The Freud Museum

Events Archive

23 April 2004 - 25 April 2004


Hungarian Psychoanalytic Ideas Revisited

Jointly organised by IMAGO MLPC and The Freud Museum, Supported by the Hungarian Cultural Centre.

Conference Report

CONFERENCZI was a major International Conference on the impact of Ferenczi and the Budapest School of psychoanalysis on object relations theory and current psychoanalytic thinking.

Sandor Ferenczi was a pioneer of relationship-based psychoanalysis, and rediscovering the importance of his work in recent years has opened up a way of recalling and re-integrating the image, and basic contributions, of not only "the mother of psychoanalysis" (as he has been called) but other early pioneers of the analytic world.

Certain themes were explored throughout the day: the ever-present and basic issues of transference and counter-transference; the enigmatic relationship between body-and-mind; the sense of reality; Ferenczi's influence on analystic technique; his theory of trauma; and his surprisingly vivid and contemporary theory of mind. Interwoven with these theoretical issues was the vivid evocation of the Hungarian cultural scene during Ferenczi's lifetime, the political turmoil of central Europe and the successive waves of emigration which shaped the particular style of the Budapest school. Michelle Moreau-Ricaud described the mutual influence between Ferenczi and his circle of literary friends, including the poet Atilla Joszef. Tom Keve, closing the conference, explored the mindboggling complexity of the links between leading figures in the sciences, arts, politics and psychoanalysis during the interwar years. Who went to which school and knew whom, wrote what and lived where - and often, how many Nobel prizes they had won in which fields! In his scholarly opening address, Andre Haynal stressed that, for Ferenczi, there were no clear boundaries between life and psychoanalysis, and this attitude of openness to the wider world and its influence was evident throughout the two days of the conference.

Haynal's paper was well titled: "Ferenczi now and then: An introduction to his world", as he skipped effortlessly between problems of contemporary psychoanalysis and Ferenczi's early theories. He highlighted the twin concepts of trauma and seduction in Ferenczi's work, emphasising the often neglected importance of 'seduction' as a necessary part of development. Judit Meszaros considered the trauma theory in depth, charting the 'paradigm shift' from Freud's intra-psychic models in which the individual becomes helpless through an inability to regulate the internal world, to an intersubjective model which revealed the inevitable relations of power which exist between parent and child, analyst and patient. Kata Lenard took up this theme in a brilliant paper which attempted to transcribe the language of Ferenczi's groungbreaking idea of 'confusion of tongues' into the current psychoanalytic theory of 'mentalisation'. The child's inner experience becomes real through the interpretations of the mother, creating the possibility of 'false emotions' and 'strange self-representations' introjected through traumatic miscommunication.

According to Kathleen Kelly Laine, trauma may have entered Ferenczi's own life at an early age. Was he himself the 'wise baby' he once wrote of, with an accelerated intellectual development and acute sensitivities brought on by early trauma? She drew parallels between the careers of Ferenczi and another 'dissident' psychoanalyst, Francoise Dolto. Both were highly appreciated for their innovative, creative contribution to psychoanalysis, while at the same time came to be marginalized for those very reasons. Both rooted their theoretical reflections in clinical practice, early childhood, and the mother/child relationship, and both were highly interested in the role of language and empathy in clinical work. The crucial role of transference was demonstrated in a concrete way by the joint presentation of Judith Vida and Gershon Molad, insisting controversially that analysis is not only about 'love' but takes place within the context of 'love' as a prerequisite for understanding.

Another theme was the importance of the body in the psychoanalytical process, which was taken up by Ferenc Eros in his paper "My poor Konrad: Body, Mind and the Philosophy of Nature in Ferenczi's work". 'Konrad' was the name Ferenczi and Freud gave to their own bodies in the many letters between them. In breathtaking style, Eros traced the literary and historical sources of the seemingly obscure reference, unravelling layers of interpersonal meaning and connecting it to wider questions about psychosomatics and the image of the 'Jewish body' in early 20th century Europe. Agnes Risko continued this theme later in the day by describing her research with cancer patients and the psychological and bodily toil it takes on the doctors and nurses undertaking such work. The psychic or bodily crisis may transfer itself to the therapist.

The last session of the first day was devoted to one of the surprises of Ferenczi's influence, his role in the development of Melanie Klein and her work. Klein was analysed by Ferenczi in Budapest from 1912. Introducing the panel of speakers, psychoanalyst-historian Riccardo Steiner showed how Ferenczi encouraged her work with children but later became more critical. Gabor Flaskay (whose paper was read by Agnes Risko) elaborated the theme, arguing that the theory of object relations and even the famed 'play technique' was derived from her contact with Ferenczi. Meira Likierman focused more closely on the influence of Ferenczi on Klein's clinical technique. She persuasively argued that it was more than a transfer of concepts and themes, but also a question of personal idiom. She suggested at one point a comparison between Klein's deep interpretations and Ferenczi's 'active technique', and reminded us of Ferenczi's insistence of working in the here and now of the transference.

The second day of the conference was less intense than the first but equally memorable. For the morning session, the Balint Panel, we were lucky enough to have contributors on the platform and from the floor who had worked directly with the Balints; Michael, Alice, and Enid. Harold Stewart introduced the panel with customary authority, presenting an overview of Michael Balint's life and theoretical ideas. His concept of 'passive' (later 'primary') object love, opposing the notion of primary narcissism; his theory of hate (as a secondary phenomena of mental functioning); and his insistence on the importance of 'deficit' models of mental disturbance (as an addition to 'conflict' models). Next, Gyorgy Hidas, a former classmate of Balint's son John, and now president of the Ferenczi society in Budapest, spoke about Balint's years in Budapest; his contact with Ferenczi, his medical training and his teaching.

Using Balint's seminal idea of the 'Philobat' as a starting point, Catherine Reverzy explored the psychology of the 'thrill seeker' in her paper "Thrills and progression: Hilary, a Philobat at the Everest". The 'philobat' is 'one who likes to walk on the edge', and Reverzy took Edmund Hilary as an example of the type. Following Balint she explained how adventure and risk taking becomes a way in which earlier traumas of separation and destabilisation are confronted and overcome. In general, she suggests, the philobat personality is someone who has achieved a 'secure base' and a strong and stable being, but Balint warns us that things are not that simple: they may also suffer from their inability to build solid love relationships. Balint once described them as "close to phallic-narcissistic auto-eroticism, puerile and virile".

Michael Balint's first wife, Alice, was remembered and reassessed in Judith Dupont's paper describing her 'short but productive life'. In the context of a Freud Museum conference, it is perhaps noteworthy that Anna Freud wrote the introduction to Alice Balint's 'Psychoanalysis of the Nursery' in 1953.

The life and work of Enid Balint was explored by Jennifer Johns, based on an archive of letters, manuscripts and documents which has come into her possession. Before the war Enid set up the Family Welfare Association, which later became the Institute of Family Relations. She then trained as an analyst with John Rickman at the Tavistock Clinic where her interest developed in pre-verbal and unconscious communication. A volume of her papers "Before I was I" has been edited by Juliet Mitchell and Michael Parsons.

By coincidence the chair person of our next session, Joan Raphael-Leff, was once supervised by Enid Balint, and this provided a natural link to Sara Klaniczay's thought-provoking paper on Imre Hermann. Hermann considered that the spatial connections of psychological phenomena were very important, which he related to the biological clinging behaviour that creates the perception of space. Through an exploration of Hermann's work, Klaniczay showed the fascinating connection between perception and emotion, and the way our attempts to structure and control psychological space may motivate behaviour. Distortions in spatial awareness, likewise, may be symptomatic.

The conference ended with Tom Keve's scintillating paper described above and an extended plenary discussion 'Thinking Space' chaired by Judit Szekacs. It was fitting that Judit chaired this last session. She was the inspiration behind the idea of the conference, and the human dynamo (as Michael Molnar memorably called her) who brought it all together. It was a great achievement on her part, which is warmly appreciated by everyone at the museum. I am sure that everyone who attended will remember this event for a very long time to come.

The conference was generously supported by the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London and their director Katalin Bogyay. It would not have been possible without Katalin's immensely generous support. The conference was part of Magyar Magic - Hungary in Focus 2004, a year long celebration of Hungarian life and culture.

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