A thoughtful riff on Sigmund Freud’s brief 1915 essay “On Transience,” in which he considers death and mourning.
Von Unwerth, director of the Abraham A. Brill Library of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute & Society, takes us back to 1913 when Freud began a brief relationship with poet Rainer Maria Rilke, a meeting that occasioned “On Transience” (text appears in appendix). After a brief account of the meeting with Rilke, von Unwerth traces the careers of both men—and of their mutual friendship with Lou Andreas-Salomé, who met Rilke in 1897 and who became his lover and confidant in the ensuing years. Fifteen years older than Rilke, Andreas-Salomé broke with him in 1900 but remained a potent figure in his life and imagination. Rilke came to resist a friendship with Freud—and with psychoanalysis. Andreas-Salomé, in fact, dissuaded Rilke from therapy, fearing that treatment might exorcise the very demons that animated his art. <\b>Von Unwerth is an unabashed fan of Freud, so seldom is heard a discouraging word in this exploration of Freud’s ideas. We learn that the famed psychoanalyst was an “Oxfordian” who believed that Edward de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and that he was influenced greatly by philosopher Friedrich Schiller. Writes von Unwerth: “For Freud, as for Schiller, poetry and life were bound together inescapably in time. It is eternity, and the “eternal” nature of art, that is illusory. What gives both meaning, sense, and vitality is the certainty of death.” Concerned throughout with issues of mortality, the author offers details of the deaths of his principals and reminds us that Freud had 31 painful surgeries on his face to retard the cancer that would have killed him had not his physician administered, near the end, a merciful overdose of morphine.
An interesting disquisition on a small moment that would loom large in Freud’s imagination.