What we can learn from Otto Rank

Otto Rank

I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about Otto Rank. You’ve probably never heard of him, but in the early part of the 20th century, he was among the biggest names in psychoanalysis. He was once the favorite son (figuratively speaking, of course) of Sigmund Freud but later became one of Freud’s sharpest critics. You can learn more about him here.

I learned about him in college in a course called Personality Theory (taught by Wayne Lucht, for those who know him). Rank’s idea, or my recollection of it,¬†was that there are three types of people. The neurotic is the person who always stays isolated and separated, never able to come into union with anyone or anything, especially anything new. The everyman, on the other hand, never breaks from the crowd but goes with the flow, never finding a way to be an individual.

The artist is in balance, understanding when to separate, when to unite and how to forge new paths that bring together the old and the new. A productive life is one that finds ways to separate when necessary, unite when necessary and synthesize something new from both experiences.

Rank isn’t given much credit anymore, but it seems to me he has something to say to us. Politically as a nation, we seem to buy into one camp or another. We isolate ourselves from people unlike ourselves, unable ever to unite with them. We glom onto people like ourselves, unable ever to separate from them. And we lose all possibility of finding new solutions and new ways to live together. We lose the artists that we could become. We lose our ability to find a productive balance.

So what do you think? Do we lean toward being a nation of isolated neurotics, unthinking everymen, or do we still have a chance to be artists and find the right balance between isolation and union?

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One Response to What we can learn from Otto Rank

  1. Good to see a concice, relevant comment on Otto Rank. You may be interested that just a month ago Johns Hopkins University Press published The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank: Inside Psychoanalysis.

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