Realism as Sickness Toward Understanding Human Distructiveness
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 A psychological treatise of some originality and depth that shoots itself in the foot through the absurdity of its applications. Gruen (The Betrayal of the Self, 1988), a German psychoanalyst practicing in Switzerland, sets out to overhaul the Freudian understanding of violence as an innate human drive. He maintains instead that destructiveness is the product of self-hatred, which invariably can be traced to childhood anger over the exercise of parental authority--or, more precisely, over parents' tacit demand that their authority be recognized as absolute. The immediate result is a confusion of identity, through which the child tries to take on parents' desires and expectations and deny its own. The underlying resentment that builds up, and that tries to tear down the ``false self'' that has been erected, is often interpreted as a form of self-destruction. Gruen maintains that it is in fact a form of self-assertion, one that can be thwarted only at great psychic cost. On a theoretical level, his case holds together, but it is hardly backed up by the examples that he offers, which amount to little more than a catalogue of left-wing paranoias. The origin of Gruen's thesis seems to be connected with the spectacle of German fascism--which forced the author and his family to flee Europe in the 1930's--but he never really tries to identify what social conditions in Germany at that time fostered psychological deformity on such a titanic scale. It also stretches credibility to have Richard Nixon held up as an exemplar of the same schizophrenia that produced the Nazis (``Every one of Nixon's actions throughout his political career was characterized by contempt for humanity''). A chapter on Peer Gynt puts Gruen on more reliable ground, letting him illustrate his points with less ideological distraction- -probably the most persuasive section of a generally unconvincing effort. A private and highly idiosyncratic meditation on the nature of evil, masquerading as clinical psychology.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8021-1169-6
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992