Compromise Formations: Current Directions in Psychoanalytic Criticism

By Vera J. Camden | Go to book overview

Redefining the Revenant:
Guilt and Sibling Loss in
Guntrip and Freud

Peter L. Rudnytsky

Harry Guntrip's (1975) record of his analytic experiences with W. R. D. Fairbairn and D. W. Winnicott is at once a moving autobiographical document and an important theoretical discussion of the nature of therapeutic action in psychoanalysis. Central to Guntrip's paper, and his motivation for seeking analysis in the first place, is "a total amnesia for a severe trauma at the age of three and a half years, over the death of a younger brother," Percy (447). Recognizing that it was this trauma which led him to become a psychotherapist, Guntrip convincingly argues that "it seems that our theory must be rooted in our psychopathology," and instances as proof of this interplay between personal suffering and scientific insight "Freud's courageous self-analysis at a time when all was obscure" (467). Although Guntrip's was not literally a self-analysis—he had over one thousand sessions with Fairbairn in the 1950s and over 150 with Winnicott in the 1960s—part of his purpose is to investigate the continuing effects of an analysis after termination in order to assess its therapeutic efficacy. Emulating Freud's courage, Guntrip distills the lessons of his encounters with two masters in a luminous piece of self-analysis.

In addition to the self-analytic component of his essay, Guntrip resembles Freud in the biographical accident of sibling loss. As is well known, Freud was profoundly affected by the death in infancy of his younger brother Julius, at a time when he himself was just under two years of age. Although mentioned in the memory-laden letter to Fliess of 3 October 1897, and later recalled in a 1912 letter to Ferenczi, the death of

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