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The Curve of Life

Correspondence of Heinz Kohut, 1923-1981

Psychoanalyst, teacher, and scholar, Heinz Kohut was one of this century’s most important intellectuals. A rebel, according to many mainstream psychoanalysts, Kohut challenged Freudian orthodoxy and the medical control of psychoanalysis in America. His success in treating narcissistic disorders and his highly influential book How Does Analysis Cure? established Kohut’s Self Psychology as the strongest rival to traditional psychoanalysis today.

The Curve of Life reveals Kohut’s private and public life through a unique collection of lively and thoughtful correspondence with colleagues, public figures, family, and close friends. Over 300 never-before-published letters, drawn from Kohut’s private files and from colleagues, cover Kohut’s life from his native Austria in the 1930s until his death in 1981. Because many of his letters were so substantive, this rich collection clarifies Kohut’s landmark published works. In letters to such diverse personalities as Anna Freud and Bruno Walter, Kohut meditated on some of the most intriguing psychoanalytic questions of the day—the nature of psychological cure, the relationship between doctor and patient, and the role of the Oedipus complex in psychoanalysis. The correspondence also reveals Kohut’s lively interest in literature, music, history, and culture, as well as his deep and often contentious involvement in the politics of the psychoanalytic movement.

Kohut discussed his theories in letters to August Aichhorn, Heinz Hartmann, the Surgeon General, and even Jacqueline Kennedy, and the responses, some published here for the first time, prompted him to explore his ideas from a variety of perspectives. A letter from Anna Freud provoked Kohut to respond this way:

"What you had to say gave me great pleasure, and your approval was a welcome support amidst the inescapable insecurities under pressure to which we are all exposed. Strangely enough, it was not the discussion of scientific contributions and other statements that I had sent to you but the very last, parting sentence of your letter which gave me the most food for thought. You sent me your best wishes for the presidency of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and expressed the hope that ’...this office permits opportunity for some revolutionary moves.’"

The Curve of Life illuminates the evolution of Kohut’s theory of the psychology of the self, and provides a rare glimpse into the institutional and intellectual history of psychoanalysis in the last half of this century. These letters will fascinate not only scholars in psychoanalysis, but also those in the humanities, social sciences, and even theology, as well as general readers curious about the private thoughts of a towering figure in intellectual life.

460 pages | 15 halftones | © 1994

Biography and Letters


Table of Contents

Editor’s Note
1923-1948 "bury myself in Freud’s life work"
1951-1963 "the old, youthful poet"
1964-1965 "our worst disease"
1966-1967 "the greatness of America . . . is not so much depth but breadth"
1968-1970 "Such means of political pressure are hungerstrikes and conscientious-objector status are foreign to me."
1971-1973 "I have heard from many sides that my book is very hard to read."
1974-1976 "It is strange to argue, when one agrees."
1977-1978 "Over and over in life I started afresh."
1979-1981 "While . . . the old and famous should be visibly represented, my heart belongs to the younger group"
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