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The 42st National Conference of Child and Adolescent Neurology and Psychiatry and Allied Professions with international participation


ANXIETY IN MYTHOLOGY AND LITERATURE

Autor: Constantin Lupu
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ABSTRACT:

The article presents landmarks in the history of investigating anxiety through the study of literature. Our aim was to remind the role of some of the great writers in presenting, demystifying and analysing anxious experiences. We have selected important works, among which those of S. Kirkegaard, Franz Kafka, Herta Muller. We learn from these books important details about the contribution of literature to the description and knowledge of anxieties, phobias and of anxious personalities. We may go along the literary dissection, semiotics, location and recognition of anxieties, of fear, of terror – of the existence of such symptoms in real life. The psychiatry of child, adolescent and adult as well as the psychological changes, that occur in human beings over the course of their life span benefit today from these creations, which interfere with our professional activities

 


 

This material is the result of years of reading the works of great writers who have contributed to the discovery of anxiety as well as of talks with and expo-sures by Maşter Eduard Pamfil in his lifetime.

E. Pamfil considered “anxiety as a universal phe-nomenon linked to the living beings’ integration into the environment, to the life instinct, to being in alert in front of enemies, friends, relatives”…Being a universal phenomenon, anxiety does not avoid the humans, either. But “at a certain moment in his existence, man ceased to express his anxious state, separating himself from all other creatures”. Man was endowed with memory and intelligence, which helped him change or hide his anxieties. “Being an ancestral phenomenon, human anxiety, after having been experienced for thousands of years, started to be gradually recognised and controlled. Nevertheless, it accompanies man permanently, being either hidden in some or manifesting itself in others as a way of thinking, of existence”. As the Maşter used to say, anxiety exists in each of us and it may explode in us, it may be a component of our psychic life; it may appear and stay with us permanently.

The psychiatrist, who derives from the primary model of the physician, knows that humans addressed themselves first to gods and created rituals in order to calm down anxieties. In history, “the shaman be-gan to be a psychiatrist without even knowing it. His role extended from taking care of physical suffering to treating anxiety”. Then came the wizards followed by the ministers of religions. However, humans did not know, and neither do they know today, how to under-stand and to describe their anxiety “The last healer in the row was the psychiatrist, who, by his knowledge on anxiety, participates with a long-time scientific and affective presence, becoming a tuner of suffering”.

Fear and anguish were known and described in antiquity, together with many other more complex psychic aspects, without making use of the term of anxiety The celestial natural phenomena and the force of gods were the first allusions to fear in An-cient Egypt, in Mesopotamia, India and China, in Greeks and Romans. The cultures of ancient Greece and Rome honoured FEAR, creating terms such as “angor” = anguish, and “anxius” = fear. The etymology of the term anxiety may be Sanskrit: “amhas” meaning narrowness, straightness.The Latins used ANGUSTA, a term taken from French and German such as “angoisse” and “angst”. The verb ANXIARE (to breathe with difficulty, to choke) and the adjective with medical meaning ANXIOS have been used in documents since the 16th century. In the Romanian language, there were many terms describing fear, and the specific terminol-ogy, anguish and anxiety has been adopted since the beginning of the 20th century.

The myths and mythologies are the beautiful ex-pression of humanity’s childhood, summaries of Man’s history They are integral part of human culture. This statement of Mrs. Zoe Dumitrescu-Buşulenga, invites us to remember some of the mythological characters created in the history of human thinking. It is said that, in the beginning, there was ACLIDE, the Greek goddess of the dark. She gave birth to ancestor gods: The Titans, Zeus, Hera, Hephaestus and Poseidon, Helios – the Greek personification of the sun (Apollo in Roman mythology) who used to drive the chariot of the sun across the sky each day, Selene, the Greek personification of the Moon and others.

The antiques considered fear as a punishment from the gods. The Homeric gods established for these states were Deimos (Pallos in Romans), who was the personification of terror and Phobos (Pavor), personification of fear and phobia. These gods had sanctuar-ies and temples where they were brought offerings.

The antiques used to consider fear as stronger than humans, which might be tamed with offerings and sacrifices so that its terror inspiring actions should turn against the enemy. In Mesopotamia, people be-lieved in “scorpion men’whose sight provoked death, while the Greeks were afraid of Gorgons who had the power to turn the looker-on into a stone, explaining thus the sudden arrest of the heart in circumstances of catastrophic anxiety It is believed that the Thra-cians, Dacians, Asian peoples and Vikings did not have a cult of fear. Such states used to be attributed to women and children but even these were educated to die fearless anytime. However, during Antiquity and the Middle Ages, fear and its relatives, horror, terror and death were cultivated but people used neither to talk about, nor were they aware of them.

The cultivation of fear in temples and churches, with scenes of martyrdom and with paintings depictng the Last Judgement managed to terrify people. The transfer of the singular, individual fears to the group fear, that is, to the plural of the masses, was insisted upon, especially during 1400-1450. People were taught that fear is omnipresent: on land, on wa-ter, in fire and in cold. This culture of fear was kept alive by eschatological legends about the end of the world, followed by the Last Judgement, then by the legend of the Apocalypse. “In the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”.

Why was there such prolonged cultivation in history of the role of fears? The explanation would be that people lived in confusion between fear and cowardice, courage and audacity. The natural fear was concealed with nosy – heroic attitudes. The word fear was so charged with shame, that it was hid-den. Since the 14th – 16th centuries, the courage of the fearless nobility, impervious to any kind of fear, started to be unveiled. Jean Delumeau has shown that from Antiquity until Renaissance certain leaders had been praised, while fear had been the shameful and common destiny of ordinary people. Gradually, the objective description of fear, freed from shame, progressively restores the real place that fear occupies in human life. Fear has grown in the world since the dawn of the modern times: the fear of death has been has been acknowledged, with which its description in literature starts. It is said that there is no human being above fear and that “fear has been born alongside with man in the darkness of ages”.

R. Caillos: “while human fear, the fear of our imagination, is not only one but a multitude, it is not fixed but permanently changing”.
By and by, other types of fear have been uncovered such as fear of phantasms, of natural disasters, of the dead, of apocalyptic beasts, of killer fellow creatures, of apocalypses, and above all things, the fear of the unknown.

Today, it is acknowledged that anxiety has a development and a dynamics of its own, which the clinician psychiatrist and the psychotherapist are able to recognize.Therefore, they may cure the human anxious condition. According to E. Pamfil, we may say profes-sionally: the anxious person imperiously needs positive and permanent communication with a specialist.

Kierkegaard, Dostoevski, Freud, Kafka, Agatha Cristie, Virginia Woolf, and many other writers have handled anxiety from objects of study and description to literary paroxysms. They knew how to analyse and induce anxiety, making it known to the whole humanity and have contributed to the decryption and understanding of human anxiety from childhood until the last day in one’s life.

As we all know, the current knowledge on anxiety has been shaped along the centuries by sporadic ac-counts, followed by literary and philosophical descrip-tions, then by psycho medical ones, and now by the information in the field of intra cerebral biochemis-try. With these observations, an interesting history of the concepts of fear, anguish, and anxiety is foreseen, that is worth knowing. In modern “economic” society, where everything is uncertain, anxiety is continuously following man like a shadow.

In order to prove the role of literature in the ac-knowledgement of anxieties, I shall present some of the best-known writers who have explored the secrets of this field.

We shall deal with the modern period dedicated to the recognition of anxiety in the literary works created by the writers of the 19th century and beyond.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is a great name in literature, philosophy and psi sciences because his works have marked the contemporary thinking de-cisively. His shyness and anxieties took shape in his relationship with his father who kept talking about his son’s childhood sin, when the latter had denied the existence of God, and who urged his son to be fearful. After his father’s unexpected death, the writer received a substantial inheritance, which allowed him to dedicate himself to philosophy

Because of his father’s stultifying attitude, Kierkegaard had a life full of suffering. He broke up two engagements due to his complex of inferiority, inde-cisiveness and anxieties. In 1843, he published “The Concept of Anxiety” and “On the Concept of Irony” returning to these philosophic subjects in 1849, with “The Sickness unto Death”, which is a study on spiritual pathology also with reference to despair, anxiety, sadness and morel suffering. As a solution to these negative experiences, Kierkegaard had proposed the cohesion man – nature and spirituality. Due to the religious concepts imposed by his father, Kierkegaard demonstrated and supported the idea that anxiety, the human “angst”, was inscribed and persisted in human life, following the Original Sin through which our an-cestors had defied our right to immortalitywhen they had bitten from the forbidden fruit of knowledge.

He made an important analysis of the human condition, pointing out the significance of individual life. We owe him the description and unveiling of anxiety for philosophers, psychologists, physicians, theologians, as well as for the public at large. Before Kierkegaard, only fragmentary attempts to describe fear and anguish had been recorded. One may say that anxiety was experienced, it brought disease and suffering, but it was not acknowledged.

Soren Kierkegaard (S.K.) offered us many writ-ings, but he laid stress on the idea that that the ma-jority of people, without realising it, live in a state of anxiety He interpreted everything from the inside of man, in opposition to his unilateral adversaries – the Hegelians and the Marxists – who used to explain everything from the outside. His work has more ethi-cal power than that of the other philosophers. It is important for us that S.K. penetrated into the psychic and social phenomenon of anxiety – angst – through a sociological and psychic perspective, in a unique and profound way.

Fyodor M. Dostoevsky (1821-1881) described anxiety as man’s obligatory life experience in front of God in Heaven. According to him, man is built in such a way that he should live in a permanent state of fear for God and that he should answer in front of Him when he sins either with his deeds or with his thoughts. Dostoevsky describes human conscience with all its forms of guilt and frightening. As a writer, he is the most famous one to have known and described human thoughts in the most profound manner.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1914) transposed anxiety in the “stream of consciousness”, while Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) may be considered the cham-pion of phobia in literature.

Since Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the anxious expectation has drawn our attention to a correlation with the fundament of the existing libido in human life. The most frequent cause of anguish neurosis (Angst Neuroze) is “the frustrating excitement”. And “the cause of anguish is the repression process that establishes itself, following the Oedipal complex of son’s Iove for his mother, interpreted as an interior pulsating danger of the seif (of the instinct) which the individual has to avoid by the pressures of the social super – ego”. Thus, these situations are experienced as interior and exogenous anxieties, and they lead to threats with punishments, to sublimations such as the castration complex, to masturbation, to sexual phan-tasms, to self-eroticism or aggressive eroticism.

Freud supposes that, “during the primitive ages of the human family, castration was performed indeed by the jealous and cruel father on his growing up son, and the circumcision is a clearly recognizable residue of that epoch”.1he object of anguish is, in an evident manner, the expression of one’s own libido and oedipal complex. It appears that in chronic (neurotic) anxiety, the initiation is endogenous, therefore, the danger “is not consciously understood, instead, it is permanently lived.’Tf, in the beginning of his descriptions of anxiety, Freud stated that the Ego was the unique source of anguish, after repeated surveys he realized that “the three main types of anguish – anguish in front of a real danger, the neurotic and the moral ones may be linked to the three functions of personality: id, ego and super-ego.”

Now Freud declared that “anxiety, as an emoţional state, is the reproduction of an old, dangerous and threatening event. Anxiety is in the service of self-preservation and is a sign for a new danger.”Thus, in chronic anxiety, the danger is endogenous, so it is not understood consciously, but it is permanent.

According to S. Freud and Melanie Klein, the most intense trauma for the infant is the separation from his mother, which is a source of anxiety all along one’s life. If Kierkegaard had situated the sources of anxiety in the Original Sin of humankind, Freud placed them in the perturbation of the fixation upon mother (the loved or desired person), and the expression of anxiety may be reduced to one source “the absence of the loved person”. Therefore, the origin of anxiety is placed in a stage of the ontogenetic past existent at the beginning of life.

In young children exposed to trauma, the devel-oping Ego, cannot reach the objective of dominat-ing their anxiety through game. As long as anxiety is lingering, it expresses itself by a continuous impulse for playing; but when anxiety becomes manifest, the game is interrupted and a regress in behaviour and thinking appears.

In puberty, Oedipus and Electra Complexes dominate the interior life, bringing to the fore the libidi-nal attractions (or rejections) in relation to the parents of the opposite sex (or the same sex). These instinctual situations may get disrupted and thus the latent anxieties may grow or new anxious – phobic states may be generated. Melanie Klein (1975) described psychoanalytically all the phases of anxiety genesis in girls and boys in “The Psychoanalysis of Children”.

The Freudian concepts and ideas that founded psychoanalysis have been adopted by fiction literature and by all the arts. Medicine and all the Psi sciences inspired themselves from, intersected with, or ben-efited from the psychoanalysts’ interpretations.

We may say that, concerning the extension of the knowledge on anxiety, S. Freud and the psychoanalysis schools developed what S. Kierkegaard had started, placing this concept closer to human mind and going to a deeper level of understanding.

A spiritual kin, continuator and exemplifier of S°/oren Kierkegaard, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is the narrator and thinker who became a pilgrim under the burden of his anxious imagination. The recognition of his literary genius took place in the period, when the analysis of his works placed him at the heights of glory, among the ranks of great writers of all times.

We know about him that he was a good pupil in German schools and that, at first, ini 901, he became a student in German Studies, then a Law student, under the pressures of his father. The image of Franz, as seen by his colleagues is that of a reserved, timid but friendly, kind and serious adolescent. He was much given to study, and too attached to Prague; he described his psychic childhood and youth in “TheTrial” as well as in the extraordinary “Letters to His Father”, composed in 1919. F. Kafka is a writer of an archaic bent, endowed with mythological experience and way of thinking. His inner images and thoughts were dominating, and he subjected himself to those bursts of ideas that were strânge, frightening, constantly re-curring, which he used to live with on a daily basis.

The anxious images and ideas, which haunted him, were uncontrollable; he only communicated them in writing and bore them, even searched for them and found them again with his inner eye, describing them incessantly. Out of his numerous writings, we feel that we are dealing with a profound writer, capable to create that particular Kafkian, symbolist vision and atmosphere.
The psychoanalytical explanations interpret Franz Kafka’s (F.K.) works as the records of the conflict with his father, but certain critics (Mariana Şora, R. Enescu, Al. Sahighian and others) appreciate that the writer had contoured an image which surpassed by far that of the real father, reaching mythical pro-portions which describe the father’s conflict with his sons. The letter took inspiration from the symbol of Chronos devouring his sons. Kafka described that symbolic engorgement, since it was fatally unfavourable to a child’s development. He appreciated that the presence of father was overwhelming, darkening the whole horizon, enclosing and limiting the sons thinking, whose development became awkward, inhibited and blocked.

Here are some fragments from the bloodcurdling letter: “Dear father, you have asked me recently why I am afraid of you. You accuse me of coldness… es-trangement, ingratitude…” As a child, Franz had wanted “the taming of the incessant reproaches” of his father. “As a father you were too strong for me. I was a shy child, of course, a stubborn one; of course, mother had spoiled me. You had on me exactly the influence, which necessarily you had to exert, but I was crushed by this influence.” The authoritarian father subjected his son to severe educative measures, and Franz would write, “Since then I had been left with an inner wound. After many years, I still used to suffer at the tormenting idea that my father, that huge man, the supreme authority, takes my out on the balcony at night, therefore in his eyes I did not mean anything. I would have needed a little encour-agement, a little friendship, facilitation of my own path – and instead of all these, you had closed my way Anyway, I was crushed by your simple physical presence. I was a weakling, all skin and bones; you were strong, big, and corpulent”. That was a pitiful situation because for Franz, father was the “measure of all things”. Moreover, “all my thinking was under your oppressive influence; even my thoughts did not fit yours”. Since very early, you have forbidden me, under severe punishment, to talkback. <1 do not want you to contradict me with any word> and your threat-ening raised arm has haunted me ever since I could remember. Your most efficient educaţional means, in what concerns me, have never failed: insults, threats, irony, malicious and strânge laughter, your seif – pity. The threats that referred to me used to be terrific, as for example, <1 shall tear you apart like o fish>. You were especially trustful of education through irony; it fitted your superiority best … You gradually man-aged to make me a scared, child, threatened from all parts”… “Ever since I have known myself, I had so deep anxieties concerning my own spiritual existence, that I treated everything else with indifference.” The writer had three unsuccessful engagements due to his indecision, his complex of inferiority, his doubts and anxieties. He realised that “from a mental point of view he was unable to marry”… “There is an opinion that the fear of marriage comes from the anxiety that your children will pay later for what you yourself have sinned against your parents … my feeling of guilt comes from you, father, and it is too penetrated by the consciousness of your uniqueness.” Signed by: Franz

The psychoanalysis of this long confession reveals a continuous psychic abuse and at the same time an in-terpretation of both subjects: the domineering father and the anxious son, both of them wishing to assert themselves – father as authority figure, son as a devel-oping personality For us who meet, study and treat children’s and adolescents’ anxieties and phobias, this letter, which is read as a literary epistolary work with a wide circulation – as, indeed Kafka’s whole work – is also a support in our specialty because it draws the attention to family relationships, to the role of father and especially to the suffering of an oppressed child. We may recommend this letter to all authoritarian and domineering fathers in order for them to under-stand the child’s capacity to process the relationships and traumas of childhood.
F. Kafka has modernised literature with his novels “The Castle”, “The Trial”, “America” and others, where he has expressed his talent enshrouded in the anxieties specific to his style with strânge representations, polyvalent metaphorical descriptions. In some of his descriptions he is the precursor of the anxieties which we will find again one century later in Herta Muller, who was terrified by the history of her life.
Kafka’s stormy life got stuck in 1921 when he started his treatment in different phthisiology sana-toriums and where he continued to write literature until his death in 1924.

Herta Muller was born on 17th August 1953 in Niţchidorf, a village from the Banat Plain, founded by German colonists in the 18th century Then as now, this village is a quiet place, well established, with hard-working and wealthy people. These Schwabian Germans had come along the Danube from the ar-eas ofThe Black Forest Mountains and they exploited the rich resources of the plains and made The Banat region flourish. As a child, Herta* was linked to her Banat and ethnic origins and she was taught in her family to Iove both of them, thus she feels a strong bound to her native place.

But, as she wrote in her novei “Herztier” (translated in English with the title “The Land of Green Plums”), she had known since she was a child that her father had been a military in the German army. “My father came into this world in a marching step. He gave the world cemeteries and left them rapidly. A lost war, an SS soldier who came back home… he made up cemeteries and then hurriedly he made a child”. Herta left her native village and went to town to Timişoara, charged with the anxieties of the paternal sin. In town, this anxiety perpetuated, being amplified by the fears and anxieties of other young German ethnics who were hunted as “enemies of the people”. She attended the “Nikolaus Lenau” Secondary School and the Fac-ulty of Philology from Timişoara. As a student, << because we were afraid, Edgard, Kurt, Georg, and I used to go to have our meals together everyday, but fear remained in each head so personal, exactly how we had brought it with us when we had met. In that fear, we would see more than we were allowed to.”

We may read the writer’s motivations, which she experienced while she was in town. “I used to see the Security offîcers strolling through the big streets, the markets, the shops, the park crowded with old people, the student hostels, the pubs, and the station. The passers-by recognized them from other encounters”. The four university colleagues would meet in the park so that they might speak freely. “We did not want to leave our country. If those whom we knew had left, the others could have stayed in the country”.

The writer was investigated by a captain, who ter-rorized her. << I had to sing for captain Piele. I sang without hearing my voice. From my own fear I fell into definite fear.” Being a German ethnic, “a man was following me everyday”. The investigator asked her “how is it like to go to bed with three men?” He mocks her how he wants, and whenever he wants, using the most trivial words. What an interrogation meant: “I took my clothes off at the captain’s order, who was search-ing for something suspect, then he made a written inventory of the objects: I was standing completely naked in the comer of the room, I had to sing the song. I was singing like water, nothing could offend me anymore”. Then, “dress up, said Captain Piele”. The novei describes terrorist methods with ransacks, dismissals from the work place, interrogations and declarations to militiamen and to security, starvation through lack of food, censored letters (“the letters were used in order to read the fear from our own head in the other’s letter”). Everything was organised so as to accuse, to terrify and to allow everyone to create their own anxiety Herta Miiller’s debut in Romania took place in 1982 with “Niederungen” (translated in English with the title “Nadirs”) which was massively censored, and which was published in Germany in 1984, uncen-sored. Her emigration, in 1987, from her native places, from her roots, from the small and quiet village with its well-managed households, stork nests, neighbours and relatives, with the loss of valuables was a deep dis-tress for Herta as for all the Germans.They, who came and enriched the Banat, left their land and houses, their traditions and were sold for German currency following an economic agreement between the Romanian and the German states.

We may consider Herta Muller as the continuator of the two masters in recognizing anxiety, S. K. and F.K.. She is the author of many literary creations, the great majority being inspired by her life in Romania. All of them establish the modern and direct style of the writer who presents her inner life in a new literary language. She is also laureate of many important prizes.

Here is the motivation of the Jury of the Swed-ish Academy for the year 2009: “The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to the writer Herta Muller, who with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose is depicting the landscape of the aggrieved, the emigrants and the dispossessed”. In her works, the reader feels her need to refine her anxieties through writing. As the German writer Helmuth Frauendor-fer, characterized her, as colleague and friend who emigrated in Germany from Sânandrei (Timiş), Herta disclosed the life of the Germans in Romania after World War II, depicting the anxious experiences that all of them had lived.

Now, after the Nobel prized for literature, Herta, who lived among us, has become a world famous personality She receives many invitations in the capital cities around the globe for conferences and titles of Doctor Honoris Causa. In 2010, she offered a book release and an interview in Bucharest with Gabriel Liiceanu. Any thought that Herta transcribes is charged with memories, questions, fears and anxieties. The reader of her works follows experiences and feels the atmosphere that she has created, assuming for him/herself those anxieties and injustices. Sometimes the writers style gives the impression of fragmenta-tion that is why it is recommended to read the respective piece of fiction again in order to decipher its symbols. The Anglo-American appraisals (Publishers WeeklyThe New York Times) of the “amorous wind-ing anxiety generated by the emigrants’ harassments, the lucid analysis of the street life and the longing for the native country provide an unforgettable wealth of images.”

“A magnificently rendered superb literature on dislocation, on the emigrant’s destiny”. Therefore, we hope that Herta Muller would continue to offer us other aspects of her literary talent, too.

Returning to the proposed topic, the literary analysis of anxiety, we may say that:
— Soren Kierkegaard was the first to make a literary and philosophical dissection of anxiety, pen-etrating per primam in the intimacies of this experience.
— Frank Kafka describes his own suite of anxieties, timidities, and doubts with repeated ideative re-turns to their parental and sociogenic causality.
— Herta Muller presents her anxieties and dis-contents which she transposes to her characters in a modern style. Not only does she name fear frequently in her texts (“angst”),but she transmits it contagiously and empathically to the reader, too.
S. Kierkegaard, F. Kafka şi H. Muller transposed anxiety on earth. They explained this experience as dependant on inter-human relationships from phy-logeny and ontogeny.

These great creators of literature who dealt with anxiety may be considered the classic parents of this human experience, which they became aware of and transposed in everyday life.

Thus, we have proved the benefit of the studying the history of literature – of writers and of their literary creations that describe instances of human anxiety – as well as the help offered by the Psi sciences in this field. Besides these literary analyses, the discover-ies supporting the cerebral and biochemical source of anxiety have recently been added. Moreover, the spiritual quality of anxiety is stated and with this, we re-turn to the presentations included in literary works.

 

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Correspondence to:
Constantin Lupu, Hipocrate Infantile Neuropsychiatry Cabinet, Dr. I. Nemoianu Str. nr. 9, 300100 Timisoara