Notes Psychology

Chapter 8: Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis (The Denial of Death)

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The Sistine Chapel

What we learn from history is that man’s awareness of his animal nature has been absorbed by culture.

The stories that culture has created has protected man from coming to terms with his nature, but this also depends on the epoch he lives in. In Christianity, man was given a clear story, be good and loyal out of duty, marry and procreate out of duty, and sacrifice your life for God as Christ did, and get rewarded with an eternity in heaven.

Many men did this, and they went through the daily pettiness and hardships of life willingly because they were granted cosmic heroism. The main achievement of Christianity, that no matter who you are, how talented or successful or popular you were, you substituted your earthly desires for a desire to win eternity.


Modern man found himself in an impossible dilemma: He still wanted cosmic significance but If he rejected Christianity, he would still need to find a way to achieve it. Otto Rank suggested for some people, it was creating a love-object, the fixing of his urge to cosmic heroism onto someone else.

Rank observed something beyond Freud. What Freud realized was that the self-glorification one got from love was a result of the Oedipal Complex, but what Rank realized was that this was just another form of the denial of creatureliness.

This method gives real benefits. One can lay much of their psychological problems on the feet of the person they love, to make their love-object the sole judge of whether they are good or bad. They person ends up losing themselves in their partner, the way obedient children lose themselves to their family.

But reality tends to show that this ideal is unrealistic, so the disenchanted partners despiritualize their relationship. If you cannot fulfil your ideals, then you can at least have guilt-free sex, man reasons. But what emerges is a “Playboy Mystique” where we go back to the same problem discussed throughout the book. Sex becomes equated to death and inferiority, since the person becomes a service to their species, and their individuality, their real symbolic heroism, is negated for their physical body.

It is no wonder that this sexual mystique is shallow, since man narrows down their meanings to the body and this world alone. People who engage in this lifestyle become just as confused and despairing as romantic lovers do. The latter ask for too much, but the former ask for too little – both are equally self-defeating.

Rank was denigrating sexuality, for the same reasons Kierkegaard and Augustine did, because man needed the absolute, and this could only come from something that transcended human relationships. What he thought was most valuable was the question freedom, life quality and individuality.

The Artist

Man needs the “beyond”, but most of them reach for the first one they can find, and this gives them the fulfilment they need, but it also shackles them. Most people are content with the safe social goals, to be a good provider or to be a good citizen. Becker does not argue that this is good or bad, only that it is what happens.

The creative person (especially the artist) is separated out of the world of shared meanings. Existence becomes a problem for which they need an answer, but if they refuse the collective one, then they must create one for themselves. To do this, one needs to isolate themselves and this is a painful undertaking.

The work of art is the artist’s attempt to justify his heroism objectively – the art is a testimony of his uniqueness and heroic transcendence. Jung noted that the work was the artist’s own transference projection. But no matter what man creates, it is still temporary and finite. Even in his greatest genius, man is still mocked.

The artist and the madman are trapped in their own fabrications; they wallow in their own anality, in their protest that they really are something special in creation.

It boils down to this: If you are a hero, then you give yourself as a gift to society. If you are an artist, you fashion a personal gift, and you give it to society, but since it is the justification of your heroic identity, it will not be received by everyone. Other people, after-all, cannot grant you immortality.

That is why Rank argued that the artist could never be at peace with his work. Thus, the artist’s gift is always to creation itself. Rank came to the same conclusion that Kierkegaard did, that the only way out of the human conflict is full renunciation, that absolution could only come from the absolute beyond.

But this was not a task for weak, trembling men – this was a task for the most powerful and the most heroic.

To renounce the world and oneself, to lay the meaning of it to the powers of creation is the hardest thing for man to achieve—and so it is fitting that this task should fall to the strongest personality type, the one with the largest ego. The great, scientific world-shaker Newton was the same man who always carried the Bible under his arm.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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