Which branch of psychology is interesting

A psychoanalyst as a literary critic

Sigmund Freud interprets Stefan Zweig's work

From Jasmin Keller

"The understanding other has brought it to mastery in you, but actually I love the creator (, confusion of feelings‘) even more. "Sigmund Freud to Stefan Zweig (1928)

The founder of psychoanalysis is known as a friend of literature, as an avid reader, from the classics to the great poets of his time to easier reading and detective novels. He is less known for friendships with the literary figures of his time. On the contrary: Sigmund Freud often deliberately kept his distance from artists who were looking for his closeness (for example to the Dadaists and Surrealists), even though they dealt with very similar topics as he did. The core of his research - that humans, in contrast to the findings of the Enlightenment, are not autonomous and not fully aware of themselves - he shared with the writers of his generation, with Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Hermann Bahr and Karl Kraus, to name just a few representatives of Viennese modernism.

In spite of this - or perhaps because of it - there was an ambivalent relationship between Freud and the writers who dealt with the portrayal of inner conflicts and unconscious psychological processes, with "nerve art". Although his teaching influenced most of the artists at least indirectly, it was annoyed that Freud concluded from the work of art the psychological state of its creator and not infrequently diagnosed a disorder. Freud's devastating judgments of what he saw as pathological artists (for example, "Psychopathic Persons on the Stage" from 1906) understandably turned part of the artistic world against him. He was also accused of having ultimately only scientifically researched an already existing literary discourse. The writers had recognized the problem of the unfree self before him and he adorned himself with foreign laurels.

Freud also maintained friendships with writers, and these seem particularly interesting because of his otherwise usual distance. The question arises: What did these writers - for example Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Romain Rolland, Lou Andreas-Salomé, Arnold Zweig and Stefan Zweig - bring with them, in contrast to others, that Freud's positive appreciation allowed? His over thirty years of correspondence with Stefan Zweig - one of the most extensive correspondence of the psychoanalyst according to Freud's biographer Ernest Jones - stands out among these friendships for several reasons. Because Zweig was not only a writer, but his passion was the exploration of the human soul. “Psychology is to me (you understand this like no other) today the Passion of my life, ”he confessed to Freud in 1926.

In his novellas and as a biographer, Zweig concentrated for decades on vividly illustrating character traits and feelings, recognizing patterns of action and connections - in short: practicing psychology. Besides, Zweig was not just a friend of Freud's writers. As a publicist, it was his declared intention to publicly honor the psychoanalyst's achievements; not least in order to support the awarding of the Nobel Prize - which Freud never got and, according to his own statements, never wanted to.

Zweig published Festschriften, reviewed Freud's books, and in 1931 a detailed portrait of psychoanalysis and its creator appeared. Sigmund Freud also gave a detailed, albeit rarely public, interpretation of Zweig's work. In addition to their passion for looking into the soul, the men shared their Austrian origins; both were Jews, lived in Vienna for many years and emigrated to London in the 1930s, where they saw each other for the last time. After Freud's death, Zweig was one of the speakers at the memorial service alongside Ernest Jones and Peter Neumann. Reason enough to take a closer look at the connection between the two. The following study focuses on Freud's comments on Zweig's novellas and biographical essays.

In 1908, when Freud was fifty-one, the twenty-six-year-old branch sent him a handwritten copy of his drama “Tersites”. Freud's letter in response to this gift is the first evidence of personal contact between the two men. Zweig's poems, “The Early Wreaths”, were already known to Freud at that time, and the writer, too, with great certainty encountered the ideas of the Viennese doctor at a very young age. Already in Freud's second letter, after reading Zweig's Balzac essay, a similar way of thinking is heralded. He writes: "I can easily find my way into your thoughts as if they were my good friends." At Tersites, which he otherwise liked, he criticizes that “a sober man”, some characters are taken to extremes, even caricatured.

In the decades that followed, there were repeated comments on Zweig's work: In 1911 Freud called the volume of novels “First Experience - Stories from Kinderland” the “subtle and psychologically significant children's stories,” he reads “Three Masters” in 1920 “with extraordinary enjoyment” and in 1925 wrote he on “The fight with the demon”: “I have to tell you once that you can do something with language that, as far as I know, no one else can match you. They know how to push the expression closer to the object in such a way that its finest details become tangible and that one believes to grasp conditions and qualities that have not yet been put into words at all. " In 1928, after the transmission of "Three Poets of Their Life", the psychoanalyst confessed: "To read something from you always means intense enjoyment to me."

Unfortunately, much of the correspondence has not been preserved. The 77 letters published so far indicate a cordial relationship with the younger writer. Freud expresses himself in many ways with admiration about Zweig's language and his psychological powers of observation. At the same time, there are positive expressions about the human branch. But how does he judge the texts from a psychoanalytic point of view?

The correspondence published so far contains detailed comments on the volume of short stories "Confusion of Emotions" and on a number of biographical essays. Freud's overall assessment of the novellas is: “I would almost wish that I would receive the Dr. St. Zweig never got to know personally and that he never behaved so kindly and respectfully towards me. Because now I suffer from the doubt whether my judgment may not be confused by personal sympathy. If such a volume of short stories by an author unknown to me should fall into my hands, I would certainly find without hesitation that I have come across a first-rate creator and a top artistic achievement. But I really think these three novels - more strictly: two of you - are masterpieces. "

Freud speaks of "twenty-four hours from a woman's life" and "confusion of emotions". One year later he publicly repeated his interpretation of "Twenty-four hours from the life of a woman", which he had communicated by letter to Zweig, in his essay "Dostoevsky and the killing of the father". He describes the novella as a small masterpiece, in which Zweig veiled his own unconscious wish - without knowing it himself. This desire, which is always present in the unconscious of men, but cannot be fulfilled, is to be introduced into sexual life by the mother and to escape the supposedly dangerous consequences of masturbation. Gambling addiction is basically a substitute for compulsory masturbation, and Zweig's vivid illustration of the player's nervous hands reveals the original plot.

This very far-reaching interpretation is not commented on by Zweig himself and is later questioned by literary scholars and psychiatrists. However, like Freud, the researchers see the Oedipus constellation between the forty-two-year-old widow and the twenty-four-year-old gambler. Mrs. C.'s impulse to get involved with the young man, described by Zweig as mysterious and unpredictable, is by no means a mystery to Freud (“as a mother she had not escaped a completely unconscious transfer of love to her son, and in this unguarded place she was able to fate will seize them ”). It shows: Freud psychoanalytically recognizes a coherent cause-effect chain, but does not trust Zweig to have consciously established these connections or to even know the deeper meaning of his text. Regardless of this, he writes in his essay: "This brilliantly told, seamlessly motivated story is certainly viable on its own and is sure to have a great effect on the reader."

The second novella, "Impatience of the Heart", revolves around the father's jealousy of the growing daughter, his former sexual object and property. In the third, “Confusion of Feelings”, Zweig describes the conflict between a young student who cannot allow his esteemed professor's love because of the prohibition of homosexual ties. The social taboo is inexplicable for Freud - same-sex love is in harmony with the bisexual nature of eros - but irrevocable. His comment on Zweig's achievement reads: "This presentation now takes place with such art, openness, love of truth and intimacy, so free from all mendacity or sentimentality of the time, that I willingly confess that I cannot imagine anything better." Freud further foresees that the criticism will not achieve this honesty, but will suspect the confusion of feelings in the relationship with the wife of the revered teacher. Zweig's reaction to this praise is - as is usually the case - a wordy thank you to Freud, whose courage and sincerity had been a role model for him to think and write so openly and uncensored.

Zweig's biographical essays, which, as character studies of real people of the present or the past, must arouse special interest for a psychologist, are also examined by Freud. In the case of the French Queen Marie-Antoinette (“Marie Antoinette: Portrait of a Middle Character”, 1932), with regard to her marriage and an incest initiated by the mother, it was certainly as Zweig portrays it. He goes on to praise: "Do you know that your analysis of the royal rascal who accuses his mother (and aunt) of seduction is absolutely reliable?" About "Drei Meister", Zweig's comparison of Balzac, Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky, he judges: "The perfection of empathy combined with the mastery of linguistic expression leave an impression of rare satisfaction." Above all, the repetitions and intensifications in Zweig's text let the core of what is represented - as with the accumulation of symbols in dreams - become recognizable. But while he describes the characterization of Balzac and Dickens as completely successful, he is less satisfied with the portrayal of Dostoevsky. Freud praises Zweig correctly recognizing almost all the features of his poetry, but nevertheless explains to him the psychoanalytic background of some character traits (for example the dualism of Dostoyevsky's feelings as ambivalence, described by Zweig). Above all, Dostoevsky was not an epileptic from his point of view, but his attacks would have been of a hysterical nature. On this basis, Zweig should have built the character, as he, Freud, did himself seven years later, in "Dostoevsky and the killing of the father".

The two texts about the Russian writer are at the same time a vivid example of clear differences in assessment between psychologists. Zweig highly praises Dostoevsky for being "the most powerful master and translator since the days of the will." His lifelong suffering made him a martyr, and he gained deep insights into the human soul and the world of the unconscious. Zweig writes: "It was not the psychologists, the scientists, who recognized the depths of the modern soul, but the immoderate among the poets, those who cross borders." He calls Dostoevsky “the psychologist of psychologists” and states: “Everything that science only discovered and named later [...] all the telepathic, hysterical, hallucinative, perverse phenomena he described in advance from that mystical ability of clairvoyant knowledge and sympathy. […] Dostoevsky begins a new psychology in art ”.

And Freud? For the doctor, Dostoevsky is "a seriously perverted neurotic." He describes “The Karamasov Brothers” as the greatest novel that has ever been written, but the author was a sadist, also towards his readers, who also sought punishment as a masochist. Freud diagnosed a "perverse instinct that had to make him a sado-masochist or a criminal." He writes: "After the most violent struggles to reconcile the instinctual claims of the individual with the demands of the human community, he ends up falling back into submission to both worldly and spiritual authority." He concludes: “Dostoevsky failed to become a teacher and liberator of the people, he joined their jailers, the cultural future of the people will have little to thank him for. It can probably be shown that he was doomed to such failure by a neurosis. According to the height of his intelligence and the strength of his human love, another, an apostolic way of life would have been opened to him. " Freud is convinced of the greatness of the work, but denies its creator that greatness.

Despite this contradicting value judgment and apart from the question of whether Dostoevsky's seizures were epilepsy or neurosis, Zweig describes the same traits - years before Freud. He vividly illustrates Dostoyevsky's "love of suffering" and literally names his sadistic tendencies, also with regard to the reader. However, from his point of view, these tendencies do not detract from Dostoyevsky's genius. Elsewhere Zweig writes: "The word pathological only applies in the unproductive, in the lower world, because illness that creates the immortal is no longer an illness." At this point, his opinion is much closer to Friedrich Nietzsche's understanding of the Dionysian artist than Freud.

Zweig's account of Freud and his doctrine, psychoanalysis, was less popular with what was portrayed. From the beginning Freud was not enthusiastic about Zweig's well-meaning idea of ​​a portrait, and even after its publication he had some complaints about it. Above all, he stumbled upon the extremely correct, almost petty-bourgeois portrayal of himself and wrote Zweig listing his alleged vices. Although he knew that Zweig had been following his publications for years, he assumed that the content of psychoanalytic doctrine had hitherto been alien to him. Ultimately, however, he only criticized three points in his letter: The technique of free association deserved more importance; he did not derive his knowledge of dream interpretation from childhood dreams; Contrary to Zweig's conviction, the activity of the analyst can actually be learned.

Freud sincerely admired Zweig's work, largely because of the linguistic talent and psychological empathy of its creator. Despite this admiration, however, it seems that the psychoanalyst was convinced that he understood the texts better than their author. He does not trust Zweig to recognize the ultimate psychoanalytic truth behind the written word himself, according to his teaching. Again and again he explains to his friend what his scientific descriptions mean in the analyst's eyes. Zweig does not comment on these explanations - and so it remains unclear whether he was aware of these theoretical connections, perhaps also consciously established them, or whether he even rejects some of Freud's interpretations. But one thing is clear: Zweig's psychological empathy and his eye for connections and chains of effects coincide in a striking way with Freud's understanding. This similar perception is undoubtedly a decisive reason for the thirty-year relationship between the writer and the scientist.

But whether Zweig learned more from Freud than the courage to be truthful, i.e. adopted psychoanalytic theory from him, remains open. A partially conscious application of Freud’s ideas is likely, after all, he read his writings. However, as the example of Dostoevsky shows, the value judgment differs despite a similar perception. Zweig knows no pathological art.The artist pursues psychology as a passion, unlike Freud, the doctor, for whom psychology was exclusively a science. Freud differentiates between sick and healthy artists, regardless of the size of their work. Zweig's character - and here is another indication of the roots of his friendship with this writer - finds, as far as one can trust his letters, his recognition. Once the doctor compared him directly to Dostoevsky and recognized a difference in Zweig's favor: “You are of the observer type, eavesdropper, benevolently and lovingly struggling to understand what is incredibly great. You are not violent yourself. "

Sigmund Freud translated Stefan Zweig's prose into scientific jargon. Whether this translation also brings a hidden truth to light, i.e. does more than translate the content of the text into another language, remains to be seen.


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