The challenge of the oceanic feeling: Romain Rolland’s mystical critique of psychoanalysis and his call for a ‘new science of the mind’

History of European Ideas 43 (5):1-20 (2017)
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In a letter written in 1927, the French writer Romain Rolland asked Sigmund Freud to analyse the “oceanic feeling,” a religious feeling of oneness with the entire universe. I will argue that Rolland’s intentions in introducing the oceanic feeling to Freud were much more complex, multifaceted, and critical than most scholars have acknowledged. To this end, I will examine Rolland’s views on mysticism and psychoanalysis in his book-length biographies of the Indian saints Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, which he wrote just after he mentioned the oceanic feeling to Freud in 1927. I will argue that Rolland’s primary intentions in appealing to the oceanic feeling in his 1927 letter to Freud—intentions less evident in his letters to Freud than in his biographies of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda—were to challenge the fundamental assumptions of psychoanalysis from a mystical perspective and to confront Freud with a mystical “science of the mind” that he felt was more rigorous and comprehensive than Freud’s psychoanalytic science.

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Ayon Maharaj
Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University

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