Early Life - Gross
was born in 1877 to the dutiful wife of the bourgeois patriarch Hans
Gross, Austrian Professor of Criminology and the 'father of forensic
science'. His father was repressive and domineering and Otto would soon
rebel against him (later using him as a model for everything he despised
about the society of his age). He grew up a troubled hypersensitive
individual according to Jung.
Hans had his son take up Medicine, but on qualifying as a Doctor in
1899 Otto signed up as a ship's surgeon and set sail for 'lawless lands'
of South America. Here he developed (or perhaps was initially drawn
by) a taste for the romantic form of 'Primitivism' popularized by Gauguin.
He also developed
here his habit for opium and later cocaine. It may have been at this
time that he first began to read Nietzsche, a philosopher who would
come to shape Otto's Dionysian worldview.
Psychoanalyst - On his return to Europe in 1900 Dr Otto Gross
developed an interest in
the emerging 'science' of Psycho-analysis and by 1904 was a close supporter
of Sigmund Freud. His
approach to Psycho-analysis was highly unorthodox (to Freud) however,
being based as much on the philosophy of Nietzsche than on a slavish
adoption of orthodox Freudian theory (although this in itself
was largely a bourgeois reworking of Nietzsche and Darwin). Later Gross
would call his infamous 'therapy sessions' the 'practical technology
of the Nietzschean project'. His specific modification to Freudian theory
was twofold, on the one hand he denied that the subject of Freudian
analysis could be cured by personal therapy alone, rather as the subject
was in part a product of society social change was deemed necessary
as well. For Gross the inner and outer human domains were closely connected.
For this reason he became increasingly interested in cultural and political
issues. His other 'heresy' was that he totally rejected the idea that
the 'unconscious' (or 'will to power') had to be reined in or repressed
in order to maintain civilization. Instead he saw any repression as
psychologically harmful, and encouraged his patents too lose all inhibition,
particularly sexually (often apparently giving his mostly female clientele
was concerned about these views, but was even more concerned about Gross'
increasing drug dependency and 'wild' behavior (Gross was mixing with
avant garde artists by then, and spending more time in their Bohemian
cafe's - where he often practiced his therapy as a kind of show - than
he was at his official practice), and Freud would send him to various
clinics over the course of their association. Gross' father by this
time considered him totally insane and tried to have him hospitalized
as a mental incompetent, fortunately his associations with prominent
psychologists, and own psychiatric expertise, saved him from this fate.
It was however an experience that turned him against orthodox psychiatry,
and made of him a forerunner of the 'anti-psychiatry' movement. Gross'
own explanation for his 'mad' behavior was invariably a Nietzschean
one involving life affirmation, intensity and free experimentation
Despite this at this stage Freud had enormous respect for Gross and
regarded him as his most advanced
disciple, along with Jung, and his probable heir even if an embarrassingly
heretical one. But this would all soon change.
- The Swiss community of Ascona (and some of its neighbouring towns)
became the cradle for European alternative culture at the beginning
of the last century. Founded by a combination of wealthy Theosophists,
radical anarchists and volkish 'proto New Agers' it became the talk
of the Continental intelligentsia, and was visited at least briefly
by just about every major cultural figure of the period. Gross first
visited the community in 1905 and would stay on and off till 1913. While
there he came a kind of early guru figure at the commune's sanatorium
on Mount Veritas offering both therapy and lectures to the community
and all those who passed through. In particularly he was able to put
his theories into practice here effectively becoming the centre of a
sex cult there which preached a gospel of 'free love'. But liberated
sex wasn't the only radical thing Gross promoted at Ascona, he also
introduced a variety of Bohemian customs to the community (including
the popular notion of mind altering drugs being the road to psychic
liberation). In effect he became a kind of proto Wilhem Reich and Timothy
Leary rolled into one (both of whom were in fact indebted to Gross,
the young Wilhelm Reich joining the Freudian circle shortly after Gross
was expelled, at the height of his scandal, and had access to his notes;
while many refugees from Ascona would end up in Bohemian haunts such
as Paris, where they would rub shoulders with decadent American exiles,
like Henry Miller, who would take their ideas back to the States). It
was in Ascona that Gross would also challenge conventional morality,
not only denouncing monogamy as repressive and damaging (while promoting
what he called 'multiple fidelity' rather than promiscuity) but also
actively assisting in the euthanasia of the chronically depressed (after
ascertaining this was their 'free choice'!). When this was combined
with rumours of 'orgiastic' group therapy sessions, the promotion of
opium and cocaine (as well as hashish and absinthe) as crucial life
enhancers and frequent sexual liasons with 'patients', Gross became
a figure of scandal and facination known throughout Europe.
Ascona was a two way process for Gross and it was here that he would
covert to the political creed
of anarcho-communism, under the influence of anarchist friends, ranging
from Eric Muhsam (a poet and pacifist) to Ernst Frick (a painter, archeologist
promoter of a more violent direct action). Even more significantly he
was converted to a radical neo-paganism by Asconans under the influence
of another local cultist, Johann Bachofen.
Bachofen was an anthropologist and mythographer who, influenced by Nietzsche's
early cultural theories, analysed Greco-Roman mythology and found within
it 'evidence' of prehistoric cults, which he saw in terms of the decline
from a past golden age along the following lines:
Culture - A nomadic Hunter Gatherer society based on polyamory
and free 'primitive communism', devoted to a nature goddess
(who became Aphrodite). Instinct and Desire based.
Right Culture - A settled Agricultural society based on polyandry
and matriarchy, devoted to a lunar and chthonic goddess, a proto
Demeter. Emotion and Love based.
Culture - Late Agricultural society based on polygamy and paternalism,
devoted to the prototype of Dionysos. Intermediate period based
on Passion and Intuition.
Culture - 'Classical' Civilisation based on monogamy and patriarchy,
devoted to a solar deity who became idealised as Apollo. Intellect
and Reason based.
believed this simplistic thesis was universally true and that anthropology
could be deduced from a study of mythology alone. Not all of his followers
agreed (and his basic thesis is certainly not
supported by contemporary anthropology), but many were captivated by
the mythic power of his narrative, and the poetic richness of its alternative
mythological account of history, and the world, as opposed to the banal
Christian or scientific paradigms. Moreover there was, and still remains,
an intuitive truth to Bachofen's basic vision, when seen as a functional
mythological simplification of the psycho-cultural forces beneath a
complex social evolution. Gross saw Bachofen's ideas as being the perfect
form of narrative for his psycho-analytic social psychology. Radical
disciples of Bachofen, like Gross, also believed that the process could
be reversed by gradually going back through these stages and eventually
recreating a neo-Tellurian Eutopia. This could be achieved because our
very psychology had been conditioned by these cultures, they claimed,
and contained their structural patterns in its layers. The earlier stages
were also seen as of longer duration than the later stages and so were
more 'deeply engrained' in human nature.
all this material Gross developed an extremely popular radical philosophy
that now seems
half a century before its time (in fact laying the groundwork for what
would happen over 50 years later),
complete with catch phrases like 'the psychology of the unconscious
is the philosophy of revolution' and
the 'free love alone can heal the world'.
and Jung - Freud was horrified by these developments and began
to denounce Gross as a heretic,
no doubt concerned about the effect he was having on the public perception
of psycho-analysis. In 1908
he instructed Jung to confine him to a clinic and subject him to psycho-analysis
(reluctantly as while the only one capable of the task Jung despised
Gross at the time).
The resultant analytical session became a legend within the underground
history of Freudianism, an amazing non stop twelve hours of intense
psychological probing and confrontation. At first things went Jung's
way and he elicited from Gross a picture of a neurotic hyper-sensitive,
with strong paranoid tendencies (probably related to his drug abuse),
but soon as he he tried to probe deeper he continually 'became stuck'
and could go no further. It was at these times that Gross turned the
tables and began to analyse Jung in turn. The session was finally terminated
by Gross escaping through the window, and off over a garden wall in
search of a fix. At the end of it all Jung would later declare himself
a changed man following this event. While not joining Gross in his 'folly'
he came to admire him enormously, calling him 'my twin brother' and
declaring him a great genius. More personally Jung seems to have been
somewhat liberated by the experience, and was soon after allegedly involved
in his own 'scandalous' sexual liasons. But more interestingly his subsequent
psychological theory takes on an increasingly Grossian form, with his
early Freudian belief in 'libido' now becoming an almost mystical pantheistic
faith in a cosmic life force, of which sexuality was just a part, an
energy whose nature previous cultures understood in terms of mythological
narratives which had been coded into our collective unconscious. All
of which became synthesized into what Jung called his 'psycho-anthropology',
a fusion of psychology, anthropology and myth, with previous patterns
of human social evolution conditioning modern psychology. All of these
ideas had first been put forward in less developed (or less dogmatic)
forms by Gross and Bachofen, and originally been rejected by Jung. Similarly
where Gross had spoken of the liberation of the individual from the
bonds of society and the recreation of self as a more complete being
(drawing on a psychological interpretation of Nietzsche), Jung would
talk of individuation and self realisation.
Freud was now furious and declared Gross persona non grata in psycho-analytic
circles, going as far as having him removed from the 'official history'
of the movement, ostracized and consequently forgotton.
Grossian Influences - Despite his rejection by Freud Gross
remained an influencial figure, though
one increasingly confined to smaller circles of avant garde artists
and bohemians. Berlin Dadaists
were particularly impressed by his ideas of liberational transgression,
and Franz Kafka was a life long proponent of his views. Perhaps one
of the most interesting of his effects was his influence on Frieda Weekly,
then a resident at Ascona, who became his lover (despite both being
'happily' married). Frieda later became the wife of D H Lawrence whose
philosophy strangely mirrors that of Gross to an extraordinary degree.
Frieda's sister would marry the Sociologist Max Weber, who while publically
criticising Gross' views as a 'danger to decent society' was none the
less also subtly influenced by them
Death of Gross - Gross seems to have been badly effected by
his rejection from mainstream psychology and left Ascona in 1913. The
First World War saw him become a military doctor in charge of
an army hospital but following this he seems to have failed to find
a new niche. After drifting aimlessly for several months he seems to
have ended up sleeping rough. In 1920 he was found unconscious in the
curb of a Berlin side street and died of pneumonia shortly after.
survived as a radical social experiment after his death till at least
the mid 1930's, but after this
increasingly became a haunt of wealthier artists and life style bohemians,
before degenerating into a New Age 'holiday camp' for the rich and idle,
along with their favoured artists. Frick was the last radical to stay
in the community as a 'founding father' (the original founders having
left for Spain, and later Brazil, in the 1920's), but when he too died
in 1956 the original community died with him. Though by this time the
legacy of Ascona was finding new fertile soil in France and America.
Only today is the importance of Otto Gross being rediscovered.
The Mountain of Truth, Martin Green
The von Richthofen Sisters, Martin Green
The Jung Cult, Richard Noll
Pilgramage to Truth Mountain, Alex Martin, in
Strange Attractor Journal 1
On Monte Verita - http://www.csf.ethz.ch/about/highlights
International Otto Gross Society - http://www.ottogross.org