Charles Brenner: 1913-2008

lilcharlesbrennermd_1982_4x5.jpg Click Here for: Audio Interview of Charles Brenner by Frank Parcells.  

Click Here for: Charles Brenner Interviewed by Edward Nersessian.

Click Here to Read: Review of Psychoanalysis: Mind and Meaning by Charles Brenner reviewed by Arnold Richards  

Click Here to Read: Obituary of Charles Brenner in the New York Times. 

Charles Brenner:
A little more than a month ago, on April 8 2008, I had the privilege of introducing my friend Charles Brenner at a Scientific Meeting of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Yesterday I learned that he died. As we all do, I feel a great loss both personally and to psychoanalysis. Here is what I said about Charlie last month:


 As I often do in advance of the Scientific Meetings of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, I wrote a note to Charlie Brenner asking him what he might like me to include in my introduction of him tonight. He responded with the following:

 “Dear Richard, You’ve known me a long time and pretty well. Whatever you care to say will be fine with me. Only one request: Please don’t start by saying I need no introduction. He signed the note – as he always does – Affectionately, Charlie”

 I will abide by Charlie’s wishes. As everyone here tonight knows, Charles Brenner is a towering figure in American and world psychoanalysis. He has been – how can I describe this? – the flagship psychoanalytic theorist at this, the New York psychoanalytic, institute for many years. His books and vast scholarly output have had profound and lasting influences on psychoanalytic thought of the 2nd half of the 20th century and – now – on that of the 21st. During his long career Charlie has held many of the most important offices in our organizations, having served as President of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and the American Psychoanalytic Association, and as associate editor and member of the editorial boards of our most influential journals. His opinion is sought from many quarters on all manner of psychoanalytic matters.

But these are examples of only the very public, highly visible aspects of Dr. Brenner’s career. I would like to speak for a moment about another side of Charlie, a side that is neither as widely known nor widely celebrated, a side of Charles Brenner that may, in fact, need an introduction. I am speaking of Charlie’s boundless generosity, a generosity that not being as public as some of his other activities should nonetheless not go un-noticed. I am speaking from personal experience, but it is of a personal experience that I know could easily be echoed by many, many others sitting in this auditorium. I am speaking of Charlie’s unstinting availability for his advice and wise counsel on matters both psychoanalytic and personal, of his willingness to interrupt whatever he’s doing to attend to the problem or question of a colleague, friend, or student, refocus his attention, and offer whatever he can. I am speaking of Charlie’s availability for discussion with students t the very beginnings of their analytic careers, of his eagerness to take requests of his time seriously and to respond respectfully.

It was around 1984 that I first began to get to know Charlie well. He had, characteristically, agreed to chair a seminar on writing psychoanalytic papers for recent graduates of our institute. There were ten of us. We met monthly with him. At the beginning we knew next to nothing. We struggled with drafts, ideas, confusions. We wrote about everything from Marxism to the problem of silence in analysis, from how to pass the certification committee to patients who fell asleep on the couch, from altered states of consciousness to the impossibility of self-analysis.  Charlie took every one of us and our efforts at face value, always focusing his energies on how to help us create the best piece of work we were capable of creating. We came to realize, over the ten or more year life of this seminar, that affectionate behavior of this kind was absolutely typical of Charlie Brenner. I was no longer surprised to learn that he had recently had dinner with a group of our externs, or that someone I knew had discussed a possible project with him. Nor was I surprised when he offered me advice for in handling the recalcitrant hospital bureaucracy where a member of my family was seriously ill.

 My point, if it’s not already clear, is that such unsung generosity has been absolutely characteristic of Charles Brenner. I am not the only one to have benefited from it.

 To return to his presentation tonight. It is also, I believe, born of a generous impulse, the impulse to share new views of his that he now believes to be correct – or at the least, worthy of serious discussion and consideration. We are about to hear something radical from Dr, Brenner – but we have become used to that.
–Richard Gottlieb

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