Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

"To Purify the Dialect of the Tribe" *: An Essay Review on Two Current Works in the Psychoanalytic Field, and Their Bearing on Psychohistory

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

"To Purify the Dialect of the Tribe" *: An Essay Review on Two Current Works in the Psychoanalytic Field, and Their Bearing on Psychohistory

Article excerpt

Freud and the Sexual: Essays 2000-2006, Jean Laplanche, New York: International Psychoanalytic Books, 2011.

Political Freud: A History, Eli Zaretsky, New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

Most psychohistorians keep a certain ring of keys close at hand. These are our theories, which we deploy to unlock the elusive and complex mysteries of our world: specifically, historical change, political turmoil, family dynamics, and internal conflicts of key figures. The invaluable keys have had varied origins. Some are indigenous to our field: Lloyd deMause's Evolution of Parenting Modes comes to mind; others are adapted from mixed sources, such as Group Fantasy and the Role of the Leader as Delegate. The question of how capable are those theories, is worth raising from time to time, if only to keep us current and focused on maintaining our keys in good operating order.

The two books under review offer opportunities for catching up on developments in the psychoanalytic field and for revisiting our own discipline's overlapping issues. Prominent French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche has an extensive scholarly record in the field, most notably, The Language of Psychoanalysis (with J.B. Pontalis, NY: Norton, 1967), outstanding among the guides and dictionaries appearing in recent years. Eli Zaretsky is a professor of history at the New School for Social Research with an extensive record in the applied field, notably Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis.

But first we should drop back and consider how the interplay between our field and Freud's has been seminal for our theories (think "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego" [1921]), and recall how we have repaid this debt in our fashion by putting Freud on the couch along with the history of his revolutionary movement and its spreading branches of heretics and disciples-at which point the couch and the overcrowded consulting room have morphed into a scholarly library. It may be surprising to find ourselves confronting such a plurality of voices, turf battles, vigorous debates, and hair-splitting semantics in light of Freud's own writings being honored with the Goethe Prize in 1930. But even allowing for overdetermined interpretations and personal stakes, we can appreciate how Freud's challenging thought evolved over the decades and continues to provoke.

Despite his literary affinities, Freud had always deemed himself a scientist and from the outset allied psychoanalysis to the sciences. His professional identity, which grew out of his early scientific training, was likely bolstered by attacks on his credentials. Krafft-Ebing quipped that Freud's 1896 lectures on hysteria "sound like a scientific fairy-tale" (Ernest Jones, The Life and the Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 1, NY: Basic Books, 1953, p. 263). All the same, the scientific allegiance led to unforeseen troubles down the road. James Strachey, for example, translating Freud into English, opted for a scientific-sounding lexicon by deploying technical-terms like cathexis for a strong emotional attachment along with abreaction and cathartic for release of repressed material (see Laplanche's 1967 entries).

The task of purifying the tribe's mixed dialects began as soon as the personal interfaced with the scientific. Bruno Bettelheim weighed in with a detailed critique of Strachey, showing, for example, that Freud's frequent recourse to Seele for "soul" was rendered as "mind" (Freud and Man's Soul, NY: Knopf, 1982). At present, Adam Phillips is overseeing a new translation of the Standard Edition by enlisting literary humanists among others. Whether this will improve the situation or veer to the opposite extreme with psychoanalysis reduced to a branch of the humanities remains to be seen. But worth noting in passing is the history of catharsis, which stems from Aristotle's theories of tragedy: fixed boundaries can occasionally permit open access. Meanwhile, the case that psychoanalysis fails to meet scientific criteria has gained ground in recent decades and has provocatively if somewhat confusingly been answered by suggesting Freud had changed the scientific paradigm. …

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