The Austrian social psychologist Karl Fallend wrote fundamental works on the history of psychoanalysis before, during and after the Nazi regime. All the more astounding are the linguistic shortcomings that threaten to spoil your reading of his double biography about the psychoanalysts Marie “Mimi” Langer and Else Pappenheim, who were expelled from Vienna: the commas were apparently randomly poured between the covers of the book, and with a low hit rate, and The many grammatical errors, style blossoms and common places suggest that the manuscript did not even go through a simple spelling program. Nevertheless, one should have the patience to read “Mimi & Els”: because in it one gets to know two extraordinary women who have never given up their revolutionary attitude and their critical position towards the psychoanalytic institutions. In the final chapter, which documents her correspondence, you even meet the author himself, a “nice guy and good comrade”, in Mimi Langer’s words.
The burning interest
That was at the beginning of the 1980s when Fallend, as an activist in the “Psychology Institute Group” at the University of Salzburg, tried to get in touch with them – and she too, encouraged by the burning interest of young people from her country of origin, who re-established a connection that had been broken for decades , The desire for reunion expressed in almost every letter was not fulfilled, both because of Pappenheim’s growing physical complaints, which made her travel longer, and because of Langer’s restless activity, which involved the establishment of a psychosocial health service in Sandinista Nicaragua and in the first Congress on Psychoanalysis and Marxism, 1986 in Havana, culminated. Langer died the following year. Her childhood friend should survive her by 21 years.
Can you even call »Mimi & Els« a double biography? In the introduction, Fallend bases his subjective approach on the fact that several historians and psychoanalysts have already dealt extensively with his protagonists. He therefore rejects the concept of a complete chronology and instead concentrates on those periods and events that have shaped both women in particular. First, her socially privileged childhood in the early years of “Red Vienna” (Langer was born in 1910, Pappenheim in 1911); secondly, her schooling in an extraordinarily stimulating educational reform institution, the Black Forest School named after its founder and director; third, the joint study of psychiatry at the University of Vienna, combined with intensive social medicine and political work in the Socialist Medical Association and in the KPÖ; fourth, Langer’s activities in the Spanish Civil War and in revolutionary Nicaragua, which are far apart in time, but are interlinked by the experience of the liberation struggle; fifth, experiencing persecution, flight, loss, and lastly, trying to exile – the United States in the Pappenheim case; Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico at Langer – and settling in in a new language and culture. Here psychoanalysis proved to be a “lifeline” – professionally, because they were not allowed to work as doctors in their refugee countries for a long time, and personally, because only the analysis enabled them to “find access to their own history”.
Falling indicates that both women admitted their own wounds, failures or mistakes for a long time or not at all: the fate of Pappenheim’s mother Edith, for example, who had committed suicide in 1942 due to the upcoming deportation in Bonn, or Langer’s decision to handicap one Keep son in a psychiatric clinic and keep silent in the family during his lifetime. According to the author, their commitment was also a means of repression. There is criticism between the lines – of the supposedly exaggerated revolutionary vigor of Mimi Langer, of her dedication to the republican cause in Spain, which she championed as an anesthetist in hospitals and military hospitals of the International Brigades and, in his opinion, made blind to the crimes committed at the anti-Stalinist left.
But the criticism is also directed against the enthusiasm of the young psychology student he was when he invited Langer to lectures and visited Pappenheim in New York – enthusiasm for an unknown Austria, believed to be buried in the no man’s land between fascism and restoration, that the two women embodied for him. Their idealization on the one hand, through him and his fellow campaigners, and their willingness on the other hand to take their interest in them as evidence of a collective spirit of optimism. Their satisfaction at being discovered and discovered by a young generation of historians, psychologists and psychoanalysts is valued and appreciated in their feminist and rule-critical stance.
Falling uneasiness about this double exuberance feeds on the belief in the failure of socialist utopia and the consolidation of skepticism towards the prevailing intellectual mood in the years after. However, the fact that this came about cannot be blamed on his protagonists or his former self – the “good comrade”. When writing, attention should be paid to the writer Franz Kain, to look at past events “with the eyes and the possibility of understanding from back then”.
“How I feel”
In any case, “Mimi & Els” does more than the subtitle promises: “Stations of friendship”. It contains a wealth of information, provides deep insights into the tense relationship between politics and psychoanalysis, follows all traces that lead away from the two women and never loses sight of them. “The left saved my life,” said Mimi Langer once, thinking of her decision to go to Spain as a doctor in 1936. “Without the left, I would have stayed in Vienna and I would have been killed as a Jew.” And in a letter to her friend, she pondered, “How different my life – not better, rather worse – would have been if Max and I had followed USA would have emigrated. Underdeveloped Latin America has given you a lot more opportunities. «
Else was less fortunate for the same reasons. She would have loved to return to Austria from the United States in 1946, but her husband Stefan Frischauf, who, like her, came from Vienna and anglicized his name to Stephen Frishauf, was not available for it. She felt isolated in the “land of unlimited possibilities” and denounced the reactionary politics, racism, “anti-social” health care, the analysts who were “one-sided, uneducated, actually business people”. “Else Pappenheim did not have the right relationships,” says Fallend, “gave no lectures, sat too little on committees, and patient referrals remained sparse.”
“How I feel about being able to argue with someone,” she wrote to Mimi in February 1985. “No one at all for years.” She was amazed at her friend’s thirst for action, even when she was seriously ill, and described herself as passive, lazy, and one who preferred to read rather than jump around the world. It is also private messages like this that make the author’s carvers forget.