Otto Rank’s Influence on Surrealism in Europe and Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapy in the U.S.

Lecture by Robert Kramer


Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at 7 pm

Library of Psychoanalysis in the Sigmund Freud Museum and via Zoom

Berggasse 19, 1090 Vienna


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After an anxious gestation period, Surrealism was born in 1924 when André Breton separated from Dada. It’s no coincidence that the birth of Surrealism, and the demise of Dada, coincided with the publication of Otto Rank’s The Trauma of Birth, which appeared simultaneously with Sigmund Freud’s diagnosis of oral cancer in 1923. Both Breton and Salvador Dalí admired Rank’s revolutionary book on separation anxiety, with Dalí devoting a chapter to it in his 1942 autobiography and painting many of his own dreams using Rank's womb imagery and birth metaphors.

Rank had a highly productive life as a lecturer, therapist and writer after leaving Vienna, influencing Surrealism in Europe and giving birth to existential-humanistic psychology in the U.S. His writings left also a deep impression on such notable figures as the founder of modern dance Martha Graham, the writer Samuel Beckett, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the diarist and novelist Anaïs Nin, the writer Henry Miller, the writer Lawrence Durrell, the client-centered psychotherapist Carl Rogers; the social worker Jessie Taft; the existential psychoanalyst Rollo May, the Gestalt therapists Paul Goodman and Isadore From, the philosopher of dance Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, the African-American novelist in the Harlem Renaissance Nella Larsen, the existential therapist Irvin Yalom, and the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for The Denial of Death, based on Rank's post-Freudian writings on Lebensangst und Todesangst – the Urangst of “life fear and death fear.”


Robert Kramer, PhD, is Professor of Psychoanalysis at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. His publications on Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Rogers and Rollo May have appeared in scholarly journals in the U.S., the UK and, in translation, in Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Spain. He edited and introduced Otto Rank's A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures (Princeton University Press, 1996) and co-edited, with E. J. Lieberman, The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank: Inside Psychoanalysis (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), which is also available in German (Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag, 2014). His most recent book is The Birth of Relationship Therapy: Carl Rogers Meets Otto Rank (Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag, 2022). In 2023 he will publish the first English edition of Rank's 1910 masterpiece A Dream That Interprets Itself, translated by Gregory C. Richter.

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