Michael Eigen explores the links between ‘soul sickness’, madness, and mystical experience

Eigen in Seoul: Volume One – Madness and Murder


Many years ago a man came up to me after a talk at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis and gave me a book he authored on the malady of the Korean soul. The book addressed soul sickness that can deplete the personality, sink a life, but also lead to creative work, poetry, dance, perhaps the very book this man gave me. Such a deep malady linked to the pain of existence, the pain of living, endless longing, loss, joy, overlapping with Garcia Lorca’s “Duende”.

This man’s name is Jae hoon Lee and years later I received an invitation from him to visit Seoul and give a seminar at an institute he founded, the Object Relations Institute for Psychoanalysis in Seoul. I like my everyday life and don’t accept too many travel invitations, but this one rang a bell. A member of my New York City seminar recently taught there and had a wonderful experience. I decided to go in 2007 and I’m more than glad I went. Students, faculty and others who came shared deep sincerity and need and we quickly found each other. We bonded in mutual search and followed psychic threads where they led.

Seoul Murder

Seoul Murder

The name of the Korean soul malady is Han. It fit aspects of my own lifelong concern with madness, human destructiveness, mystical experience, creativity, the grace of beauty and joy. My talks began with the role of madness in Freud’s work, then traced the work of madness in Klein, Winnicott and Bion. As the seminar progressed, I chose passages from Winnicott and Bion to read together, enlarging on what we found. We worked together 18 hours over three days, so that intensity built.

As we spoke together, social, personal and clinical concerns melded, tears were shed, moments of enlightenment occurred, problems were joined or, at least, acknowledged. We were all challenged by our own natures, with the quandary of who we are and what to do with ourselves. There are problems that can’t be stated, perhaps can’t be known with the equipment we now have, and I suspect we nibbled at their edges. We touched interlocking threads of destruction and faith, brokenness and healing. At the end of the seminar, not visible in the book, we joined hands around the auditorium and sang together, unusual for a psychoanalytic/psychotherapy meeting, but true to what we went through, the struggle, the uplift.

The seminar was videotaped and transcribed by Joon ho Lee, a student at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. My wife, Betty Eigen, edited the transcript for readability without altering the flow of the event. All 18 hours of the seminar in 2007 are included. A second 18 hour seminar given in 2009 is in process of being transcribed and edited.

My hope is this work supports readers in their own engagement with life and psychic reality. We need to develop our sense of the latter if we are going to be less destructive with each other, personally and as a species. We need courage and faith in face of our own natures and a gradually evolving sense of how to interact with our makeup. I hope this book inspires but also adds to our sober assessment of what we are up against, what we can do, and respect and care for the quality of the precious experiential capacity we have.

Michael Eigen


Michael Eigen, Eigen in Seoul: Volume 1: Madness and Murder, Karnac Books (2010)

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