Bruno Bettelheim Essays

Bruno Bettelheim Essays-73
For the record Los Angeles Times Sunday April 7, 1991 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 8 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction The name of Bettelheim’s long-time literary agent, Theron Raines , was misspelled in “Love and Death.”Although the calendar read late October, it was one of those flawless, forever-summer Southern California days--a disturbing contrast to the conversation at hand: Bruno Bettelheim was talking about whether or not he would kill himself. “However, if I could be sure that I would not be in pain or be a vegetable, then, like most everyone, I believe I would prefer to live.” And then he smiled.For a moment his gaze traveled around the room, which was filled with a lifetime’s treasures: Greek and pre-Columbian artifacts from various trips abroad, a wall full of art books and operatic recordings, Rembrandt etchings and, centered over the couch, an eerily beautiful painting, of a woman walking down the side of a building, titled “The Dreamer.” “Things I enjoyed are no longer available to me, you know,” he said. “But, of course,” he said, “there is no such guarantee.

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The news of his death stunned the psychological community.

For 50 years, Bruno Bettelheim had been acknowledged as one of the most important thinkers and practitioners in the field of psychology and child development.

In all, Bettelheim sat for some six hours of interviews on three separate occasions; at least half the time he spoke of death and dying.

At times, he seemed to be explaining a decision he had already made; at other times it was clear he was still considering the pros and cons of choosing to die. Right now, I’m living on borrowed time.”WHEN THE NEWS of Bettelheim’s suicide became public, there was a general attempt to quickly wrap up the reasons for his action in a tidy little package.

He defined, it seems to me now, exactly what is meant by the phrase “sound mind.”In the two weeks after we first met, Bettelheim’s dilemma was constantly in my thoughts.

I had to fight the illogical and unjournalistic urge to bring him a dozen brightly colored balloons in the childish hope of cheering him up. He dressed himself up in civilian clothing, rented a room in the best hotel in Vienna and put a bullet into his heart.“The noise of the shot reverberated in the hotel and the maid rushed in. When he came to again, he thought, ‘If my effort to kill myself has this kind of a reaction, then I might as well live.’ ”Bettelheim smiled.Analyzing a wide range of traditional stories, from the tales of Sindbad to “The Three Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” Bettelheim shows how the fantastical, sometimes cruel, but always deeply significant narrative strands of the classic fairy tales can aid in our greatest human task, that of finding meaning for one’s life. He received his doctorate at the University of Vienna and came to America in 1939, after a year in the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. More about Bruno Bettelheim Bruno Bettelheim was born in Vienna in 1903.He received his doctorate at the University of Vienna and came to America in 1939, after a year in the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. When we sat down for our second interview, I asked him if he was still planning a trip to Holland, hoping that he had reconsidered. This dashing imperial officer became an average private citizen, and the heiress lost interest in him. When she saw what had happened, she said, ‘Oh, my God! “And he continued to live with a bullet in his heart for another 25 or 30 years. He became a director of an iron foundry, then one day dropped dead of a heart attack.“So, there you are.“Let me answer,” he said, “by telling you a story of a really close friend of mine who was 15 years older than I and a cavalry officer in the Austrian army. One might find life unbearable at a certain moment and, in an act of desperation, try to end it.Early in the fall of 1989, Bettelheim agreed to be interviewed on aspects of his life story that had never made their way into his published work: his marriage, his own analysis, his friendships with Wilhelm Reich and other notables of the century.From the first interview, though Bettelheim was his usual articulate self on subjects from Reich (“Few people were as stubborn as he was”) to his favorite fairy tale (“Hansel and Gretel,” “because the boy and the girl needed each other”), he seemed preoccupied.“But it was 100 times worse because he was someone who saved so many people from despair.”Why had Bruno Bettelheim, of all people, engineered his own death?I discovered at least part of the answer by accident.Winner of the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award“A charming book about enchantment, a profound book about fairy tales.”—John Updike, The New York Times Book Review Bruno Bettelheim was one of the great child psychologists of the twentieth century and perhaps none of his books has been more influential than this revelatory study of fairy tales and their universal importance in understanding childhood development.Analyzing a wide range of traditional stories, from the tales of Sindbad to “The Three Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” Bettelheim shows how the fantastical, sometimes cruel, but always deeply significant narrative strands of the classic fairy tales can aid in our greatest human task, that of finding meaning for one’s life.

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