Whatever you do, do not pass by the oasis without stopping to drink.
~ Otto Gross to Carl Jung in "A dangerous method"
Whatever you do, do not pass by the oasis without stopping to drink.
Watching "A dangerous method" (directed by David Cronenberg) is a treat and a half. The acting is superb, and as a long-time fan of Mr. Mortensen's, I am glad to see Viggo back in action. He portrays Freud so masterfully that the great man's Victorian condescension becomes a palpable experience. Michael Fassbender brings Jung to life in all his Protestant repressedness, and Keira Knightly's presentation of Sabina Spielrein pulls all the stops on psychosis, eroticism, and intuitive brilliance. And then there's Vincent Cassel's character Otto Gross, who in my book, steals the show. Turning the tables on Jung, he analyzes him, with Jung barely noticing. In a few deft moves, Bohemian Gross pulls the rug from under Jung's bourgeois pretensions. It is just so delightful.
I can't vouch for the film's historical accuracy; let professional historians worry about that. To me, the dramatization of these episodes is good enough to wonder about what happened and why we still care about psychoanalysis and the individuals who brought it into being.
One thing is clear. Both Freud and Jung owed a lot to other people, especially their smart, if disturbed, patients. Another thing is murkier. What did they owe to each other? Freud's disengagement from Jung seems more radical than Jung's break with Freud. Looking back, we tend to see "analytical psychology" (Jung's term for his own system, which never caught on as well as the term "psychoanalysis") as a reaction against psychoanalysis or as a way of going beyond it. By contrast, we do not say that Freud's work went beyond Jung's. Perhaps this asymmetry is just a matter of Jung having been junior to Freud and still publishing after the elder had passed.
The critical event of the break between the two, which had been long in coming, occurs on their voyage to the United States. Jung tells a dream to Freud, which Freud dutifully analyzes in Oedipal terms. Jung wishes to kill his father, i.e., Freud. Then Freud precipitates exactly that which he has predicted. He refuses to reciprocate. When Jung ask him to relate a dream, he acknowledges that he has had one, but declines to share, explaining that putting himself into the patient's role would amount to submission to Jung and a catastrophic loss of authority. That, to Jung, means that Freud is beyond repair. And off they go on their separate ways.
We can try to analyze this episode in psychoanalytic terms—but whose? Would it be fair to use a Freudian frame? Might this not either favor Freud himself, or, if the analysis goes badly, heap insult upon injury? Alternatively, would it be wise to use Jungian terms of analysis? The same problems emerge in mirror-image fashion. Besides, I have no idea how to analyze anything in Jungian terms, other than guessing that the break was not coincidental.
I retreat, therefore, to the neutral ground of game theory. Game theory is a set of tools that allows us to examine the strategies available to interdependent actors (players) and to predict what they will do if they are being rational. In my ad hoc analysis of the break on the Atlantic, I rely on the Theory Of Moves (TOM, see Brams, 2011, most recently).
TOM is suitable for the analysis of sequential games. In our case, the sequence is that Jung has a choice between asking and not asking Freud to submit a dream for interpretation. Freud then has a choice between accommodating and declining, and Jung finally has a choice between interpreting and suspending judgment if indeed Freud cooperates.
Once Jung asks for a dream, Freud may assume that Jung has a preference for interpretation, I, over letting it go, L. This is Jung's primary interest because it refers to the ordering of his own strategies. Freud can also intuit Jung's secondary interest, which is what Jung would want Freud to do. Clearly, Jung wants Freud to tell a dream, T, and not to deflect, D. Freud's primary interest is not to tell, D, and his secondary interest is that Jung let it go, L.
Jung's preference ranking is TI > TL > DI > DL and Freud's preference ranking is DL > DI > TL > TI. This is a hell of a conflict as the correlation between the two rankings is -1. In the figure with a matrix representation of the preferences higher numbers represent greater psychological value. Freud is the row player and Jung is the column player. In each cell of the matrix, Freud's preference is to the left of the comma and Jung's is to the right.
Freud makes the first move by choosing between telling and deflecting. Having a good sense of Jung's interests (and his own), he chooses not to tell, predicting correctly that Jung will be upset for having received his second lowest outcome. Freud achieves his second best outcome. Notice that DI in the lower left of the matrix is a stable solution because neither player will want to change his mind. Both would lose self-respect, Freud by telling his dream after all, and Jung—if Freud remained silent—by claiming not to care.
If Freud fully understands that for Jung the outcome DL (not caring after Freud's silence) is worse than DI, he might know that his own assertion of authority will drive Jung away. Freud's refusal to share his dream may even be a stratagem to get Jung to make the break final. Perhaps Freud did not even have a dream. One even wonders if Freud would want to retain Jung as his crown prince. The differences between their perspectives are already evident. Freud cannot tolerate a mystic. That this mystic does not care to bet all of his theoretical money on sex may not even be the point.
One may ask whether my game-theoretic reconstruction of the untold-dream episode was unduly harsh on Jung. Given that his primary interest was to interpret Freud's dream, his preference ranking could have been TI > DI > TL > DL. If so, the outcome of Freud deflecting and Jung insisting on interpretation would have been Jung's second preference, and Freud would no longer have had an advantage. I find this alternative implausible, however, because Jung was rebuffed, whereas Freud was the rebuffer, and the latter tends to feel better than the former.
What about the limitations of TOM? There clearly is a lot of guesswork involved and who is to say that this guesswork is good? The game analyst is, in a way, a third player, who needs to predict the row player's (the first mover's) preferences and the assumptions the row player makes about the preferences of the column player. Moreover, the assumption that both players are rational is a fantastical departure from what psychoanalysis and some branches of contemporary cognitive psychology have to say about the matter. But then again, what type of irrationality would make Freud tell his dream to Jung if that is not what he wants to do?
Brams, S. J. (2011). Game theory and the humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Afterthought. After I first posted this post, I learned that some hand wringing is going on in Jungian circles. Jung's Jünger (disciples) worry that "the movie might damage the public perception of Jungian therapy," as Dr. Van Nuys put it. A Jungian friend of mine concurs, writing in an email that "A Dangerous Method is currently generating the predictable tempest of debate within and around the Jungian community." This friend notes that Jung was a human being (yes!) who lived out his shadow (yikes!). My friend goes on to observe "that it is a robust inclination of the reverent to whitewash the object of their admiration, and they are perpetually horrified by the revelation of facts, even those well known, that taint the pristine veneer."
That's the problem right there. The perception of Jungianism and other analytic systems of therapy is all bound up with the identity of the founding (father) figure. As intellectual systems or theories, Freudianism and Jungianism are impossible to separate from the cults surrounding the founders' personalities. Freud, I assume, wanted it this way, as it would confirm his theory of the Oedipus complex. Jung, on the other hand, should have transcended such person—boundedness. He would be horrified if he knew how much posthumous reverence he is receiving—one would think or at least hope. Again it seems that Freud was the more astute player of the game.
Psychoanalysis and analytical psychology are, in this regard, creepily like revelatory religions. The foundational writings are considered sacred, and the individuals who wrote them are revered as prophets. Any later writing can only be commentary; it cannot contradict, refute, or even question the core elements of the scripture. If it does, it will not be part of the canon. It will be a heresy to be expunged, dismissed, and suppressed. Those who seek to study psychoanalysis or similar personalized theories are advised to read the master's works above all else, and a big part of the course of study is to figure out what the master really meant.
At its best, science takes the opposite course, and reading Popper can be enlightening in this regard. Though individuals of great insight can articulate a new vision of that part of nature they choose to look at, the ensuing work of measurement, experimentation, and modeling moves "the community" beyond and thus away from "the master." In historical time, a great scientist is admired if his or her work prepared the path for later breakthroughs. Newton's achievement was not diminished by Einstein's discoveries. Where, however, is the body of psychoanalytic work that can now stand on its own—without the hand-wringing concerns about how the humanity of its founders might reflect on its validity? If there were such body, "the Jungian community" could relax and enjoy A Dangerous Method for what it is: a compassionate look at human nature and fabulous entertainment.