Historian of psychoanalysis whose 'subversive' research upset Freud's family and followers
By Morton Schatzman
Published: 16 November 2005
Paul Roazen, political scientist and historian of psychoanalysis: born Boston, Massachusetts 14 August 1936; Teaching Fellow in Government, Harvard University 1961-62, 1963-65, Instructor 1965-68, Assistant Professor 1968-71, Teaching Fellow in General Education 1964-65; Associate Professor in Social and Political Science, York University, Toronto 1971-74, Professor 1974-95 (Emeritus); Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Tufts University 2002-05; married 1967 Deborah Heller (two sons; marriage dissolved); died Cambridge, Massachusetts 3 November 2005.
Paul Roazen is a significant figure as a historian of psychoanalysis - a prolific and sometimes controversial author. A key to his career was information he got from interviewing between 1964 and 1967 more than 70 people who had known Sigmund Freud personally. He also interviewed some 40 more who were professionally interested in the history of psychoanalysis or had been part of the early psychoanalytic movement. Among his interviewees were 25 former patients of Freud.
At the time Roazen was doing his political science PhD dissertation on the political thought of Freud. He was the first non-psychoanalyst ever granted access to the library at the British Psychoanalytical Institute. There, in a large cabinet in the basement, he came upon the papers of Ernest Jones, author of the three-volume, 1953-57 official biography of Freud. Roazen went through the papers, which had all the information that Jones had used to write the biography.
Anna, Freud's daughter, came to regret bitterly having granted Roazen access to the library. That was because he met psychoanalysts there, many of whom he went on to interview, and those interviews led to revelations that she disliked. Gossip is the first draft of history: the "gossip" that Roazen elicited became crucial for understanding Freud and his followers. Roazen was a diligent interviewer and Jones, the authorised historian of psychoanalysis, Jones, had left a lot out.
Roazen came to learn about something remarkable and well known to psychoanalytic insiders, but not to the public: Freud's psychoanalysis of Anna. Roazen reported its occurrence, and commented tartly:
In the light of Freud's taking his own daughter into analysis, all the squabbles about what constitutes proper psychoanalytic technique - whether the patient should be seen three or four or five days a week, whether patients are permitted to read analytic literature or not, whether analysis requires the use of a couch, how much activity on the part of the analyst is proper - are reduced to trivia . . .
In view of the elaborate and esoteric rules of proper technique that have been developed by Freud's followers, the disclosure of Freud's analysis of his daughter renders their position rather difficult.
Paul Roazen's first book, Freud: political and social thought (1968) was an adaptation of his PhD thesis, but his second book, Brother Animal: the story of Freud and Tausk (1969), told a tale, elicited from his interviewees, that had not previously been published. Victor Tausk was a talented early supporter of Freud. In an official obituary of Tausk, Freud wrote, "No one could escape the impression that here was a man of importance", and, "Tausk was sure of an honourable memory in the history of psychoanalysis and its earliest struggles."
Tausk, first a lawyer, then a medical doctor and psychiatrist, was one of the first members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society to study psychoses. He asked to undergo psychoanalysis with Freud, but Freud refused. Instead Freud recommended that Tausk have an analysis with a psychiatrist more than five years his junior, Helene Deutsch, whom Freud had recently taken into analysis. The referral was "flattering to Helene Deutsch but a terrible insult to Tausk", Roazen commented. "As an analyst she was a nobody." Tausk swallowed his pride and entered analysis with Deutsch six days a week.
In his sessions, Tausk talked almost entirely about Freud, and Deutsch's sessions with Freud became filled with talk of Tausk. Roazen reported:
Freud explained to Deutsch that Tausk had become an interference in her own analysis and that Tausk must have accepted her as his analyst with the intention of communicating with Freud through her. Freud forced her to choose between terminating Tausk's analysis with her and discontinuing her own analysis with Freud. To Deutsch it did not constititute a realistic choice, but an order. Tausk's treatment ended immediately.
A little over three months later Tausk wrote two letters, one to a former patient he had become engaged to marry and one to Freud - and then killed himself. Roazen wrote that "Tausk's death remained a skeleton in the psychoanalytic family closet" - until he opened the closet.
Roazen's 1975 book Freud and His Followers, his most important work, is based upon his interviews and is a crucial source of historical information. Much of that information had previously been generally unknown. Roazen said about his research that he aimed to find out what was not in the books - either the details which no one had taken the trouble to nail down or anything that would have been so much taken for granted as not to have been considered worth recording. Somehow, though, the search for the unspoken meshes with the quest for the consciously withheld. It soon became apparent that much information had been left out of the books because some people did not want it there.
Roazen was convinced that "history-writing is inherently a subversive activity: students of history necessarily undermine generally received wisdom". He liked to cite Anna Freud's comment that "Roazen is a menace whatever he writes", a remark which is perhaps a measure of his importance in psychoanalytic historiography. Yet his wish was to add perspective to our understanding of Freud and his followers, not to undermine them.
He wrote books about Erik Erikson, Helene Deutsch, Sandor Rado and Edoardo Weiss, each of them a psychoanalyst. At the time of his death, he was researching the papers of William C. Bullitt, which had recently become available. Bullitt had been a patient of Freud in the 1920s and went on to become the first American ambassador to the Soviet Union and then ambassador to France.
Freud and Bullitt collaborated in a study of Woodrow Wilson, the American president from 1913 to 1921. The central thesis of Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-eighth President of the United States: a psychological study (1967) was that Wilson suffered from a passive relationship to his Presbyterian minister father and struggled with this form of "Oedipal conflict" all his life. Freud and Bullitt referred to Wilson's "moral collapse" at Versailles, where the armistice ending the First World War was signed. They said Wilson "had met the leaders of the Allies not with the weapons of masculinity but with the weapons of femininity: appeals, supplications, concessions, submissions". Freud and Bullitt's book was condemned by reviewers. Psychoanalysts generally alleged that Freud's collaboration in writing the book had been minimal; Roazen had long suspected otherwise, and he eventually found evidence that he was right.
He discovered among Bullitt's papers a remarkable manuscript by Freud that had been omitted from their book. In it Freud gives a highly unusual interpretation of Christianity: a man whose passive attitude toward the father has not found direct expression will find that expression by identifying with Jesus Christ. That is because Christ himself fulfilled at the same time two powerful and contradictory wishes: to be completely passive and subservient toward the father, that is to be completely feminine; and on the other hand to be completely masculine, powerful and authoritative like the father. By humbly submitting to the will of God the Father, by surrendering to total femininity, Christ was able to become God Himself, the ultimate goal of masculinity.
Roazen was born in 1936 into a Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts, the second of three children. The father worked in a family autoparts business. Roazen graduated in 1954 from Brookline High School in Massachusetts and in 1958 from Harvard College, where he studied government and was awarded a BA degree magna cum laude. He went on to do graduate study in political science, first at the University of Chicago, then at Magdalen College, Oxford, and finally at Harvard University where he took his PhD. In Chicago he became interested in applying to political philosophy Freud's ideas about unconscious motives in human behaviour.
He taught Government at Harvard until 1971, when he moved to York University in Toronto. There he was an associate professor, then a Professor in Social and Political Science from 1974 until 1995. From 2002 he was an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Tufts University in Boston.
According to Todd Dufresne, Roazen's former PhD student, teaching assistant and editor of a Festschrift in his honour, Roazen was a wealth of fascinating information, anecdotal and personal and scholarly, about the world of psychoanalysis. Often he lectured without notes, free-associating in the light of his experiences and his vast reading in the literature.
Dufresne said of Roazen that he had "never met anyone so completely dedicated to the life of the mind".
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.