Book review published in the homepage of the Ernest Becker Foundation:
Julio Costa’s To Be More Person: A Reading of Otto Rank By E. James Lieberman, M.D. M.P.H. “[Editor’s note: For Becker newcomers, Rank was a major source for Becker during the writing of Denial of Death and Escape from Evil.] Julio Roberto Costa, a Brazilian sociologist concerned with sustainable development, has been a student of Otto Rank’s life and work for 30 years. In his view a person becomes less when acting selfishly, criminally, wastefully. The book’s title reflects the antithesis of such behavior, and the factors inherent in Rank’s thinking that makes us more–expanded, improved, better.
Otto Rank (1884-1939) was Freud’s student and secretary beginning in 1906 when Freud turned 60 and Rank was 22. Freud supported Rank’s studies at the University of Vienna, where he got his Ph.D. in 1911. Rank was a member of the secret Committee formed in 1913 to guide the psychoanalytic movement; he and Freud were the only two (of seven) in Vienna. With his growing dissatisfaction with formulaic analysis, Rank published The Trauma of Birth (1923), emphasizing the tie between mother and infant, and the process of separation and individuation. He broke with his mentor in 1926, moved to Paris, and finally, in 1935, to New York. Rank is known for his books on myth, art, education, and humanistic or existential therapy. J. R. Costa is well-informed about Rank. He offers a thoughtful, provocative, sometimes paradoxical treatment of his subject. He presents many a dramatic, complicated idea, e.g., “It is impossible for subjectivity to testify against itself. A message discoursing about its own non-existence is impossible.” And, “…the life project to be more is nourished by cultural elements contrary to the images of decadence and finitude.”
“We must remember that in Rank’s thought both the person and the community have the same roots: starting with a will to live given by existence itself, subjectivity will cultivate values relative to the renunciation of the finite and search for the eternal, in such a way as to create a specifically human experience and will represent this creation in the community symbolic repertoire which is accessible to everyone. In this conception the individual-group conflict ceases to be an unquestionable fact, and we are obliged to think of a person-community collaboration in favor of the creation of human experience.”
Costa asserts that “person and community yearn for the same things: the permanence and intensification of a specifically human experience.” He condemns excessive selfish, criminal, or wasteful behavior—all forms of being less person, anti-life—and deplores these tendencies among opinion leaders. This book is small but carries much weight, many challenging and worthwhile ideas. He credits Otto Rank in new and interesting ways. Those who are steeped in Rank’s work will be surprised and some will consider Costa to have over-extended his interpretation. This is a stimulating, creative commentary that will challenge those already familiar with Rank while bringing him to new readers in an attractive light.
About Dr. E. James Lieberman, M. D.
After medical school (UCSF) and psychiatry residency (Harvard) James Lieberman came to Bethesda in 1963. After 7 years at NIMH he began psychotherapy practice with emphasis on couples and family therapy. He first encountered Rank in 1977 and published a biography in 1985. Since then he edited new translations of several Rank works. He has been active in end-of-life issues through Compassion and Choices. He is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Emeritus, George Washington University – School of Medicine.”