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Sklar, J. (2014). Ferenczi and His World: Rekindling the Spirit of the Budapest School by Szekacs-Weisz Judit and Keve Tom Karnac, London, 2012; 208 pp; £20.99. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 95(1):168-173.

(2014). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 95(1):168-173

Ferenczi and His World: Rekindling the Spirit of the Budapest School by Szekacs-Weisz Judit and Keve Tom Karnac, London, 2012; 208 pp; £20.99

Review by:
Jonathan Sklar

Reading Ferenczi and His World pitches the reader into the arcane, gemütlich and deeply social atmosphere of belle époque Budapest. Ferenczi, the charismatic leader of the new subject of psychoanalysis, has discussions, in the serious café society of the time, with writers led by Ignotus (the pen name of Hugo Veigelsberg) and Sandor Marai as well as with scientists and mathematicians. The centre of intellectual life became the place that resonated with the new analytic ideas centred on the unconscious and dream life. It was a small world. Intellectuals debating in the social sphere returned home to their skein of family relationships where many members of the group were also related to each other. Intellectual life meant accepting new ideas and Ferenczi was in the forefront of the new thinking in the first third of the 20th century.

In an extraordinary chapter by Tom Keve, the obituaries on the occasion of Ferenczi's early death in 1933 show the very wide range of intellectuals who mourned his passing. Ignotus, editor of the prominent literary magazine Nyugat and also one of the founders of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society, writes a eulogy of free associative thoughts that bears reading slowly for its expansive depth of the man and his subject. Writers and poets who were household names in Hungary took Freud's theories into their disciplines. Similarly, the important group of Hungarian scientists which included Ernst Mach, John von Neumann (who as part of Ferenczi's family may have been the model on which A little chanticleer was based), Eugene Wigner and Wolfgang Pauli knew Ferenczi and his ideas. As early as 1918 Ferenczi made a plea for a kind of synthesis between psychoanalysis and physics. One of Keve's asides notes that the main speakers at the important Clark University 1909 lectures were not Freud, Jung and Ferenczi but two recent Nobel prize-winners, Ernest Rutherford and A. A. Michelson. One of Ferenczi's last papers published posthumously (in 1939 in Bausteine IV, in English in 1955) was on mathematics as “self observation of one's own conscious function” (p. 162) and comparing logic as the highest form of the unconscious.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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