Two C.G.'s and a View Gone Forever

This really did start out as one of those "six degrees of separation" chains by which I have tried in this series of entries to "relate everything to Naples." (See #1 in the series.) They're fun to write, and this one pretty much wrote itself, teaching me a few things along the way. That's hard to beat.

Out of the blue, friend Warren asked me if I knew anything about Sabrina Spielrein. I knew nothing (my motto for most of the rest of this entry!). She was Russian, born in 1885 and is now viewed as one of the early practitioners of psychotherapy. She was a student of Carl Gustav Jung, apparently had an intimate relationship with him, and she knew Sigmund Freud. She influenced both of them or, in the words of friend Warren: "In a way it's the psychoanalytic equivalent of the DNA story. Watson and Crick get all the credit, and Rosalind Franklin is all but forgotten."

More on Sabrina Spielrein below

I did know about Jung (chalk one up for me!); he and Freud discovered the unconscious! Then one particular passage in his The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious reminded me of my motto (but I don't remember what it is).

Further, James Hillman (bibliography, below) says this:
Although various philosophers, among them Leibniz, Kant, and Schelling, had already pointed very clearly to the problem of the dark side of the psyche, it was a physician who felt impelled, from his scientific and medical experience, to point to the unconscious as the essential basis of the psyche. This was C. G. Carus...
We may recognize Carus as a precursor of Jung. They are alike not only in their interest in the unconscious psyche...Both are medical psychologists, empiricists, observers of phenomena and in relationship with the living psyche from which they make inductions. At the same time, they are both holists, attempting to penetrate with their vision through the phenomena to the archetypal background of life.
So, there was the second C.G. and I had never heard of him! He was born in Leipzig in 1789 and died in 1869. He not only belonged to the Age of Goethe in Germany, but was even his friend, and like Goethe, Carus was a polymath, one of those "universal scholars," whose interests and abilities ranged across a stunning array of disciplines. He was a philosopher, physiologist, doctor, naturalist, psychologist and respected painter. His many written works range from Foundations of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, to Psyche—On the Development of the Soul, and Letters on Landscape Painting, the last of which was very influential in the development of German Romantic painting.

Carus, like Goethe, was also a Grand Tourist. A Trip through Germany, Italy and Switzerland in the Year 1828 is of particular interest to me since it has descriptions of the Gulf of Naples. His most intriguing comments, however, about Naples are not in writing. They're on canvas. Carus' paintings are generally landscapes and show his fascination with moonlight and the night sky. He has one, for example —Italian Fishermen in the Bay of Naples (image, top of page)—in which the figures in the foreground are almost secondary; your eye is drawn first not to them but to the moon, the light on the water and to Vesuvius in the background.

The most interesting painting to me, though, is the one entitled Balcony in Naples (image, right). It never occurred to me that you could —or would want to —combine landscape painting and still life, but I guess you can, because life doesn't get much stiller than the inside of this room. The scene is painted not from the balcony, but from within a room, bare except for a guitar leaning against the wall near the balcony. The shutter is half-closed on the right; the scene through the semi-open door is of the balcony and only then the outside world. The scene is narrowed down, framed, as it is, by the room itself and the entrance onto the balcony. The view is along the old Santa Lucia section of Naples, looking due south to the Egg Castle in the background. The room is at sea-level and there is a boat with the triangular "Latin sail" moored prominently at the rocks at sea-side. The eye is drawn first to the inside of the room and not the outside view. I don't know why the shutter is half-closed. I want to say that it has something to do with the unconscious, sublimation, suppressed memories and the "archetypal background of life," but maybe that's just me. If you could open that shutter all the way, you would see that the outside view is almost identical to that in a painting by Oswald Achenbach from 1875. In that painting, however, Ozzie was obviously down on the street having a good time with the folks while he painted. (I think there is a neat computer trick to flip open that shutter, but unfortunately I don't know what it is. I tried my index finder. That doesn't work.)

I don't know that Carus lived in that room when he was in Naples, but I suspect he must have. He would be unhappy to know that the view is totally obscured today; the entire area in front of his room and balcony was built over in the 1890s during the splurge of urbanization known as the risanamento. Today he would be looking at the backs of a long string of high-rise hotels. Warren said —when I asked him for help in finding a message in all this— that "maybe looking at the backs of a long string of high-rise hotels is the message." The guitar? It's smaller than the modern guitar and seems typical of Italian guitars of that period. I don't know if Carl Gustav Carus was a musician, but it wouldn't surprise me.


Hillman, James (1992). "An Introductory note: C.G, Carus—C.J. Jung" in Carl Gustav Jung: critical assessments. Editor, Renos K. Papadopoulos. London. Routledge.

Jung, C.G. ([1959] 1969). The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works, Volume 9i, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kerr, J. (1993). A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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Sabrina Spielrein

A bit more attention is due this amazing woman, one of the founders of psychoanalysis. Little by little, women scientists, long overlooked, may be getting the recognition they deserve. I refer you to my friend Warren's comment (above) that "In a way it's the psychoanalytic equivalent of the DNA story. Watson and Crick get all the credit, and Rosalind Franklin is all but forgotten."

Sabina Nikolayevna Spielrein (1885–1942) was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Rostov-on-Don, Russian Empire. She travelled
thus her friendship with Jung, Freud, and others. She was in Rostov-on-Don in 1942, however, when the German army occupied the city. She and her two daughters, aged 29 and 16, were shot dead.

She was in succession the patient, then student, then colleague of Carl Gustav Jung, with whom she had an intimate relationship during 1908–1910, as documented in their letters and diaries from the time. She also met, corresponded with, and had a collegial relationship with Sigmund Freud. One of her more famous analysands was the Swiss developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget. She worked as a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, teacher and pediatrician in Switzerland and Russia. In a thirty-year professional career, she published over 35 papers in three languages (German, French and Russian), covering psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, psycholinguistics and educational psychology. Her best known and perhaps most influential published work in the field of psychoanalysis is the essay titled "Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being", written in German in 1912. Sabina was also known as a pioneer of psychoanalysis and one of the first people to introduce the death instinct. She was one of the first people to conduct a case study on schizophrenia.

Spielrein has been remembered from her relationship with Jung, but she is now increasingly recognized as an important and innovative thinker who was marginalized in history because of her unusual eclecticism, refusal to join factions, feminist approach to psychology, and her death in the Holocaust.

Despite her closeness to the central figures of both psychoanalysis and developmental psychology in the first part of the twentieth century, Spielrein was more or less forgotten in Western Europe after her return to Moscow in 1923.  The publication in 1974, of letters between Freud and Jung, followed by the discovery of Sabrina's personal papers and publication of some of them in the 1980s, made her name known again. Unfortunately, that led to her identification in popular culture as an erotic footnote in the lives of Jung and Freud. That is a misconception. From papers and letters, we note that she anticipated both Freud's "death drive" and Jung's views on "transformation." However questionable or inappropriate her relationship with Jung may have been, it was useful to psychotherapy! Jung's letters to Freud about his (Jung's) relationship with Spielrein inspired Freud's concepts of transference and countertransference.

In recent years, Spielrein has been increasingly recognized as a significant thinker in her own right, influencing not only Jung and Freud, but also later psychologists including Jean Piaget, Alexander Luria and Vygotsky. Spielrein has influential work in several topics: gender roles, love, the importance of intuition in women, the unconscious, dream interpretation, sexuality and sexual urges, libido, sublimation, transference, linguistics and language development in children.

In the last few years, there have books, plays and films about Sabrina Spielrein. A Dangerous Method is a 2011 German-Canadian historical film directed by David Cronenberg (film poster image, right). The screenplay was adapted by writer Christopher Hampton from his own 2002 stage play The Talking Cure, which itself  was based on the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method. There is also a 2002
Italian-French-British "romance-drama" film, Prendimi l'Anima by Italian director, Roberto Faenza. The English-language release is entitled The Soul Keeper.

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