Seminal psychoanalyst Kohut gets a good dose of humanist Kohutian analysis in this searching, astute biography from Strozier (Apocalypse, 1994).
Starting with his youth (as any good analysis should), Strozier subjects Kohut’s life to psychoanalytic scrutiny—“Kohut’s self-psychological understanding of his fantasies and his masturbation in relationship to his mother put the stress instead on depression and hopelessness that his mother’s intrusiveness evoked in him”—but the meat of this study concentrates on Kohut’s reformist activities. Although he considered himself Mr. Psychoanalysis immediately after joining the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, he was already incubating some notions regarding “the essential contradiction of psychoanalysis: it was a science of empathy disguised in the garb of positivism.” This led him to embrace his patients as human beings rather than victims of drives, and to create a theory of self that allowed for “the jettisoning of drive theory while retaining the idea of multiple perspectives; opening up a new approach to development that makes the Oedipus complex irrelevant; defining trauma without libido; and developing a new set of clinical ideas about dealing with a sicker class of patients from those usually treated by psychoanalysis.” His work on narcissism, rage, courage, and charisma is broken down into digestible pieces for the layman, as is all the beard-pulling and internecine squabbling that Kohut had to address as president of the American Psychoanalytic Association. While Strozier’s writing rarely sings, it does possess a choppy syncopation that is easy to read, chock-a-block with information, and not without a wicked humor—as in this comment on Kohut’s disastrous first day as an intern: “Kohut managed not to kill too many more patients after that and successfully completed his internship by the end of March 1941.”
The richly probing results of a profound immersion in the Kohutian psychoanalytic universe, one that tried to put a human face on Freudian positivism.