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Freud: Living and Dying


Dr. Max Schur was a psychoanalytically oriented internist who became Freud's physician in 1929. He treated Freud and members of his family until 1939, when Freud died. Schur then emigrated to the United States. There many people tried to persuade him to write about Freud, but he was reluctant to do so out of respect for Freud's privacy. When the correspondence between Freud and Wilhelm Fliess was published in 1950, he was impressed by the historical and scientific value of his documents on Freud and agreed to make his notes available to Ernest Jones, who was preparing a biography of Freud. Disagreeing with some of Jones assessments of Freud's physical and neurotic symptoms, Schur decided to craft a "biographical study" of Freud's life, concentrating on his changing attitudes toward life and death as revealed in his life, work, and correspondence.

Schur's book begins with a brief biographical review of Freud's early life, incorporating recently published material that threw light on some of Freud's reconstructions. Then, subjecting Freud's descriptions of his symptoms in his letters to Fliess in the early 1890s to a careful review, he disputes Jones's conclusion that Freud had a cardiac neurosis. Schur believed that the most likely diagnosis was a small coronary occlusion with typical anginal pains, arrhythmias, and mild cardiac insufficiency, aggravated by nicotine. As is well known, Freud was addicted to cigars, and he continued to find them necessary for creative concentration even when they were clearly contributing to his cancer during his last years. Schur believed that "neurotic anxiety was much less pronounced in Freud than excessive swings of mood, which at their low ebb had a definate depressive quality." He also described Freud's obsessive preoccupation with death and with dying at a certain age. During the cardiac episode Freud's relationship with Schur, which began in mutual admiration, intensified and took on characteristics of a "transference-like" relationship.

Schur examines Freud's self-analysis in the light of such transference. His discussion of Freud's "Irma dream" demonstrates that the dream was also an unrecognized attempt to exonerate Fliess in order to preserve Freud's idealization of Fliess. Schur also demonstrates how Freud's self-analysis led to a breakup of his friendship with Fliess in 1904 and how ghosts of the relationship continued to haunt Freud in the form of a preoccupation with death dates based on Fliess's numerical periods. Schur also pursues the broader theme of Freud's attitudes toward death throughout Freud's works, most notably when he discusses Freud's notion of the death instinct.

The last third of Schur's book is a painfully moving description of Freud's cancer, the surgical procedures he endured, the tormenting prostheses he had to suffer, and the fortitude and remarkable capacity he demonstrated to continue to analyze and write despite everything. When Freud interviewed Schur before appointing Schur as his physician, he asked for two promises: that he would be told the truth and nothing but the truth, and that he would not be required to suffer unnecessarily. Schur ends with a description of how he fulfilled the second of these promises.

Roy K. Lilleskov

See also: Death and psychoanalysis.

Source Citation

Schur, Max. (1972). Freud: Living and dying. New York: International Universities Press.


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