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Otto Rank Chronology and Biography

Biographical essay follows Chronology

Adapted from Robert Kramer, ed., A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures by Otto Rank (Princeton University Press, 1996, xiii-xvi). You may Purchase this Book

1884 b. Vienna, Austria, 22 April
1905 At 21 sends ms. of The Artist to Sigmund Freud, 49, whose work he had studied
1906 Becomes secretary of the fledgling Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, goes back to Gymnasium(academic high school) with Freud's financial help.
1907 Der Kunstler/ The Artist a small monograph subtitled "An Approach to a Sexual Psychology." The first psychoanalytic book by a disciple of Freud.
1909 Der Mythus der Geburt des Heldens/The Myth of the Birth of the Hero
1911 Die Lohengrin Sage/The Lohengrin Sagabecame his doctoral thesis
1912 Ph.D, University of Vienna; Das Inzest Motif /The Incest Theme
1913 Die Bedeutung der Psychoanalyse fur die Geisteswissenschaften/ Significance of Psychoanalysis for the Mental Sciences, with Hanns Sachs
1914 Contributes chapters on poetry and myth to Freud's Interpretation of Dreams 4th ed., with his name below Freud's on the title page (included through the 7th ed., 1929). Der Doppelgaenger/ The Double (published in book form, 1925).
1916 In Austrian Army, edits the Krakauer Zeitung; courts and marries Beata Tola Mincer, 1918 age 23
1919 Edits two journals, heads the publishing house, begins analytic practice; first and only child, Helene, born.
1924 Publishes Trauma of Birth and, with S. Ferenczi, The Development [-al Goals] of Psychoanalysis. First visit to United States: becomes an honorary member of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
1926 Final break with Freud; moves to Paris, sails to U.S. every year or two. Works on Genetische Psychologie (2 vols, 1928).
1930 Voted out of APA; his analysands must be reanalyzed to qualify for APA and IPA membership. Psychology and the Soul, Will Therapy and Truth and Reality (German).
1932 Art and Artist and Modern Education.
1935 Moves from Paris to New York, separated from Beata; teaches at U. Pennsylvania School of Social Work with Jessie Taft and Virginia Robinson.
1939 Marries Estelle Buel, prepares to move to California, dies three months later in N.Y. at 55, a month after Freud's death in London at 83.

The following essay by E. James Lieberman from AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, edited by John Garraty, Oxford University Press (1998) is used by permission.



Rank (Rosenfeld) Otto (1884-1939), psychologist and psychoanalyst, first Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, member of Freud's Committee, or "Ring" of 7 and his closest associate (1906-1925).┬  Honorary member, American Psychoanalytic Association (1924-30).┬  Lecturer: Sorbonne, Pennsylvania School of Social Work, etc.┬  He was born in Vienna, Austria, son of Simon Rosenfeld, an artisan jeweler, and Karoline Fleischner.┬  His older brother studied law while Otto became a locksmith:┬  the family could not afford higher education for both.┬  Close to his mother but alienated from his alcoholic father, Otto adopted "Rank" in adolescence and formalized it a few years later, symbolizing self-creation, a central theme of his life and work.

Of Jewish background, growing up in Catholic Vienna, Rank was a religious skeptic who wrote his own Ten Commandments, among them "Thou shalt not give birth reluctantly".┬  He read deeply in philosophy and literature, loved music, and considered himself an artist, writing poetry and a literary diary.┬  Before he was 21 he read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (1900).┬  He applied psychoanalytic ideas in an essay on the artist; the manuscript came to Freud (probably from Alfred Adler, Rank's physician) which led to Rank's appointment as secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1906.┬  With Freud's financial and moral support, Rank obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna in 1912, the first candidate to do so with a psychoanalytic thesis subject.

Rank became the acknowledged expert on philosophy, literature, and myth in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and kept the Minutes (1906-1918; now published in four volumes).┬  Otto Rank became the most prolific psychoanalytic writer after Freud, with Der K├╝nstler (1907; expanded eds. 1918 and 1925), Der Mythus der Geburt des Heldens (1909), Die Lohengrin Sage [his doctoral thesis] (1911), and Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912, 2nd ed. 1926), a 700-page survey of world literature.┬  Except for the posthumous Beyond Psychology (1941), Rank's books were written in his native German.┬  Translations, mostly of his early psychoanalytic works, exist in English, French, Italian, and Spanish.

Of the founders of the International Psychoanalytic Association, Rank was closest to Freud geographically, professionally and personally.┬  He helped edit and contributed two chapters to Freud's Die Traumdeutung (eds. 4-7, 1914-1922; "Traum und Dichtung" and "Traum und Mythus").┬  He and Hanns Sachs edited the journal Imago beginning in 1912; with Freud and Sandor Ferenczi he edited Die Zeitschrift f├╝r Psychoanalyse beginning in 1913.┬  Rank witnessed the vicissitudes and bitter endings of Freud's relationships with Wilhelm Stekel, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung; Rank's tenure with Freud lasted much longer - two decades, exceeded only by that of his friend Sandor Ferenczi and his foe Ernest Jones.

Other works important in Rank's Freudian period include "Ein Beitrag zum Narcissismus," (Jarbuch, 1911), Die Bedeutung der Psychoanalyse f├╝r die Geisteswissenschaften (1912, with H. Sachs), Psychoanalytische Beitrage zur Mythenforschung (1919), Die Don Juan Gestalt (1922), Der Doppelg├Ąnger (1925), Eine Neurosenanalyse in Traumen (1924), Sexualit├Ąt und Schuldgef├╝hl (1926), Technik der Psychoanalyse (I. Die Analytische Situation 1926; II. Die Analytische Reaktion 1929; III. Die Analyse Des Analytikers 1931; II and III translated as Will Therapy 1936), Grundz├╝ge einer genetischen Psychologie (I. Genetische Psychologie 1927, II. Gestaltung und Ausdruck der Personlichkeit 1928; III. Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit 1929, translated as Truth and Reality 1936).

Freud, who had discouraged young Rank from pursuing a medical career, after 1912 always addressed him as "Dr. Rank" and referred patients to him.┬  This was consistent with his support of non-medical or "lay" analysis.┬  Freud and Rank agreed on another controversial issue:┬  the eligibility of homosexual candidates for analytic training.┬  Rank served in the Austrian army in Poland during World War I, where he met and married Beata "Tola" Mincer in 1918; she became a noted lay analyst and practiced in Boston after their separation in 1934.┬  The birth of their only child, Helene (1919) enhanced Rank's interest in the pre-Oedipal phase of development (birth to age 3) and the mother-child relationship.┬  Rank's companion in the last four years of his life was Estelle Buel, an American of Swiss descent whom he married just three months before his death.┬  He had applied for U.S. citizenship when a kidney infection led to fatal septicemia; he died in New York City at 55.┬ ┬ 

Freud and Rank established the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag in 1919, which became Rank's major responsibility along with training psychoanalytic candidates from around the world.┬  In 1924 Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt, emphasizing the importance of separation and individuation, with their attendant and inevitable anxiety in the pre-Oedipal period.┬  Until then psychoanalysis had been father-centered, with Oedipal conflict at the center.┬  Rank meant only to balance and extend Freud's work but this book, and his work with Ferenczi on active therapy - Entzwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse (1924) - led to a final break with his mentor and virtual foster father.┬  That same year Rank turned 40 and visited the United States for the first time.┬  He was honored as Freud's emissary, although his ideas were beginning to challenge established Freudian doctrine.

Over the next decade Rank lectured, taught, wrote, and practiced a briefer form of psychoanalytic therapy with a more egalitarian relationship between therapist and patient.┬  Rank modified the open-ended analytic process by using termination as the focus for separation and independent development.┬  In this respect his work anticipated the innovations of Franz Alexander (brief analytic therapy, and the corrective emotional experience).

Orthodox Freudians condemned Rank as a deviant.┬  The American Psychoanalytic Association expelled him and required his former analysands to undergo re-analysis.┬  Although Rank suffered from poor physical health and occasional depression, assertions that his departure from the psychoanalytic fold were a result of mental instability (by E. Jones and A. A. Brill) are not supportable.┬  The work of Rank and his colleague, Ferenczi, is being studied and discussed more objectively by psychoanalytic scholars today.

Rank's creativity continued to flourish in his post-Freudian period.┬  Between 1926 and 1931 he wrote major works on developmental psychology and therapeutic technique which are considered a forerunner of object relations theory and ego psychology (Rudnytsky, 1991).┬  He emphasized conscious experience, the present, choice, responsibility, and action in contrast with the (classical Freudian) unconscious, past history, drives, determinism, and intellectual insight.┬  Seelenglaube und Psychologie (1930) and Art and Artist (1932) are psychoanalytically informed major works of social psychology and cultural history addressing religion and creativity, respectively.

Otto Rank's emphasis on will, relationship and creativity appealed to psychologists Rollo May, Carl Rogers, Esther Menaker, Paul Goodman, and Henry Murray.┬  Noted psychiatrists influenced by Rank include Frederick Allen, Marion Kenworthy, Robert Jay Lifton, Carl Whitaker, and Irvin Yalom; writers and critics include Ernest Becker, Maxwell Geismar, Max Lerner, Ludwig Lewisohn, Anais Nin, Carl Rakosi, and Miriam Waddington.

Some of Rank's ideas which seemed radical in his time are now in the mainstream of psychoanalytic thought:┬  the importance of the early mother-child relationship; the ego, consciousness, the here-and-now, and the actual relationship - as opposed to transference - in therapy.┬  He anticipated and influenced interpersonal, existential, client-centered, Gestalt, and relationship therapies.┬  As social psychologist he contributed to our understanding of myth, religion, art, education, ethics, and organizational behavior.

The Butler Library, Columbia University, New York, holds the Otto Rank papers in its rare book and manuscript collections.┬  The Journal of the Otto Rank Association appeared twice annually from 1966-1983, publishing works by Rank and many others who knew him and/or his writings.┬  A collection of his American lectures (1924-1938) has been published as A Psychology of Difference (Robert Kramer, ed., 1996).

E. J. Lieberman

Bib: Lieberman, E.J., 1985/1993; Menaker, E., 1982; Rudnytsky, P., 1991; Taft J., 1958; Zottl, A., 1982.


Lieberman E. James (1985), Acts of Will: the Life and Work of Otto Rank, New York, Free Press, 517 p.┬  French tr. (1991), La volont├ę en acte: La vie et l'┬œvre d'Otto Rank, Paris, PUF, 531 p.┬  German tr. (1997), Giessen, PsychoSocial Verlag, in press.

Menaker Esther (1982), Otto Rank:┬  A Rediscovered Legacy, New York, Columbia University Press, 190 p.

Rudnytsky Peter (1991), The Psychoanalytic Vocation:┬  The Legacy of Otto Rank and Donald Winnicott, New Haven, Yale University Press, 245 p.

Taft Jessie (1958), Otto Rank, New York, Julian, 299 p.

Zottl Anton (1982), Otto Rank:┬  Das Lebenswerk eines Dissidenten der Psychoanalyse, M├╝nchen, Kindler Verlag, 316 p.

Return to Otto Rank Website Table of Contents
Last Updated March, 2004 by E. James Lieberman

Otto Rank

Psychologist and Philosopher

1884 Vienna -- 1939 New York

Once the favorite son of  Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank eventually became one of his mentor's sharpest critics. Rank was Freud's closest disciple and colleague from 1906-1926, the formative years of the psychoanalytic movement. Freud valued Rank's expertise in art, music, literature, anthropology, history, science and philosophy and advised him not to go to medical school but to complete his academic education. Rank obliged. At 21 a locksmith and largely self-educated, Rank went back to school and on to the University of Vienna, where he got his Ph.D. at 28, in 1912. By then Rank had published books on art, mythology, incest, and Lohengrin. Rank, whose family was poor, earned his keep as Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Second only to Freud as a psychoanalytic author, "little Rank [5'3"]"--as Freud [5'7"] affectionately called him in letters to Jung [6']-- Book: Acts of Will; The Life and Work of Otto Rankgrew to become a leader in the psychological revolution that changed the way we see ourselves.

Otto Rank broke away from psychoanalysis at age 40, about the time he first visited America. Returning from New York in 1924 as an honorary member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Rank faced criticism from the Freudians for his new ideas on the mother-child relationship and on less authoritarian psychotherapy. With Sandor Ferenczi, Rank developed a more active and egalitarian psychotherapy focused on the here-and-now, real relationship, conscious mind and will, rather than past history, transference, unconscious and wish.

Controversy over Rank's The Trauma of Birth (1924) led to the final break with Freud who first praised, then condemned the book under pressure from Rank's rivals, especially Karl Abraham and Ernest Jones. Rank's new theory of anxiety was meant to supplement, not overthrow, psychoanalysis. Freud revamped his own theory in response to Rank though he rejected Rank's emphasis on the mother (psychoanalysis then was father-centered) and the Oedipus complex. He put down Rank's interest in brief therapy as a sign of corruption by superficial American values. The hostility of the psychoanalytic movement to independent thinkers like Otto Rank is found in the cases of Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, and many more. In 1926, after backtracking for a year, Rank left Vienna for Paris with his wife, Beata, a lay psychoanalyst, and their only child, Helene, 7. There he met the diarist Anais Nin, who wrote about her therapy with Rank and their subsequent love affair. Otto Rank visited the U.S. several times before emigrating permanently in 1935. Ousted by orthodox Freudians, Rank lectured widely, taught at the University of Pennsylvania and practiced psychotherapy in New York. His Art and Artist; Modern Education; Will Therapy; and Truth and Reality were published by Knopf. In October 1939, divorced and remarried, planning to become a citizen and move to California, Rank died at age 55. He loved his new country and Mark Twain had become his favorite author, from whom he adopted the nickname "Huck."

Brought to the attention of a wider public by Ernest Becker, Paul Goodman, Rollo May, Esther Menaker, Anais Nin, Carl Rogers, Jessie Taft, and Irvin Yalom, Otto Rank is regaining an audience interested in psychotherapy, creativity and the arts, humanistic psychology, feminism, and philosophy. Many of his ideas have entered the mainstream although his role as an innovator in interpersonal and existential psychotherapy has yet to be recognized in full. Readers will find insights on will, soul, life-fear and death-fear, art and artist, myth, religion, education, and psychotherapy.

People shouting at the world over megaphones; Size=240 pixels wide


Wit and Wisdom of "Secretary" Rank

Thou shalt not give birth reluctantly...[Du sollst nicht widerwillig gebaeren]

--Eighth commandment, Diary 1904

Fathers and Mothers! Honor your children and love them.

-- Diary 1904

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, for there are plenty of others.

-- Diary 1904

Art is life's dream interpretation...[Kunst ist Lebenstraumdeutung]

-- Diary Dec 1904

The correct didactic analysis is one that does not in the least differ from the curative treatment. How, indeed, shall the future analyst learn the technique if he does not experience it just exactly as he is to apply it later?

--Ferenczi and Rank, The Development of Psychoanalysis, 1924

Projection and Identification

The richer--that is, the more varied and complete--the individual's emotional life, the less is he driven to projection, and the more will he incline to identification. His outlet and satisfaction comes in identifying himself with the emotions of the other. On the other hand, the narrower and more restricted the individual's emotional life, the more intense will be his fewer emotions, the less will he be inclined to, and capable of, identification--the lack of which he has to compensate for by projection. Projection thus proves to be a compensatory mechanism that adjusts for an inner lack. Identification, on the other hand, is an expression of abundance, of the desire for union, for alliance, for sharing.

--"Love, Guilt and the Denial of Feelings," 1927, American Lectures, 160 --(You may Purchase this Book)

Real Brief Therapy!

I analyzed first according to Freud's technique, and then gradually developed a shorter one, a technique that is getting shorter and shorter, so that I am almost afraid that soon I won't have to see the patient at all.

--Answer to question, Yale University, 1929

Monkey Business

The chimpanzees with whom I spent two hours are simply lovely. They are making a thorough study of the psychologists around them and know already how to please them in their experiments. They don't know anything about time but are experts in regard to space because they spit right in the middle of your face from any distance. That's their way of lecturing.

--At Yale Primate Lab, 28 Feb 1929, letter to Jessie Taft

Art and the Soul

This very essence of a man, his soul, which the artist puts into his work and which is represented by it, is found again in the work by the enjoyer, just as the believer finds his soul in religion or in God, with whom he feels himself to be one. It is on this identity of the spiritual, which underlies the concept of collective religion, and not on a psychological identification with the artist, that the pleasurable effect of the work of art ultimately depends, and the effect is, in this sense, one of deliverance....But both [artist and enjoyer], in the simultaneous dissolution of their individuality in a greater whole, enjoy, as a high pleasure, the personal enrichment of that individuality through this feeling of oneness. They have yielded up their mortal ego for a moment, fearlessly and even joyfully, to receive it back in the next, the richer for this universal feeling.

--Art and Artist, 1932, p. 109-110.

Psychoanalysis and the Soul

Psychoanalysis arrived to save the human soul in a materialistic era sick with self-consciousness and threatened by loss of belief in immortality and in its public expression, religion. Its greatness resides in having done this in the mind-set of our era, not simply symbolizing the soul exoterically or concretizing it socially as in the past, but attempting to demonstrate it scientifically. But realistic psychology is the death knell of the soul, whose source, nature, and value lie precisely in the abstract, the unfathomable, and the esoteric.

--Psychology and the Soul (1930/1998) p. 23.

The Best, Worst, and Oddest Things in Print about Otto Rank

The insights seem like a gift....Living as we do in an era of hyperspecialization we have lost the expectations of this kind of delight....Rank's system has implications for the deepest and broadest development of the social sciences, implications that have only begun to be tapped.

--Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, 1973
The 1974 Pulitzer Prize was awarded for this book, the year Becker died.  His posthumous Escape from Evil (1975) was dedicated to Rank's memory.

I consider Otto Rank to be one of the great spiritual giants of the twentieth century, a genius as a psychologist and a saint as a human being. Though vilified by his original community of Freudians, he never became bitter. He died a feminist and deeply committed to social justice, in 1939....His deep understanding of creativity makes him a mentor for all of us living in a postmodern world....I believe that Art and Artist,especially chapters 12 to 14, may well emerge as the most valuable psychoanalysis of the spiritual life in our time.

--Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets 1995. Chapter 11 is devoted to Otto Rank. Fox refers to Rank enthusiastically in other books and in his teaching.

Precisely as the new physics, in its analysis of the atom, has come upon a dynamic element in a universe now no longer like a machine, so Dr. Rank, again like the physicists rejecting causality in its rigidly and hopelesly deterministic sense, has come upon a dynamic element in the human psyche and has reinstated in its proper place and function the psychology of the will.

--Ludwig Lewisohn, Preface, Otto Rank's  Art & Artist, 1932

What predominated was his curiosity, not the impulse to classify. He was not like a scientist intent on fitting a human being into a theory. He was not practicing mental surgery. He was relying on his intuition, intent on discovering a woman neither one of us knew. A new specimen. He improvised.

--Anais Nin Diary I, 1966

Nin's Slip is Showing

Rank admired Mark Twain's parody of literature, Huck's search for complications, additions, circuitous ways.

--Anais Nin Diary 2, 1967
She confuses Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, totally reversing the picture (her editors didn't catch it, either)!  Unlike Tom, Huck was simple and straightforward, and Rank identified with him so much so that he signed himself "Huck" in his last years.

Max Lerner: The New York Post

Of all the original Freudian Group--Jung, Adler, Rank, Ferenczi, Jones, Eitingon, Sachs--the one whose ideas still have the sharpest freshness for me is Rank. Freud had liked him, cherished him as a disciple, and then--when Rank dared pursue some lines of research in a direction of his own--Freud had turned against him. So did all the others who headed the little satrapies in Freud's empire, including Ernest Jones. That was why I was eager to know about the artist's experience with Rank.

--From a Max Lerner column entitled "Touch Bottom," The New York Post June 15, 1959. Reprinted in Journal of the Otto Rank Association5:1, June 1970.

Rupert Pole's Invention

The relationship is somehow tragicomic: the father feels he is crowning his Don Juan career by attempting to seduce his daughter, but Anais knows she is acting on the advice of her psychiatrist (and lover) Dr. Otto Rank--to seduce her father and then leave him as punishment for abandoning her as a child.

--Rupert Pole, Executor, the Anais Nin Trust, Preface to Incest by A. Nin, 1992  (corrected in the paperback edition).
Nin had not yet met Rank, much less become his patient or lover, at the time of the alleged seduction of her father. Rupert Pole admitted to confabulating this.  Gunther Stuhlmann, Nin's agent and editor--and also agent for the Rank estate-- let it pass! This fabrication unfortunately appears in the German translation and probably others.

The Peter Principle?

Rank's reunuciation of truth-seeking forms part of the global anti-intellectualism of his final period....he was well on his way to the mysticism of his last books....the irrationalism of Rank's final period must be deplored as a retreat from the quest for self-knowledge that prompted him to become a disciple of Freud.

Although Rank's theoretical odyssey came to a dead end, his life abides as a human triumph. It may not be possible to accept his post-1927 answers, but Rank never ceased to pose the essential questions....If in its explorations of the role of the mother and the unthought known, psychoanalysis has begun to catch up with Rank's anii mirabiles, perhaps Rank may yet be reclaimed for the fold from which he ought never to have departed.

--Peter Rudnytsky, The Psychoanalytic Vocation, 1991
P.R. credits Rank with being an unsung pioneer of object relations theory, but disdains Rank's most mature works

Since culture is itself a poiesis, all of its participants are poietai--inventors, makers, artists, storytellers, mythologists. They are not, however, makers of actualities, but makers of possibilities. The creativity of culture has no outcome, no conclusion. It does not result in art works, artifacts, products. Creativity is a continuity that engenders itself in others. "Artists do not create objects, but create by way of objects." (Rank)

--James Carse, Finite and Infinite Games, 1986
A wonderful aphoristic book by the emeritus professor of religion at NYU.

Rank's Best American Friend
When I finally came to my first hour with Rank, while conciously submissive, afraid, and fully aware of my ignorance of psychoanalysis, my underlying attitude was far from humble. I was, after all, a psychologist. I had some knowledge of myself and my problems. I had achieved a point of view psychologically. If there was anything in my unconscious in terms of buried memories, I would have to be shown. And so the battle was joined; but I soon found that it was a battle with myself. I was deprived of a foe. It took only two weeks for me to yield to a new kind of relationship, in the experiencing of which the nature of my own therapeutic failures became suddenly clear. No verbal explanation was ever needed; my first experience of taking help for a need that had been denied was enough to give a basis for the years of learning to follow.

--Jessie Taft Otto Rank, 1958, p. xi
Rank's patient, then colleague, translator, and first biographer.

Reviewed with a Vengeance

Disciple Taft, 76 this week...reveals the agonizing details of Rank's character...shocking that a man so disturbed should win such acceptance. Rank early and arrogantly declared himself an "artist"--a designation that he viewed as equivalent to a patent of nobility.... In Rank's later years his behavior was more appropriate to the role of patient than therapist. He went through one emotional crisis after another (diagnosed by famed Freud biographer Ernest Jones as a mild manic-depressive psychosis)...In the post-Freud patter of the cocktail hour, Otto Rank was "sick, sick, sick."

--Gilbert Cant, Medicine Editor, Time Magazine June 23, 1958
In those days such reviews were unsigned, but I was able to locate Mr. Cant and he expressed some chagrin about using the "sick" cliche.  A similar review by him appeared in the New York Post--a double whammy against Rank and Taft, then 76.  She died two years later.  The Otto Rank Association was founded in 1966 by Virginia Robinson and others, publishing the Journal of the Otto Rank Association until 1983, when Rank's name and work were gaining visibility and respect in the "mainstream."

Return to Otto Rank Table of Contents
Last Updated August, 2002 by E.James Lieberman

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