Posts Tagged ‘Irvin Yalom’

“When Nietzsche Wept” – Irv Yalom’s book is still a fascinating read. The 2007 movie? Not so much.

Monday, March 18th, 2019
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In Vienna ten years ago: Irvin Yalom with Mayor Michael Häupl for “Ein Stadt. Ein Buch.”

The stack of books I mean to read gets taller by the day. One of the volumes that has been there for quite some time is a book by a friend – Irvin Yalom‘s celebrated When Nietzsche Wept. It was the toast of Vienna for its annual Ein Stadt. Ein Buch event a decade ago – and also the subject of the second Book Haven post ever. (I discuss the retrospective on his career as a psychiatrist, Yalom’s Cure, here.) Yet the book itself remains right there, stubbornly atop of one of the precarious ziggurats that surround my desk.

Fun and games with Salomé in 1882: she had rejected proposals from both Rees and Nietzsche.

So, on a cheerless weekend night, imagine my surprise to find out the 1992 book has already been made into a 2007 film, starring Armand Assante and Ben Cross. Let me dissemble no more, gentle reader, I put aside my pressing deadlines to watch it online – and that returns me to Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and the book. I didn’t know the beginnings of psychoanalysis with the “talk treatment” of Dr. Josef Breuer, nor the details of the overlapping lines of thought in fin-de-siècle Vienna.

The Stanford professor offers this disclaimer in his author’s note: “In 1882, psychotherapy had not yet been born; and Nietzsche, of course, never formally turned his attention in that direction. Yet in my reading of Nietzsche, he was deeply and significantly concerned with self-understanding and personal change.”

But history is a series of close calls and what-might-have-beens. This book was born in the discovery of a letter: an 1878 message where a friend tries to get Nietzsche to come to Vienna to see Dr. Breuer for treatment.

Author Yalom continues:

Friedrich Nietzsche and Josef Breuer never met. And, of course, psychotherapy was not invented as a result of their encounter.

Nonetheless, the life situation of the major characters is grounded in fact, and the essential components of this novel—Breuer’s mental anguish, Nietzsche’s despair, Anna O., Lou Salomé, Freud’s relationship with Breuer, the ticking embryo of psychotherapy—were all historically in place in 1882.

Friedrich Nietzsche had been introduced by Paul Rée to the young Lou Salomé in the spring of 1882 and, over the next months, had had a brief, intense, and chaste love affair with her. She would go on to have a distinguished career as both a brilliant woman of letters and a practicing psychoanalyst; she would also be known for her close friendship with Freud and for her romantic liaisons, especially with the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

On to better things…

Read more from Irv here.

As for the film, I don’t recommend it, but I do point it out. (The excellent youtube clip below is one of the films best moments.) In general, accents and orchestration are obtrusive (Brahms‘s Requiem, bits of Wagner here and there, and I can’t remember what else), the dream sequences clownish. The females are badly miscast and underfed, given the curvacious standards of the period. The casting is made with a modern eye to beauty, so the hairstyles and makeup concede too much to our own times and so are jarring. We shake what we’ve got: the women have no internal qualities, but are happy to roll their eyes and their hips. Someone should have looked at a real-life portrait of the time – Salomé’s, for example. If she could hold Rilke’s attention, I suspect that there was more to her than this manicured floozy. The exception to this rule is Breuer’s stiff, estranged wife, played by Joanna Pacula, who has a great final scene where a flicker of hope rekindles beneath the years of mistrust.

One of the best parts of the film are in the credits afterwards: we learn that Crazy Berthe, Beuer’s patient and Freud’s “Anna O.”, in fact becomes a groundbreaking social worker, while Salomé becomes an important early psychoanalyst. Breuer gives up his “talk therapy” – but Freud picks it up. Nietzsche takes the train to Switzerland where he will write Thus Spake Zarathustra. And Lou Salomé… well, we’ve all read Rilke’s letters…

“Evolution of Desire” launch party is literally unforgettable, thanks to Leah Garchik of the “San Francisco Chronicle”

Friday, April 20th, 2018
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The tweeting consul et moi.

I wrote about the launch party for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, hosted by arguably the most hospitable couple at Stanford, Marilyn and Irvin Yalom, a while ago here. It cast a spell over all of us, I think. A few guests have drifted up to me since and said dreamily: “Wasn’t that a looovely party?”

Of course, I would assert that any party that had buckets of French (real French) champagne was well on the way to being unforgettable. But that would underrate the considerable charm of the gracious Yaloms, as well as their beautiful Palo Alto home.

Both are Stanford authors, but he is also a leading existential psychotherapist; she is one of the founders of feminist studies at Stanford. She also has the privilege of being René Girard‘s first graduate student.

The columnist..

It would also undersell the caliber of the guests, especially the high-octane presence of our French consul general from San Francisco, Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens.

But it was Leah Garchik of the San Francisco Chronicle who made sure the party is literally unforgettable – as long as cyberspace and the Library of Congress endure – by including a brief notice in her popular column. We don’t get top billing, but one notch below a Diane Keaton book-signing ain’t bad.

Read the snippet in yesterday’s paper here. Or in the screenshot below:

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Yalom’s Cure: Stanford’s famous psychotherapist onscreen – and it’s fun!

Thursday, March 12th, 2015
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With Vienna’s mayor Michael Häupl in 2009 – and lots and lots of his books

André Malraux once asked a parish priest who had listened to confessions for half a century what he had learned about mankind. On the first page of his 1968 Anti-Memoirs, the French writer recorded the priest’s reply: “First of all people are much more unhappy than one thinks…and then the fundamental fact is that there is no such thing as a grown up person.”

Not a bad starting point for this week’s Stanford premiere of Yalom’s Cure, an hour-long film about Irvin Yalom, one of the world’s most celebrated existential psychotherapists. Irv is now a well-known author as well, leveraging psychology into literature with Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, When Nietzsche Wept, The Schopenhauer Cure, The Spinoza Problem, and others. (We wrote about the Viennese “Eine Stadt. Ein Buch” celebration of his book here and here – 100,000 copies of When Nietzsche Wept were distributed throughout Vienna.)

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The Yaloms enjoying Vienna’s Freud Museum.

Stanford’s Irv was obviously guest of honor for the screening, along with his wife Marilyn Yalom, one of the founders of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and author of the acclaimed How the French Invented Love – which, I’m told, is as big a hit in France as it has been on this side of the Atlantic. (We wrote about it here and here and here.) The screening was also attended by a number of Stanford luminaries we’ve written about – among them Gerhard and Regina Casper, John and Mary Felstiner, Myra Strober, Marguerite Frank, and also Georgia May, widow of the eminent existential psychologist Rollo May.

Writer/director Sabine Gisiger and her film crew filmed hundreds of hours of the Yaloms and their family – the result? “This movie is making me squirm. I feel very exposed,” the good doctor said. But I came to the event cold, with no expectations, and was both exhilarated and moved by the film, which premiered in Zurich and already has been featured in San Francisco and Mill Valley film festivals. For locals, it features an awful lot of Stanford and Palo Alto, and brought back memories of my previous visits to their idyllic Palo Alto home… well, I didn’t need much in the way of memory… I had visited a few days ago.

The doctor turns 84 this June, and said that facing death has been a “long odyssey… I’m much less terrorized by it.” He explained part of his attitude towards psychotherapy with Thomas Hardy‘s words: “If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.”

Don’t be puzzled by the German. The trailer is in English. Want the whole movie? Try here.