Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

A Psychoanalytic Odyssey: Painted Guinea Pigs, Dreams, and Other Realities

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

A Psychoanalytic Odyssey: Painted Guinea Pigs, Dreams, and Other Realities

Article excerpt

A psychoanalytic odyssey: Painted guinea pigs, dreams, and other realities by Eugene J. Mahon Karnac Books, London, 2014; 223 pp; $40.95

This book is in many ways a masterpiece of clinical writing: beautifully and clearly presented, it offers a coherent viewpoint drawn from vivid clinical vignettes of adults and children engaged in psychoanalysis. The author links various clinical phenomena (mourning in children, repression, insight, transference, play, dreamwork, screen memories, symptoms and character) as he attempts to counter a tendency that he sees within the modern literature to ignore the centrality of insight, interpretation and working through. Mahon sets his task as that of looking at these topics with "renewed excitement" (p. xvii), and indeed, he brings these issues alive in ways that will intrigue even the most experienced analyst. His writing is so strong, his ideas presented with so little jargon, that the book could also be used as an introduction for new analysts to the field.

Mahon writes from a conflict theory/ego psychological viewpoint augmented by a strong developmental perspective, and offers a number of fresh and quite interesting insights into classical theory and technique. I wish that he had widened his scope, however, to include additional topics that reasonably preoccupy modern analysts. If Mahon had discussed his thoughts about analyzing patients whose relationship with the analyst is informed by significant trauma or by its intergenerational transmission, for example, or who show "a lack of differentiation between analysand and analyst [that] can masquerade as transference when in fact something far more primitive needs to be addressed clinically" (p. xix), it would have extended the impact of this book within our field further.

Mahon begins the book with the question of whether and how children mourn. While this initially seems a puzzling place to start, the question, and his answers to it, very much structure the chapters that follow on central topics in interpretive analytic work. Mahon begins with an engaging description of an elementary school class dealing with the death of its guinea pig, and examines the processes by which children respond to the deaths of secondary, and then of primary objects: "The child's internalizations are still relatively dependent on the primary object attachments; his development, far from settled, continues to pull in the direction of growth and maturation. He will mourn in another way, commensurate with his level of development and psychic organization: he will be sad, in an active way. He will 'surround' his sadness with current developmental issues. He will mourn on a skateboard" (p. 12). Lively clinical material illustrates Mahon's point that the child's utterances, play and observed behavior demonstrate a mourning process informed by the tools available to the child.

The author then segues to the central point of the book: that the mind which initially "wants to deceive itself ..." (p. 13) in regard to the impact of loss "is also the mind that is eager to enlighten itself. If repression is the initial instinctive reaction to psychic pain, banished insight is not content to remain in exile forever." The tension between the psychic force that opts for repression, and the psychic force that insists on insight and enlightenment" (p. 13) inform Mahon's focus for much of this book.

As he turns his attention specifically to repression, Mahon notes that Freud's descriptions of the "return of the repressed" have often been viewed classically as signifying a failure of repression. He emphasizes this "return" as occurring often in "a myriad of representatives of the repressed that parade themselves before the ego with a subtlety that renders them practically invisible to the ego's radar system" (p. 17), and asks: "Is there no way to dramatize this feature of repression from a more active, more functional point of view than portraying it as a failure? …

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