De psychoanalyse als rouwarbeid over de dood van God | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 39, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2542-6583
  • E-ISSN: 2590-3268



Attention is drawn to a cultural function of psychoanalysis which around the turn of the century has appealed to many intellectuals: that of being ‘griefwork’ over the collapse of the traditional idealized view of man and reality. Nietzsche has aptly styled this momentous change in our culture ‘the death of God’, meaning the death of the God of metaphysics.

For the idealized ‘narcissistic’ image of man Freud substituted the conception of the human person as a being of flesh and blood, whose ‘higher’ aspirations are limited by legitimate claims of the body. Psychoanalysis taught people to accept their limitations without resentment. From the point of view of cultural history, therefore, psychoanalysis can be interpreted as a form of collective griefwork.

In the article, expressions of grief over the death of God experienced by people of the latter part of the 19th century are analysed; then responses on the part of several Dutch psychiatrists are examined from this point of view.

In our own time, the ‘me-decade’, we have again become unrealistic about ourselves, imagining that we somehow can shape the world according to our desires. And again we are becoming disillusioned, as it becomes clearer every day that such utopian thinking and acting does the world more harm than good. Perhaps psychoanalysis could again help us to come to terms with our grief over the loss of ous feelings of omnipotence.


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