Tausk, Viktor (1879-1919)

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TAUSK, VIKTOR (1879-1919)

Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Viktor Tausk was born on March 12, 1879, in Zsilina, Slovakia, and committed suicide on July 3, 1919, in Vienna.

The eldest of nine children, Tausk came from a German-speaking, non-religious Jewish family that, soon after his birth, moved to Croatia. His parents had an unsuccessful marriage. His father, Hermann, was a bright, ambitious, and popular newspaperman, who at one point managed the press office of the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Tausk would oppose his father's attachment to the Austro-Hungarian Empire by supporting the Yugoslavian nationalist movement and by becoming fluent in Serbo-Croatian.

Tausk, in fact, grew up hating his father while maintaining strong affection for his mother, Emilie. Brilliant in school and multilingual, he initially chose to study law rather than costly medical studies. At Mostar, where he practiced for a time as a lawyer's assistant, he preferred to defend impoverished clients, not excepting accused murderers.

Tausk visited Vienna for the first time in 1897, and there in 1898 met Martha Frisch, a distant relation of Martin Buber, the theologian-philosopher and social activist. Jewish by birth and Marxist by persuasion, she was also a Christian, and Tausk was baptized in order to marry her in 1900. Their first child was stillborn, but a son, Marius, was born in 1902; a second son, Victor-Hugo, followed in 1904. They returned to Yugoslavia, where they separated in 1905 and divorced three years later.

Resettled in Berlin by 1906, Tausk began working as a journalist while writing poetry and plays and immersing himself in artistic endeavors. In 1907 his health, already precarious while a student, worsened with both physical illness (including weak lungs) and depression. He entered a sanatorium and during his stay was apparently impressed by an article by Freud, wrote to him, and received an invitation to study psychoanalysis in Vienna. There he moved in 1908 and began analytic training. He became interested in the psychoses just about the time of Carl Jung's rupture with Freud; the former had published The Psychology of Dementia Praecox in 1907.

At the same time, Tausk began medical studies, due to financial help he received from Freud and other Viennese analysts. He worked both at the out-patient neurological department directed by Frankl von Hochwart and at the psychiatric clinic at the University of Vienna, presided over by Wagner von Jauregg, the psychiatrist and neurologist who would later win a Nobel Prize. Tausk obtained his medical degree in 1913.

Lou Andreas-Salomé, highly reputed among intellectuals, met Tausk in 1912; she admired his brilliance while perceiving the extent of his psychological conflicts. (Kurt R. Eissler suggested a retrospective diagnosis of manic-depressive illness.) Analysts at the time were not required to undergo a personal psychoanalysis, which in any event was more often didactic than therapeutic. The facts concerning the presumed affair between Tausk and Andrea-Salomé are controversial.

In 1915 Tausk was mobilized and served as a psychiatrist in Lublin. Although he continued to attend psychoanalytic meetings, the dreadful economic conditions in Europe at the end of World War I found Tausk living like an impoverished student. He had opportunities for work in Belgrade and Zagreb but did not want to leave Vienna. Freud declined to accept Tausk as an analysand and referred him to Helene Deutsch. But Deutsch found that treating Tausk contaminated her own sessions with Freud, who instructed her to choose between himself and Tausk (Roazen, Paul, 1972, p 31). Three months later, in 1918, she terminated Tausk's analysis.

On the question of Tausk's suicide, Paul Roazen has stressed the impact of his conflicts with Freud, which he viewed as based on deep-seated rivalries, including issues of plagiarism and intellectual priority of ideas. Eissler by contrast emphasized Tausk's "severe" psychopathology, qualifying him as "talented" but no "genius." However disturbed he may have been, he impressed Melanie Klein when she met him at the Budapest Congress in 1918.

Tausk, in any event, ended his own life by shooting himself in the head after wrapping a curtain cord around his neck, so that he strangled himself as he fell. He had been drinking, but a rumor of his prior emasculation was unfounded. Though attractive to women, Tausk's affairs had often ended in failure and abandonment. Before his death he had become engaged to Hilde Loewi, a young concert pianist whom he seduced while his patient. She may have been pregnant with his child when he committed suicide.

Tausk's fourteen published articles are remarkable for adumbrating certain psychoanalytic concepts. The best known is "On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia" (1919), the last of his writings to be published during his lifetime. Indeed, after his death Tausk curiously disappeared from the psychoanalytic horizon, only to return in the 1970s. Tausk's actual influence has been indirect and often gone unattributed, consonant with his posthumous occultation in the history of psychoanalysis.

Marie-ThÉrÈse Neyraut-Sutterman

See also: Hungary; Suicide.


Eissler, Kurt R. (1971). Talent and genius. New York: Quadrangle Books.

Kanzer, Mark. (1972). Victor TauskThe creativity and suicide of a psychoanalyst. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 41, 556-584.

Roazen, Paul. (1969). Brother animal. The story of Freud and Tausk. New York: Alfred Knopf.

. (1969). Victor Tausk's contribution to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 38, 349-353.

Tausk, Marius. (1973). Viktor Tausk as seen by his son. American Imago, 30 (4), 323-335.

Tausk, Viktor. (1991), Sexuality, war, and schizophrenia: Collected psychoanalytic papers. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.