Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik Erikson

Overview

The writing and ideas of Erik Erikson have had a remarkably lasting influence on our culture. Erikson's fascination with India and with Gandhi earned him the Pulitzer Prize for his book Gandhi's Truth and foreshadowed the contemporary West's growing interest in Eastern thought. His students at Harvard in the 1960s have gone on to great prominence - Carol Gilligan, Robert Coles, Mary Catherine Bateson, and Howard Gardner to name a few. Trained in Vienna by Sigmund and Anna Freud, Erikson came to depart from ...
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Overview

The writing and ideas of Erik Erikson have had a remarkably lasting influence on our culture. Erikson's fascination with India and with Gandhi earned him the Pulitzer Prize for his book Gandhi's Truth and foreshadowed the contemporary West's growing interest in Eastern thought. His students at Harvard in the 1960s have gone on to great prominence - Carol Gilligan, Robert Coles, Mary Catherine Bateson, and Howard Gardner to name a few. Trained in Vienna by Sigmund and Anna Freud, Erikson came to depart from psychoanalytic orthodoxy in deeply innovative ways - insisting that social circumstances were no less important than the inner psyche in determining human personality.
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Editorial Reviews

Mark Edmundson
...[An] equable, impressively researched biography....[Friedman's] rich biography ...is likely to revive interest in Erikson and his project.
The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
A voice of hope amidst the pathologists of psychoanalysis, Erikson was committed to describing people's minds in a healthy state. In this complex, nicely rendered biography, Friedman draws a fine portrait of Erikson's enthusiasm (which caused tension with the Vienna school) and uncertainty (which stemmed from his sense of displacement). Ultimately, he describes a time of rapid change in mind science and an influential man in search of both himself and a way to help others. (LJ 6/15/99) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Drawing on exclusive access to private materials and extensive interviews with Erikson's family, students, and colleagues, Friedman (history, Indiana U.) offers the first authorized biography of the influential American postwar psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist. He emphasizes the interaction between Erickson's personal life and his ideas and writings. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Mark Edmundson
...[An] equable, impressively researched biography....[Friedman's] rich biography ...is likely to revive interest in Erikson and his project.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A sympathetic, and meticulous account of the life and times of the psychoanalytic giant who mapped a progression of the individual's lifetime development of identity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641572142
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Toward a New Beginning:
Infancy, Childhood, Youth


By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Erik H. Erikson had reached the peak of his influence and popularity. Elegantly dressed in tweed jacket, blue shirt, and white moccasins, with a mane of white hair and rosy complexion, he seemed to resonate charisma and charm. He appeared on the covers of widely circulating newsmagazines as the founder of the life cycle and the identity crisis. Speaking invitations, honors, and honorary degrees abounded. Erikson enjoyed a reputation among Harvard students, graduates and undergraduates alike, as an inspirational, relevant, and profound gurulike instructor. He was sought out in advisory capacities not only by academic and psychiatric facilities but by a high official in the administration of New York's mayor John Lindsay, by members of the Kennedy family, and by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House. He won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for Gandhi's Truth, which propounded a political ethic that could lead the world from the brink of nuclear war while addressing America's brutality in Vietnam.

    Growing public acclaim seemed to have an effect upon this habitually quiet, understated man. He displayed a new buoyancy and assurance—almost a prophetlike quality. When he spoke reassuringly and approvingly to a young admirer, both regarded it as a devout and sacred ritual of mutuality. Robert Abzug, a young Danforth Graduate Fellow, would never forget a special conference in northern California where Erikson had lectured on IngmarBergman's classic film Wild Strawberries. Afterward, Abzug found himself walking along a nearby beach, saw Erikson, approached him, and offered an interpretation of a key scene in the film that Erikson had not made—Isak Borg, the main character, had never been able to wholly connect himself to his parents. Later in the conference, Erikson took Abzug aside, touched him gently on the shoulder, looked him deeply in the eye, and said that Abzug had been right in his observation on the film. This was a special moment for both. The young man sensed that he had been respected, even blessed, by a strong, unwavering prophet. Abzug gained accreditation, and Erikson felt confident that he had a devoted student of yet another generation.

    It is not easy to detect, from what is known of his early years, the roots of this show of confidence and inner strength in Erikson's late-life relationship. Young Erik seemed desperately to need a wise and giving adviser, such as he later became. Born out of wedlock and later adopted by his mother's second husband, he did not know who had fathered him. The problem was exacerbated by what he called the loving deceit of his mother and foster father; they had misled him for years. "Adoption was the great theme of Erikson's existence," recalled his closest childhood friend, Peter Blos. "He talked about it all the time." In an autobiographical essay written late in his life, Erikson noted that "a stepson's negative identity is that of a bastard" and provides no sense of belonging. Such a person "might use his talents to avoid belonging quite anywhere...." Nonetheless, Erikson felt that deceit and illegitimacy did not set his early decades entirely on a downhill course. A "different background" also came to signify very special circumstances and a destiny that he came to accept "as a fact of life." The sense of being extraordinary was facilitated by "the pervasive love and essential stability of my childhood milieu," even with the deceptions, and by the willingness of those closest to him "to let me develop my talents and choose my own life course."

    Early circumstances therefore sapped and constricted young Erik. But they may also have inspired and motivated him. Despite his well-known eight-stage universal model of the human life cycle, which distributed the first two decades of life among five separate and distinct stages, he saw his own early life as a single unified stage that encompassed the entire flow of events from his birth to young adulthood. In his autobiographical essay, he characterized this stage as both broadly constrictive and energizing. Debilitating consequences were balanced by elevating ones.

    Drawing upon that essay and other of Erikson's late-life reflections, it is important to determine why he regarded his infancy, childhood, youth, and young adulthood as part of a continuous and unified developmental stage—his essential beginning. Adult reflections on childhood feelings and experiences carry complex and varied agendas, to be sure, along with internal contradictions. Nevertheless, we must honor Erikson's quest to see unity in his early life by seeking out materials that lend themselves to a cohesive story even as we introduce other data that destabilize the story.


A MATTER OF PARENTAGE


Erik's mother, Karla Abrahamsen, came from a prominent Jewish family in Copenhagen that traced its genealogy back to the seventeenth century and the north of Germany. The men tended toward merchant and trade callings. There was a rabbi, a church historian, and even a Lutheran minister in the family tree, indicating some intermarriage. In addition to child-rearing duties, Abrahamsen women had maintained a tradition of embroidery and the painting of porcelain. All were "ladies" and employed housekeepers. Unlike Eastern European Jews in Copenhagen, the Abrahamsens tried to appear Danish. They spoke no Yiddish and blended the requirements of kosher food with traditional Danish dishes.

    Karla's father, Joseph, was a prominent dry-goods wholesaler. Her mother, Henrietta Kalckar, died when Karla was fifteen, leaving her in the care of aging Abrahamsen aunts. Joseph required the brightest of his three sons, Axel, to forsake law and join his business, now "Abrahamsen and Son." Axel went on to become a very prominent figure in the textile industry and a leader in several of the city's Jewish charities. When Joseph died in 1899, Axel largely assumed leadership over Abrahamsen family affairs. Max, Joseph's second son, worked under Axel in the family dry-goods warehouse but died at twenty-two. Two other sons, Nicholai and Einar, established their own businesses as local jewelers. Einar became a respected gemologist. Like Axel, they were active in local Jewish charities. Matilda, Axel's wife, helped run a local soup kitchen for Russian-Jewish immigrants.

    While Axel succeeded his father as the director of larger family affairs, his sister, Karla, emerged as the family's most remarkable member. She was the most beautiful Abrahamsen in memory, brilliant, and deeply intellectual. Indeed, she was one of the few women in the community to attend gymnasium. Unquestioning in her Judaism, she nonetheless read Kierkegaard devotedly and was taken with his culturally Danish but decidedly Christian appeal. Karla's father and brother respected and adored her. But they worried about her disposition to act on impulse and her interest in unconventional artists and craftspeople. Because Karla's mother had died when she was young, they feared that she was untutored in the sexual proprieties honored by her family and her class.

    In 1898, Karla, at twenty-one, married a twenty-seven-year-old Jewish stockbroker, Valdemar Isidor Salomonsen. Little is known about him. Valdemar's father, Abraham, a lawyer, was on friendly terms with the Abrahamsens. His mother, Thora, was the daughter of the well-known portrait painter David Monies. Karla's marriage to Valdemar did not last a night and was probably unconsummated. She wired Axel from her honeymoon destination in Rome to take her home. By the time Axel arrived, Valdemar had fled to either Mexico or the United States. Family lore has it that after the wedding ceremony he informed Karla of his dealings in crime, fraud, and some financial irregularities that required him to become a fugitive. He might also have beaten her and may have made her apprehensive that he had syphilis. Although Karla never saw Valdemar after the wedding night, she retained his surname for legal appearances. When Erik was born four years later, the birth certificate listed Valdemar and Karla Salomonsen as his parents. In October 1902, four months after the birth, Valdemar's father provided Karla with evidence to prove that Valdemar had died abroad that month. Erik was technically legitimate. Karla, officially a widow, was free to remarry.

    Since Valdemar could not have fathered Erik, who did? Karla's daughters through her second marriage, Ruth Hirsch and Ellen Katz, wish to maintain that their mother was probably a virgin until she became pregnant; she was supposedly inexperienced sexually and very proper. They suspect that Karla had too much to drink at a party hosted by her brothers and was either asleep when someone had intercourse with her or she was too drunk to recognize the man. Based upon their conversations with Karla, however, Erik and Joan Erikson assumed that she was not so innocent sexually and that she knew the real father, if only through Erik's appearance. However, she would never divulge his identity. Joan suspected that the father was one of the few Danish-speaking tourists Karla met during a vacation trip to the Isle of Capri. A persisting Abrahamsen family rumor is that Karla named Erik after the real father, and that he was a Copenhagen court photographer. Bjørn Ochsner's definitive Fotografer i og fra Danmark til og med ar 1920 (1986) lists two from Copenhagen who were named Erik: Erik Strom and Erik Bahnsen. Strom, however, was clearly no court photographer, and evidence on Bahnsen is far too thin to make any kind of case for his paternity. In any case, it is striking that when Karla left Copenhagen for a holiday in northern Germany in 1902, she had no idea that she was pregnant. Family lore has it that she first became aware of her physical state in a bathroom shower only two months before her term was up and that she verified her pregnancy with a local physician. To avoid disgrace and scandal, the Copenhagen Abrahamsens insisted that Karla stay in Germany under the care of three aging spinster aunts. She was to give birth in Frankfurt and raise Erik Salomonsen in the small adjacent town of Buehl. The whole scandal was managed smoothly. Appearances of propriety were preserved.

    In Buehl, Karla raised her baby with quiet dignity. Erik felt that she "held all the confusing details together" and was most supportive. But there was also a recognition that his mother had been abandoned rather than honored, and that distressed him. A friend who worked at a Jewish hospital in the town helped Karla to secure some training as a nurse. She liked to associate with artists in the Bohemian section of town, and the men among them gave her fatherless child what he later called "my first male imprinting." Yet as the swarthy, dark-haired mother walked with the blond-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned child asleep in his buggy, neighbors and passersby sensed that something was irregular.

    As an adult, Erik tried to reconstruct his infancy when he lived fatherless with Karla in Buehl. "My earliest remembrance is of the official letter arriving declaring him [Valdemar Salomonsen] dead," Erik noted. His eyes were always on Karla: "I knew she had a sadness I could not understand." When he observed much later in life how identity (the sense that "I am somebody") began with the recognition of a mother's smile, Erik was thinking of Karla. When she was not gazing at him and visually establishing a bond of trust, Erik recalled that Karla epitomized wisdom; she was "deeply involved in reading what I later found to have been such authors as Brandes, Kierkegaard, Emerson." All his life, he identified reading positively with memories of his young mother. Although living in Germany, they sometimes spoke together in Danish, which he regarded as special. At twenty-three, he sketched and carved a woodcut of Mary and the Christ child that seemed to recapitulate the trust and reciprocal engagement that he felt growing up alone with Karla. Erik felt that he knew as a very young child that Karla, sad and alone, remained deeply supportive of the specialness of her son and his potential: "I could never doubt that her ambitions for me transcended the conventions which she, nevertheless, faithfully served." The recognition, trust, and joy from looking face-to-face, eye-to-eye, at his helpful, intelligent, and beautiful mother was something that Erik dwelled on throughout his life. If the first three years of this illegitimate child's life with his mother in the north of Germany, distant from the Abrahamsens, was difficult—perhaps traumatic—it was hardly hopeless. A very special bond between mother and child had been forged.

    The strength of the bond between Karla and Erik was such that when she began to see a Karlsruhe pediatrician nine years her senior, small in stature with dark brown hair and a goatee, that man assumed the role of an "intruder." Erik had been a sickly child, suffering especially from gastric distress. One story has it that Karla's artist friends in Buehl recommended that she summon Theodor Homburger to examine Erik. According to another story, Karla was in transit with Erik and had stopped at the Schloss Hotel in Karlsruhe, and the hotel management called on Homburger to care for the boy. A short, staid, reserved pediatrician, and confirmed bachelor with a kindly disposition, Homburger found the problem in the milk Erik had been drinking. He changed Erik's formula and the boy recovered immediately, only to discover that his mother was very much taken by the doctor. A courting period followed, a wedding date was set, and the Karlsruhe Jewish community talked excitedly about how a leader of their larger and more "liberal" temple was about to marry a tall, dark, Danish woman who had a small, blond, blue-eyed boy. Erik recalled how it was no easy matter "to come to terms with that intruder, the bearded doctor, with his mysterious instruments." His mother seemed to be shunting him aside for Theodor. The situation was difficult for Theodor, too, for he realized that he had interrupted the very special relationship between Karla and Erik. Karla, especially, must have felt conflicted. She recognized the deep and continuing needs of her son, and that they seemed at cross purposes with the desires of her future husband. Yet she found no alternative to accommodation—to making a place for Theodor as well as for Erik in what was then a very unusual family circumstance. After all, the very conventional and intellectually limited pediatrician, who promised to move her from the artistic community in Buehl to his family home in Karlsruhe, had offered Karla a way to mitigate the sin of having given birth to an illegitimate child. Theodor was providing Karla a way to restore herself to middle-class respectability.

    Theodor Homburger and Karla Salomonsen became engaged in November of 1904. They married in Karlsruhe the following June 15—Erik's third birthday—and took him with them on their honeymoon. It was as if Erik was there from the start—or so they hoped. When he was a young man, Erik made a woodcut of the honeymoon boat ride to Copenhagen. It was a study of a tense, worried, and angry young boy in a sailor's suit who felt lonely and apart from his parents. They appeared on the ship's deck, seated and embracing. Erik had turned his back on them and looked up to the ship's captain on the bridge. One interpretation is that the captain was his real father and that Erik wanted to climb a ladder to join him. The ship docked in Copenhagen, where the Abrahamsens were delighted to meet Karla's new husband, a Jewish doctor who made a decent living. But they felt awkward around her illegitimate son.

    Clearly, the devotedly middle-class Abrahamsens were taken with Theodor Homburger. He had rescued Karla from the sin of unwed motherhood. Moreover, he was from a prominent old Karlsruhe Jewish family going back to the establishment of that city as the new capital of Baden in 1715. Indeed, the Homburger family home at 9 Scholsplatz in the town center, where Theodor would make a home with his wife and child, was built in 1722. Owing to Karlsruhe's comparatively late development, it lacked a historic Jewish ghetto. Baden, the most cosmopolitan and liberal German state, resisted Prussian monarchical pressures and cheered the triumph of reform causes in France and Belgium. Indeed, Baden granted full and complete legal emancipation to all Jews in 1862 even though it had formerly been the state capital of a Lutheran principate with a large Catholic population. By the late nineteenth century, Karlsruhe had become an industrial center producing tools, machinery, furniture, and other necessities in a rapidly industrializing nation-state. Jews gravitated toward the professions and the merchant trade. Julius Homburger had been a successful wine merchant. He and his wife, Therese Veis, had seven children. Theodor was the only one who had obtained advanced education and become a professional. He graduated from the town's Margravate Gymnasium; studied medicine in Würzburg, Munich, and Heidelberg; wrote a medical school thesis on scientific instrumentation to measure natural light in school classrooms; and opened a pediatrics practice in 1894. At the time, there were several Jewish doctors in Karlsruhe. Pediatrics was not an uncommon specialty among them.

    The historic Homburger family home was very large with several wings. Theodor's brothers, David and Ludwig, and his sister, Bertha Marx, lived with their families in parts of the complex, and Theodor moved his family into a three-story wing overlooking a beautiful park. His first child with Karla, Elna, was born early in 1907, but she died at two of diphtheria. This must have been a difficult time. Then, in 1909, Ruth was born; Ellen followed in 1912.

    When they announced their engagement late in 1904, Karla had accepted Theodor's sole request as a condition of marriage: Erik was to be told that Theodor was his biological father. Karla probably regarded this fiction as a way to bury the past and to start life afresh. As Erik observed many years later, Theodor "apparently joined her in the promise to annul the past: and they committed themselves totally to being, together, my `real' parents." Was it "loving deceit" consistent with the perspectives of their day to protect him from an unfortunate past, as Erik once suggested, or "worse: stepfather and M decided to keep this secret," as he noted on another occasion. The young child must have sensed something was wrong. Even a three-year-old understood that one was not presented with a "natural" parent at that point in time; there were too "many cues" that were to the contrary, including whispers among the adults in the house concerning Erik's paternity. Thus, although Erik grew up feeling that Theodor was a caring father, he also "felt all along ... doubt in my identity. You know, all through my childhood years." Consequently, "I was quietly convinced that I came from a different background and somewhat accepted it as a fact of life and a part of my mother's past which was not to be mentioned whether in Karlsruhe or in Copenhagen." There was a sense of specialness here, positive and negative within this retrospective portrayal.

    If young Erik could not quite believe that Theodor was his natural father, Theodor had difficulty accepting Erik as his blood son. "Genes enter into it," Erik subsequently remarked ironically. An adopting father can feel that the son is not his own kind in his humor and other traits. Indeed, he can regard the son as undescended from him and can treat that son accordingly. Moreover, Theodor was almost certainly unsure of the biological father's ultimate intentions toward Erik. Under these circumstances, full commitment to Erik as a son was difficult despite Theodor's humane disposition.

    Even more than Karla, Theodor wanted to maintain middle-class respectability. This required that he adopt Erik immediately and have his surname legally changed from Salomonsen to Homburger. Yet no record of these proceedings appeared on their 1905 wedding certificate—the first place it could have been noted officially. Indeed, in a 1909 document naturalizing him as a German citizen, he still appeared as Erik Salomonsen. On a 1959 curriculum vitae, Erik acknowledged that the legal name change to Homburger did not occur until 1908, a few years after his parents were married. A side notation on his official Frankfurt birth certificate, dated June 1911, is especially revealing: "By decree of the Karlsruhe administration," Erik Salomonsen was officially permitted to adopt the family name of Homburger. To be sure, this change was "in administrative lieu of the Jewish congregation." Consequently, it may have been made at the Homburger's Karlsruhe synagogue beforehand—perhaps even at the time of the marriage—although that was not customary. Finally, the Registry Book of the Karlsruhe District Court for 1909 records Erik's name change from Salomonsen to Homburger while the 1911 Registry Book indicates completion of his guardianship and adoption procedure. In Karlsruhe and Frankfurt, he was not legally Theodor Homburger's son until five years after his parents' marriage.

    One perspective on these documents is that Theodor and Karla regarded Erik as a very young and unsuspecting child when they married. They wanted him to believe Theodor was his biological father even as they almost certainly had to acknowledge him as Theodor's adopted son at their local synagogue. Perhaps they felt no need to move legally toward German naturalization and adoption until he was nine, when he would be taking entrance examinations for admission to a local gymnasium. The problem with this interpretation for the delay is that it does not account for the enormous pressure Theodor and Karla felt to quickly bury the sins of the past. They wanted the family to appear legally—that is, within the German governmental records that they and other local Jews so highly prized—as a normal middle-class entity. That there was an extended delay on such a vital matter among people very attentive to legal formalities suggests that Theodor was ambivalent about having Erik as his son, insisting that Erik see him as his biological father while delaying the process of assuming legal paternity. Given Karla's powerful presence in the family, the delay in adoption also suggests that she may have had reservations about sharing full legal parentage with Theodor. Indeed, there was probably a complex jumble of motives on both sides. It is instructive that Theodor did not invoke full and explicit legal language to acknowledge Erik as his adopted son until 1942, when he prepared his will and testament.

    The awkward honeymoon trip where Erik accompanied his mother and Theodor to Copenhagen was not the last time he saw the Abrahamsens. "I made many visits there as a child," he recalled. Usually he stayed in Axel's home. Since Jewish tradition assigns the child to the religion of the mother even when the father cannot be identified, the Abrahamsens regarded Erik as a Jew, and Axel took him regularly to synagogue. He never forgot the day when the king of Denmark arrived for a service and sat next to them. But he took greatest joy in visits to his uncle Nicholai's summer house on the coastal Øresund north of Copenhagen in Skotterup Snekkersten. Roselund, Nicholai's house, was ideally located for walking in the nearby woods or for swimming and boating. Every time Erik lectured about Bergman's film Wild Strawberries, the vision of the Øresund depicted in the movie brought him back to his childhood and Roselund, where "I spent the sunniest summers of my early years." As a child, he recalled, "I often looked across the Sund from the Danish side" and delighted in seeing Sweden. His Scandinavian ties contributed to Erik's sense of specialness. More often than Ruth and Ellen, his Homburger half sisters, he made special trips from Karlsruhe to Copenhagen.

    Neither the Abrahamsens nor the Homburgers objected to young Erik's frequent visits to Copenhagen. Like other Danish and German Jews, they often crossed the border to be with one another. During World War I, the Abrahamsens sent the Homburgers of Karlsruhe what they needed most—food. In this regular interchange of families, Erik felt especially close to Henrietta, Axel's daughter. She always greeted Erik affectionately, never considering him an outsider. When Erik was twelve, he made for Henrietta a beautiful sketch of a farmhouse in winter and signed it "A remembrance from your cousin." But though the adult Abrahamsens were kind and polite to Erik, there was always an element of uneasiness in the relationship. He exaggerated this element to Peter Blos, his closest Karlsruhe friend, complaining that the Abrahamsens had cut him and his mother off. More typically, he recalled the tension in the Homburger house when the Copenhagen Abrahamsens visited, and his parents restrained them from speaking of his origins: "Like I can imagine my relatives coming down from Denmark and don't say this, don't say that...."

    The very conditions of Erik's birth, then, created tensions in the Homburger household and among the Abrahamsens. The young child could not help but sense that something was amiss. After Karla's marriage to Homburger, Erik continued to feel as he had during his first three years living alone with his mother—that her strength and presence were his primary hope and support and the basic source for his continuing sense of specialness. Consequently, he played along with the tensions and fabrications in the Homburger household and put behind him "the period before the age of three, when mother and I had lived alone."


A STEPSON'S IDENTITY


Theodor and Karla were determined to build a family of their own in Karlsruhe. When Erik was four, Elna was born. Roughly a year and a half later, the two appeared together in a photograph. Erik, dressed in a sailor's suit, sat tense and joyless. Elna leaned against him, wearing some type of sheet or diaper around her waist, although custom required fuller dress. She did not appear to be entirely normal. Within months of this photograph, Elna died of diphtheria. For Erik, the trauma of her passing was accented by the sense that he did not quite belong within the family. Ruth was born the year Elna died, and Ellen was born when he was ten. Theodor was very close to his surviving daughters. He took them for walks in the country every Sunday and talked with them about music and the novelties of nature. Although they did not learn that Erik was a half brother until they were well into their teens, they had relatively little to do with him. Erik continued to be very close to Karla and liked her artist friends in the vicinity. By the age of twelve, if not earlier, Erik was emulating them, making sketches of the local countryside, and these suggested that he had some talent. Karla encouraged a spirit of independence, he recalled, "a certain sense of choice—and the right to search." Consequently, as he grew older, he did more on his own or with young friends in town, confident that he could turn to his mother for support when he needed her.

    While the Homburger family featured special ties between the father and his daughters and the mother and her son, Karla ran the family's affairs. Theodor worked very long hours even though he maintained medical offices on the lower floor of the family home. He was out on house calls every morning and evening and received large numbers of office calls during the afternoon. In addition, he was a city school physician, wrote a paper on school learning conditions during wartime, and took on Karlsruhe welfare cases when he could. Beyond his medical practice and his synagogue, however, Theodor had little time and few interests. Karla maintained family finances, giving him pocket money. She also set the social and cultural agenda for the family.

    That agenda was congruent with the Jewish middle-class traditions of Theodor's parents and siblings. All three meals were taken together. The purposes of the various rooms in their wing of the extended multifamily complex were to be strictly observed. The children were confined to the family quarters on the second floor, though they were free to play in the arcades and the beautiful inner courtyard. Boarders lived on the third floor. Mixing of residents on all three levels occurred only during the air-raid alerts of World War I, when everybody raced into the wine cellar to seek cover from French bombers. Although Karla read a Danish newspaper daily and probably identified culturally with Denmark more than with Germany, the children were expected to use German. Indeed, Abrahamsen relatives from Copenhagen were instructed to speak German in her home. Karla was intent on maintaining a German household, not a Danish one, all the more because German was the "official" language of continental Europe. This was easier on Ruth and Ellen as the children of a German than on Erik, who was not. To his lifelong regret, he claimed that he "forgot" what Danish he had picked up during his infancy for "step-German," the language of his stepfather. Above all, Karla insisted on the strict maintenance of Jewish customs and rituals despite her abiding interest in Kierkegaard and Christian spiritual issues. There was no question, for example, that Erik was to spend years training for and to receive a traditional bar mitzvah. Karla maintained the laws of kashruth, the ceremonial celebration of Jewish festivities, and required synagogue attendance Friday evenings and on the Sabbath.

    The Karlsruhe synagogue that the larger Homburger family attended was extremely important in the lives of Theodor, Karla, and their children. Frequented by old, established families who had migrated to Karlsruhe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it consisted of perhaps 2,500 members and was the more "liberal" of the city's two synagogues. Unlike the smaller, more orthodox synagogue attended primarily by more recent Polish immigrants, members considered themselves assimilated into German society and culture. Nonetheless, all wore hats during services, which were prolonged during holidays, and women sat in the balcony. Theodor was a member of the synagogue's governing council for thirteen years and served five more as its president. He was a reformer, pressing for the confirmation of girls when they turned fourteen, and introducing a synagogue choir supported by an organ played by a talented Gentile. Karla regularly hosted the rabbi and his wife on Sabbath afternoons. She chaired a synagogue-based chapter of the League of Israelite Charities of Baden and supervised the "middle-class kitchen" of volunteers who fed poor and unemployed Jews, providing roughly two hundred kosher meals a day. Their synagogue activities made Theodor and Karla leaders of the Karlsruhe Jewish community.

    Erik stayed away from the synagogue as much as he could. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed in a congregation where many were short and dark like Theodor, he continued to sense that he was different. Owing to his physical appearance, Erik was distressed that "I acquired the nickname `goy' in my stepfather's temple." It promoted a developing suspicion that his real father was not Jewish. He also resented the fact that Theodor thought little of his artistic interests, instead pressuring him "to become a doctor like himself." Erik claimed to remember the artistic talents and rebellious lifestyles that he had encountered living alone with his mother in Buehl. He seemed to identify with this unconventional past while Karla embraced a more somber life with Theodor. Indeed, Erik found that he could not relate very well to his stepfather, who was a product of "an intensely Jewish small-town bourgeoisie family." He resented not just the synagogue but the values that shaped family life after Karla buried her rebellious nature and married Theodor. Erik recalled that he became "intensely alienated from [the] German middle class, [from] reform Judaism, [from the] doctor role." Only much later, after his migration to America and after his identity with a rebellious young Karla had been attenuated, was Erik able to revise his portrayal of Theodor. Only then could he acknowledge that "my stepfather the pediatrician provided me, even in my rebellion, with a daily firm model of identification, centered in the concern for children and in a general Hippocratic orientation."

    As Erik grew older, then, he felt that his mother had acceded to Theodor's middle-class German-Jewish habits. Hugo Schiff, his rabbi, recalled that "he was aloof from everything and everybody [Jewish]." "At that point I set out to be different," Erik recalled. He contrasted the Karlsruhe painters' studios that he often visited with the limitations of "our house"—especially Theodor's medical office, "filled with tense and trusting mothers and children." Unlike his stepfather's home and office, the artist's studio and lifestyle offered an opportunity for the "recovery of the senses." In addition to Karla's artistic friends and his own artist acquaintances, Erik sought this visual path to recovery because he sensed that it might connect him to his biological father. Far more from romantic visions than from tangible evidence, he asserted increasingly, as he grew older, that this father was also artistic.

    Little beyond hope and hearsay sustained this vision of Erik's birth father. If his mother knew or strongly suspected the man's identity and conveyed it to her brothers, they passed on only very general impressions to their children. Axel's son, Svend, and his daughter-in-law, Helena, never knew the actual identity. His daughter, Henrietta, tried to find out, but without success. If Axel's brother Nicholai ever knew, Nicholai's daughter, Edith, was unable to learn despite prodigious efforts.

    It was no easy matter, then, for Erik to track down the man who fathered him. Much later, when he recalled his unsuccessful search, he sometimes charged that "MOTHER DECEIVED" him. This was an obvious reference to her failure to nurture and sustain him with a sense of himself and his past. At times, he underscored "how many discordant signals she must have given me as to my origins!" His quest to discover his missing father by questioning his unforthcoming mother progressed along three overlapping stages, charting Erik's increasing difficulty relating to Karla as he grew older.

    When Erik was three, he was told that Theodor had always been his father. This was suspicious. The fact that Theodor delayed for years changing Erik's legal name to Homburger and formally adopting him compounded the suspicion. Nor could Erik forget the day he sat under a dining table and heard the unaware adults above discuss his real father as artistic and Gentile. Between the ages of eight and fourteen, a second level of understanding emerged. As he later recounted to his friend Betty Jean Lifton, he had been walking in the Black Forest on the outskirts of Karlsruhe and came across an old peasant woman who was milking a cow. She looked up at him and asked: "Do you know who your father is?" Erik ran to Karla and demanded the truth. Karla acknowledged that Theodor had adopted him. Then she recounted how Valdemar Salomonsen, a Danish Jew and her former husband, had abandoned her while she was pregnant with Erik. This was a half truth. Salomonsen had departed years before she became pregnant, but the story left Erik assuming that Salomonsen was his biological father. Erik sensed that Karla was deeply distressed as she acknowledged her first husband; the tone of her voice and her body language told him not to press her further about issues of paternity. Consequently, he continued for some years to believe that Salomonsen fathered him, but also that Karla continued to conceal information. The suspicion deepened during adolescence and led to a third stage in his understanding. He heard new rumors and remembered others that prompted "the gradual awareness" that his father was a Danish aristocrat, with artistic talents, and probably a Christian. When Karla died in 1960, some Abrahamsen cousins of Erik's generation told him what rumors and innuendos they had learned: "They confirmed what over the years I had concluded from accidental impressions—namely, that my father was a Gentile Dane `from a good family' and `artistically gifted.'" When he first became attentive to the possibility of this Gentile-Danish father, however, Erik feared traveling to Copenhagen to seek him out. If his father was wealthy—possibly an aristocrat—he might conclude that Erik was only pursuing him to acquire money. Moreover, "if my father hadn't cared enough about me to want me ... why should I look him up now?" Erik pressed for his father's identity, but only to a point.

    While young Erik continued to feel tied to and trusting of Karla, he became increasingly aware that she had concealed information on what was emerging as the central issue in his early life and that she wanted him to drop all inquiries. This was shocking. It did not destroy Erik's love for, need for, and dependence on Karla, but it created a barrier between them and required him to draw increasingly on his own emotional resources. He came to feel that he could hardly avoid trying "to make an identity out of being a stepson."

    The task of forging a stepson's identity involved more than matters of parentage. Parentage prompted Erik to explore his religion and his nationality, and to consider how he had crossed the traditional borders or limits of these designations. Was he a Jew, like his mother and his stepfather, or a Gentile, as he came to assume that his father had been? Was he a Dane like Karla, Valdemar Salomonsen, and perhaps his biological father, or a German like Theodor Homburger? He never forgot the humiliation of being referred to as a Gentile in synagogue and a Jew in school. As he became attracted to Elizabeth Goldschmidt, a Jewish girl in the synagogue, he felt conflicted because he may have been partially Gentile. At times he recalled "having been born a Dane and having had to stand the scorn of German children against a foreign-born child" (though he was actually born in Germany). Consequently, when World War I erupted and Denmark remained neutral while seeking "to steal Schleswig-Holstein" from Germany, "I developed my nationalistic German tendencies for awhile in order to convince my playmates of my loyalty." They continued to call him "Dane." In sum, Erik recalled, through a hasty notation, how strange it felt "being a German (born a Dane) grown up in a Jewish household." "Rabbi almost" in that notation suggested pressure to suppress a possible Gentile aspect and become more decidedly a Jew. He resisted, and these came to be years of great confusion and "FAILURE."

    Erik's conflicts over religion and nationality were greatest in the Homburger family home in Karlsruhe. Stepfather Theodor insisted on observance of Jewish traditions to the point where, for family vacations, he rented a house and hired maids who could adhere to strict kosher dietary requirements. Karla helped him maintain a kosher house, though her heart was not in it; Erik and his half sisters watched her eat nonkosher foods like shrimp during visits to Copenhagen. Karla also provided confusing signals when she hung up Danish and German flags in the family home and read Danish newspapers avidly while she insisted that her children speak only German and refused to teach them Danish. Erik found the family's "liberal" synagogue even more distressing, since it required ceremonies like the bar mitzvah he went through. Much of the traditional ritual had apparently been eliminated to ease his resentment, and the event took on a "theatrical character." The deepest meaning that the bar mitzvah had for him was that it fell on the day the French bombed Karlsruhe, damaged the Homburger family compound, and produced a state of unlimited war between Germany and France. A seemingly empty event like a bar mitzvah amid serious international tensions was "part of the transparent ceremonialism of a Bürgertum which young people yearning for relevance ... vowed early to leave behind them with a vengeance." Indeed, Erik remembered "as an adolescent writing a long letter of disengagement to our rabbi." The letter, synagogue services, and daily family customs at home were "part of a quiet alienation from my whole childhood setting, German and Jewish."

    The young man was ready for alternatives. One was "the Christianity of the Gospels to which I early felt inescapably drawn." He recalled how "I early received from my mother a quiet and uncombative conviction that to be a Jew did not preclude a reverence for the existential aspects of Christianity." Indeed, Karla had cultivated in Erik a love for Kierkegaard's enunciation of "the core of values of Christianity." As he read Kierkegaard, walked about Karlsruhe (where "there is a crucifix on every street corner") and the nearby Black Forest, and assumed increasingly that his father was a Gentile, the young man took a "turn toward Christianity." Protestantism interested him decidedly; he assumed that a Jew in Germany could hardly be unconcerned with Luther's legacy. A crucial moment came when he spent a night at the home of a friend in a village by the upper Rhine. The next morning the friend's father, a minister, recited the Lord's Prayer in Luther's German, and Erik responded deeply: "Never having `knowingly' heard it, I had the experience, as seldom before or after, of a wholeness captured in a few simple words, of poetry fusing the aesthetic and the moral: those who have once suddenly `heard' the Gettysburg Address will know what I mean."

    This was not the full conversion experience that a well-known nineteenth-century relative in the Abrahamsen wing of Erik's family—Christian Herman Kalckar—had completed. Nor was Erik adopting German-Lutheran cultural norms to enhance his social status like some youngsters in the Karlsruhe Jewish community had done. Rather, he was speaking to a profound admiration and respect for Protestant devotion and piety, and was beginning to appropriate these aspects into his life. To be sure, they contrasted with the seemingly empty Jewish rituals of his stepfather's household and synagogue. But Erik did not feel that he was directly or consciously repudiating Judaism. Rather, he saw himself occupying a vague divide between Protestantism and Judaism.

    To some extent, Erik may have been merging a decidedly Danish aspect of Christianity with his developing interest in German Lutheranism. As he later explained, a Danish mother who, through Kierkegaard, had given him his "introduction to Christianity" in an "intensively Danish" form had retained intense pride "that her family was also Jewish." She had taught him that he could cross borders, combining Judaism with "reverence for the existential aspects of Christianity" and even with aspects of Lutheran devotedness and piety. Karla had also informed him, proudly, that the Abrahamsen family included both the chief rabbi of Stockholm and a prominent church historian. Devotedness was more important than formal religious doctrines or affiliations.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Foreword 15
Preface 19
1 Toward a New Beginning: Infancy, Childhood, Youth 27
2 Vienna Years: Psychoanalysis as a Calling, 1927-33 59
3 "The Making of an American": From Homburger to Erikson, 1933-39 103
4 A Cross-Cultural Mosaic: Childhood and Society 149
5 Lives in Cycle: Childhood and Society II 199
6 Voice and Authenticity: The 1950s 243
7 Professor and Public Intellectual: The 1960s 303
8 Global Prophet: Erikson's Truth 365
9 Public and Private Matters of Old Age 419
10 "The Shadow of Nonbeing" 457
Postscript 479
A Bibliographical Note 483
Notes 487
Index 569
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First Chapter

Chapter One: Toward a New Beginning: Infancy, Childhood, Youth


By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Erik H. Erikson had reached the peak of his influence and popularity. Elegantly dressed in tweed jacket, blue shirt, and white moccasins, with a mane of white hair and rosy complexion, he seemed to resonate charisma and charm. He appeared on the covers of widely circulating newsmagazines as the founder of the life cycle and the identity crisis. Speaking invitations, honors, and honorary degrees abounded. Erikson enjoyed a reputation among Harvard students, graduates and undergraduates alike, as an inspirational, relevant, and profound gurulike instructor. He was sought out in advisory capacities not only by academic and psychiatric facilities but by a high official in the administration of New York's mayor John Lindsay, by members of the Kennedy family, and by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House. He won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for Gandhi's Truth, which propounded a political ethic that could lead the world from the brink of nuclear war while addressing America's brutality in Vietnam.

Growing public acclaim seemed to have an effect upon this habitually quiet, understated man. He displayed a new buoyancy and assurance -- almost a prophetlike quality. When he spoke reassuringly and approvingly to a young admirer, both regarded it as a devout and sacred ritual of mutuality. Robert Abzug, a young Danforth Graduate Fellow, would never forget a special conference in northern California where Erikson had lectured on Ingmar Bergman's classic film Wild Strawberries. Afterward, Abzug found himself walking along a nearby beach, sas a fact of life." The sense of being extraordinary was facilitated by "the pervasive love and essential stability of my childhood milieu," even with the deceptions, and by the willingness of those closest to him "to let me develop my talents and choose my own life course."

Early circumstances therefore sapped and constricted young Erik. But they may also have inspired and motivated him. Despite his well-known eight-stage universal model of the human life cycle, which distributed the first two decades of life among five separate and distinct stages, he saw his own early life as a single unified stage that encompassed the entire flow of events from his birth to young adulthood. In his autobiographical essay, he characterized this stage as both broadly constrictive and energizing. Debilitating consequences were balanced by elevating ones.

Drawing upon that essay and other of Erikson's late-life reflections, it is important to determine why he regarded his infancy, childhood, youth, and young adulthood as part of a continuous and unified developmental stage -- his essential beginning. Adult reflections on childhood feelings and experiences carry complex and varied agendas, to be sure, along with internal contradictions. Nevertheless, we must honor Erikson's quest to see unity in his early life by seeking out materials that lend themselves to a cohesive story even as we introduce other data that destabilize the story.


A Matter of Parentage

Erik's mother, Karla Abrahamsen, came from a prominent Jewish family in Copenhagen that traced its genealogy back to the seventeenth century and the north of Germany. The men tended toward merchant and trade callings. There was a rabbi, a church hi storian, and even a Lutheran minister in the family tree, indicating some intermarriage. In addition to child-rearing duties, Abrahamsen women had maintained a tradition of embroidery and the painting of porcelain. All were "ladies" and employed housekeepers. Unlike Eastern European Jews in Copenhagen, the Abrahamsens tried to appear Danish. They spoke no Yiddish and blended the requirements of kosher food with traditional Danish dishes.

Karla's father, Joseph, was a prominent dry-goods wholesaler. Her mother, Henrietta Kalckar, died when Karla was fifteen, leaving her in the care of aging Abrahamsen aunts. Joseph required the brightest of his three sons, Axel, to forsake law and join his business, now "Abrahamsen and Son." Axel went on to become a very prominent figure in the textile industry and a leader in several of the city's Jewish charities. When Joseph died in 1899, Axel largely assumed leadership over Abrahamsen family affairs. Max, Joseph's second son, worked under Axel in the family dry-goods warehouse but died at twenty-two. Two other sons, Nicholai and Einar, established their own businesses as local jewelers. Einar became a respected gemologist. Like Axel, they were active in local Jewish charities. Matilda, Axel's wife, helped run a local soup kitchen for Russian-Jewish immigrants.

While Axel succeeded his father as the director of larger family affairs, his sister, Karla, emerged as the family's most remarkable member. She was the most beautiful Abrahamsen in memory, brilliant, and deeply intellectual. Indeed, she was one of the few women in the community to attend gymnasium. Unquestioning in her Judaism, she nonetheless read Kierkegaard devotedly and was taken with his culturall y Danish but decidedly Christian appeal. Karla's father and brother respected and adored her. But they worried about her disposition to act on impulse and her interest in unconventional artists and craftspeople. Because Karla's mother had died when she was young, they feared that she was untutored in the sexual proprieties honored by her family and her class.

In 1898, Karla, at twenty-one, married a twenty-seven-year-old Jewish stockbroker, Valdemar Isidor Salomonsen. Little is known about him. Valdemar's father, Abraham, a lawyer, was on friendly terms with the Abrahamsens. His mother, Thora, was the daughter of the well-known portrait painter David Monies. Karla's marriage to Valdemar did not last a night and was probably unconsummated. She wired Axel from her honeymoon destination in Rome to take her home. By the time Axel arrived, Valdemar had fled to either Mexico or the United States. Family lore has it that after the wedding ceremony he informed Karla of his dealings in crime, fraud, and some financial irregularities that required him to become a fugitive. He might also have beaten her and may have made her apprehensive that he had syphilis. Although Karla never saw Valdemar after the wedding night, she retained his surname for legal appearances. When Erik was born four years later, the birth certificate listed Valdemar and Karla Salomonsen as his parents. In October 1902, four months after the birth, Valdemar's father provided Karla with evidence to prove that Valdemar had died abroad that month. Erik was technically legitimate. Karla, officially a widow, was free to remarry.

Since Valdemar could not have fathered Erik, who did? Karla's daughters through her second marriage, Ruth Hirsch and Ellen Katz, wish to maintain that their mother was probably a virgin until she became pregnant; she was supposedly inexperienced sexually and very proper. They suspect that Karla had too much to drink at a party hosted by her brothers and was either asleep when someone had intercourse with her or she was too drunk to recognize the man. Based upon their conversations with Karla, however, Erik and Joan Erikson assumed that she was not so innocent sexually and that she knew the real father, if only through Erik's appearance. However, she would never divulge his identity. Joan suspected that the father was one of the few Danish-speaking tourists Karla met during a vacation trip to the Isle of Capri. A persisting Abrahamsen family rumor is that Karla named Erik after the real father, and that he was a Copenhagen court photographer. Bjørn Ochsner's definitive Fotografer i og fra Danmark til og med ar 1920 (1986) lists two from Copenhagen who were named Erik: Erik Strom and Erik Bahnsen. Strom, however, was clearly no court photographer, and evidence on Bahnsen is far too thin to make any kind of case for his paternity. In any case, it is striking that when Karla left Copenhagen for a holiday in northern Germany in 1902, she had no idea that she was pregnant. Family lore has it that she first became aware of her physical state in a bathroom shower only two months before her term was up and that she verified her pregnancy with a local physician. To avoid disgrace and scandal, the Copenhagen Abrahamsens insisted that Karla stay in Germany under the care of three aging spinster aunts. She was to give birth in Frankfurt and raise Erik Salomonsen in the small adjacent town of Buehl. The whole sc andal was managed smoothly. Appearances of propriety were preserved.

In Buehl, Karla raised her baby with quiet dignity. Erik felt that she "held all the confusing details together" and was most supportive. But there was also a recognition that his mother had been abandoned rather than honored, and that distressed him. A friend who worked at a Jewish hospital in the town helped Karla to secure some training as a nurse. She liked to associate with artists in the Bohemian section of town, and the men among them gave her fatherless child what he later called "my first male imprinting." Yet as the swarthy, dark-haired mother walked with the blond-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned child asleep in his buggy, neighbors and passersby sensed that something was irregular.

As an adult, Erik tried to reconstruct his infancy when he lived fatherless with Karla in Buehl. "My earliest remembrance is of the official letter arriving declaring him [Valdemar Salomonsen] dead," Erik noted. His eyes were always on Karla: "I knew she had a sadness I could not understand." When he observed much later in life how identity (the sense that "I am somebody") began with the recognition of a mother's smile, Erik was thinking of Karla. When she was not gazing at him and visually establishing a bond of trust, Erik recalled that Karla epitomized wisdom; she was "deeply involved in reading what I later found to have been such authors as Brandes, Kierkegaard, Emerson." All his life, he identified reading positively with memories of his young mother. Although living in Germany, they sometimes spoke together in Danish, which he regarded as special. At twenty-three, he sketched and carved a woodcut of Mary and the Christ child that s eemed to recapitulate the trust and reciprocal engagement that he felt growing up alone with Karla. Erik felt that he knew as a very young child that Karla, sad and alone, remained deeply supportive of the specialness of her son and his potential: "I could never doubt that her ambitions for me transcended the conventions which she, nevertheless, faithfully served." The recognition, trust, and joy from looking face-to-face, eye-to-eye, at his helpful, intelligent, and beautiful mother was something that Erik dwelled on throughout his life. If the first three years of this illegitimate child's life with his mother in the north of Germany, distant from the Abrahamsens, was difficult -- perhaps traumatic -- it was hardly hopeless. A very special bond between mother and child had been forged.

The strength of the bond between Karla and Erik was such that when she began to see a Karlsruhe pediatrician nine years her senior, small in stature with dark brown hair and a goatee, that man assumed the role of an "intruder." Erik had been a sickly child, suffering especially from gastric distress. One story has it that Karla's artist friends in Buehl recommended that she summon Theodor Homburger to examine Erik. According to another story, Karla was in transit with Erik and had stopped at the Schloss Hotel in Karlsruhe, and the hotel management called on Homburger to care for the boy. A short, staid, reserved pediatrician, and confirmed bachelor with a kindly disposition, Homburger found the problem in the milk Erik had been drinking. He changed Erik's formula and the boy recovered immediately, only to discover that his mother was very much taken by the doctor. A courting period followed, a wedding date was set , and the Karlsruhe Jewish community talked excitedly about how a leader of their larger and more "liberal" temple was about to marry a tall, dark, Danish woman who had a small, blond, blue-eyed boy. Erik recalled how it was no easy matter "to come to terms with that intruder, the bearded doctor, with his mysterious instruments." His mother seemed to be shunting him aside for Theodor. The situation was difficult for Theodor, too, for he realized that he had interrupted the very special relationship between Karla and Erik. Karla, especially, must have felt conflicted. She recognized the deep and continuing needs of her son, and that they seemed at cross purposes with the desires of her future husband. Yet she found no alternative to accommodation -- to making a place for Theodor as well as for Erik in what was then a very unusual family circumstance. After all, the very conventional and intellectually limited pediatrician, who promised to move her from the artistic community in Buehl to his family home in Karlsruhe, had offered Karla a way to mitigate the sin of having given birth to an illegitimate child. Theodor was providing Karla a way to restore herself to middle-class respectability.

Theodor Homburger and Karla Salomonsen became engaged in November of 1904. They married in Karlsruhe the following June 15 -- Erik's third birthday -- and took him with them on their honeymoon. It was as if Erik was there from the start -- or so they hoped. When he was a young man, Erik made a woodcut of the honeymoon boat ride to Copenhagen. It was a study of a tense, worried, and angry young boy in a sailor's suit who felt lonely and apart from his parents. They appeared on the ship's deck, seated and embracing . Erik had turned his back on them and looked up to the ship's captain on the bridge. One interpretation is that the captain was his real father and that Erik wanted to climb a ladder to join him. The ship docked in Copenhagen, where the Abrahamsens were delighted to meet Karla's new husband, a Jewish doctor who made a decent living. But they felt awkward around her illegitimate son.

Clearly, the devotedly middle-class Abrahamsens were taken with Theodor Homburger. He had rescued Karla from the sin of unwed motherhood. Moreover, he was from a prominent old Karlsruhe Jewish family going back to the establishment of that city as the new capital of Baden in 1715. Indeed, the Homburger family home at 9 Scholsplatz in the town center, where Theodor would make a home with his wife and child, was built in 1722. Owing to Karlsruhe's comparatively late development, it lacked a historic Jewish ghetto. Baden, the most cosmopolitan and liberal German state, resisted Prussian monarchical pressures and cheered the triumph of reform causes in France and Belgium. Indeed, Baden granted full and complete legal emancipation to all Jews in 1862 even though it had formerly been the state capital of a Lutheran principate with a large Catholic population. By the late nineteenth century, Karlsruhe had become an industrial center producing tools, machinery, furniture, and other necessities in a rapidly industrializing nation-state. Jews gravitated toward the professions and the merchant trade. Julius Homburger had been a successful wine merchant. He and his wife, Therese Veis, had seven children. Theodor was the only one who had obtained advanced education and become a professional. He graduated from the town's Margravate Gymnasium; studied medicine in Würzburg, Munich, and Heidelberg; wrote a medical school thesis on scientific instrumentation to measure natural light in school classrooms; and opened a pediatrics practice in 1894. At the time, there were several Jewish doctors in Karlsruhe. Pediatrics was not an uncommon specialty among them.

The historic Homburger family home was very large with several wings. Theodor's brothers, David and Ludwig, and his sister, Bertha Marx, lived with their families in parts of the complex, and Theodor moved his family into a three-story wing overlooking a beautiful park. His first child with Karla, Elna, was born early in 1907, but she died at two of diphtheria. This must have been a difficult time. Then, in 1909, Ruth was born; Ellen followed in 1912.

When they announced their engagement late in 1904, Karla had accepted Theodor's sole request as a condition of marriage: Erik was to be told that Theodor was his biological father. Karla probably regarded this fiction as a way to bury the past and to start life afresh. As Erik observed many years later, Theodor "apparently joined her in the promise to annul the past: and they committed themselves totally to being, together, my 'real' parents." Was it "loving deceit" consistent with the perspectives of their day to protect him from an unfortunate past, as Erik once suggested, or "worse: stepfather and M decided to keep this secret," as he noted on another occasion. The young child must have sensed something was wrong. Even a three-year-old understood that one was not presented with a "natural" parent at that point in time; there were too "many cues" that were to the contrary, including whispers among the adults in the house concerning Erik's paternity. Thus, although Erik grew up feeling that Theodor was a caring father, he also "felt all along...doubt in my identity. You know, all through my childhood years." Consequently, "I was quietly convinced that I came from a different background and somewhat accepted it as a fact of life and a part of my mother's past which was not to be mentioned whether in Karlsruhe or in Copenhagen." There was a sense of specialness here, positive and negative within this retrospective portrayal.

If young Erik could not quite believe that Theodor was his natural father, Theodor had difficulty accepting Erik as his blood son. "Genes enter into it," Erik subsequently remarked ironically. An adopting father can feel that the son is not his own kind in his humor and other traits. Indeed, he can regard the son as undescended from him and can treat that son accordingly. Moreover, Theodor was almost certainly unsure of the biological father's ultimate intentions toward Erik. Under these circumstances, full commitment to Erik as a son was difficult despite Theodor's humane disposition.

Even more than Karla, Theodor wanted to maintain middle-class respectability. This required that he adopt Erik immediately and have his surname legally changed from Salomonsen to Homburger. Yet no record of these proceedings appeared on their 1905 wedding certificate -- the first place it could have been noted officially. Indeed, in a 1909 document naturalizing him as a German citizen, he still appeared as Erik Salomonsen. On a 1959 curriculum vitae, Erik acknowledged that the legal name change to Homburger did not occur until 1908, a few years after his parents were married. A side notation on his offi cial Frankfurt birth certificate, dated June 1911, is especially revealing: "By decree of the Karlsruhe administration," Erik Salomonsen was officially permitted to adopt the family name of Homburger. To be sure, this change was "in administrative lieu of the Jewish congregation." Consequently, it may have been made at the Homburger's Karlsruhe synagogue beforehand -- perhaps even at the time of the marriage -- although that was not customary. Finally, the Registry Book of the Karlsruhe District Court for 1909 records Erik's name change from Salomonsen to Homburger while the 1911 Registry Book indicates completion of his guardianship and adoption procedure. In Karlsruhe and Frankfurt, he was not legally Theodor Homburger's son until five years after his parents' marriage.

One perspective on these documents is that Theodor and Karla regarded Erik as a very young and unsuspecting child when they married. They wanted him to believe Theodor was his biological father even as they almost certainly had to acknowledge him as Theodor's adopted son at their local synagogue. Perhaps they felt no need to move legally toward German naturalization and adoption until he was nine, when he would be taking entrance examinations for admission to a local gymnasium. The problem with this interpretation for the delay is that it does not account for the enormous pressure Theodor and Karla felt to quickly bury the sins of the past. They wanted the family to appear legally -- that is, within the German governmental records that they and other local Jews so highly prized -- as a normal middle-class entity. That there was an extended delay on such a vital matter among people very attentive to legal formalities suggests that Theodor was ambivalent about having Erik as his son, insisting that Erik see him as his biological father while delaying the process of assuming legal paternity. Given Karla's powerful presence in the family, the delay in adoption also suggests that she may have had reservations about sharing full legal parentage with Theodor. Indeed, there was probably a complex jumble of motives on both sides. It is instructive that Theodor did not invoke full and explicit legal language to acknowledge Erik as his adopted son until 1942, when he prepared his will and testament.

The awkward honeymoon trip where Erik accompanied his mother and Theodor to Copenhagen was not the last time he saw the Abrahamsens. "I made many visits there as a child," he recalled. Usually he stayed in Axel's home. Since Jewish tradition assigns the child to the religion of the mother even when the father cannot be identified, the Abrahamsens regarded Erik as a Jew, and Axel took him regularly to synagogue. He never forgot the day when the king of Denmark arrived for a service and sat next to them. But he took greatest joy in visits to his uncle Nicholai's summer house on the coastal Øresund north of Copenhagen in Skotterup Snekkersten. Roselund, Nicholai's house, was ideally located for walking in the nearby woods or for swimming and boating. Every time Erik lectured about Bergman's film Wild Strawberries, the vision of the Øresund depicted in the movie brought him back to his childhood and Roselund, where "I spent the sunniest summers of my early years." As a child, he recalled, "I often looked across the Sund from the Danish side" and delighted in seeing Sweden. His Scandinavian ties contributed to Erik's sense of specialness. More often than Ruth and Ellen, his Homburger half sisters, he made special trips from Karlsruhe to Copenhagen.

Neither the Abrahamsens nor the Homburgers objected to young Erik's frequent visits to Copenhagen. Like other Danish and German Jews, they often crossed the border to be with one another. During World War I, the Abrahamsens sent the Homburgers of Karlsruhe what they needed most -- food. In this regular interchange of families, Erik felt especially close to Henrietta, Axel's daughter. She always greeted Erik affectionately, never considering him an outsider. When Erik was twelve, he made for Henrietta a beautiful sketch of a farmhouse in winter and signed it "A remembrance from your cousin." But though the adult Abrahamsens were kind and polite to Erik, there was always an element of uneasiness in the relationship. He exaggerated this element to Peter Blos, his closest Karlsruhe friend, complaining that the Abrahamsens had cut him and his mother off. More typically, he recalled the tension in the Homburger house when the Copenhagen Abrahamsens visited, and his parents restrained them from speaking of his origins: "Like I can imagine my relatives coming down from Denmark and don't say this, don't say that...."

The very conditions of Erik's birth, then, created tensions in the Homburger household and among the Abrahamsens. The young child could not help but sense that something was amiss. After Karla's marriage to Homburger, Erik continued to feel as he had during his first three years living alone with his mother -- that her strength and presence were his primary hope and support and the basic source for his continuing sense of specialness. Consequently, he played along wit h the tensions and fabrications in the Homburger household and put behind him "the period before the age of three, when mother and I had lived alone."


A Stepson's Identity

Theodor and Karla were determined to build a family of their own in Karlsruhe. When Erik was four, Elna was born. Roughly a year and a half later, the two appeared together in a photograph. Erik, dressed in a sailor's suit, sat tense and joyless. Elna leaned against him, wearing some type of sheet or diaper around her waist, although custom required fuller dress. She did not appear to be entirely normal. Within months of this photograph, Elna died of diphtheria. For Erik, the trauma of her passing was accented by the sense that he did not quite belong within the family. Ruth was born the year Elna died, and Ellen was born when he was ten. Theodor was very close to his surviving daughters. He took them for walks in the country every Sunday and talked with them about music and the novelties of nature. Although they did not learn that Erik was a half brother until they were well into their teens, they had relatively little to do with him. Erik continued to be very close to Karla and liked her artist friends in the vicinity. By the age of twelve, if not earlier, Erik was emulating them, making sketches of the local countryside, and these suggested that he had some talent. Karla encouraged a spirit of independence, he recalled, "a certain sense of choice -- and the right to search." Consequently, as he grew older, he did more on his own or with young friends in town, confident that he could turn to his mother for support when he needed her.

While the Homburger family featured special ties between the father and his dau ghters and the mother and her son, Karla ran the family's affairs. Theodor worked very long hours even though he maintained medical offices on the lower floor of the family home. He was out on house calls every morning and evening and received large numbers of office calls during the afternoon. In addition, he was a city school physician, wrote a paper on school learning conditions during wartime, and took on Karlsruhe welfare cases when he could. Beyond his medical practice and his synagogue, however, Theodor had little time and few interests. Karla maintained family finances, giving him pocket money. She also set the social and cultural agenda for the family.

That agenda was congruent with the Jewish middle-class traditions of Theodor's parents and siblings. All three meals were taken together. The purposes of the various rooms in their wing of the extended multifamily complex were to be strictly observed. The children were confined to the family quarters on the second floor, though they were free to play in the arcades and the beautiful inner courtyard. Boarders lived on the third floor. Mixing of residents on all three levels occurred only during the air-raid alerts of World War I, when everybody raced into the wine cellar to seek cover from French bombers. Although Karla read a Danish newspaper daily and probably identified culturally with Denmark more than with Germany, the children were expected to use German. Indeed, Abrahamsen relatives from Copenhagen were instructed to speak German in her home. Karla was intent on maintaining a German household, not a Danish one, all the more because German was the "official" language of continental Europe. This was easier on Ruth and Ellen as the child ren of a German than on Erik, who was not. To his lifelong regret, he claimed that he "forgot" what Danish he had picked up during his infancy for "step-German," the language of his stepfather. Above all, Karla insisted on the strict maintenance of Jewish customs and rituals despite her abiding interest in Kierkegaard and Christian spiritual issues. There was no question, for example, that Erik was to spend years training for and to receive a traditional bar mitzvah. Karla maintained the laws of kashruth, the ceremonial celebration of Jewish festivities, and required synagogue attendance Friday evenings and on the Sabbath.

The Karlsruhe synagogue that the larger Homburger family attended was extremely important in the lives of Theodor, Karla, and their children. Frequented by old, established families who had migrated to Karlsruhe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it consisted of perhaps 2,500 members and was the more "liberal" of the city's two synagogues. Unlike the smaller, more orthodox synagogue attended primarily by more recent Polish immigrants, members considered themselves assimilated into German society and culture. Nonetheless, all wore hats during services, which were prolonged during holidays, and women sat in the balcony. Theodor was a member of the synagogue's governing council for thirteen years and served five more as its president. He was a reformer, pressing for the confirmation of girls when they turned fourteen, and introducing a synagogue choir supported by an organ played by a talented Gentile. Karla regularly hosted the rabbi and his wife on Sabbath afternoons. She chaired a synagogue-based chapter of the League of Israelite Charities of Baden and supervised the " middle-class kitchen" of volunteers who fed poor and unemployed Jews, providing roughly two hundred kosher meals a day. Their synagogue activities made Theodor and Karla leaders of the Karlsruhe Jewish community.

Erik stayed away from the synagogue as much as he could. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed in a congregation where many were short and dark like Theodor, he continued to sense that he was different. Owing to his physical appearance, Erik was distressed that "I acquired the nickname 'goy' in my stepfather's temple." It promoted a developing suspicion that his real father was not Jewish. He also resented the fact that Theodor thought little of his artistic interests, instead pressuring him "to become a doctor like himself." Erik claimed to remember the artistic talents and rebellious lifestyles that he had encountered living alone with his mother in Buehl. He seemed to identify with this unconventional past while Karla embraced a more somber life with Theodor. Indeed, Erik found that he could not relate very well to his stepfather, who was a product of "an intensely Jewish small-town bourgeoisie family." He resented not just the synagogue but the values that shaped family life after Karla buried her rebellious nature and married Theodor. Erik recalled that he became "intensely alienated from [the] German middle class, [from] reform Judaism, [from the] doctor role." Only much later, after his migration to America and after his identity with a rebellious young Karla had been attenuated, was Erik able to revise his portrayal of Theodor. Only then could he acknowledge that "my stepfather the pediatrician provided me, even in my rebellion, with a daily firm model of identification, centered in the conc ern for children and in a general Hippocratic orientation."

As Erik grew older, then, he felt that his mother had acceded to Theodor's middle-class German-Jewish habits. Hugo Schiff, his rabbi, recalled that "he was aloof from everything and everybody [Jewish]." "At that point I set out to be different," Erik recalled. He contrasted the Karlsruhe painters' studios that he often visited with the limitations of "our house" -- especially Theodor's medical office, "filled with tense and trusting mothers and children." Unlike his stepfather's home and office, the artist's studio and lifestyle offered an opportunity for the "recovery of the senses." In addition to Karla's artistic friends and his own artist acquaintances, Erik sought this visual path to recovery because he sensed that it might connect him to his biological father. Far more from romantic visions than from tangible evidence, he asserted increasingly, as he grew older, that this father was also artistic.

Little beyond hope and hearsay sustained this vision of Erik's birth father. If his mother knew or strongly suspected the man's identity and conveyed it to her brothers, they passed on only very general impressions to their children. Axel's son, Svend, and his daughter-in-law, Helena, never knew the actual identity. His daughter, Henrietta, tried to find out, but without success. If Axel's brother Nicholai ever knew, Nicholai's daughter, Edith, was unable to learn despite prodigious efforts.

It was no easy matter, then, for Erik to track down the man who fathered him. Much later, when he recalled his unsuccessful search, he sometimes charged that "MOTHER DECEIVED" him. This was an obvious reference to her failure to nurture and sustain him with a sense of himself and his past. At times, he underscored "how many discordant signals she must have given me as to my origins!" His quest to discover his missing father by questioning his unforthcoming mother progressed along three overlapping stages, charting Erik's increasing difficulty relating to Karla as he grew older.

When Erik was three, he was told that Theodor had always been his father. This was suspicious. The fact that Theodor delayed for years changing Erik's legal name to Homburger and formally adopting him compounded the suspicion. Nor could Erik forget the day he sat under a dining table and heard the unaware adults above discuss his real father as artistic and Gentile. Between the ages of eight and fourteen, a second level of understanding emerged. As he later recounted to his friend Betty Jean Lifton, he had been walking in the Black Forest on the outskirts of Karlsruhe and came across an old peasant woman who was milking a cow. She looked up at him and asked: "Do you know who your father is?" Erik ran to Karla and demanded the truth. Karla acknowledged that Theodor had adopted him. Then she recounted how Valdemar Salomonsen, a Danish Jew and her former husband, had abandoned her while she was pregnant with Erik. This was a half truth. Salomonsen had departed years before she became pregnant, but the story left Erik assuming that Salomonsen was his biological father. Erik sensed that Karla was deeply distressed as she acknowledged her first husband; the tone of her voice and her body language told him not to press her further about issues of paternity. Consequently, he continued for some years to believe that Salomonsen fathered him, but also that Karla continued to co nceal information. The suspicion deepened during adolescence and led to a third stage in his understanding. He heard new rumors and remembered others that prompted "the gradual awareness" that his father was a Danish aristocrat, with artistic talents, and probably a Christian. When Karla died in 1960, some Abrahamsen cousins of Erik's generation told him what rumors and innuendos they had learned: "They confirmed what over the years I had concluded from accidental impressions -- namely, that my father was a Gentile Dane 'from a good family' and 'artistically gifted.' " When he first became attentive to the possibility of this Gentile-Danish father, however, Erik feared traveling to Copenhagen to seek him out. If his father was wealthy -- possibly an aristocrat -- he might conclude that Erik was only pursuing him to acquire money. Moreover, "if my father hadn't cared enough about me to want me...why should I look him up now?" Erik pressed for his father's identity, but only to a point.

While young Erik continued to feel tied to and trusting of Karla, he became increasingly aware that she had concealed information on what was emerging as the central issue in his early life and that she wanted him to drop all inquiries. This was shocking. It did not destroy Erik's love for, need for, and dependence on Karla, but it created a barrier between them and required him to draw increasingly on his own emotional resources. He came to feel that he could hardly avoid trying "to make an identity out of being a stepson."

The task of forging a stepson's identity involved more than matters of parentage. Parentage prompted Erik to explore his religion and his nationality, and to consider how he had crossed the tra ditional borders or limits of these designations. Was he a Jew, like his mother and his stepfather, or a Gentile, as he came to assume that his father had been? Was he a Dane like Karla, Valdemar Salomonsen, and perhaps his biological father, or a German like Theodor Homburger? He never forgot the humiliation of being referred to as a Gentile in synagogue and a Jew in school. As he became attracted to Elizabeth Goldschmidt, a Jewish girl in the synagogue, he felt conflicted because he may have been partially Gentile. At times he recalled "having been born a Dane and having had to stand the scorn of German children against a foreign-born child" (though he was actually born in Germany). Consequently, when World War I erupted and Denmark remained neutral while seeking "to steal Schleswig-Holstein" from Germany, "I developed my nationalistic German tendencies for awhile in order to convince my playmates of my loyalty." They continued to call him "Dane." In sum, Erik recalled, through a hasty notation, how strange it felt "being a German (born a Dane) grown up in a Jewish household." "Rabbi almost" in that notation suggested pressure to suppress a possible Gentile aspect and become more decidedly a Jew. He resisted, and these came to be years of great confusion and "FAILURE."

Erik's conflicts over religion and nationality were greatest in the Homburger family home in Karlsruhe. Stepfather Theodor insisted on observance of Jewish traditions to the point where, for family vacations, he rented a house and hired maids who could adhere to strict kosher dietary requirements. Karla helped him maintain a kosher house, though her heart was not in it; Erik and his half sisters watched her eat nonkosher fo ods like shrimp during visits to Copenhagen. Karla also provided confusing signals when she hung up Danish and German flags in the family home and read Danish newspapers avidly while she insisted that her children speak only German and refused to teach them Danish. Erik found the family's "liberal" synagogue even more distressing, since it required ceremonies like the bar mitzvah he went through. Much of the traditional ritual had apparently been eliminated to ease his resentment, and the event took on a "theatrical character." The deepest meaning that the bar mitzvah had for him was that it fell on the day the French bombed Karlsruhe, damaged the Homburger family compound, and produced a state of unlimited war between Germany and France. A seemingly empty event like a bar mitzvah amid serious international tensions was "part of the transparent ceremonialism of a Bürgertum which young people yearning for relevance...vowed early to leave behind them with a vengeance." Indeed, Erik remembered "as an adolescent writing a long letter of disengagement to our rabbi." The letter, synagogue services, and daily family customs at home were "part of a quiet alienation from my whole childhood setting, German and Jewish."

The young man was ready for alternatives. One was "the Christianity of the Gospels to which I early felt inescapably drawn." He recalled how "I early received from my mother a quiet and uncombative conviction that to be a Jew did not preclude a reverence for the existential aspects of Christianity." Indeed, Karla had cultivated in Erik a love for Kierkegaard's enunciation of "the core of values of Christianity." As he read Kierkegaard, walked about Karlsruhe (where "there i s a crucifix on every street corner") and the nearby Black Forest, and assumed increasingly that his father was a Gentile, the young man took a "turn toward Christianity." Protestantism interested him decidedly; he assumed that a Jew in Germany could hardly be unconcerned with Luther's legacy. A crucial moment came when he spent a night at the home of a friend in a village by the upper Rhine. The next morning the friend's father, a minister, recited the Lord's Prayer in Luther's German, and Erik responded deeply: "Never having 'knowingly' heard it, I had the experience, as seldom before or after, of a wholeness captured in a few simple words, of poetry fusing the aesthetic and the moral: those who have once suddenly 'heard' the Gettysburg Address will know what I mean."

This was not the full conversion experience that a well-known nineteenth-century relative in the Abrahamsen wing of Erik's family -- Christian Herman Kalckar -- had completed. Nor was Erik adopting German-Lutheran cultural norms to enhance his social status like some youngsters in the Karlsruhe Jewish community had done. Rather, he was speaking to a profound admiration and respect for Protestant devotion and piety, and was beginning to appropriate these aspects into his life. To be sure, they contrasted with the seemingly empty Jewish rituals of his stepfather's household and synagogue. But Erik did not feel that he was directly or consciously repudiating Judaism. Rather, he saw himself occupying a vague divide between Protestantism and Judaism.

To some extent, Erik may have been merging a decidedly Danish aspect of Christianity with his developing interest in German Lutheranism. As he later explained, a Danish mother who, throug h Kierkegaard, had given him his "introduction to Christianity" in an "intensively Danish" form had retained intense pride "that her family was also Jewish." She had taught him that he could cross borders, combining Judaism with "reverence for the existential aspects of Christianity" and even with aspects of Lutheran devotedness and piety. Karla had also informed him, proudly, that the Abrahamsen family included both the chief rabbi of Stockholm and a prominent church historian. Devotedness was more important than formal religious doctrines or affiliations.


From Gymnasium to Wanderschaft

As an old man, Erik saw special significance in the fact that the Karlsruhe of his childhood was just on the German side of the Rhine. He noted that his whole childhood involved learning to navigate borders -- between Judaism and Christianity; Denmark and Germany; mother, stepfather, and biological father. "I know how you could live on the line," he reminisced. If Erik's earliest years centered on "living on the line" under a "stepson's identity," additional factors came into play during his adolescence and young adulthood. He became increasingly attentive to matters outside his family circle -- schooling, a unique friendship, and a prolonged Wanderschaft.

Erik began a Karlsruhe Vorschule or primary school when he was six and completed it at nine. Attendance had been compulsory in all German states since the eighteenth century, well ahead of the rest of Europe. By 1900, the German literacy rate was over 91 percent. Erik did not find the drill routines of the Vorschule to his liking. And though Karla tutored him daily, he did not perform well.

From age nine until he was eighteen, Erik attended the Karlsruhe gymnasium, emphasizing classical literature and languages. This contrasted with the German Oberrealschule, which focused on the natural sciences, modern languages, and mathematics, and the Realgymnasium -- a compromise between the gymnasium and the Oberrealschule. Typical of the German gymnasium, Erik's school focused entirely on academics, neglecting sports, music, and extracurricular activities. At the end of nine years he took his examinations and received the Abitur, a certificate of graduation that gave him the right to enroll in a university. At that point, however, he had enough of formal schooling.

Erik's experience in the Karlsruhe gymnasium resembled that of the fifteen-year-old Hanno in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks. Like Hanno, Erik felt that his spirit was being crushed by the strict discipline, the rote memorization, and the absence of artistic sensibilities. Nor was he pleased by being one of only two Jews in his class. Whereas almost all of the other students intended to enter professions like medicine, law, theology, and banking, Erik wrote of his desire to practice "arts and crafts." The curriculum did not accommodate that interest. He had eight years of Latin, eight of German literature, and six years of Greek. He also took several years of mathematics (algebra and geometry), physics, philosophy, French, and history (Russian, Norman, German, and the "Age of Exploration"). Much of his reading stressed battles between societies, such as Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, and the conflicts within the self, perhaps best depicted in much of Greek tragedy.

Erik often considered dropping out of th e gymnasium. As a student, he walked in a stiff and awkward manner. His face was long, thin, and tight, and his ears protruded noticeably. His hair had become darker, fuller, and wavy. His eyes were deep in their sockets, and he seemed nervous, frightened, and somewhat sad. Except for Greek translation, he disliked his courses. Karla tutored him regularly and insisted that he pursue his studies through the Abitur. Written and oral final examinations were offered in late 1919 and early 1920, and all forty-five students who stood for them passed. A dislike of school probably explained why Erik was in the lower half of his class. On a one (excellent) to five (failure) scale, he received a cumulative grade of three. He earned threes and fours in Latin, Greek, and French, but twos in German. In mathematics, he scored a four and a two. Philosophy and physics earned him threes. History was his worst subject -- three, four, and five, with a four-five on the oral part of that examination. Despite his mediocre performance and disinterest in his studies, Erik's examiners were impressed with certain personal traits. They gave him a one in conduct, a two for diligence, and a one for religious devoutness.

Peter Blos, later to gain prominence in American psychoanalytic circles, was a student in Erik's graduating gymnasium class of 1920. Although he had known Erik for some time, they did not become close friends until their final year at school, when by chance they found themselves conversing enthusiastically along the streets of Karlsruhe. By dawn they had become dear friends and Erik had cultivated a lifelong love of walking. Other walks followed. There was a Geistigkeit -- a spirituality -- that drew them together in "a very special relationship to philosophy, to art, and above all, to nature....We walked in nature and somehow nature seemed to know about it." The two were preoccupied with their own importance; the stars seemed somehow to be following them as they walked together.

Some of their most pressing conversations concerned their parents. Both had Jewish mothers, but Peter's father was Gentile. Erik had increasingly become disposed to assume that his biological father was also Gentile: "We both come from families with mixed regional and religious backgrounds and we are both sons of bearded physicians, a fact which, I believe, gave us a similar professional imprinting." Neither became doctors. Erik now regarded Theodor entirely as a stepfather; he talked constantly to Peter about possible characteristics of his birth father. Indeed, he speculated on what his life would have been if he had grown up in Copenhagen with both of his biological parents. He might have been a proud Scandinavian rather than the adopted Gentile in Theodor's Karlsruhe synagogue.

Peter Blos understood that Erik was not enamored with the temple-centered life of his stepfather, nor with the man's narrow, practical range of interests. Erik was pleased that Peter "shared his father with me, a doctor both prophetic and eccentric." Edwin Blos impressed young Erik in many ways. There was his "extraordinary beard...with eyes that dominated the beard" and conveyed a Jesus-like appearance. Dr. Blos's "wide interests were never constricted by professional custom or tradition." He supplemented traditional medicine with emphasis on what were then revolutionary ideas -- open bedroom windows in all seasons, regular e xercising, and wounds left open to heal. Even more than Peter, Edwin showed Erik an "intrinsically German preoccupation with matters on the borderline between the spirit and the mind." Dr. Blos cultivated in Erik a love for great humanists like Goethe. He also coupled a "German superiority of spirit" with a profound respect for Eastern religion and philosophy. (When he was older, he wore a Buddha's gown and retreated to the Bavarian Alps.) In later life, when Erik reflected on the 1920-27 interlude between gymnasium graduation and his move to Vienna, he felt that his many conversations with Edwin Blos influenced some of his basic concepts and interests. Through Romain Rolland's Mahatma Gandhi, European youth became interested in India's emerging pacifist leader, whose most significant accomplishments were still ahead of him. Dr. Blos broadened Erik's knowledge of Gandhi's emerging historic significance, and thus laid some of the groundwork for the book on Gandhi that Erik later wrote. His well-known midlife essay on Gorky's childhood in central Russia also owed a debt to Blos. Even Erik's work on the polarities or conflicting pressures within each stage of the human life cycle may have begun with his conversations with Dr. Blos "über die Polarität" (or the polarities), which Blos had drawn from Goethe.

Close and instructive contacts with Peter and Edwin Blos compensated decidedly for Erik's troubled gymnasium experience. The fact that Peter's mother was a gifted oil painter also attracted Erik to the Blos household. During one visit he became friends with Oscar Stonorov, another young Karlsruhe resident with artistic sensibilities. Through Oscar, Erik acquired a modest inte rest in the piano, but music never had the same attraction for him as art and humanistic ideas. Soon Erik, Peter, and Oscar would spend a significant interval together in Florence. Before that, however, Erik secured some formal art training.

After Erik graduated from the Karlsruhe gymnasium, he hiked for a few months about the Black Forest. Then in 1921, he enrolled at Karlsruhe's Badische Landeskunstschule (Baden State Art School). Art was not regarded as a respectable calling within the city's Jewish community. By turning to artistic endeavors rather than university education and the professions, Erik departed from his stepfather's path. Gustav Wolf ran the small school like a studio, and students worked on sundry arts and crafts, including the hand construction of small-scale art books. Jewish and known to the Homburger family, Wolf took a liking to Erik. Although his was a facility for boys, he also allowed Erik's half sister Ellen to attend classes.

The year Erik attended Badische Landeskunstschule, Wolf completed and published Das Zeichen-Büchlein. More a pamphlet than a book, it expounded on how pictorial sketches and letter characters were drawn and engraved (usually with wood), and how the woodcut engraving was made into a print. Black-and-white prints of sketches and characters were paired with the text. For most of the pamphlet's illustrations, Wolf's students engraved and printed works of such prominent artists as Van Gogh and Dürer. But in a few cases a student would draw his own sketch and turn it into a woodcut print. Erik's, the most striking of these, appeared at the beginning of the pamphlet. It was a full-page landscape showing a fierce sun radiating power and facing a vicious snake that was wrapped around a tree atop a mountain. Wolf voiced pride that "engravings and sentence arrangements were made together," and that the volume was a collective enterprise of teacher and student.

Das Zeichen-Büchlein propounded Wolf's philosophy of artistic creation, which he thus allowed Erik and other students to embellish and illustrate as part of their training. Erik took the effort seriously; he drew heavily upon Wolf's general perspective two years later in his personal journal. A chief premise in Wolf's pamphlet was that a truly artistic touch was inseparable from the artist's mind and spirit: "Whoever makes a mountain must himself be the mountain that he himself forms." The artist had to "be" or "become" that which he created in his work so that the creation had "meaning" deeper than mere outward appearance. In turn, the artist "stands firmly rooted in the world....The power of the world streams into him: He becomes the world, space. It breaks out of him and speaks for him."

For Wolf and his students, the artist's fundamental imperative was to "stand in the service of the spirit, decisive and true." The artist did this when he moved beyond concern for outer form and appearance and connected to the spirit within himself and the spirit of the society about him: "Whoever throws out decoration and elaborateness finds the spirit." True art disregards "the stroke itself" so that "his spirit only shows." In this way, the artist will "fulfill his destiny."

Wolf and his students were certainly influenced by what they construed as Nietzsche's injunction "to become what one is." The process of making a woodcut engraving offered the way to fathom and advan ce that essence: "The engraving knife gets rid of all that is insignificant -- gets down to that which is essential and basic in the subject," which is the artist's self. Through an engraved sketch that is true to what is essential, the artist "has raised himself out of his isolation and gone out into the world [and] is able to deal with the essence, the becoming, and the departing. He is not tied to present appearance, he is able to create new essence and connection." By realizing oneself in this way, the artist simultaneously realizes and expresses God and society: "The power of the Almighty flows through him, the drive of the living. The will of the earth speaks through him; he shows the likeness of the universe." Indeed, when the artist learns to express only the essence, "he is open to all that is human. His path is his end."

Das Zeichen-Büchlein represented the work and thought of Gustav Wolf. But Wolf deeply respected Erik within the small student group that assisted him and engraved sketches to please him. Erik's sketch of a mountaintop scene with unusually shaped shrubs, a horse and a cow, birds overhead, and a boy sleeping by a tree amid disturbing weather conditions was especially powerful. If Erik did not subscribe fully, in 1921, to Wolf's themes of becoming one's essence and the importance of connecting the self to society, he was considering them very seriously. Wolf's book was one of the few that Erik retained from his early years until his death.

Probably at Wolf's suggestion and his own growing sense that Karlsruhe was confining, Erik left for Munich in 1922 when he was twenty. He spent a little less than two years there, and those years are sketchy. Erik enrolled i n the famous Kunst-Akademie to study artistic technique. A few of his woodcuts were displayed in the Munich Glaspalast alongside Max Beckmann's paintings and Wilhelm Lehmbruck's delicate, frail statues. Yet Erik worked on his own and made most of his woodcuts outside the walls of the Akademie. Apparently, he had no mentor to study with as he had in Karlsruhe. He assumed that sketching "can be a good exercise in tracing impressions." Moreover, he recalled how he had "enjoyed making very large woodprints; to cut stark images of nature on this primary material conveyed an elemental sense of both art and craft." In a broad sense, to be sure, his sketches and prints represented extensions of the German naturalist and expressionist rebellion against decorative pseudoclassical style. More fundamentally, he felt that he was decidedly "impressionistic" and focused on themes of being "alone w[ith] nature like Van Gogh." His woodcuts of large fields with rocks, hills, and other objects that came alive with vibrant energy resembled Van Gogh's scenes. However, daring use of paint and color had been central to Van Gogh, and Erik bemoaned the fact that he "never learned to paint w/color." He tried to move beyond "black and white drawings and woodcuts" and felt that if he wanted a significant career as an artist, he would have to do so. But he could not develop a facility for the use of color and paint; that "was where the inhibition was," he recalled. Consequently, although his large sketches transformed into woodcut prints showed considerable energy and imagination, and commanded some recognition, Erik left Munich feeling that eventually he would have to move to some other calling. Art was not to be his vo cation.

Much later, Erik characterized his years at the Badische Landeskunstschule and the Kunst-Akademie as part of a prolonged, seven-year Wanderschaft. This interval of wandering and reflecting started with the completion of his gymnasium work. It did not end when he returned with his belongings to Karlsruhe in 1925 (he continued to take short trips), but in 1927, when Peter Blos summoned him to Freud's Vienna. While he might stay for a while at a new city or town or lake, or even stop for food and clothing in Karlsruhe, he "always again took to wandering." Erik viewed this as part of "a German cultural ritualization" that many youth went through, "a more or less artistic and reflective wandering." The Wanderschaft was largely (but not exclusively) a phenomenon of German adolescent boys, who went off together in postponement of adult heterosexuality. In reaction to the rigidities of German schools, with their bureaucratic regimes and rote memorization, adolescent boys hiked about aimlessly from one Gasthaus or camping site to another. They turned away from the pragmatic perspectives promoted by Germany's late industrialization and slow but steady urbanization, and they celebrated the laws and values of nature. Adult society recognized and accepted the wanderings of these youths with bare knees and hatless heads as they sought the spiritual and the spontaneous. It was regarded as a normal if temporary phase of life.

Erik's Wanderschaft was longer than most. It took him from Karlsruhe through the Black Forest to a tiny village on the shore of Lake Constance, where he spent several months. From there he returned to Karlsruhe for Wolf's school and then went to Munich f or two years. From Munich he headed south toward the French-Italian border where he "sat on the mountaintops" and sketched the landscape. Next he traveled into Italy. He liked Tuscany and especially Florence, with its connection to the Renaissance. There he met up with his Karlsruhe friends Peter Blos and Oscar Stonorov. He made a rather commonplace arrangement with a family in Fiesole, overlooking Florence, for room and board in exchange for sketches and woodcuts. Fiesole had long attracted writers and artists to its villas and hill dwellings amid cypress and olive trees, where they sought inspiration. But by this time, Erik had already forsaken a career as an artist. Often he sat on a bench near his Fiesole home with Blos and Stonorov, absorbing the sights and sounds of Florence and wondering together what was ahead of them. Although Stonorov had moved beyond woodcuts to painting and sculpting, and Blos had begun to write poetry, all three were experiencing what Erik later called a "psychosocial moratorium" -- "we were waiting for a profession to commit ourselves to." They were concerned about "principles of artistic form and of the human measure" and therefore inattentive to the emerging political threat: "[Italian] Fascism we took in stride; it could only be a passing aberration from the classical spirit." Blos returned to Karlsruhe temporarily in 1924 and then set out for Vienna. Erik returned the following year.

By this time Karlsruhe was no longer home. To be sure, Erik later applauded his mother and stepfather for "the fortitude to let me find my way unhurriedly," but he knew that Theodor was growing increasingly impatient with the wanderings of "the strange boy he brought up" and wanted E rik to settle down as another local pediatrician. The stepfather would have been even more uneasy if he had known that despite the massive German inflation of the 1920s, Karla secretly passed to Erik considerable money through a distant relative who ran a bank. Whenever he returned to Karlsruhe for short stays, Karla surreptitiously supplied him with packages of food and clothing. Theodor took no joy in his stepson's unfocused state. Erik noted years later in a general vein that "the mother openly or secretly would favor, if not envy," the adolescent son's wanderlust but "the father was considered its foe."

While the mysteries of his paternity had long made the Homburger home in Karlsruhe uncomfortable for Erik, he now regarded it as an impossible place to live. His parents, especially his stepfather, considered him "almost [a] Failure" and a "drop out," although "mother believed" in him still. As long as Karla's secret financial support continued, he could escape the "bürgerlich [middle-class] confines" of the Homburger home and community. Like other German youth of his generation, he could hike about the south of Europe, read widely, and sketch what interested him: "This made me sturdy physically and balanced in a sensory way." And yet after Munich he knew that he would not be a professional artist. He recognized what he could not be and "did not want to be," but "I had no image of what I would be." More to the point, the wanderer's life was not very satisfying. Erik's moods seemed constantly to change and his half sisters considered him deeply disturbed. He never wrote home, which sorely tested parental tolerance. Sometimes he felt terribly driven neurotically, "bookish," and impati ent with everyday life. At other moments he had romantic visions and grandiose dreams of being very special and different. Later, after he became a clinician and knew more about technical aspects of mental distress, he applied more severe diagnostic terms to these shifting moods. He had been "disturbed" to the point where he was "on the border between neurosis and psychosis" and therefore suffered from a " 'borderline' character." "I was probably close to psychosis," he recalled. Nevertheless, he cautioned that however disturbed he had been, he eventually recovered, and traditional diagnostic labels did not seem to give this sufficient attention. Consequently, he preferred, retrospectively, to call his malady simply a somewhat aggravated "identity cri sis." It was not entirely abnormal to youth of his age and place, and it was less than ominous.

Clearly, Erik was in a fragile state at the start of adulthood. The stepson's identity of "mixed" and confused parentage, religion, and nationality had produced a person who felt himself living precariously "on the line" and having to navigate multiple border crossings. He sought relief from the confining middle-class Homburger household in alternative lifestyles, in the values of the Blos household, and with Gustav Wolf. Yet as he moved on to Munich and Florence, artistic centers in southern Europe, he did not feel that he could master the paints and colors and techniques that were central to the painters he had hoped eventually to emulate. At this juncture, he was taken with a mid-nineteenth-century painting by Gustave Courbet ("Interior of My Studio, a Real Allegory Summing Up Seven Years of My Life as an Artist") that anticipated Impressionism. It was o f a painter in his studio using color and strokes to create a landscape of trees and sky, brightness and hope. A child and a nude woman watch the painter sympathetically as he works. Erik felt that Courbet's painter was experiencing a revolution of the senses, "which all at once freed the eyes from the accustomed shades of indoor life, the imagination from moralistic repression, the body from suffocation of excess clothing, and sensuality from the shackles of convention." The landscape outside represented "an open window, a 'wide-eye,' toward the outside" of hope, beauty, and serenity. The entire painting provided "a long repressed sensual awareness of man's naked unity with observed nature." Unlike Courbet, Erik could not paint or otherwise find on a solid and lasting basis the "open window" from the repressed Bürger's existence to a freer yet more hopeful and serene circumstance. His Wanderschaft had not carried him that far. He recalled the desperate sense that he had nowhere to go and returned to Theodor's home in Karlsruhe.


"Manuscript von Erik"

Beginning in August of 1923, when he was twenty-one, and for the year that followed, Erik carried about a bound book of large sheets of paper intended for sketching. Instead, he filled roughly 140 pages with what he called jottings. It was his first extensive writing exercise as he pursued a new medium for sustained expression in the face of faltering efforts in art. He wrote during the last half of his Wanderschaft as he traveled from Munich through the mountainous terrain in the south of France and northern Italy and then into Florence. It was not a travel log. The unpaginated volume had an eerie, ungrounded qu ality. It did not indicate time or place, climate, the circumstances of family and friends, or political and economic issues. Little was sequential. One verse, paragraph, or note -- ranging from a line or two to a full page -- usually did not connect to the next. Most of Erik's passages were hasty, unmediated expressions as his hand raced over a page, often unable to keep up with his thoughts. Some sentences were grammatically flawed. Verbs were sometimes lacking and misspellings abounded. In contrast, he was extraordinarily careful with a few passages that he revised, sometimes several times, in order to express himself precisely. Some rewriting may even have occurred after he had ceased to make entries into this notebook. His handwriting was messy and sometimes very nearly illegible, rendering translation from German to English difficult and alternative translations possible.

Erik dedicated the manuscript "Ex libris -- Dr. Theodor und Karla Homburger." This seemed to suggest that he wanted his parents to learn of his thoughts. A request appended to the end of the manuscript, however, suggested that he had not necessarily given it to them to read: "Whoever finds these pages should read to the end." He characterized the volume as "a collection of notes made during a wandering" that was "not sequential. It is about how one experiences the landscape." It was not interdisciplinary but predisciplinary in the sense that it read like an adventurous exercise in expression without the imperatives of form, structure, or direction.

Although Erik wrote with obvious energy, references to personal feelings were minimal. The narrator's voice was abstract, philosophic, even impersonal and arrogant. Erik pontificated on the nature of humankind with only random notations revealing anything explicitly about himself. There were a few indications that he experienced sharply altering moods and feelings as he wrote, but he never addressed them. Emotions were subordinated to abstractions. Life was not to be considered in its tangible, day-to-day manifestations involving progression over time and place. This was a volume of abstract and random notations.

The content of several of these notations was hardly unique. Other young men who had gone through the German gymnasium curriculum had articulated similar thoughts. Erik's musings often echoed the despair, beauty, and tragedy of German adolescence and adulthood in a tradition harking back to Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther -- themes that continued to be delineated in novels by Hermann Hesse and Robert von Musil in the twentieth century. Young male characters in these and similar works echoed elements of the pre-World War I German youth movement, which had interesting ties to the French Enlightenment as well as to German romanticism. These young characters critiqued the obsolete traditions of adult society, they glorified nature, they articulated idealistic goals for social change, and they embraced freedom (both abstract and erotic). Like Erik's manuscript, writings of this sort provided windows into the world of wandering European students who moved continuously about the landscape, scorned the restraints of family and school, and embraced nature, truth, and "genuine" selfhood.

While many of Erik's jottings were therefore less than unique, other notations indicated that he stood out in important ways. Perhaps more vividly than any other so urce, these demonstrated that he was deeply troubled. He seemed to have enormous difficulty ordering his thoughts and confronting his emotions. Decades later, he would characterize this psychological condition of adolescents and young adults as an "identity crisis." In a vague and suggestive way, the notebook also revealed several of the ideas and concepts that would transform him into a major twentieth-century intellectual. Written four years before he arrived in Vienna, he advanced certain thoughts that scholars have improperly characterized as extensions of his psychoanalytic training with Sigmund and Anna Freud. They were Erik's before he knew anything about depth psychology. With a far greater debt to German Romanticism than to Freud, Erik enunciated powerful and original thoughts of his own.

The manuscript opened with two messy and much reworked pages explaining how his diverse notations "arose out of the various experiences and landscapes" and "arranged themselves as I have recorded them here." There were apologetic qualifications over "which of my sentences, the hammer of mockery, will be directed," and how "everything that we actually know cannot be expressed." Erik acknowledged "how little I have read about all the people" that he cited in his pages. Next came the general theme -- the constantly changing nature of human experience as life progressed. Childhood and youth represented a period when multiple desires arose and diverse causes were launched. Second came the more "level observation, and lofty thoughts" of middle life that were communicated to others. Finally, "death is the third and last period: the overcoming of the self in a last burst of its ethical plenitude, loving understa nding, the return to the meaning of the beginning." Before he had thought much about a human life cycle, Erik announced it as the theme that united his jottings.

However, no theme or series of themes grounded the manuscript, which moved in a multiplicity of directions, and there were only scattered, limited references to life stages. Once, to be sure, he wrote cryptically of a life cycle: "The continued thread of the demonic sticks out from the cycles of life." At another point, he cited Goethe and Lao-tzu for his understanding of "organic development" and postulated that "it is upon intensity and total absorption in experiencing the stages that the organic succession of the next stage rests: every step is a goal." In a wholly unrelated discussion, Erik wrote of "a slow, broad, gestating in one's nature" that was "enriched and completed by the most varied experiences." Once he remarked on "the stages of character." At another point he insisted that genius involved perpetuating the style and the "sensual intensity" of one's youth "at every stage of his life." At no point did he seek to connect or amplify upon even a few of these scattered observations.

Erik was influenced heavily by German romanticism, to be sure, and by a view of development characterized by a telos or goal. Still, it is well to underscore that he was reflecting on evolving stages within the human life cycle when he was twenty-one and before he had any awareness of Freudian developmental perspective. A four-line poem intended to reference the antitheticals in life and fate was especially telling. Reflecting the influence of Hegel, Goethe, and Blake as well as his discussions with Edwin Blos "über die Polaritä t," Erik periodically juxtaposed "beauty" and "abyss," "necessity" and "freedom," the "physical" and the "spiritual," the "manly" and the "womanly," "youth" and "age," the "diamonic" and the "harmonious," "life" and "death," and other apparent antitheticals. Invoking several of these in his poem, he described the process of aging and death:


Content dies, balanced form lives on
(Inhalt stirbt, Formgleichgewicht lebt)
Body dies, beauty lives on
(Körper stirbt, Schönheit lebt)
Actuality [fact] dies, truth lives on
(Tatsache stirbt, Wahrheit lebt)
The self [person] dies, the I [ego] lives on
(Person stirbt, Ich lebt)


The concrete and the earthly (content, body, actuality, self) were succeeded by the aesthetic and the spiritual (balance, beauty, truth, the "I"). Decades later, Erik would fashion his formal model of the life cycle in a similar dialectic fashion, and with a decided shift in emphasis from the concrete to the spiritual.

The last line of Erik's verse was the most intriguing -- "The self [person] dies, the I [ego] lives on." In another part of the journal, he noted how "the self is that which, living, experiences itself; for if there is no outer [world] there would not be self." Erik seemed to have meant that one experienced a distinctive sense of "self" only if one could "differentiate" oneself from others in the "outer" world. Four pages later, he noted: " 'I' is what experiences itself. The other experiences 'not self.' " The sense of "I" could emerge "passively," but it could also emerge through "an overabundant will to form a consciousness." Even allowing for the imprecisions of translation from German to English (self or person; I or ego), Erik was confused in his language and his perspectives. The "I" seemed to be somewhat fuller and more all-embracing than the "self," more intense within the individual, more enduring, and of a deeper spiritual essence. But "self" and "I" overlapped decidedly in his thinking and were tied to what he would come to call identity.

The final line in Erik's verse, plus other notebook references to "self" and "I," seemed intended to elaborate a point that had intrigued him since he became involved in Gustav Wolf's Das Zeichen-Büchlein two years earlier. This was the importance of Nietzsche's injunction "to become what one is" -- to discover and cultivate one's essence to the utmost. Whether it was called the "self" or the "I" or the convergence of the two in ways that Erik would associate with identity, that essence was no autonomous Lockean individual. Rather, it emerged in conjunction with the other, whether the other was a lover, a leader, a parent, or God. "Self creation" came about as one looked at and "resonated together" with a much loved other, whether that other took a specific human form or was "the timeless smiling one" (i.e., God). In the years ahead, Erik would insist that strong positive identity required connection to others, even as his popularizers often misstated his perspective as a vote for atomistic individualism.

The first line in Erik's four-line poem emphasized "balanced form." His notebook housed other references to balance, harmony, centering, and equilibrium. "Harmony" comes with "a balance of the most divergent passions in productivity, in such a way that for every extreme another is at hand in the equation, as if thereby...there is a harmony in the relationship of the parts of the complex." One of the most important balances was between the masculine and the feminine qualities of the self. In both Goethe's writings and Leonardo da Vinci's art, Erik found "a natural yardstick of feeling reconciling 'feminine' and 'masculine' " qualities. This balancing of gendered propensities in the self would preoccupy Erik for decades to come.

There were no references to Freud anywhere in Erik's manuscript. He had mentioned to friends that the very little he knew about Freud's thought sounded absurd. Yet Erik took Nietzsche very seriously and, in this way, select elements in the notebook suggested a vague proximity to Freud. Like Nietzsche, Erik emphasized the importance of childhood in human development. Approximating Nietzsche, Erik stressed the "I" and the "self." Most important, before Freud, Nietzsche had been deeply concerned with the dangers of repressing the instinctual urges of the body. Erik embraced this perspective. "Virtue arises from bodily need," he asserted, and true morality is impossible unless it accommodates the promptings and "feeling" within the body. Because "soul is body," the body had to be allowed to release "the intention of the ailing soul."

Like many others trained in the early-twentieth-century German gymnasium tradition, Erik was thoroughly elitist and contemptuous of the "masses." The gymnasium curriculum had included study of Caesar's wars, German tragic literature, and other topics that focused on the historic importance of the great man. Hegel had hailed the hero, tied to the collective unconscious, who might promote unity and greatness. Similarly, Erik dismissed "the craze for democracy" with its "futur eless values." "Leveling creates loneliness, creation of a proletariat creates division," he warned, but the great "leader's personality creates unity." Historically, the only virtue of the masses was an "instinct for leadership." The great leader displayed "strength in organization, flexible power of suggestion." He promoted "breathing space for the will [of society] to form." In what later became his characteristic manner of describing creative revolutionary leaders like Luther and Gandhi, Erik noted that such a person had the ability "to express and portray tensions and connections [in society] which cause to others a brief and hardly bearable shudder of awe." By articulating and resolving underlying tensions within society, the leader managed fundamental but well-ordered historic change.

Most of Erik's comments on the personality of a leader were general. Discussion of Moses and his leadership of the Jews represented one of his few specific, time- and culture-bound references. He emphasized that the ethics of Moses and the Jews were "boundary obliterating" and therefore inclusive of all humankind (what he would later call universal specieshood). This was admirable, for "the more worlds an individual unites in himself...the more inclusive he is, the truer he is." Like Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, and Rainer Marie Rilke, Erik was holding out for a universal cosmopolitanism as his standard. But he also concluded that humankind tended to embrace exclusive races, religions, and nationalities in order "to brave the abyss of the singular." For this reason, most people invoked "jealousy of boundaries" separating their kind from others (a quality that Erik would eventually call pseudospeciation).

IIn other notebook jottings, however, Erik was less admiring of Moses and Judaism. Perhaps reflecting conflicting feelings over his parentage and the Karlsruhe Jewish community, he characterized himself as "European" rather than as a Jew. He also criticized Jewish monotheism as "more a state deity than a spiritual deity" even though the Jews "in decline, covered this name with a spiritual interpretation." By asserting in one notation that Moses and the Jews were "boundary obliterating" and in another that their monotheism represented a state deity and was spiritually constrictive, Erik revealed more than a personal ambivalence. He showed his ignorance of a central element in Judaism -- that it was a communitarian religion with strands of ethical socialism.

While Erik's notebook offered a multiplicity of observations and lessons for humankind, it deferred to a more primary instructor -- nature -- for he made more entries concerning nature than any other topic. This was congruent with the German romantic tradition on which he so heavily drew. His emphasis was also related to the fact that he jotted in his notebook as he hiked and made sketches and woodcuts of what he saw. He characterized human immersion in nature as the highest form of "actuality" (or "factuality") -- interaction of a person with the conditions of the world. It was real and vital. This connection to nature was like the revelation of "Truth" that Goethe saw emerging at the point where a person's inner personal world met and mixed with external reality. "If you want to know what times you live in and what you can be in them," Erik asserted, "then encounter the open sky by the bright shining lake." One understood oneself deeply and di scerned "the quiet, sublime language of the world" simply by seeing "the tree that stands sharply delineated against the blue; the stone in the glow of the sun."

Completed in the midst of his Wanderschaft, "Manuscript von Erik" consisted of some fascinating and unique notations even as it embraced typical concerns of the vagabond European youth. In it were the seeds of concepts he would spend a lifetime elaborating, including the human life cycle; the sense of "self," "I," and identity; the masculine balancing the feminine in the individual personality; the importance of the leader in historical transformations; and the conflict between pseudospeciation and universal specieshood. He even included what he later characterized as "integrity" in old age -- "to end, in order to relish a beginning...to decay without becoming distorted." To be sure, Erik drew heavily from several German intellectuals, especially from the works of Nietzsche, Goethe, and Hegel, even as he formulated his most original and creative perspectives. Like Schiller, Rilke, and Goethe, he anchored his thoughts to a respect for the free individual and a displeasure with nationalism's pressures to conform. Freud, too, had drawn heavily from these same German thinkers and had embraced cosmopolitan values. This made for some compatibility between Erik and Freud. But it is well to keep in mind that in 1923 and 1924 Erik knew almost nothing about the founder of psychoanalysis as he jotted down what became some of the most significant concepts of his intellectual career.

A New Beginning

The strength and profundity found in several notations in Erik's manuscript contrasted markedly with the weak, moody, defensive, and dir ectionless aspects of his life and personality. This distinction between life and text would be discernible at several other points in his life. He was troubled about his future as an artist. Freud had gone to Rome to see Michelangelo's work. So did Erik, and the visit augmented his sense that he could never compete with a brilliant artist. Consequently, after he finished the notebook and took up residence in Florence, he spent long periods without making any sketches or woodcuts. The inaction and despondency continued after he returned to Karlsruhe in 1925; he traveled little now. Indeed, a photograph that year of Erik sitting on a bench in Karlsruhe with his half sisters suggests that he was quite downcast. Unlike Ruth and Ellen, he appeared gaunt, tired, tense, and unable to summon a smile. As his Wanderschaft drew to a close and possibilities for a career in art seemed exhausted, he gave no thought to writing. "I was in many ways a nonfunctioning artist," he recalled, suffering from a serious "work disturbance," and "there were simply months when I couldn't work at all and didn't feel like putting anything on paper." Often he "did not feel like doing anything at all."

Erik's depression was not entirely unique. Hermann Hesse and several others of his generation had continued to feel rudderless after the period of the Wanderschaft. Erik did not know where to turn. He considered emulating Gustav Wolf and becoming a local arts and crafts teacher. Peter Blos, who had gone to Vienna to study biology, was very apprehensive about his friend's emotional state. So he wrote Erik a letter early in the spring of 1927 that Erik never forgot. In fact, Erik later compared it to the way Wilhelm F liess had rallied Freud at a difficult moment. "Nietzsche once said that a friend is the life saver who holds you above water when your divided selves threaten to drag you to the bottom," Erik recalled, and Blos had become just that lifesaver.

After enrolling at the University of Vienna, Blos became the tutor to Dorothy Burlingham's four children. She was an American heiress of Tiffany wealth. Burlingham was then in analysis with Sigmund Freud and was becoming close to his daughter, Anna, who was analyzing her children. Blos lived in the Burlingham home, where he taught the children the sciences and German. Soon, though, he felt his tutoring interfered with his studies, and he resigned as the children's tutor. Burlingham and Anna Freud offered to establish him in his own school to continue teaching the four children and others (especially English and Americans) who were being analyzed or whose parents were in analysis. Blos felt that he needed a co-instructor in that venture and told Anna Freud that although Erik "knows nothing of education or teaching," he was "more gifted" than trained educators. Ms. Freud was interested. Burlingham agreed to finance Erik's trip to Vienna by commissioning him to sketch portraits of her children. Consequently, Blos wrote to Erik of the commission and the opportunity to meet with Anna Freud.

In April of 1927, Robert Burlingham, Dorothy's oldest child, wrote that "a friend of Mr. Blos came and he can draw heads you know!" The Burlingham children immediately took to Erik and his sketches. At this point, Erik, not yet twenty-five, recalled how he "hardly [had] any idea who [Sigmund] Freud was" but interviewed with Freud's daughter. It was apparent during the interv iew that "I didn't know what I wanted. I was artistically gifted but wasn't quite sure how to employ it" and had never worked "regular hours." Anna Freud was impressed by how quickly Erik had bonded with the children and sensed a creative spark as she walked with him. Erik tutored the Burlingham children briefly that summer while Blos was away, and their mother reported favorably to Anna Freud on his potentialities. When Blos returned to Vienna, Ms. Freud told him that if he could provide the children in his school with a solid education, he could retain Erik as a co-teacher. Blos agreed, and Erik secured his first regular job teaching in a facility that was vital to the Freudian psychoanalytic circle.

Interestingly, Erik Homburger chose to begin his most comprehensive autobiographical essay by describing his arrival in Vienna as "the very beginning of my career." Actually, it was a new beginning. Erik's life now appeared to be taking a new and solid form. The brilliant if undeveloped ideas evident in his notebook were about to be tested and amplified during a new career as a psychoanalyst. He was on his way to becoming Erik Erikson, identity's architect.

Copyright © 1999 by Lawrence J. Friedman

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Foreword

Foreword

It is altogether fitting that a man who in this century did so much to help us understand ourselves psychologically and morally, and who did so much to connect psychoanalysis to the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, history), and who wrote with grace and a lucid eloquence, notwithstanding the complexity of his ideas, and who explored certain lives with memorable freshness, originality, and tact (Luther, Gandhi), thereby enriching the very nature of biographical inquiry, should now himself be the subject of a talented, conscientious historian's biography. Moreover, Erikson's life lends itself readily, even dramatically, to the old-fashioned requirements of such an effort -- that the person's story, apart from what she or he accomplished, be interesting, touching, or compelling. As the reader will soon enough realize, and as the title of this book right away suggests, here was one psychoanalyst who not only constructed a powerfully suggestive, engaging theory to explain how, step by step, we build our lives (the concerns, aspirations, and worries that come and go through the years), but, more than many of us, pulled together out of the ambiguities, mysteries, confusions, of his own past a singular (and publicly as well as professionally arresting, intriguing) identity.

That last word, of course, became synonymous with Erikson. Other psychoanalysts had used it, and wisely (Allen Wheelis, most especially, in The Quest for Identity), but for the man whose career is described and painstakingly documented in these pages, that word had an intensely personal as well as abstract or conceptual significance. A boy named Erik, who never knewhis biologn examined subjectivity -- the analyst's and that of his or her patient or analysand. For an artist like Erik Erikson, already attuned to intuition and its gifts, such a profession was a welcome and lucky opportunity, for sure.

Not that Erikson's personal or professional background explains in full the breadth and depth of his interests, his accomplishments. A substantial number of European psychoanalysts had to flee Hitler and his Nazi thugs as they took over one, then another, European nation. (The Eriksons were prescient in their willingness, eagerness, to leave Vienna in 1933, just as Fascism began its virulent spread.) Each of those psychoanalytic émigrés had a complex past that might well have spurred research and writing. But the sources of creativity remain obscure, as Freud noted in his famous essay on Dostoyevsky, and as any of us who work psychologically with writers or artists keep on learning. In that regard, one of the remarkable aspects of Erikson's theoretical writing is his restraint, his refusal to pin down the more elusive sides of our intellectual and emotional life with constrained (and constraining) explanatory language. He doesn't want to circumscribe and define so much as to propose tentatively and imply -- a way of seeing things rather than a grand scheme of definitions. His formulations are open-ended, meant to encourage reflection rather than to declare unreservedly, to insist. He is ever the artist, shedding light amid shadows, struggling for and with form against the sure knowledge that truth (what is seen, reported) is each person's particular response to his or her surroundings.

I well remember Erikson replying to a student's question about one of his boo ks: "Look, what you get out of it is yours -- and may differ from what anyone else finds useful or valuable, including me." Not all writers or teachers or social or psychological theorists are so relaxed, or as willing to subscribe to Nietzsche's aphorism, "It takes two to make a truth." That aphorism applies to this book. A thoughtful, dedicated historian has spent many years trying to understand a distinguished psychoanalyst and teacher and writer, as well as his distinguished and clearheaded and knowing wife, Joan Erikson (talk about "two making a truth"!). The result is a definitive, exemplary, accessible, and thoroughly rewarding biography that will mightily instruct the many of us for whom Erik Erikson's work has been so invaluable. I can see, somewhere in this universe, those inviting, affirming smiles that could sometimes come over Erik's face, and Joan's, as they together concluded something -- in this case, that Larry Friedman, to whom they, when old, entrusted the telling of their life stories, has done well, right well, by them.

-- Robert Coles

Copyright © 1999 by Lawrence J. Friedman

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