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Kaplan, D.M. (1989). Introduction to “The Characteristics of Masochism” by Dr. Theodor Reik (1940). Am. Imago, 46(2-3):197-202.

(1989). American Imago, 46(2-3):197-202

Introduction to “The Characteristics of Masochism” by Dr. Theodor Reik (1940)

Donald M. Kaplan, Ph.D.

Theodor Reik was, in certain ways, his own worst enemy. Indeed, Reik himself would have been the first to have told you this. In the late Fifties and early Sixties I was in analytic supervision with him and would take advantage of our considerable difference in age to chastise him, as one would a stubborn father, often for his failure to acknowledge in his writing that other psychoanalysts also addressed the issues he did and made worthwhile, hence noteworthy, contributions to them. Though he did make references to Freud far more than to anyone else, even these, I complained, were en passant and therefore apt to be misleading about the actual status of a given problem in psychoanalytic thought.

“You have it wrong or, at least, not quite right,” he pointed out on one particular occasion. “My habits of scholarship are misleading not as to the status of the problem but as to my command of it. So I diminish not the problem but myself. This is my masochism showing. An aloofness that conveys ignorance is a confession of a shortcoming.” Whereupon he quoted himself (as I was only later to discover) from the foregoing paper on masochism, “One might say, ‘Pride cometh after the fall.’ Is this not like your patient, who exhibits her failings so as to recover her self-esteem?”

Such self-disclosure had long since been typical of Reik's conversation, and eventually this revelatory habit developed into a huge theme in his writings. His best known book Listening With the Third Ear, which appeared in 1949, was virtually a self-analytic approach to his study and practice of psychoanalysis. This was followed by a series of books in which autobiographical elements remained more prominent than the various nominal subjects of this literary output.

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