Otto Rank

I wonder how it is I’ve never come across Otto Rank before. He was a close associate of Freud but they fell out when Rank started to question some of Freud’s doctrines. Amongst other things Rank challenged the prevailing view that reduced all emotion to an expression of sexuality and saw it as something to be excluded in the analyst’s relationship with parents. Rock’s questioning of this emotional coldness sowed the seeds for all sorts of things that followed, including the growth of gestalt psychotherapy.

I was very struck by what Rank said here:

Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation. At birth, the individual experiences the first shock of separation, which throughout his life he strives to overcome. In the process of adaptation, man persistently separates from his old self, or at least from those segments off his old self that are now outlived. Like a child who has outgrown a toy, he discards the old parts of himself for which he has no further use ….The ego continually breaks away from its worn-out parts, which were of value in the past but have no value in the present. The neurotic [who cannot unlearn, and, therefore, lacks creativity] is unable to accomplish this normal detachment process … Owing to fear and guilt generated in the assertion of his own autonomy, he is unable to free himself, and instead remains suspended upon some primitive level of his evolution.

Rock Rank believes that unlearning and breaking from the past is at the heart of creativity. He points to the fears that prevent any of us from making this move and in doing so I think points to our humanity and frailty, something that is easily lost in tidy sounding innovation processes.

This bit of the wikipedia entry also caught my eye:

The most creative artists, such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Leonardo, know how to separate even from their own greatest public successes, from earlier artistic incarnations of themselves. Their “greatness consists precisely in this reaching out beyond themselves, beyond the ideology which they have themselves fostered,” according to Art and Artist (Rank, 1932/1989, p. 368). Through the lens of Otto Rank’s work on understanding art and artists, action learning can be seen as the never-completed process of learning how to “step out of the frame” of the ruling mindset, whether one’s own or the culture’s – in other words, of learning how to unlearn.

I love this thought; any practitioner who gets too attached to their process is in danger of cutting off their aliveness to what is really possible.

Rank appears to have had a significant influence on the development of drama therapy and I immediately see connections to the “problem theatre” approach I blogged about yesterday. That could be framed as a way of socialising experiments in generating new versions of ourselves to respond to difficult situations. We can’t get rid of the kind of existential fear that goes with creating something new, but we can perhaps create spaces in which that need not feel so scary or lonely?

More to follow…

Hat tip to Andreas Manuth whose tweet set me the path to finding Rank.

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