Apr 222016


Today is the birthday (1884) of Otto Rank, Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, and teacher. Born in Vienna as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud’s closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals of his day, managing director of Freud’s publishing house and a creative theorist and therapist. In 1926, after a break with Freud, Rank left Vienna for Paris. For the remaining 14 years of his life, Rank had a successful career as a lecturer, writer and therapist in France and the United States. Unlike Freud, Rank’s is not a household name, but it ought to be. His work is arguably more influential nowadays than Freud’s is.

In 1905, at the age of 21, Otto Rank presented Freud with a short manuscript on the artist, a study that so impressed Freud he invited Rank to become Secretary of the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Rank thus became the first paid member of the psychoanalytic movement, and Freud’s general assistant for almost 20 years. Freud considered Rank, with whom he was more intimate intellectually than his own sons, to be the most brilliant of his Viennese disciples.

Encouraged and supported by Freud, Rank (who had attended a vocational high school), completed the “Gymnasium” (college-preparatory high school), attended the University of Vienna, and completed his Ph.D. in 1911. His thesis, on the Lohengrin Saga, was the first Freudian doctoral dissertation.


Rank was one of Freud’s six collaborators brought together in a secret “committee” or “ring” to defend the psychoanalytic mainstream as disputes with Adler and then Jung developed. Rank was the most prolific author in the “ring” besides Freud himself, extending psychoanalytic theory to the study of legend, myth, art, and other works of creativity. He worked closely with Freud, contributing two chapters on myth and legend to later editions of The Interpretation of Dreams. Rank’s name appeared underneath Freud’s on the title page for many years. Between 1915 and 1918, Rank served as Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association which Freud had founded in 1910. Everyone in the small psychoanalytic world understood how much Freud respected Rank and his prolific creativity in expanding psychoanalytic theory.

In 1924, Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt (translated into English as The Trauma of Birth in 1929), exploring how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety in the “phase before the development of the Oedipus complex..”  But there was no such phase in Freud’s theories. For Freud the Oedipus complex was the nucleus of neurosis and the foundational source of all art, myth, religion, philosophy, therapy – indeed of all human culture and civilization. It was the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that the Oedipus complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis. Rank was the first to use the term “pre-Oedipal” in a public psychoanalytic forum in 1925.

After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from The Trauma of Birth, signaling to other members of his inner circle that Rank was perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy. “I am boiling with rage,” Freud told Sándor Ferenczi then Rank’s best friend. Confronted with Freud’s decisive opposition, Rank resigned in protest from his positions as Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, director of Freud’s publishing house, and co-editor of Imago and Zeitschrift. Ferenczi, with whom Rank had collaborated from 1920 through 1924 on new experiential, object-relational and “here-and-now” approaches to therapy, vacillated on the significance of Rank’s pre-Oedipal theory but not on Rank’s objections to classical analytic technique.


Rank was the first to see therapy as a learning and unlearning experience. Rank saw the therapeutic relationship as allowing the patient to: (1) learn more creative ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now; and (2) unlearn self-destructive ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now. For him, patterns of self-destruction (“neurosis”) represent a failure of creativity not, as Freud assumed, a retreat from sexuality.

Rank’s psychology of creativity has recently been applied to action learning, an inquiry-based process of group problem solving, team building, leader development and organizational learning. Transformative action learning, synthesized by Robert Kramer from Rank’s writings on art and spirituality, involves real people, working on real problems in real time. Once a safe space is created by an executive coach, questions allow group members to “step out of the frame of the prevailing ideology,” as Rank wrote in Art and Artist, reflect on their assumptions and beliefs, and reframe their choices. The process of “stepping out” of a frame, out of a form of knowing – a prevailing ideology – is analogous to the work of artists as they struggle to give birth to fresh ways of seeing the world, perspectives that allow them to see aspects of the world that no artists, including themselves, have ever seen before. The heart of transformative action learning, as developed by Kramer, is asking powerful questions to promote the unlearning or letting go of taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs.

Rank believed that the most creative artists, such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Leonardo, know how to separate even from their own greatest public successes, from earlier artistic incarnations of themselves. Their “greatness consists precisely in this reaching out beyond themselves, beyond the ideology which they have themselves fostered.” Through the lens of Rank’s work on understanding art and artists, transformative action learning can be seen as the never-completed process of learning how to “step out of the frame” of the ruling mindset, whether one’s own or the culture’s – in other words, of learning how to unlearn.


Comparing the process of unlearning to the “breaking out” process of birth, Rank was the first psychologist to suggest that a continual capacity to separate from “internal mental objects” – from internalized institutions, beliefs and neuroses; from the restrictions of culture, social conformity and received wisdom – is the sine qua non for lifelong creativity. In a 1938 lecture, Rank said:

Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation. At birth, the individual experiences the first shock of separation, which throughout his life he strives to overcome. In the process of adaptation, man persistently separates from his old self, or at least from those segments off his old self that are now outlived. Like a child who has outgrown a toy, he discards the old parts of himself for which he has no further use ….The ego continually breaks away from its worn-out parts, which were of value in the past but have no value in the present. The neurotic [who cannot unlearn, and, therefore, lacks creativity] is unable to accomplish this normal detachment process … Owing to fear and guilt generated in the assertion of his own autonomy, he is unable to free himself, and instead remains suspended upon some primitive level of his evolution.

I would, perhaps, be a little less optimistic in my view of the world because, in my experience, people don’t unlearn enough, often enough. Many people stay trapped in conventional modes of thought, and follow routines that are not productive, and do not make them happy, because they are afraid to let go. One of my common mantras in life is – “your comfort zone is your enemy.”


So let’s break out a little with the Viennese version of goulash. Goulash came to Austria from Hungary when Vienna was the cultural center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but was changed in the process. The Wiener Saftgulasch is now a fixture on Viennese menus. A variation of the Wiener Saftgulasch is the Fiakergulasch, which is served with a fried egg, fried or boiled sausage, pickle and either dumplings (Semmelknödel) or potatoes. This goulash is just meat and onions plus seasonings that have been cooked until the meat is very tender. It is best made the day before and then reheated. Sacher sausage is Vienna sausage, similar to frankfurters. Traditionally the recipe used lard or dripping for frying. You can vary the proportions of sweet and hot paprika to suit your taste. And . . . if you are a good student of Rank you will not make the dish the same way twice.



1 kg stewing beef, cut in cubes
4-6 eggs
4-6 pickled gherkins
2-3 pairs Sacher sausages
750 g onions, peeled and sliced coarsely
⅔ cup cooking oil
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp hot paprika
3 cloves garlic, bruised and minced
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 tsp caraway seeds, chopped
¼ cup vinegar
freshly ground pepper
butter (for frying eggs)


Heat the oil in a deep oven-proof pot and fry the onions over medium heat until golden brown, stirring and turning regularly. Add the paprika powder and tomato paste, stir, and quickly pour in the vinegar and a little water. Add the cubed meat with salt and pepper to taste to the pot. Stir in the garlic, marjoram, bay leaves and caraway, and pour in enough water so that the meat is covered. Stir, and simmer on medium heat, semi-covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. Stir from time to time, and add water as needed. When the meat is very tender, take the pot off the stove and place it in a moderately-warm oven (120°C) for about 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, reheat the goulash and check the seasoning. Heat water for the sausages and simmer gently for about 5 minutes (or fry them in a little oil). Heat the butter in a pan, and fry the eggs. Slice the gherkins in the shape of a fan.

Serve the goulash on warmed plates. Place the fried eggs on top of the goulash, and one sausage on the side. Garnish with gherkins. Serve with dumplings or boiled potatoes and dark rye bread.

Serves 4-6

Aug 202013


Today is a major national holiday in Hungary celebrating King Saint Stephen I (Szent István). This was his saint’s day until 1687, but is now celebrated as the founding date of the nation of Hungary. Stephen was the last Grand Prince of the Hungarians between 997 and 1000 or 1001, and the first King of Hungary from 1000 or 1001 until his death in 1038. I could go on at length about Stephen’s exploits and accomplishments, but I’ll be brief because I want to talk about paprika and gulyás (goulash).

Stephen claimed the title of Grand Prince on the death of his father Géza in 997, and had a number of supporters.  But his claim was based on the Christian principle of primogeniture (inheritance by the eldest son), and the bulk of Hungary was not Christian at the time.  Traditional Hungarian law prescribed that the senior member of the Árpád dynasty should inherit the title.  At the time this was Koppány, duke of Somogy (Stephen’s father’s brother). Koppány married Stephen’s mother (as would have been customary) and claimed his brother’s title.  The war that ensued was both a power struggle and an ideological one.  Stephen favored Christianizing Hungary and making it a Western Christian state; Koppány supported traditional Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) values which were non-Christian, with Hungary divided between ethnically distinct chiefdoms – the old versus the new.  In a nutshell: Stephen won.

Stephen had himself crowned as the king of Hungary either on 25 December 1000 or January 1 1001. The sources indicate only that he was crowned on the first day of the new millennium, which could be interpreted as either date.  He then spent the remainder of his reign consolidating his power by bringing the local chieftains into line with the new order, and spreading Christianity and Western principles of governance.  He also aligned himself with Western leaders, notably his brother-in-law, Henry II, king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (who rose to power in much the same way as Stephen).

To celebrate this day I want to focus on what is now the quintessentially Hungarian spice, paprika, and the national dish, gulyás.  For many cooks in the world today paprika is a single spice, a red, slightly sweet powder made from ground red bell peppers.  But paprika is one of the most richly diverse of all the spices in the cook’s arsenal.  It can be red or brown, piquant or mild, smoky or not.  It’s all a matter of how it is prepared.  Paprika is made by grinding the dried fruits of Capsicum annuum which range from the mild bell pepper to the fiery chile pepper.  Differences in kinds of paprika are determined by the soil and climate in which the peppers are grown, the mix of powders from peppers of different heat and flavor, and whether or not the peppers are smoked as part of the preparation. Smoking is more common in Spain than elsewhere.


The plants are indigenous to Mesoamerica, but were quickly adopted by Europeans, first in Iberia, but soon spreading.  Capsicum plants were first grown in the region of Hungary by Turks in the early 16th century. The main areas of production now are Kalocsa and Szeged in the south. The paprika produced there is more robust than is found elsewhere, and comes in 8 named grades:

Special quality (Különleges) the mildest, very sweet with a deep bright red color.
Delicate (csípόsmentes csemege) – color from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor.
Exquisite Delicate (Csemegepaprika) – similar to Delicate, but more pungent.
Pungent Exquisite Delicate (Csípős Csemege, Pikáns) – an even more pungent version of Delicate.
Rose (Rózsa) – pale red in color with strong aroma and mild pungency.
Noble Sweet (Édesnemes) – the most commonly exported paprika; bright red and slightly pungent.
Half-Sweet (Félédes) – A blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency.
Strong (Erόs) – light brown in color, the spiciest paprika.


You can find a few of these in Western Europe and the U.S., but most are available only in Hungary.   Typically outside of Hungary, Hungarian paprika is classified as either sweet or hot. In fact, even in Hungary nowadays the old grading system is disappearing in favor of sweet versus hot. Whatever the case, Hungarian paprika should be used for Hungarian dishes, otherwise you are missing something vital.


The national dish of Hungary is gulyás, known as goulash in the English-speaking world. Of course, like all great national dishes, gulyás, comes in as many varieties as there are regions, seasons, and cooks. Gulyás can be either a soup or thick stew, the principal ingredients of which are meat, root vegetables, and paprika. Additions and variations are infinite. Any and all meats, even combinations, are acceptable, although beef is most common. Typical cuts include the shank, shin, or shoulder; as a result, gulyás derives its thickness from tough, well-exercised muscles rich in collagen, which is converted to gelatin during the cooking process.


The meat is cut into chunks, seasoned with salt, and then browned with sliced onion in a pot with oil or lard. Paprika is then added (in tablespoons), along with water or stock, and the gulyás is left to simmer until the meat is very tender. After several hours, some combination of garlic, whole or ground caraway seed, soup vegetables such as carrot, parsnip, bell pepper, celery and a small tomato may be added (note that tomato or tomato paste are definitely optional). Other herbs and spices could also be added, especially chile pepper, bay leaf, and thyme. Diced potatoes are often added, since they provide starch as they cook, which makes the gulyás thicker and smoother. A small amount of white wine or wine vinegar may also be added near the end of cooking to round the taste. Gulyás is often served with small egg noodles called csipetke (spaetzle in German), either cooked in with the gulyás towards the end, or served as a plain bed like pasta. They are produced by making an egg pasta dough and then pinching small pieces off in little shallow bowl shapes.


Some of the regional varieties of gulyás are:

Gulyás (Plain Style). As above.  Root vegetables, no csipetke.
Gulyás à la Székely. Reduce the amount of potatoes and add sauerkraut and sour cream.
Hamisgulyás (Mock Gulyás). Substitute beef bones for the meat and add more vegetables.
Csángó Gulyás. Add sauerkraut and rice instead of csipetke and potatoes.
Betyár Gulyás. Use smoked beef or smoked pork for the meat.
Likócsi (Pork Gulyás). Use pork and thin vermicelli in the gulyás instead of potato and soup pasta. Flavor with lemon juice.
Birkagulyás (Mutton Gulyás). Made with mutton. Add red wine for flavor.


You will also find gulyásleves throughout Hungary – a soup version of gulyás. The method is much the same except there is much more broth and it is not reduced or thickened.


All experienced cooks will be able to take what I have described here and run with it.  But for those of you who need a little more guidance here is a recipe for classic, plain gulyás.



4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 ½ lbs (750 gm) beef chuck, cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot)
2 tsp dried marjoram
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
2 medium parsnips, cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
1 ½ lbs (750 gm) new potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ in (4 cm) cubes
1 tomato, seeds removed and coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
5 cups (1 lt) beef stock


Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent.

Increase the heat to high. Add the beef and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until the meat is browned on all sides.  Stir in the paprika, marjoram, caraway, and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer, and cook covered until the beef is very tender, 2 hours or more.

Add the potatoes, carrots, parsnips and simmer, uncovered until the vegetables are tender. I like mine a little more on the al dente side, but it’s more typical to cook them longer. Make sure the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Add the tomato and bell pepper and cook another 5 minutes on medium-high heat.

Serves 6 to 8.