The Arty Semite

Remembering Freudians and Cannibals

By Benjamin Ivry

Tobie Nathan

The Cairo-born French Jewish ethnopsychiatrist Tobie Nathan previously published a novel, “Who Killed Arlozoroff?” about the 1933 murder of left-wing Israeli political leader Haim Arlosoroff, as well as a book-length essay last year criticizing Sigmund Freud’s 1899 “Interpretation of Dreams.”

Now the ever-iconoclastic Nathan, born in 1948, has written his memoirs “Ethno-Novel,” to explain how he got that way. His narrative begins with the 1956 expulsion of Egypt’s Jews following the Suez Crisis by President Nasser, amid murderous anti-Semitic persecution. Before that, whenever his family celebrated Passover, Nathan was puzzled by the ceremony which thanked God for delivering the Jews safely from Egypt, since his family still lived there. After they moved to a humble northern Paris suburb, young Nathan found a country still “settling scores” over the Nazi Occupation where a different form of anti-Semitism reigned. In school, after Nathan announced that his family would be celebrating Passover by reading the Haggadah, he was mocked by a teacher and counseled by a school-friend, “Shut up! This is France. If you’re Jewish, you hide it.”

At about age 15 Nathan wrote a novel and submitted it to a local author, the Polish Jewish novelist and concentration camp survivor Anna Langfus (1920-1966). Winner of France’s Goncourt Prize for a 1962 Holocaust-themed novel which was translated as “The Lost Shore,” Langfus, whose heartrending novels deserve reprinting, encouraged Nathan, but died of a heart attack not long after. Nathan soon happened upon Freud’s writings, which he terms the perfect “reading for adolescents [since]… we were obsessed with sex, and Freud too!” Although he recalls studying Freud “with the same fervor that our ancestors studied the Talmud,” he was never tempted to become a strict Freudian, instead studying in college with George Devereux (born György Dobó to a Jewish family from the Banat region of Central Europe), a founding father of ethnopsychiatry.

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The 'Jewish Mother' of Psychoanalysis

By Benjamin Ivry

Wikimedia Commons
Sándor Ferenczi

One historian wrote: “If, metaphorically, Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis, Sándor Ferenczi was the mother.” If so, then every day is Mother’s Day for the analyst born Sándor Fränkel in northeastern Hungary to Polish Jewish parents in 1873 (the family name was later changed to sound more Hungarian). In January, Karnac Books published “Ferenczi and His World: Rekindling the Spirit of the Budapest School,” and in March, the DVD of David Cronenberg’s Freud-Jung film “A Dangerous Method” in which Ferenczi plays a key role, was released.

“Ferenczi and His World” underlines the irony that Ferenczi’s nurturingly maternal professional approach likely compensated for the absence of such qualities in his own mother Rosa Eibenschütz, whom he once described as “hard and energetic and of whom I am afraid…My mother had eleven living children – I was the eighth of them. Either I was too demanding, or my mother was all too rigorous, but my memories suggest that I surely received too little love and too much strictness from her.” In Hungary there was also too much anti-Semitism, and in 1918 Ferenczi wrote to Sigmund Freud about anti-Jewish riots: “It is a good thing that one has a Jewish and a psychoanalytic ego along with the Hungarian, which remains untouched by these events.” Ferenczi’s “Jewish ego” was strong, as he explained in a 1910 letter to a friend, noting that Judaism “permits total intellectual freedom and freedom of action. The Jews use this freedom to the full, and are more audacious, more unabashed, and more egotistic, primarily in the material, but also in the moral sphere.”

When Ferenczi died prematurely in 1933 of pernicious anemia, it was his moral side, as well as an unexpectedly poetic nature, that friends remembered. The Jewish editor Hugó Veigelsberg eulogized Ferenczi for single-mindedly “catching red-handed everyone he happened to be talking to… He was such a great scientist because he was, deep down, like his mentor Freud, the poetic type.” This led Ferenczi to focus on “little human details which only those experts on human beings, poets, tend to notice.” Author Sándor Márai concurred, in an essay published after Ferenczi’s death:

“[Ferenczi] knew more about human life than any of the soul searchers in Hungary before him. It’s my suspicion that he was a poet. Not that he wrote poems, mind you. But he knew what poets know: to feel out that something inexpressible in words, which is the real secret of a soul, a life.”

Listen to lecture tribute to Ferenczi on Austrian radio here.

Watch the trailer for Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” about Freud, Jung, and Ferenczi here.

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The Einsteins of Sex

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation, Berlin
Magnus Hirschfeld, a man Freud referred to as a “flabby, unappetizing fellow.”

More than just spiritual forefathers of the sex therapist and ex-Haganah sniper Ruth Westheimer, a trio of German Jewish sexologists preceded Sigmund Freud in innovations. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935); Iwan Bloch (1872–1922); and Albert Moll (1862–1939) are no longer household names, but they star in Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850-1930. Its author, Anna Schaffner, states that all three drew inspiration from literature, whereas Freud made overt efforts to distinguish between life and bookish fantasies. In search of better understanding minorities, Moll and Bloch read French authors such as Rétif de la Bretonne and the Marquis de Sade as if they too were sexologists who had compiled accounts of human behavior. For his part, Hirschfeld was more than just “The Einstein of Sex,” an American journalistic moniker invented in the 1920s. A lucid, well-documented 2010 study, Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom: A History of the First International Sexual Freedom Movement by Elena Mancini, underlines Hirschfeld’s family roots in Kolberg (today’s Kolobrzeg in northwestern Poland), attending synagogue on the High Holy Days.

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In Bed with Émile Meyerson

By Benjamin Ivry

The Lublin-born French epistemologist and philosopher of science Émile Meyerson died in 1933, but is still remembered for his dedicated Zionism and friendship with fellow Jews, such as author and activist Bernard Lazare. Yet until now, Meyerson has been little known as a man. On April 28, Les éditions Honoré Champion published “Miscellanies: Short Unpublished Works” by Meyerson, edited by Eva Telkes-Klein and Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent.

Meyerson’s archive at Jerusalem’s Central Zionist Archives contains revealing writings which portray the lifelong bachelor, who died of a heart attack at age 74, as an often-anguished insomniac. A Freud-inspired “Dream Analysis” from 1908 grapples with one nightmare during which Meyerson was lying in bed with a man “older than myself,” although in reality “even the idea of” sharing a bed is “unbearable” to him. During the 1897 London celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, a shortage of lodgings once obliged Meyerson and Lazare to share a “vast” bed, in which nonetheless, Meyerson spent a sleepless night.

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No Smoke Without Freud

By Benjamin Ivry

wiki commons

As all Freudians realize, an analysis is an analysis, but a good cigar is a smoke. French-Jewish psychoanalyst Philippe Grimbert is known to American readers for his autobiographical novel, “Memory,” published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster — the United Kingdom edition from Portobello Books was titled “Secret”— translated from the 2004 original from Les éditions Grasset, “Un Secret.

Also filmed in 2007 as “Un Secret” starring singer/actor Patrick Bruel (born Benguigui to an Algerian Jewish family), and available on DVD from Strand Releasing, Grimbert’s novel recounts how in boyhood, he invented an imaginary older brother who, it turns out, actually existed, and how the title secret led to his parents’ tragic joint suicide.

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Dream a Little Dream of Tobie Nathan

By Benjamin Ivry

'Sleeping Putto' by Léon Bazile Perrault, Wiki Commons

The Cairo-born French Jewish ethnopsychiatrist Tobie Nathan author of a 2010 novel, “Who Killed Arlozoroff?” from Les Éditions Grasset about the 1933 murder of left-wing Israeli political leader Haim Arlosoroff, has also focused on psychiatry’s ultimate father figure, Sigmund Freud.

In a 2006 novel from Les Éditions Perrin, “My Patient Sigmund Freud, Nathan offers a psychoanalysis of Freud by Isaac Rabinovitch, a fictitious Viennese medical student. Earlier this year Nathan’s turned the tables on Papa Siggy again when Les éditions Odile Jacob published his book-length essay “New Interpretation of Dreams.”

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French Feminist Cathy Bernheim Investigates a Hypnotic Ancestor

By Benjamin Ivry

wiki commons

An interest in family roots can appear without warning. A new biography, “Hippolyte Bernheim: a Destiny Under Hypnosis” (“Hippolyte Bernheim, un destin sous hypnose”), appeared in March from Les éditions Hugo & Cie, recounting the life of a French Jewish neurologist and pioneer of hypnotic therapy.

Its author is French novelist and essayist Cathy Bernheim, the subject’s great-grand-niece. Bernheim herself, born in 1946, admits surprise at recently feeling fascination for her Jewish ancestors, especially male ones, as her previously published works express little, if any, affection for men in general. In 2003, Les éditions du félin published Bernheim’s 1991 treatise “Almost-Perfect Love” (“L’amour presque parfait”), slating the lack of “truth or equality” in male-female relationships, and concluding:

The only way I would have been able to put up with loving men was if I were one myself.

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Umberto Saba: a Writer of Passions and Frustrations

By Benjamin Ivry

Wiki Commons

Although the Italian Jewish poet Umberto Saba (born Umberto Poli in Trieste) died in 1957, only in 2009 did an accurate translation of many of his poems appear, “Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba” from Yale University Press.

A further tribute to Saba appeared from Les Éditions du Seuil in October 2010, in the form of a new French edition of Saba’s posthumous autobiographical novel “Ernesto” translated and introduced by René de Ceccatty, who published a February, 2010 biography of Alberto Moravia for Les editions Flammarion. A new translation was needed because after the original Italian edition in 1975, edited by the poet’s daughter Linuccia and her companion, the painter and author Carlo Levi, a revised and augmented edition of “Ernesto” was published by Einaudi Editore in 1995.

Aside from textual matters, “Ernesto” baffled many of Saba’s admirers, who were unaware that he was a gay man, since his poetry does not make this aspect of his life evident, whereas “Ernesto,” published posthumously, is explicitly homoerotic. “Ernesto” recounts a sixteen-year-old’s sexual encounters with two males, one an older work colleague and the second a contemporary, as well as a female prostitute.

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Autumnal and Wingreen Sounds on CD

By Benjamin Ivry

Arne Reimer

With the academic year underway, it is timely to pay tribute to CDs from teachers, whose artistry often outweighs that of more publicized career virtuosi. Queens-born Harriet Wingreen, longtime professor at the Manhattan School of Music and orchestral pianist with the New York Philharmonic, comes from a Lithuanian Jewish family whose name was changed from Vengeren by an Ellis Island official. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has just released on CD an early 1960s recording of Wingreen’s lively, elegant performance of two Mendelssohn sonatas for cello and piano, accompanying the then-youthfully vigorous cellist David Soyer.

An older teacher, Hungarian Jewish violinist and composer Jeno Hubay, whose many students included the eminent Joseph Szigeti, is enjoying a belated moment in the sun with a CD of viola compositions from Hungaroton Classic. Hubay was born Eugen Huber in Pest to a German Jewish family in 1897. Joyously idiomatic and highly expressive of a jaunty personality, like his violin works, also available from Hungaroton, Hubay’s viola pieces are enchanting. Even more venerable, the 1838 “Méthode des méthodes” (Ultimate Method) of didactic piano works by a dozen Romantic composers, many of them Jewish, has just been magisterially recorded with relaxed adroitness by the Israeli-American pianist Mordecai Shehori on his own label, Cembal d’amour.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Mordecai Shehori, Mindru Katz, Jeno Hubay, Jakob Rosenhain, Ignaz Moscheles, Harriet Wingreen, Edouard Wolff, CD, Anat Fort, Sigmund Freud

A Fish With All the Right Virtues

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under The Fig Tree

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a document or a song or a photograph or a book that greatly enlarges your frame of reference and ratchets up your appreciation for the cultural patrimony of the Jews.

This happened to me the other day when I came across Masa ha-dag, a children’s book of the 1920s that recounted in Hebrew the far-flung adventures of a fish (pictured).

One of the treasures of George Washington University’s Kiev Collection, it had what my grandmother would call, in Yiddish, ale mayles — all the right virtues or perquisites.

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If Sigmund Freud Put C.S. Lewis on the Couch...

By Paul Hiebert

Kevin Sprague
Mark H. Dold, left, and Martin Rayner in ‘Freud’s Last Session.’

Both Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis devoted their lives to studying the nature of life, death and God, yet the two thinkers came to opposite conclusions. Whereas Freud believed that God is a fantasy we create to fulfill our longing for a perfect father, Lewis argued that this longing itself proves the existence of God, much like our thirst presupposes the existence of water.

With such a perennially interesting question between them (along with many others), it’s shame the two thinkers never got to debate the issue face-to-face.

Now, playwright Mark St. Germain imagines what Freud, a secular Jew and the father of psychoanalysis, and Lewis, an Oxford scholar (and “Narnia” author) who returned to Christianity in his early 30s, would have discussed if stuck in the same room for 80 minutes.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater, Sigmund Freud, Paul Hiebert, Oxford, Narnia, Martin Rayner, Mark St. Germain, Mark H. Dold, Freud's Last Session, C.S. Lewis, Armand M. Nicholi Jr.

A ‘Wondering Jew’ at City College

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of City College of New York Library

Almost every institution of learning can boast legendary teachers, and “Reflections of a Wondering Jew,” recently reprinted by Transaction Publishers, shows that City College professor Morris Raphael Cohen, who died in 1947, is one such legend.

Cohen’s 1950 posthumously compiled collection of articles displays the philosophy professor and legal theorist at his most informal and charming. Born in 1880 in Minsk, Belarus, Cohen earned a Harvard PhD in philosophy, but as a Jew, he could only find a job teaching mathematics in 1906. Not until 1912 was Cohen appointed to CCNY’s philosophy department, in what his daughter Leonora Cohen Rosenfield later called “for a Jew, a precedent-shattering event.”

Cohen stayed at City College until 1938, producing key texts such as “A Preface to Logic,” reprinted in the 1970s by Dover Publications and “An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method,” available from Hackett Publishing.

In “Reflections of a Wondering Jew” Cohen slates Freud’s 1939 “Moses and Monotheism” as a “work which has so little solid foundation,” adding in professorial fashion: “The facts of history refuse to fit into any simple preconceived hypothesis no matter how plausible or intriguing.”

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The Witty Inclemency of Clement Freud

By Benjamin Ivry

When Sir Clement Freud died last spring in London, the U.K. media’s outpouring of affection surprised some readers.

A grandson of Sigmund Freud who was no longer on speaking terms with his brother, the painter Lucian Freud, Sir Clement was a journalist, bon vivant, television personality, and onetime Member of Parliament, but none of his varied identities seemed to account for the genuine affection which he enjoyed. When I asked one British friend for further explanation, I got the faltering reply: “Well, you see, he made a TV commercial for dog food…”

Now, fortunately, the collection “A Feast of Freud: The Wittiest Writings of Clement Freud” appears from Bantam Press UK to explain more. Bantam has also published “Freud on Food,” an anthology of gourmandises by this demanding, highly conspicuous consumer of the good life.

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News from Uncle Siggy: Freud’s Ever-Present Influence

By Benjamin Ivry

Wiki Commons

In May, Viggo Mortensen, an actor of Danish-Canadian ancestry, will start filming David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” in the role of Sigmund Freud. Gentile actors have frequently played Freud: Max von Sydow in “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (1993); Alec Guinness in “Lovesick” (1983); Montgomery Clift in “Freud” (1962); and Farley Granger in “The Wound Within” (1958). Yet Freud’s Judaism is ever-more prominent in recent books, such as “The Jewish World of Sigmund Freud” and “Freud and Italian Culture”.

The former book is a product of a 2006 Center for Jewish History conference, “Freud’s Jewish World.” One chapter, “The Neue Freie Presse Neurosis,” by Leo Lensing, discusses Freud’s complex dealings with the Austrian Jewish journalist Karl Kraus. Both Kraus and Freud defended the Jewish-born naturalist Theodor Beer (1866-1919), who was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1905, but the two differed on the merits of psychoanalysis. In 1913, Kraus coined the satiric term “Freudknaben,” a pun in German which means, Lensing explains, “both ‘Freud’s boys’ and ‘boy prostitutes.’”

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Yiddish on the Psychoanalyst’s Couch: USA vs. France

By Benjamin Ivry

In the English-speaking world, psychoanalyzing Yiddish, and the way it is spoken, is often done with a dollop of humor, as in “Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods” by Michael Wex, appreciatively reviewed by the Forward. French Jews, on the other hand tend to approach the subject comparatively soberly, as strict Freudians.

Max Kohn, a French psychoanalyst born in 1951, has authored key texts about Yiddishkeit and psychoanalysis, such as “Freud and Yiddish: The Pre-Analytical (1877 – 1897),” (“Freud et le yiddish: le préanalytique,” Economica Publishers, 2005). As an interviewer for SBS Radio Yiddish, Melbourne, he has chatted up a panoply of notables, including the Forward’s Itzik Gottesman.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sigmund Freud, Robert Samacher, Psychoanalysis, Philippe Grimbert, Paris, Michael Wex, Max Kohn, Books, Yiddish




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