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Theodor Reik (1888 - 1969)

Related: masochism - sexology - psychoanalysis - psychology

Masochism in Sex and Society (1941) Theodor Reik [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

1962 Black Cat edition


Theodor Reik (1888-1969) was a prominent psychoanalyst who trained as one of Freud's first students in Vienna, Austria. Reik received a PhD degree in psychology from the University of Vienna in 1912. His dissertation, a study of Flaubert's Temptation of Saint Anthony, was the first psychoanalytic dissertation ever written. After receiving his doctorate, Reik devoted several years to studying with Freud, who financially supported Reik and his family during his psychoanalytic training. During this time, Reik was analyzed by Karl Abraham. Reik, who was Jewish, emigrated from Austria to the United States in 1938 in flight from Nazism. In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Rejected from the dominant community of medical psychoanalysts in the United States because he did not possess an MD degree, Reik went on to found one of the first psychoanalytic training centers for psychologists, the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP). NPAP remains one of the largest and best-known psychoanalytic training institutes in New York City.

As part of Reik's conflict with the medical psychoanalysis community, he participated in the first lawsuit which helped define and legitimize the practice of psychoanalysis by non-physicians.

Reik is best known for psychoanalytic studies of psychotherapeutic listening, masochism, criminology, literature, and religion.

Reik's first major book was The Compulsion to Confess (1925), in which he argued that neurotic symptoms such as blushing and stuttering can be seen as unconscious confessions that express the patient's repressed impulses while also punishing the patient for communicating these impulses.

Reik further explored this theme in The Unknown Murderer (1932), in which he examined the process of psychologically profiling unknown criminals. He argued out that because of unconscious guilt, criminals often leave clues that can lead to their identification and arrest.

In Masochism in Modern Man (1941), Reik argues that patients who engage in self-punishing or provocative behavior do so in order to demonstrate their emotional fortitude, induce guilt in others, and achieve a sense of "victory through defeat."

Reik presented a forceful criticism of traditional Freudian theory in A Psychologist Looks at Love (1944). Freud had believed that love is always based on some form of sexual desire. Reik argued, to the contrary, that love and lust are distinct motivational forces.

Reik's most famous book, Listening with the Third Ear (1948), describes how psychoanalysts intuitively use their own unconscious minds to detect and decipher the unconscious wishes and fantasies of their patients. According to Reik, analysts come to understand patients most deeply by examining their own unconscious intuitions about their patients.

In his psychoanalytic autobiography Fragments of a Great Confession (1949), Reik turned a psychoanalytic ear toward his own life, interpreting his inner conflicts and their influence on his writing and relationships.

The Secret Self (1952) comprises a number of essays of psychoanalytic literary criticism, in which Reik tried to decipher the unconscious fantasies and impulses lying beneath literary works. In this book, Reik continued to develop his interest in the relationship between his own personality and his work, exploring how his internal conflicts shaped his interpretations of literary works.

In Myth and Guilt (1957), Reik investigated the role of guilt and masochism in religion.

Reik's theories were a strong influence on the French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan, and anticipated recent developments in US psychoanalysis, such as its current emphasis on intersubjectivity and countertransference. Reik's legacy for nonmedical psychoanalysis in the US is equally important. The training of nonmedical analysts, such as psychologist and social workers, is now largely accepted, partly because of Reik's efforts. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Reik [Dec 2005]


1888-1969, American psychologist and author, b. Vienna, Ph.D. Univ. of Vienna, 1912. He was one of Sigmund Freud's earliest and most brilliant students; their association lasted from 1910 to 1938. In Europe, Reik conducted research and lectured at several psychoanalytic institutes before coming (1938) to the United States. He was naturalized in 1944. He founded (1948) the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. Among his many writings are From Thirty Years with Freud (tr. 1940), Listening with the Third Ear (1948, repr. 1972), The Secret Self (1952), The Search Within (1956, repr. 1968), Of Love and Lust (1957, repr. 1970), Myth and Guilt (1957, repr. 1970), The Compulsion to Confess (1959, repr. 1972), Creation of Woman (1960), The Temptation (1961), Voices from the Inaudible (1964), Curiosities of the Self (1965), and The Many Faces of Sex (1966).

Bibliography: See the autobiographical Fragments of a Great Confession (1949, repr. 1965). --http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/R/Reik-T1he.asp [Sept 2004]

Theodor Reik 1888-1969

Theodor Reik, disciple of Freud, author of twenty books and hundreds of papers on literature, music, religion, masochism, and analytic technique, was the founder of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) a major training facility for nonmedical psychoanalysts in the United States. Working in four international cities, Reik wrote in a free associational and confessional style about his life, loves, failures and triumphs.

Reik received his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna in 1912, having written the first psychoanalytic dissertation. He met Freud in 1910, immediately became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and, on the resignation of Otto Rank, was appointed Secretary. Freud wrote The Question of Lay Analysis (1926) as a defense of Reik who was prosecuted under the quackery laws of Austria.

Upon emigrating to New York, Reik was denied full membership in the New York Psychoanalytic Society and, with several students, founded NPAP in 1948. He popularized psychoanalysis with the writing of such best sellers as Listening with the Third Ear (1948) and Masochism in Modern Man (1941). Some of his other works are Surprise and the Psychoanalyst (1935), From Thirty Years With Freud (1940), The Search Within (1956), Ritual (1958), and Of Love and Lust (1959). Critical of Wilhelm Reich and Otto Fenichel, whom he viewed as systematizers, Reik saw the psychoanalytic experience as an unconscious dialogue between patient and analyst, in which insights occur from surprise and unconscious interplay beyond theoretical assumptions. Thus his ideas predate contemporary psychoanalytic theory.


The Eulenspiegel Society (TES) received its name as a result of the following excerpt from Theodore Reik's Masochism in Modern Man:

"German folklore tells many tales of the peculiar behavior of the foolish yet clever lad Till Eulenspiegel. This rogue used to feel dejected on his wanderings whenever he walked downhill striding easily, but he seemed very cheerful when he had to climb uphill laboriously. His explanation of his behavior was that in going downhill he could not help thinking of the effort and toil involved in climbing the next hill. While engaged in the toil of climbing he anticipated and enjoyed in his imagination the approach of his downhill stroll.

One feels tempted to see in such strange behavior a paradox reminiscent of masochism, an expression of worldly wisdom. It sounds like a reminder to keep one's chin up in hardships and worries and not to become presumptuous in times of ease and comfort.

Willfully and obstinately the masochist opposes his own rhythm to that which rules all our lives. He is one measure (or several) ahead or behind in the suspense as well as in the perverse act.

By this detour we again have met that rogue Till Eulenspiegel and his peculiar conduct during his wanderings. When he is leisurely walking downhill he is downcast. When he toils up the hill he is happy. He gladly submits to discomfort, enjoys it, even transforms it into pleasure.

This, however, constitutes the very essence of masochism. The masochist and Till Eulenspiegel obey another rhythm, their own. They do not march in step with us. Perhaps that is because they hear another drummer. --http://www.tes.org/about/faq.html, May 2004

Christian masochism

Kaja Silverman has described this tradition of pain and suffering as "Christian masochism," [1] which she recognizes as a strain of masochism identified by Theodore Reik in Masochism in Modern Man (1941). [2] This masochism, Reik's brand of "moral" or non-erotic masochism [3] in which the subject tortures itself, Silverman sums up as an economy of desire in which "demonstrativeness," the gaze, revolutionary fervor, and "suspense" all come into play in fantasies that revolve around and emerge from the tortured body of Christ:

[In Christian masochistic fantasy,] the external audience is a structural necessity, although it may be either earthly or heavenly . . . the body is centrally on display, whether it is being consumed by ants or roasting over a fire . . . [and] behind all these 'scenes' or 'exhibits' is the master tableau or group fantasy--Christ nailed to the cross, head wreathed in thorns and blood dripping from his impaled sides. What is being beaten here is not so much the body as the "flesh," and beyond that sin itself, and the whole fallen world. (197)

Extending Silverman's definition, I would argue that Christian masochism works on both non-sexual and highly sexual levels, from the virtually non-erotic "moral" Christian masochism and Christian masochism combined with erotic (in this case) male masochism. The subject can move freely within this range, exhibiting various degrees of eroticism within the Christian masochist's network of fantasy. [4] --Lisa Starks via http://enculturation.gmu.edu/1_2/starks.html [Dec 2005]]

Shirley Panken

Reik (1941) perceives the masochistic character as a composite expression of aggressive, ambitious, revengeful, defiant impulses revealed in fantasy or circuitously in action and directed against an actual person or persons, though often with what is termed a "reversed sign." He emphasizes the importance of the sadistic fantasy, citing it as the "soil in which masochism grows." Far from feeling , as Reich did, that in masochism we see an "inhibited exhibitionism," he maintains that the "demonstrative" quality in parading one's harmlessness, generosity, ineptness, or suffering is, indeed, actual exhibitionism, with the aim of concealing something else: "hostile, stubborn, vain-glorious tyranny." "Victory through defeat" is his summation of this construct. --Shirley Panken, The Joy of Suffering.

The Passion of the Christ

Letter on David Walsh’s March 5 article, “Why has The Passion of the Christ evoked such a popular response in America?”

I had not intended to get involved in the furor around this film, not being a religious person. But the thoughtful and articulate quality of this review and of the responses already received has drawn me in.

I may be wrong, but I think that no one so far seems to have mentioned the concepts of sadism and masochism. This is not surprising, since in a kind of Orwellian way they seem to have been removed from our public discourse. I have followed this as a student of psychoanalytic theory, where there is a significant literature. The Diagnostic and Standard Manual of the American Psychiatric Association includes these terms in its edition 3-R of 1987; however, they are absent in subsequent editions. One has to wonder if this is part of a general effort to stamp out the heresy of humanism and of concepts such as Fromm’s “man for himself.” Curiously, there even appears to be a tendency, even among those who should know better, to think of de Sade himself as some sort of champion of freedom; at least, I read comments to this effect in response to Quills.

Sado-masochism is related to fascism and paranoia but provides a broader conceptual framework linking these concepts with authoritarianism. Perhaps many of your readers are not old enough to remember the years around WW2 when there was a concerted effort to come to terms with and understand how the Hitler regime was possible. For instance, the American Jewish Committee published, in 1950, The Authoritarian Personality, which is much more specific than better-known work such as that of Hannah Arendt. Especially relevant to Gibson is Theodor Reik’s Masochism and Modern Man (1941), with chapters on “The Secret Meaning of the Display in Public” and “The Paradoxes of Christ.” The effect of the emotional power of a film such as this one is that it dominates the thinking of the viewer, such that he is unable to entertain points of view other than the two choices of sadism and masochism. --NR, 12 March 2004, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/mar2004/pass-m20.shtml [May 2004]

Masochism in Sex and Society (1941) Theodor Reik

  1. Reik, Theodore. _Masochism in Sex and Society_. Trans. Margaret H. Beigel and Gertrud M. Kurth. New York: Grove, 1962. (First ed. 1941)

    Original title:Aus Leiden Freuden. Masochismus und Gesellschaft

    From the Back of the Black Cat edition: Man is the animal which seeks pleasure and avoids pain-and yet there are men and women who take pleasure in pain. Some cannot find sexual pleasure without pain. Others find the pain martydom indispensabe in their relations to society.

    Mass Market Paperback

    See also: Grove Press - 1962 - 1941 - masochism - Theodor Reik - society - sex

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