Columbia Library columns (v.33(1983Nov-1984May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.33,no.3(1984:May): Page 12  

Impressions of the Diaries


IT was ni\' first visit to the Rare Book and .Manuscript Library.
1 mounted the stairs to the topmost floor of that venerable
structure with a sense of excitement. Of course there are ele¬
vators and one needn't walk the entire way, but in the last lap of
the journey, of what I experienced as a pilgrimage, one encounters
a dark stairway, a formidable iron gate and finally, a long, narrow
corridor made to seem even longer by its low ceiling. There is a
sense that the past is embalmed here, heightening the awareness of
mortality and leaving one just a little apprehensive.

I had a mission. I had come to see the diaries of Otto Rank, the
dissident X'ienncse psychoanalyst «'ho broke away from Freud
in the early nineteen twenties. Although 1 had recently completed
a book about Rank's theories and their relevance for contem¬
porary thought in psychology and psychoanalysis, I had relied,
for information, on his published works both in German and in
English translation. 1 had had no actual contact with the living
man. I use the term "living" advisedly and metaphorically, for,
although Rank died in 1939 and I had never known him in my
psychoanalytic student days, the anticipation of seeing his diaries,
of holding them in my own hands, brought him to life for me in a
way which an acquaintance with abstract ideas and theories could
not do. I felt that the diaries would be a living part of him, as in¬
deed they were.

After the usual rituals of "security," the library staff decided
that I was "safe and scholarly" and the diaries were placed before
me. They are four in number and, in orderly fashion, I began by
opening the first one. I knew from my previous readings that
Rank had begun to keep a diary when he was about nineteen, at a
time of great loneliness and emotional stress in his life. I knew the
  v.33,no.3(1984:May): Page 12