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Bak, Robert C. (1908-1974)

BAK, ROBERT C. (1908-1974)

Robert C. Bak was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, born in Budapest, October 14, 1908, and died in New York, September 15, 1974. Bak was the third son of a rich Jewish family. His father was a farm manager. After graduation in a high school of science, Bak enrolled in the medical university, and received his degree in 1933.

He was trained in psychoanalysis by Imre Hermann. Following his emigration from Budapest to New York in 1941, he worked as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. In 1947 he became a training analyst and soon after a leading figure of the New York Psychoanalytical Institute. He conducted courses and seminars.

In 1959 he became president of the Study Committee. He was president of the New York Psychoanalytical Society from 1957 to 1959, and guest-professor at the Albert Einstein Medical University. He conducted lecture tours in Italy, Denmark, and Switzerland for several years.

His early publications fuse psychoanalytical theory with the contemporary concept of psychiatry. He treated the great Hungarian poet Attila József for schizophrenia. The afterlife of the communist poet and of the young psychiatrist who had emigrated to the United States became closely intertwined in the ensuing fifty years of Hungarian psychoanalysis, in which Bak played a salient role, not exempt from ideological distortions. He wrote several articles on the poet's pathology. In his last paper (1973) he again analyzed the poet's suicide from the point of view of his "progressive withdrawal from the object and repeated attempts to reestablish and recathects objects by being in love."

He maintained professional contact with Imre Hermann until his death, but he was also influenced by Heinz Hartmann's theory, and worked together with Phyllis Greenacre, Edith Jacobson, and Margaret Mahler. From the beginning he was engrossed in an in-depth exploration of the psyche through the phenomenology of psychopathology and the reality distortions manifest in psychoses and perversions. He pointed out the significance of early heat-orientation in schizophrenic symptom-formation. In addition to sadomasochistic libido, he also showed the presence of an overt and neutralized form of the aggression instinct in paranoia and perversions (1956). He traced the common origin of perversion fantasies back to phallic mother-image, and, in addition to the destabilization of reality, assigned an important role to the giant mother-image that Hermann had assumed for him (1968). He wrote about 25 studies in Hungarian, German, and English.

His work continues to exert a profound influence on the study of psychoses and perversion, and represents the traditions of the Hungarian school.

Hungarian Group

See also: Hungarian School.


Bak, Robert. (1941). Temperamentur-Orientierung und Überfliessen der Ichgrenzen in der Schizophrenie. Schweizer Archiv für Neurologie, Neurochirurgie und Psychiatrie, 46, 158-177.

. (1953). Fetishism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association, 1-2, 285-297.

. Aggression and perversion. In Sándor Lorand (Ed.), Perversions: psychodynamics and therapy (pp. 231-240). New York: Random House, 1956.

. (1968). The phallic woman: The ubiquitous fantasy, Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 23, 16-36.

. (1973). Being in love and object loss. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 54, 1-8.

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