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A Gross Episode

The Letter, Issue 17, Autumn 1999, Pages 63 - 69


Rik Loose

In three letters written by Freud in 1908 and addressed to Jung, references were made to the addiction of their colleague, the rebellious and burlesque, Otto Gross.[1] It is most peculiar that these references are not mentioned in any of the surveys, reviews or texts dealing with Freud's ideas and theories on addiction. Freud's remarks on addiction in these letters, and indeed on the case of Otto Gross itself, are interesting enough to warrant (at least) a brief discussion. Gross was an assistant to the famous psychiatrist Kraepelin and a patient of Jung. Freud knew Otto's father, Hans, who was professor in criminology in Graz and Prague. Otto was a psychoanalyst and philosopher and he was also hopelessly addicted to cocaine and opium. Otto's addictive behaviour became at some point so problematic for his entourage that his father decided to have him locked away in a psychiatric institute. Needless to say that the relationship between father and son wasn't the best and it certainly didn't improve after the incarceration. Otto was, and remained, a troubled and rebellious character. He was freed after a while and then disappeared from the scene until his death, due to drug addiction, was announced in 1920.[2] In relation to Otto Gross's addiction Freud writes to Jung the following:

However, we shall also have to talk about Otto Gross; he urgently needs your medical help; what a pity, such a gifted, resolute man. He is addicted to cocaine and probably in the early phase of toxic cocaine paranoia (Letter 84). I can imagine how much of your time he must be taking. I originally thought you would only take him on for the withdrawal period and that I would start analytical treatment in the autumn. It is shamefully egotistic of me, but I must admit that it is better for me this way; for I am obliged to sell my time and my supply of energy is not quite what it used to be (Letter 94). I have a feeling that I should thank you most vigorously - and so I do - for your treatment of Otto Gross. The task should have fallen to me but my egoism - or perhaps I should say my self-defence mechanism - rebelled against it. Now I have no reason to doubt your diagnosis, inherently because of your great experience of (Dementia Preacox), but also because is often not a real diagnosis. We seem to be in agreement about the impossibility of influencing his condition and about its ultimate development. But couldn't his condition be another (obsessional) psychoneurosis, with negative transference caused by his hostility to his father, which presents the appearance of absence or impairment of transference? (Letter 99).

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