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Psychoanalysis – the Promised Land?

The History of Psychoanalysis in Poland 1900–1989. Part I. The Sturm und Drang Period. Beginnings of Psychoanalysis in the Polish Lands during the Partitions 1900–1918

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Paweł Dybel

The book is the first systematic study of the beginnings of psychoanalysis on Polish lands in Galicia (Austria-Hungary) and Congress Poland (Russia) during the partitions of Poland in the years between 1900 and 1918. The birth of the movement was presented on a broad cultural background, as an element of the assimilation processes among Polish Jews. At the same time, Freud's and Jung's theories began to gain popularity in Polish medical, philosophical, artistic and literary circles. By 1918, over a dozen articles on psychoanalysis had been published in Polish scientific and philosophical journals. Freud himself was vitally interested in this process, sending Ludwig Jekels to Krakow in the role of – as he wrote – an "apostle" of his theory in the circles of the Polish intelligentsia.

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From the author. A bibliographic note

From the author. A bibliographic note

1 Information about the publishing series

This book, published in Polish in 2016, offers the first comprehensive discussion on the influence of Freud’s and Jung’s theories on the Polish intelligentsia in the period of the partitions in the early 20th century, from 1900 to 1918.1 I am now working on a second volume, which will encompass the period between 1918 and 1945, that is the twenty years of the existence of the Second Polish Republic and the wartime years. Until now, only short articles or encyclopedic entries on this subject have appeared in journals or dictionaries, usually of a general and purely informative nature.2

My book launched a publishing series issued by the Kraków University Press Universitas called The History of Psychoanalysis in Poland, in which some dozen volumes are to appear until 2021, reflecting the work of the research team created in 2014 under the purview of a grant from the “National Programme of the Development of Humanities,” financed by the Ministry of Sciences and Higher Education. In the successive volumes, several of which have already been published, the history of psychoanalysis in Poland will be presented by various authors from many perspectives: that of the history of Polish psychiatry and psychotherapy, the history of literature, in the political and historical context, and from the perspective of Polish-Jewish reception of psychoanalytical works written in Yiddish and Hebrew in interwar Poland. The wide scope of this research is intended as an introduction to more detailed studies in the future, which will require numerous searches, interviews, and access to archives scattered all over the world, for the history of the reception of psychoanalysis in ←13 | 14→20th-century Poland still includes a number of uncharted territories as well as themes which should be explored.

2 Publications on the history of psychoanalysis in Poland after 1989

There are several reasons behind the fact that, in the decades-long period since World War II, no major scholarly work on the history of psychoanalysis in 20th-century Poland has been written. One of them was the paranoid suspicion of the local communist regime towards psychoanalysis, which treated psychoanalysis as a reactionary bourgeois theory incompatible with Marxist-Leninist political and social doctrine. And the communists were much helped in promoting this attitude among Polish academics and intellectuals by the charges that psychoanalytical theories were “unscientific,” charges leveled by scientistically minded researchers advocating a neo-positivist understanding of science. The strategy of the Polish regime in this context was the same as the approach to psychoanalysis in other countries of the Soviet bloc.

Only after the breakthrough produced by the Solidarity movement in 1989 was it possible to undertake wider research on various trends in Polish culture and science of the 20th century which had little to do with the Marxist-Leninist tradition as it was then conceived. Making use of the research opportunities and access to materials abroad which were then becoming available, I wrote an article for the Res Publica Nowa journal entitled “Urwane ścieżki, z dziejów psychoanalizy w Polsce zaborów i międzywojnia” (Broken trails, from the history of psychoanalysis in Poland during the partitions and in the interwar period, 1997, no 5), where I presented the history of psychoanalysis in Poland against a broad cultural and historical backdrop. Two years later the article was published in German in the Psyche magazine.3 A few years later Bartłomiej Dobroczyński wrote the book Idea nieświadomości w polskiej myśli psychologicznej przed Freudem (The idea of the unconscious in Polish psychological thought before Freud, Kraków 2005), a heroic attempt at reconstructing the history of the ←14 | 15→concept of the unconscious as it functioned in Polish psychology and psychiatry before the appearance of Freud’s theory. He also demonstrated to what extent this intellectual tradition led to a positive reception of Freud’s theory in the Polish medical community in the early 20th century.

But the real breakthrough came only a dozen years later. A few months after the publication of my book Psychoanaliza – ziemia obiecana? Dzieje psychoanalizy w Polsce 1900–1989 (Psychoanalysis – The Promised Land? The History of Psychoanalysis in Poland in 1900–1989), vol. 1, a large two-volume monograph by Lena Magnone entitled Emisariusze Freuda. Transfer kulturowy psychoanalizy do polskich sfer inteligenckich przed drugą wojną światową (Freud’s Emissaries: The Cultural Transfer of Psychoanalysis to Polish Intellectual Circles before World War II, Kraków 2016) appeared; it offered ample and previously unknown bibliographic information about Polish and Jewish “emissaries of Freud” in the Polish lands during the partitions and in the interwar period, with detailed summaries of specific books and articles. In the same year, the publishing series on the history of psychoanalysis in Poland was enriched with Od Jekelsa do Witkacego. Psychoanaliza na ziemiach polskich pod zaborami 1900–1918. Wybór tekstów. (From Jekels to Witkacy: Psychoanalysis in the Polish Lands under the Partitions in 1900–1918. A selection of texts, Kraków 2016) edited by Bartłomiej Dobroczyński and the undersigned. It contains short biographical notes and a selection of the most interesting texts by Polish psychoanalysts and psychiatrists from this period inspired by Freud’s and Jung’s theories. A few months later, a similar two-volume selection of texts edited by Lena Magnone, called Psychoanaliza w Polsce 1909–1946 vol. I, II (Psychoanalysis in Poland 1909–1946, Warsaw 2016), was published.

Subsequent books from the series came out in 2017. The first was my work Mesjasz, który odszedł. Bruno Schulz i psychoanaliza (The Messiah who Left: Bruno Schulz and Psychoanalysis). In this book I attempted to show how deeply this Polish-Jewish writer was inspired, although unconsciously, by Freud’s claims about the “polymorphism” of human sexual drives, providing a poignant literary testimony to the validity of his theories of masochism and fetishism. In the same year, Universitas published a collection of articles entitled Przywracanie pamięci. Polscy psychiatrzy XX wieku orientacji psychoanalitycznej (Restoring memory: Polish 20th-century psychiatrists of the psychoanalytical orientation, Kraków 2017), which I edited, and was devoted to most eminent Polish psychoanalysts and psychiatrists with psychoanalytical inclinations (Ludwik Jekels, Ludwika Karpińska, Eugenia Sokolnicka, Adam Wizel, Jan Nelken, Gustaw Bychowski, Maurycy Bornstein (Bornsztajn), Roman Markuszewicz, Salomea Kempner, and Hanna Segal). The texts contained in this volume present ←15 | 16→the academic achievements and biographies of these figures against the broad historical, social, and cultural background of Poland under the partitions and in the interwar period.

Finally, the book by Mira Marcinów called Historia polskiego szaleństwa w XIX wieku (The History of Polish Lunacy in the 19th-Century, Gdańsk 2018) was published (outside of the Universitas series) in 2018, discussing various texts by 19th-century Polish psychologists and psychiatrists. Now we come to the two most recent books from the series. The first is Bartłomiej Dobroczyński’s and Mira Marcinów’s Niezabliźniona rana Narcyza [The Unhealed Wound of Narcissus], where the authors tried to look at Polish psychoanalysis from a different perspective than the one chosen by myself and Magnone, citing a large number of previously unknown writings and thus opening another field of discussion within this research area. The second is a collection of articles, which I edited, on the connections between Polish Modernist and interwar literature and psychoanalysis; analyzed from this angle are selected works by leading Polish writers from these periods: Karol Irzykowski, Stanisław Przybyszewski and his daughter Stanisława Przybyszewska, Bolesław Leśmian, Maria Kuncewiczowa, Witold Gombrowicz, Michał Choromański, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Jan Brzękowski, Emil Zegadłowicz, and Jan Lechoń (Powinowactwa z epoki. Związki polskiej literatury modernizmu i międzywojnia z psychoanalizą [Affinities from the Era. Relations between the Polish Literature of Modernism and the Interwar Period and Psychoanalysis]).

The recent publishing boon for works on various aspects of the influence of Freud’s, Jung’s, and Adler’s psychoanalytical theories on Polish intelligentsia in the period from 1900 to 1949 raises the question of the significance of these impacts in the broad context of Polish scholarship and culture at that time.

Were they of a rather superficial nature, constituting just a weak reflection of what was going on in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, or France? Or perhaps the interest in the theories of these authors had more profound roots and resulted in a number of regional interpretations and ideas which today are worth recalling and rethinking? In any case, the nearly 200 articles and the dozen or so books on psychoanalysis by Polish authors published during this period provide us with quite ample research material, and they are worth looking at from this angle.

It is no accident that this Universitas series is entitled “The History of Psychoanalysis in Poland” rather than “The History of Polish Psychoanalysis,” for such a thing practically did not exist at the time both in the everyday and the institutional-legal, sense of the term. In any case, it did not exist in the sense we mean when we speak today about American, British, or French psychoanalysis, each of them having distinct features and practiced by numerous groups of ←16 | 17→psychoanalysts belonging to psychoanalytical societies established in these countries. In addition, these psychoanalysts were also members of the International Psychoanalytical Association. In contrast, no Polish psychoanalytical association was created in Poland under the partitions or in the interwar period, despite attempts by Jekels, Sokolnicka, and Bychowski, and those Polish psychiatrists who were inspired by psychoanalysis whose therapeutic practice belonged to societies in other countries (Jekels, Nunberg, Sokolnicka, Nelken, and Bychowski). This, however, does not mean that there was nothing interesting happening in the context of how psychoanalytical theory was influencing the medical, pedagogical, and literary communities. On the contrary, its impact was very clearly noticeable, although limited to select groups. First of all, we should mention a group of psychiatrists who tried to conform to the methodical recommendations of Freud and sometimes Jung in their therapeutic practices. In addition to those mentioned above, these psychiatrists included Adam Wizel, Karol de Beaurain, Stefan Borowiecki, Tadeusz Bilikiewicz, Maurycy Bornsztajn (Bornstein), Wacław Matecki, Norbert Praeger, Roman Markuszewicz, and Stefan Higier, to name only the most important figures. Pedagogical journals published a number of works on using Freud’s and Adler’s theories in the educational process; some literary critics and historians of literature eagerly invoked these theories; and writers made pronouncements about them (Stanisław Przybyszewski, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Bruno Schulz, Witold Gombrowicz, Emil Zegadłowicz, and others).

In the coming years, the series “The History of Psychoanalysis in Poland” will be supplemented with subsequent volumes on the reception of psychoanalysis in Poland in the Yiddish- and Hebrew-speaking communities, as well as on the subject of the Holocaust, and the history of psychoanalysis in communist Poland after World War II. These volumes are intended to not only fill the gaps in our knowledge on the influence of psychoanalytical theories on the Polish and Jewish intelligentsia under the partitions and in the interwar period, but also to encourage reflection on the role they played in this time in shaping the cultural self-knowledge of these communities and the role they could play today.

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1 The period of partitions in the history of the Polish state lasted from 1795, when the Polish First Republic, ruled by the nobility, was divided between Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, until November 11, 1918, when independence was proclaimed and the Second Polish Republic was established. It lasted until September 1939, when the next partition of the Polish state between Nazi Germany and the USSR took place.

2 They include: Krzysztof Pawlak, Zbigniew Sokolik, “Historia psychoanalizy w Polsce,” Nowiny Psychologiczne, No. 4 (1992), pp. 83–89; Katarzyna Walewska, “Breve histoire de la psychanalyse en Pologne,” in: Les Lettres de la Société de Psychanalyse Freudienne, Vol. XIV (2005), pp. 104–107; Jan Malewski, “Psychoanalyse in Polen,” in: Die Psychologie des 20. Jahrhunderts III: Freud und die Folgen, Vol. II (1977), pp. 117–118.

3 Paweł Dybel, “Unterbrochene Wege. Die Geschichte der Psychoanalyse in Polen,” Psyche, No. 11 (1999), pp. 1160–1187. A shortened version of this article appeared in the American online magazine PsyArt as “A Note on the History of Psychoanalysis in Poland,” September 2000. Fourteen years later Psyche published my second article on this subject, which was also a kind of introductory project for this book: Paweł Dybel, “Die Psychoanalyse – ein gelobtes Land? Zur Kulturgeschichte der psychoanalytischen Bewegung in Polen,” Psyche, No.3 (2014), pp. 216–247.