A Course in Miracles
Dr. Georg Groddeck is mentioned in Gary Renard's book, The Disappearance of the Universe, on pages 22-23 and 305.
Groddeck discovered the ego, as described in A Course in Miracles. He refers to the ego as the "It."
Georg Groddeck (1866-1934)
by Lawrence Durrell
Excerpts selected by Andrew LeCompte from an essay by Lawrence Durrell that appeared in Horizon magazine (London), Vol. XVII No. 102, June, 1948.
For Groddeck the whole psyche with its inevitable dualisms seemed merely a function of something else—an unknown quantity—which he chose to discuss under the name of the “It.” “The sum total of an individual human being,” he says, “physical, mental, and spiritual, the organism with all its forces, the microcosmos, the universe which is a man, I conceive of as a self unknown and forever unknowable, and I call this the ‘It’ as the most indefinite term available without either emotional or intellectual associations.”
For Freud, as indeed for the age and civilization of which he was both representative and part, the ego [conscious mind] is supreme. There it lies, like an iron-shod box whose compartments are waiting to be arranged and packed with the terminologies of psychoanalysis. But to Groddeck the ego [conscious mind] appeared as a contemptible mask fathered on us by the [It], which, by imposing upon the human being, persuaded him that he was motivated by forces within the control of his conscious mind.
Yet, asks Groddeck, what decides how the food which passes into the stomach is subdivided? What persuaded the original germ to divide and subdivide itself and to form objects as dissimilar as brain cortex, muscle, or mucus? This fundamental divergence of view concerning the nature of health and disease, the nature of the psyche’s role, is something which must be grasped at the outset if we are to interpret Groddeck to ourselves with any accuracy.
Man, then, is himself a function of this mysterious force which expresses itself through him, through his illness no less than his health. To Groddeck the psychoanalytic equipment was merely a lens by which one might see a little more deeply than heretofore into the mystery of the human being as an It-self. Over the theory of psychoanalysis, as he used it, therefore, stood the metaphysical principle which expressed itself through man’s behavior, through his size, shape, beliefs, wants. And Groddeck set himself up as a watchman, and where possible, as an interpreter of this mysterious force. The causes of sickness or health he decided were unknown; he had already remarked in the course of his long clinical practice that quite often the same disease was overcome by different treatments, and had been finally led to believe that disease as an entity did not exist, except inasmuch as it was an expression of a man’s total personality, his It, expressing itself through him. Disease was a form of self-expression.
“However unlikely it may seem, it is nevertheless a fact that any sort of treatment, scientific or old-wife’s poultice, may turn out to be right for the patient, since the outcome of medical or other treatment is not determined by the means prescribed but by what the patient’s It likes to make of the prescription. If this were not the case, then every broken limb which had been properly set and bandaged would be bound to heal, whereas every surgeon knows of obstinate cases which despite all care and attention defy his efforts and refuse to heal.
“Since everything has at least two sides, however, it can always be considered from two points of view, and so it is my custom to ask a patient who has slipped and broken his arm: ‘What was your idea in breaking your arm?’ whereas if anyone is reported to have had recourse to morphia to get sleep the night before, I ask him: ‘How was it the idea of morphine became so important yesterday that you made yourself sleepless, in order to have an excuse for taking it?’ So far I have never failed to get a useful reply to such questions, and there is nothing extraordinary about that, for if we take the trouble to make the search we can always find an inward and an outward cause for any event in life.”
In The Book of the It, which is cast in the form of letters to a friend, he discusses the whole problem of health and disease from a metaphysical point of view, and with an ironic refusal to dogmatize or tidy his views into a system. But the book itself, brimming over with gay irony and poetry, does succeed in circumscribing this territory of experience with remarkable fidelity; and from it Groddeck emerges not only as a great doctor but also as a philosopher whose It concept is positively ancient Greek in its clarity and depth.
For the patient, Groddeck sought to interpret, through the vagaries of outward symptom and clinical manifestation, the hidden language of the It. “I do maintain,” he writes, “that man creates his own illnesses for a definite purpose, using the outer world merely as an instrument, finding there an inexhaustible supply of material which he can use for this purpose, today a piece of orange peel, tomorrow the spirochete of syphilis, the day after, a draft of cold air, or anything else that will help him pile up his woes. And always to gain pleasure, no matter how unlikely that may seem, for every human being experiences something of pleasure in suffering; every human being has the feeling of guilt and tries to get rid of it by self-punishment.”
To Groddeck plainly the ego [conscious mind] is only a reflexive instrument to be used as a help in interpreting the motive force which lies behind the actions and reactions of the whole man; it is perhaps this which gives his philosophy its bracing life-giving quality. It is a philosophy with a boundless horizon, whereas the current usages of psychoanalysis plainly show it to have been built upon a cosmogony as limited in scope as that which bounded the universe of Kelvin or of Huxley.
If Freud gives us a calculus for the examination of behavior, the philosophy on which it rests is a philosophy of causes; to Groddeck, however, all causes derive from an unknowable principle which animates our lives and actions. Groddeck is most careful to insist that the It is not a thing-in-itself, but merely a way-of-seeing.
“It must not be forgotten that the brain, and therefore the intellect, is itself created by the It… Long before the brain comes into existence the It of man is already active and ‘thinking’ without the brain, since it must first construct the brain before it can use it to think with. This is a fundamental point and one we are inclined to ignore or forget. In the assumption that one thinks only with the brain is to be found the origin of a thousand and one absurdities, the origin also of many valuable discoveries and inventions, much that adorns life and much that makes it ugly… Over and against the It there stands the ego [conscious mind], the I, which I take to be merely the tool of the It, but which we are forced by nature to regard as the It’s master; whatever we say in theory there remains always for us men the final verdict ‘I am I.’… We cannot get away from it, and even while I assert the proposition is false I am obliged to act as if it were true. Yet I am, by no means, I, but only a continuously changing form in which my ‘It’ displays itself, and the ‘I’ feeling is just one of its ways of deceiving the conscious mind and making it a pliant tool…”
“Every observation is necessarily one-sided, every opinion a falsification. The act of observing disintegrates a whole into different fields of observation, whilst in order to arrive at an opinion one must first dissect a whole and then disregard certain of its parts…”
“Christ was not, neither will He be; He is. He is not real. He is true. It is not within my power to put all this into words; indeed I believe it is impossible for anyone to express truth of this sort in words, for it is imagery, symbol, and the symbol cannot be spoken.”
We are still the children of Descartes, and it is only here and there you will find a spirit who dares to replace that inexorable first proposition, with the words: “I am, therefore I can love.”
Excerpted from the Journal of the Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis, 1979, Vol. 6: 175-181
Other analysts are apt to treat older children and adults -- public lives being publicly observed. Groddeck’s children are altogether a spicier lot. Reconstructed out of his own memories and those of his patients, we recognize in them, instantly, our patients, our children and ourselves as experienced privately.
For some years it was not easy to find English translations of Groddeck’s works, and even today most are out of print. But in 1976 a new edition of The Book of the It appeared, which included a fine introduction by Lawrence Durrell (Source of quotations except where noted). And 1977 saw the publication of a selection of his writings along with correspondence with Freud, beautifully edited by Lore Schacht. The student’s lot is now easier.
Georg Groddeck spent half his life in the nineteenth century, half in the twentieth. Born in 1866, ten years after Freud, he died in 1934 in Switzerland, soon after fleeing the Gestapo. Shortly before that, he had sent an obscene telegram to the newly elected Hitler. He was a general practitioner of fiercely independent mind and unusually wide philosophical and literary interests. He loved and scoffed at his calling -- the essential quality of being a physician, he said, was "a propensity for cruelty which has been just so far suppressed as to be useful, and which has as its warder the dread of causing pain" (p. 4).
Groddeck was a pupil of Schweninger, Bismarck’s personal physician. Schweninger saw the doctor as merely a catalyst to set off a therapeutic process. But Groddeck had his own style: "Nearly as great as my aversion to the surgeon’s bloody trade is my dislike of the assorted poisons of the pharmacopoeia, and so I came to massage and to mental treatment; these are both not less cruel, but they adapt themselves better to any particular man’s desire to suffer" (p. 5).
Probing more and more into his patients’ minds, he uncovered the basic principles of symbolization, resistance, and transference, although he did not then label them as such. Before learning about psychoanalysis, he had come to the conclusion that men may believe they are living their own lives, but they are actually "lived" by an unconscious "something," a great force, the mystery of life, called Gottnature by Goethe. Because it was ineffable – in fact a fiction, he said, merely a way of thinking about man – Groddeck found it convenient to borrow the term "It" from Nietzsche. Consciousness, the ego, the self, physical illness, neurotic symptoms, and the great or vile works of man were basically manifestations of the It. The It was protean, could divide up, work one portion against others, experiment, build up, be playful, be destructive – finally destructive unto death.
The task for the physician in all illnesses (for Groddeck did not believe in the separation of the organic from the mental) was to gain access by any means to the patient’s It, to influence it in its ways. He himself sought access through the use of diet and massage, and in the process of interpreting symbol, transference, and resistance. But the actual process of cure remained, as he admitted over and over, unknown.
Freud received his first letter from Groddeck in 1917, a long and curious missive full of self-revelations and clinical examples. Intrigued, charmed, amused, Freud answered, "I understand that you are requesting me urgently to supply you with an official confirmation that you are not a psychoanalyst . . . Obviously I am doing you a service if I push you away. . . Yet I cannot do this; I have to claim you, I have to assert that you are a splendid analyst who has understood forever the essential aspects of the matter. The discovery that transference and resistance of the most important aspects of treatment turns a person irretrievably into a member of the wild army. No matter if he calls the unconscious "it" (Groddeck, 1977, p. 36).
Freud, in his delineation of what would become known as the structural theory, acknowledged his debt to Groddeck, but agreed to the translation into English of Das Es into the word, Id. But privately he cautioned from the beginning that there was no need to extend the concept of the dynamic unconscious into philosophical and mystical realms. The differences about the translation of Das Es into "It" for Groddeck and "Id" for Freud persisted. Despite these cautious distinctions, and despite Groddeck’s independence, Freud never lost a close interest in him.
Freud, reasonable, weighed down by responsibilities and leadership, loyal to the scientific version of rationality of his time, mindful of the future, cautious of his own flights of fantasy, perhaps envied Groddeck’s freedom. In 1925 he wrote, "Everything from you is interesting to me, even if I may not follow you in detail. I do not, of course, recognize my civilized, bourgeois, demystified Id in your It. Yet you know that mine derived from yours" (Groddeck 1977, p. 93). And to Pfister, who, like others, attacked Groddeck, Freud wrote, "I energetically defend Groddeck against your respectability. What would you have said if you had been a contemporary of Rabelais?" (p. 6). Groddeck was a kind of anti-rationalist poet and philosopher, a sort of holy fool; Freud, unlike men of narrower minds, could cherish him.
As a devoted follower of ego psychology and the developmental point of view, I believe Groddeck serves a function in reintroducing us to the excitement, terrors, richness, comedies, tragedies, earthiness, and joyfulness of the private worlds of conscious and unconscious fantasy. After all, should not our theories subsume these matters too? In fact, I believe he reintroduces us to the very qualities that fascinated most of us about psychoanalysis in the first place. The Book of the It is rich with examples of universal unconscious fantasies from childhood – precisely those private fantasies and acts that the public observer and the private parent is apt to miss: "mothers really understand very little about their children" (p. 25).
Groddeck was a lifelong enfant terrible, an insouciant purveyor of shocking home truths. With what joie de vivre does he celebrate everything about infantile sexuality! With what glee puncture the pretensions of hypocrites! With what satisfaction does he announce the certainty – the necessity – that we all contain hatefulness, malice, spite, envy, vanity, and murder. Mother-love, yes, but mother-hate too. "Listen, I am convinced that the child gets born through hatred" (p. 35). Hatred is as valid and necessary as love – as Freud (1915) had pointed out. Blood, excrement, semen – Groddeck celebrates them. He smells what is to be smelled, tastes what is to be tasted. He never lets up on the ruthlessness of his own self-analysis.
Bisexuality? Groddeck, like Freud, insists on its universality. Sadomasochism? exhibitionism? "The truth is that the exhibitionist is in the same class as all those other people labeled with the final ‘-ist,’ with the sadist, the masochist, the fetishist. They are in essence the same as ourselves who call ourselves healthy. The sole difference is that we allow our desires to play only where custom permits, where the ‘-ist’ is out of date" (p. 218).
Masturbation? The mother herself gives the child instruction in masturbation," (by the intimacies exchanged through handling, changing diapers, bathing, etc.) "(She) is obliged to do so (p. 53). But the mother also then forbids it, punishes it. As a consequence, "in large measure, our human world, our culture, was certainly founded on masturbation. And masturbation finally returns, center stage, as the solace for the aged.
Parricide? The oedipal struggles? Castration anxiety? Penis envy? Admitted with tolerance, often with pleasure. All, as Freud knew, are parts of infantile sexuality. None ever renounced, only recognized. Everything human is Groddeck’s province – and he must talk about it. Even his own exhibitionism is taken for granted, with irony.
But he is as willing to face pain as pleasure, to appreciate the ubiquity of guilt and ambivalence, craven fears, the poignancy of loss, the submission to the fate of the unconscious. The craving for pain? "Cruelty is indissolubly linked with love, and red blood is the deepest enchantment for red love" (p.124). For punishment? "And then you come to me with foolishness that children should not be punished? Ah . . . but the child wants to be punished, he yearns for it, he pants for a beating" (p. 123). The talon law always prevails – "the life of man is ruled by the law, ‘as thou to me, so I to thee’" (p. 8). And as for narcissism, "I am what the learned call a narcissist. Narcissism plays a great role in men’s lives. If I had not possessed it to so high a degree, I should not have become what I am" (p. 261).
Groddeck does not allow himself (or us) the balms of ordinary amenities. "Watch anyone when he thinks he is alone; at once you see the child come to the surface, sometimes in very comical fashion. He yawns, or without embarrassment, he scratches his head or his bottom, or he picks his nose, or even – yes, it has got to be said – he lets out wind. The daintiest lady will do so!" (p. 16).
"All these phenomena can be laid bare by the process of free association, by the recognition of the symbol, by understanding dreams. The dream is the speech of the unconscious (p. 37). By recognizing the ubiquity of resistance and transference. But the laying bare does not produce final answers, and the nature of the unconscious is only barely comprehensible, only partly bearable to comprehend. What a toilsome business it is to speak about the Id. One plucks a string at hazard, and there comes the response, not of a single note, but of many, confusedly mingling and dying away again, or else awakening new echoes, and ever new again, until such an ungoverned medley of sounds is raging that the stammer of speech is lost. Believe me, one cannot speak about the unconscious, one can only stammer, or rather, one can only point out this and that with caution, lest the hell brood of the unconscious world should rush up out of the depths with their wild clangor" (p. 33).
Groddeck’s children are simply reflections of our most intimate and secret selves – no more and no less. We know about these children because we know about ourselves and our patients. "Life begins with childhood, and by a thousand devious paths through maturity attains its single goal, once more to be a child, and the one and only difference between people lies in the fact that some grow childish and childlike" (p. 16).
Our knowledge takes us back with confidence only to the reaches of verbal memory, only sometimes into the third year, perhaps rarely a bit earlier. Nevertheless, "In the mind of a three-year-old child there are processes at work which though extremely involved, have a certain unity at the source" (p. 12). Those first years, as the later ones, still live in the unconscious. Of course we are all aware that the reconstruction of development based solely on adult analyses is full of pitfalls. Everybody knows that fantasies are often mistaken for deeds. Notwithstanding distortions, adult memory brings back not merely data from which we may reconstruct abstract developmental lines, not singular aspects of drives or object relations, not merely this or that dimension of cognition or affect. Memory brings back the wholeness of psychic life and the deep structure underlying the observable.
Psychic events from the (insecurely dated) earliest times must be inferred from observations made within the introspective field, just as the developmentalist infers intra-psychic events from (more securely dated) external behavior. In either case, the observer fantasizes about the behavior he observes. Depending on how free his fantasy is, some things can be guessed about the interior life of the child.
The fact is, psychoanalysis needs both kinds of observations and needs to try to integrate the guesses. In emphasizing the difference in observations made within the introspective field from those observations made outside, I do not wish to slight the extraordinarily valuable psychoanalytic developmental researches of the past three decades -–any more than I would advocate theoretical return from an ego psychological to an id point of view. But it is impossible to believe that Freud intended the ego to replace the id, or that he intended psychoanalysis to move away from the recognition that humans of any age live in conflict, preoccupied with events having to do with self and cognition, untrammeled by the vicissitudes of drives, of infantile sexuality and aggression.
Freud was right in refusing to shun Groddeck. For all his philosophical, mystical, and religious inclinations, he was not in the least interested in seeking "followers," much less in founding a "school." But he was original. In his writings he says, "Everything in them that sounds reasonable, or perhaps only a little strange, is derived from Professor Freud of Vienna and his colleagues; whatever is quite mad, I claim as my own spiritual property" (p. 25).
Groddeck, then, is as an antidote to the tendency to forget human mystery in our theories and as an antidote to the unending proclivities to evade, by way of repression and denial, the lusts, aggressions, conflicts, and, let it be said, the complexities of our children in their earliest years.
The Book Of The It (1923) is a key text in the history of psychoanalytical thought and the investigation of human sexual compulsion. Georg Groddeck posits the "It" as the unconscious force that drives human behavior and underpins its poles of attraction and revulsion, standing as the root source of physical disease. It was this notion that Freud would modify into his concept of the Id, a primal calculus of sex and violence.
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