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April 22: Otto Rank and Human Mythology

April 21, 2016

rank_otto1Otto Rank (Rosenfeld), one of Sigmund Freud’s closest collaborators, was born in Vienna on this date in 1884. Rank hailed from a poor family and worked in a machine shop while educating himself at night. He became the first paid secretary of the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1905, at the age of 21. He completed his Ph.D. six years later, and became the most prolific writer in Freud’s inner circle. It was Rank who extended psychoanalytic theory to the study of legend, myth, art, and creativity, and who theorized that the basis of anxiety is birth trauma. His books included The Myth of the Birth of the Hero (1909) and The Incest Motif in Poetry and Saga (1912). His 1924 book, The Trauma of Birth, led to his expulsion from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and his break with his mentor. “Rank’s attempt,” writes the Encyclopedia Britannica, “to reduce all of psychology to a monolithic system based on the birth trauma is viewed as a serious departure from a scientific orientation. But his emphasis on personal growth and self-actualization and his application of psychoanalytic theory to the interpretation of art and myth have remained influential.”

“Art is life’s dream-interpretation.” —Otto Rank