Saturday, January 7, 2012


Psychoanalysis is a myth kept alive by the couch industry.  ~ Woody Allen


It drove me wild, the way she lit a cigarette:
she’d place the burning match
across the ashtray and let the flame
consume itself like a sacrifice.
Her heavy rings, her rituals;
those Persephone eyes –
People whispered, “A black pearl.”
But a former patient of hers
recounted how in the middle of the session
the maid would bring in one cup of tea –
one cup – for Fräulein Wolff,
never for the patient.

Carl wrote an essay on marriage:
the complex partner, the “container,
a many-sided gem” contains
the other spouse, “a simple cube.”
Toni was not a cube.
She was “the thinking type,
which is unusual for a woman.”

About me people said, “She’s sweet”;
about her, “She walks like a queen.”
I in a gray woolen suit,
she in a hat with a rose and a veil.
My sister said, “Women like that
end up swallowing rat poison.”
She of the moon and I of the earth.

I was the foundation of his house;
she, its fragrance, he told everyone.
To practice his “honesty”
(if the container does not break down
in the face of what we are wont
to call “unfaithfulness”),
Carl insisted that Toni come
on Sundays to the family dinner.
The children made faces at her
when she couldn’t see.

One of Toni’s friends said about Carl:
“He was a big spoon. He drank her soul.”
She grew skeletal, with a concave chest;
turned more and more to alcohol.
One morning Carl’s shaving mirror
shattered into petals of sharp silver.
That day Toni died of heart disease.

In our garden at Küsnacht,
Carl made a stone memorial,
carved in Chinese characters:
Toni Wolff. Lotus. Nun. Mysterious.
People said, “Toni was all spirit”;
called her Carl’s “mystical sister,”
his “muse,” his “anima” —
anything but mistress.

Yet I understood
Carl’s wish to come again to love
in his prime, a bridegroom of the Mystery
(One should take great care not to interrupt
this necessary development
by acts of moral violence).
And Toni outlined her sacred task
in her book on female archetypes:
the Hetaira, brilliant, cultivated,
supports a man’s vision and his intellect.
Toni seemed to forget the fact
that the hetaira was a prostitute,
even if brilliant and cultivated.

Was her pain greater than mine?
Must we give thanks for pain,
that midwife of the soul –
my nights ticking off
Greek and Latin verbs,
mildewed volumes on alchemy
dawning next to my pillow.
I, “a simple cube,”
having gone to a school for girls
where we were taught how to fold
a napkin correctly –
I, though not a thinking type (he said),
became an analyst and scholar.
As did Toni.

Believe me, every day
I thank God for Toni Wolff –
because I have been spared
the fate of poor Martha Freud.

Frau Professor was very quiet.
She hardly spoke at all. I was told,
before marriage she loved books –
now she’d hardly ever sit down.
She had a maid, but preferred
to do housework herself.
Meals were punctual to the minute.
Her linen closet was perfection.

All day she’d fuss about cigar ash.
At the table she scolded her family
for sneaking morsels to the dog.
Not even her children
paid attention to her.
The guests talked through her
as through glass.

Martha . . Frau Professor saved string.
She kept boxes in the kitchen
filled with string and scraps of ribbon.
Rumor had it she thought her husband’s work
was a form of pornography.
It was her younger sister, Minna,
who had opinions and ideas –
she and Freud discussing,
talking at the table, traveling
together to Italy and the Swiss Alps.

The day I first met the Professor,
he kissed my hand and gave me a bouquet –
Freud’s manners toward women
were immaculate – then said,
“I’m sorry I can’t offer
more hospitality. All I have at home
is an elderly wife.”
Frau Freud was then forty-six.
At least it was past their lean years,
when only Freud traveled first-class,
she and the children in third,
on the hard wooden benches.
He said he needed comfort
because his nerves were bad.
Of course it was Frau Professor
who went to arrange the tickets.

They say she even put
the toothpaste on his toothbrush.
And I – I thank God for Toni Wolff.

~ Oriana © 2012

 Emma Jung

Jung to Freud, about his affair with Sabina Spielrein: “She was, of course, systematically planning my seduction.”  Freud: “In view of the kind of matter we work with, it will never be possible to avoid little laboratory explosions.” ~ John Kerr, "The Most Dangerous Method"

The issue that the recent movie about Jung’s relationship with Sabina Spielrein raises is perhaps one of the central issues of our times: if a relationship is enriching, even transformational to the people involved, is it worth having in spite of its requiring secrecy, the potential of causing suffering to a third party, and any other related “badness”? Certainly neither Jung nor Sabina Spielrein regretted the relationship – for all the suffering it also brought.

From Jung Sabina gained intellectual stimulation that propelled her toward studying to become a psychiatrist. For her, their relationship was life-changing. Was it also a transformational relationship for Jung? It could be argued (but I’ll leave that to scholars) that Sabina’s view on the nature of the “cure” in psychoanalysis was an important influence on Jung’s interest in the future more so than in the past – his notion of fate versus destiny (destiny being the daimon, the future pulling us onward). 

It’s by having a vision of what s/he might become that the patient can afford to drop pathology and move toward what might be called a “purpose-driven life.” When life becomes focused and disciplined through an inspiring vision of a future self, pathologies are transcended. Useless now, they drop away.

Thus, in the Jungian system, it’s not insight into the past that is curative, but insight into the future. Health is restored when we grow more interested in what we are becoming rather than in brooding over our past wounds.

Sabina also apparently influenced Freud’s development of the Eros-Thanatos theory of the “death drive” – to me, the most provocative of Freud’s ideas. That emerged from the movie more clearly than the more central divide between Freud and Jung. Freud was fixated on the past and on the need to understand the past, “the make the unconscious conscious,” and restore the patient “from neurotic suffering to normal misery.” Jung became more interested in a person’s vision of the future. There is a larger personality that we are intended to become. That destiny, or vision of the future self, pulls us upward.

Unfortunately, this interesting past/future divide between Freud and Jung becomes obscured by the erotic drama. “A Dangerous Method” could also be titled “More on Sex and Lies,” linking it to an undying tradition of how most men and women deal with the dilemma of having a “forbidden” relationship with someone who has a lot to give. A potential (some would say “inevitable”) damage to one’s established relationship needs to be weighed against the kind of mental expansion that rarely happens outside of a close interaction with an exceptional individual. To reject that stimulation and growth seems a crime against one’s soul that will eventually mean having less to give to one’s long-term partner as well.

Would I universalize this statement? No, we must go case by case and see if the suffering is minor in relation to the growth and overall pain. It’s never easy – even monogamy isn't easy, and a triangle is automatically difficult. Emma realized that her husband was the kind of man that intellectual women fell in love with; she was still thankful for being married to him rather than to someone less interesting and charismatic. She had the amazing wisdom of realizing that the gifts other women bestowed on Jung would eventually benefit her. She was also in the power position of knowing that her husband wouldn't leave her; if anything, he was afraid she might decide to leave him. But she was also “only human,” and could not have been thrilled with his affairs.

I forget now which biography of Jung gave me the material for the poem that opens this blog entry. What I do remember is the biographer’s admiration for Emma Jung and her transformation into a respected professional – in some measure as a response to the challenge of Toni’s ability to provide her husband with intellectual companionship.

It’s not a great movie, but one I don’t regret seeing. I recommend it as interesting, and food for thought. It made me look up Sabina Spielrein. I felt especially interested in her influential 1911 paper, “Destruction as a Cause of Coming into Being,” prefiguring (and possibly inspiring) Freud’s concept of the death drive, Thanatos. And Otto Gross, the libertine and anarchist of psychiatry – the movie could have used more Otto, who steals every scene he’s in. (For more fascinating information about Otto Gross and his “conversion” of Jung to liberated sexuality, I recommend Richard Knoll’s The Aryan Christ.)

I expected a more erotic movie, but I didn’t feel any sexual chemistry between the actors playing Jung and Sabina. They were clearly competent actors. But the erotic tension you might expect somehow just wasnt there. Maybe Omar Sharif was right when he said, “You have to be a little in love with your leading lady, or the love scene won’t work.” The love scenes didn’t work for me. The Jung-Freud interaction was more interesting – also with its lies and withholding – Jung apparently knew that Freud was having an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna; Minna herself confided in him about it; Freud didn’t know that Jung knew.

Still, I recommend the movie. It held my interest. And of course, because of my pre-existing poem, it was special for me when Jung says that Toni is the perfume of his house, while Emma is its foundation.

I don’t recommend it for Valentine’s, though. It’s not really a love story. The movie is more about ambition. 

 Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung


Alas, the movie shows only the untransformed Emma – even while Jung is already having a relationship with Toni Wolff, Emma looks and sounds exactly as she did when she was a young wife. Her every look conveys the emotion of being troubled. But maybe it would add too many layers to the movie to go into Emma in more depth.

 Toni Wolff

Jung is usually given credit for being less sexist than Freud, so we tend to forget that he thought that a "thinking type" is rare among women. As the quotation below shows, he was a man of his times after all . . . 

A man’s chief interest should be his work. But [for] a woman, man is her work and her business. I know it sounds like a convenient philosophy of a selfish male when I say that. But marriage means a home. And a home is like a nest – not enough room for both birds. One sits inside, the other perches on the edge and looks about and attends to all outside business. ~ C.G. Jung Speaking, 1955

Jung’s inscription on Emma’s tomb: “Vase, sign of devotion and obedience.”

I can’t help but chuckle over having found on google the naughty little factoid that women in Jung’s circle were known as “Jungfrauen.” In German, “Jungfrau” means virgin.

On the other hand, we should also remember that Jung was familiar with the Tao and its reverence for the Feminine.

What keeps haunting me is the scene of the passengers on the transatlantic ship standing on deck, mesmerized by the sight of the Statue of Liberty. Jung says, “This is the face of the future.” Freud replies, “Yes, and we are bringing them the plague.” That moment was more exciting for me than all the oddly un-erotic S&M scenes in the movie (one reviewer suggested that the spanking scene could be taken as punishing the lead actress for overacting).

Jung, Sabina Spielrein, Freud

“We are bringing them the plague.” The plague of self-absorption rather than a quest for a vocation and a productive life? Was it my knowledge that Freud, immensely workaholic, despised most of his patients as rich neurotics with nothing to do but cultivate their symptoms? For whatever reason, what Freud said finally set off t a bit of excitement in me as I watched this unexpectedly wooden movie, but it did. Overall, maybe because of the almost supernatural cool of Viggo Mortensen, who plays Freud, Freud comes across as a more powerful man than Jung, with a hint of being an evil genius.

I was also interested in Sabina’s statement that sex is not about pleasure. That hit home. If sex happened to be just a pleasure on the order of a bowl of ice-cream, it would not have much power. Sabina’s conclusion, that sex is about ego-death in a fusion, did not seem entirely convincing, though it might be part of it. But probably no one has THE answer; there is no simple statement that would explain the power of sex. Sex seems to mean something else to women than to men, and even then we have to ask which woman, which man, and at what age.

Both Jung and Sabina propose that a patient must develop a vision of the future rather than simply analyze the past. Freud suggests that the most a therapist can do is to make the patient accept reality. I am surprised that the movie did not use Freud’s famous statement about trading “neurotic suffering” for “ordinary unhappiness.” Jung seemed an awkward, stammering schoolboy next to Freud’s professorial self-assurance.

What produces such self-assurance? Speaking of another man who displayed a very high opinion of himself, a friend of mine said, “His mother spoiled him.” Sigmund was, of course, his mother’s favorite son, an experience he described as  a “life-long feeling of triumph.” Jung’s mother was depressed and unpredictable. Freud’s mother had a powerful personality and loved her favorite son with an intensity bordering on idolatry – no sacrifice was too great to secure a successful profession for him. Too little has been said of “achievement enablers.” For Jung, that was primarily Emma, whose wealth made it possible for him to pursue his interests, but also intellectually stimulating women like Sabina and Toni, and the other adoring “Jungfrauen,” including the brilliant Marie-Louise von Franz.

But I don’t wish to leave the reader with the impression that “Freud wins.” Both Jung and Freud produced culture-transforming ideas. My favorite quotation by Jung is this one “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. When it comes to Freud, “making the unconscious conscious” is perhaps the most famous quotation, but I am fond of an obscure one from The Future of an Illusion: “The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.” This is surprising coming from a man who so illuminated the power of the irrational, who seemed to agree that we are slaves to our passions. And yet . . . once the voice of the intellect gains a hearing, we cannot go against a clear insight. I have experienced this more than once, and the power of that fraction-of-a-second experience is astonishing. 


Excellent poem and post! Jung is a favorite topic of mine as he influenced so many of my literary heroes and scholars. The New Zealand poet James K Baxter sought out a Jungian psychiatrist soon after he started attending university as a young man; the English classicist and literary critic Maud Bodkin wrote extensively on Jung, myth and literature, including another favorite writer, J R R Tolkien; and last but no means least the American psychoanalyst and Melville scholar Henry Murray was very much a Jungian.

I read a biography of Murray some time back. He had a bizarre extramarital affair with a colleague, akin to Jung's. All these writers mentioned above had issues in their marriages. Baxter left his wife and reportedly had several liaisons at the commune he founded. Melville had a strained relationship with his wife. Murray had the affair I have mentioned. Only Tolkien seemed to have had a long and happy marriage.

The relationship of men to their 'muses' and/or wives is of course nothing new, especially to men of talent and/or power. The most moral of men or those that espouse great and noble causes seem even more prone to not being able to stay with one relationship; books could be written of course of examples, so I won't belabor the point or try to excuse or defend. I spent a good part of my early life confined on a ship with nothing but hundreds of men for long stretches at sea and I have a fair recollection of many of our main topics of discussion and of course women ranked right up there! But while the conversations were base and crude at times, the vast majority of the men I knew were good and decent at heart and most sought what most men seek: a stable relationship with a woman who understands and cares for them.

Poets and philosophers concern themselves greatly with affairs of the heart...and flesh...and that to me is what makes life bearable – the art of trying to make sense of our relationships through feeling and emotion in a sometime cold, unfeeling world. When a woman and man make that special connection, and not just physical either, there’s no greater bond. I am also convinced however that no man can be a true deep friend with a woman without eventually the sexual component coming out. Now with discipline it can be suppressed but never totally eliminated. The older I get the less that theory of mine holds fast; maybe that's the natural order of things. If one can find that physical and soul connection in one person, that indeed is something to be envied and one that Jung obviously could not....but again, he's far from alone.


Dostoyevski’s second marriage was solid and happy; there must have been some other famous men with happy marriages, but for the moment only Dostoyevski comes to mind (and that was his second marriage; older age at getting married is a predictor of success). 

It’s certainly true that when the partners are well matched and cooperative, especially if they work together on some common projects, they are an enviable  “dream team.” Sadly, most people marry too young, before they have found their path in life. The ideal, I’ve read in some article, is be to find your path first and then see who else is walking that path. But we know that you can’t really say this to someone young and in love. The twenties are certainly not an age of wisdom, but hormones and fertility are at high levels. And a woman who wants to have children should not wait too long either. This is a terrible trap, especially for a motherly woman, who eventually gets told to “get a life” – but she may not have the slightest idea of what she wants to be once her children grow up.

But once some individuation is achieved (as Jung would put it), one of the partners is likely to meet someone with whom s/he can have an intellectual/soul connection. Whatever happens, suffering will be a part of it.

An additional. more contemporary problem is that some men definitely want a “service person” for a wife; they don’t want a woman who has a life of her own. Their secret or not-so-secret dream is a stable marriage to a conventional woman and an exciting extramarital love life with women who can be intellectual companions. They may discover the hard way that life can become very difficult if they pursue that dream. But in most cases, both parties start in good faith and things simply happen. Emerson made an interesting remark, to the effect that we shouldn’t blame ourselves for a bad marriage because “nature sets up powerful traps for us.”

Unfortunately the movie did not present Emma only as a long-suffering loyal wife and mother. She could have easily divorced Jung – the terms of the marriage contract were such that all the wealth she brought in would revert to her (in fact Freud thought that Jung had married for money, and that his marital problems were typical of such marriages). But Emma knew that no other man would be as interesting as Jung. So she made a heroic effort to become more interesting herself. As I describe in my poem, she educated herself and became an analyst in her own right. It was too late and too little for her to become a “muse” to her husband, but at least she got to a point where they had more in common. Aside from this, she had the satisfaction of having her own professional work.

After Toni Wolff, Marie-Louise von Franz became Jung’s close friend – a platonic one, due to Jung’s age. Aging can at least reduce the sexual element. Still, the emotional closeness could be reason enough for jealousy – but at that point Emma “had a life,” and if anything was glad that a capable woman was willing to dedicate herself to helping her husband with his work. Von Franz eventually finished the book on the legend of the grail that Emma Jung was working on until her death. It’s interesting that Emma was so fascinated with the subject of heroic quest.

Another eye-opening fact is that statistics show the lowest divorce rate in educated couples, again indicating that there is much to be said for having a similar educational level and similar interests. Atheists also have a low divorce rate, but the real factor there is probably more education; the highest divorce rate in the country is to be found in the so-called “Bible belt.” Thus, contrary to the conservative view, being religious in no way guarantees a happy marriage. Being educated, marrying at a later age, and having interests in common all correlate with stability and marital satisfaction. 


I was a social worker who practiced psychotherapy, and in my training learned about the work and the lives of Freud and Jung. On the one hand they were pioneers with healing methods that remain difficult and full of peril at every turn, without benefit of learning the wise ethical boundaries that therapists learn today. On the other hand – they were sexist male therapists who had affairs with female patients who did not conform to gender scripts. Maybe the movie isn't sexy or romantic because the subject matter is more about the assumption of power? Haven't seen the movie, but I'm wondering.

That’s a very perceptive observation: yes, absolutely, the sexist angle, and power and control. Jung seems a total cad. His one “romantic” moment, when he begs Sabina not to leave him to join Freud in Vienna, is completely unbelievable (maybe it’s also the angle of the shot, focusing on the soles of his feet). Yes, it could easily be said that the movie is about ambition, power, control, and sexism – and that’s the main reason that it’s simply not a love story.

To my knowledge, Freud did not have affairs with his female patients in the physical sense, but he did assume they’d fall in love with him. With the poet h.d., he desperately cried out, “Trouble is, I’m too old for you to love me!”

Both men had in their circle brilliant women like Lou Andreas-Salome (Freud) and Toni Wolff and Louise von Franz (Jung). This didn’t enlighten them as to the possibility that a woman could be as smart as a man. At least Jung didn’t disgrace himself (in our eyes) with something as ludicrous as “penis envy.” It’s not the penis (a rather ludicrous attachment) that women wanted to have, but male power and privilege.

The best acting in the movie happens when either Freud or Otto Gross are in the scene. It’s really about the men. The best scenes (e.g. Jung at Freud’s family dinner) don’t include women at all.

But it’s quite fascinating to see the old ways of dealing with mental patients, e.g. cold baths. How recent all this seems! And of course this was progress if seen against the inferno-like old asylums where patients were chained to the wall, and the public admitted to view the insane as a form of entertainment. But against that, there was (and is) also this village in Belgium with a tradition of taking in the mentally ill to do farm work, take care of the animals and be part of the family. I also know one schizophrenic who is an accomplished potter, and the fact that he has a valuable skill has made all the difference: he has a vocation/occupation other than just listening to his voices.


Thanks for sharing this quote from the 50's.

Jung's image is an inaccurate picture of gender relations among birds, which I'd think Jung, an educated man, would have known.

A bird's nest is not a home, but a nursery. It's built only for incubating the young and raising them till they fledge. The nest is built by the male and female working 50:50 together in total cooperation. Once the eggs are laid, the female does most of the incubating while the male brings her food, which is where Jung's image comes from, I am sure.  (Among penguins, however, the male does all the incubating while the female goes off to take care of herself. I'm sure you saw that wonderful movie March of the Penguins.)

Once the youngsters leave the nest, they never return and the nest is abandoned.  Both parents are involved with helping the youngsters get started outside the nest, teaching them to fly, etc.. Then the males and females are off. The female is out there in the world attending to all business "outside the nest."  If she's a bird of prey, she's hunting. If she's a migratory bird, she migrates thousands of miles, etc.


You are so right. Well, when Jung made this bird analogy it was just beginning to be a little more difficult to be a sexist. There is an obvious strain here. And Jung himself says that he may sound like “just another selfish male.” Another analogy I’ve heard uses mountain-climbing: “someone has to take care of the base camp.” But aren’t most base camps simply left empty when the team is doing the climb?

I’ve never forgotten the film-maker’s Jalom’s observation: “Women are our last slaves.” A man I happened to meet at a Jungian lecture (where else?) said he started working at Whole Foods and at first he just couldn’t believe that practically all shoppers were women. “So women still do practically all grocery shopping?” he asked, as if not wanting this to be reality.

Speaking of mountain climbing, a hundred years ago becoming a professional woman must have been the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. I have absolutely no nostalgia for those “romantic” times. 


Freud and Jung would both be better off it they didn't try to explain women. "Someone has to stay behind and manage the base camp." All Jung’s comments on women come across as Jungian slips.


I love the idea of a Jungian slip! His are the slips into mystical sexism. Both he and Freud were surrounded by brilliant women, but simply could not, for the life of them, admit that a woman could be as intelligent and ambitious as a man. Jung went as far as admitting that Toni was “a thinking type, which is rare among women.” But there has been progress – we can at least say that.  

Below: Carl Jung and family, 1917


  1. This is a great review but the best part is your opening poem. I love the layered bio/monologue. Probably better than the film. All this, as you rightly bring up, connects to the whole muse-business, which is so overly complex and layered and problematic and important to me....that I wouldn't know where to begin. I know of one female poet who claims to have (and have had) male muses that fit the standard female muse pattern. Not sure how widespread that is, though. On another note, I recall reading somewhere that Freud has a breakthrough in terms of understanding why the young Sabina was such a dirty mess (literally) playing with her own fesces and the like. In typical Freudian fashion he realized that she was simply acting out her name--Spielrein--which meant "playing dirty."

  2. Oh, but Spielrein means the opposite, "play clean." Rein means pure, clean -- one of Rilke's favorite words. Regardless, at this point we can only laugh at most Freudian explanations.

    I definitely had a few male muses. A charismatic lover with a rich mentality can function that way. In some cases it goes both ways, e.g. the early years together of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. And considering Ted's "Birthday Poems," the dead Sylvia became his Eurydice.

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  8. just finished the movie and came across your blog when doing my after-movie research that I normally wouldn't do....I hope you don't mind posting your blog into my blog (or Facebook since I haven't really decided where it should go). Your post gave me a lot of food for thoughts which I have always lacked even since I graduated from university and built my nest

  9. Dear "just a way," I am flattered -- but providing a link to the blog would be the easiest, and that's what I'd prefer. You can of course quote -- but please say that this is is from Oriana-Poetry blog.

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  11. "I shall always be grateful to Toni for doing for my husband what I or anyone else could not have done at a most critical time." ~Emma Jung; Laurens Van Der Post Jung: The Story of our Time; Page 177.

    "You see, he never took anything from me to give to Toni, but the more he gave her the more he seemed able to give me. ~Emma Jung [Jung: His Life and Work by Barbara Hannah, Page 119.

    A marriage is more likely to succeed if the woman follows her own star and remains conscious of her wholeness than if she constantly concerns herself with her husband's star and his wholeness. ~ Carl Jung, Conversations with C.G. Jung, Page 51.

  12. Lewis, thank you for these great quotations. I was familiar only with the first one (“I shall always be grateful to Toni . . . “)