A French psychoanalyst takes a decidedly literary approach to the classification of different terms used in his profession.
A man of letters as well as of science, Pontalis wrote for Sartre’s journal Les Temps Modernes in the 1950s and ’60s, then founded La Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse and edited it through the early ’80s. Ultimately, however, he is best known for his collaboration with Jean Laplanche, The Language of Psychoanalysis. Published in 1967 and still in print in the US, the book was, translator Quinney notes, “the first full-scale systematic reference guide to psychoanalytic terminology.” Pontalis has also published a trio of novels in France that draw on his experience as an analyst. This time out, however, he has endeavored neither to list a systematic terminology of mental quirks and problems nor to fictionalize neuroses. Instead he provides an uneasy mishmash of memoir, diary, and musing in a slim volume of short entries each headed by a word or phrase that could apply in either the analytic or business side of his practice. (“The Sleeper,” “Dreaming Thought,” “They Stole My Concept!”) Insouciant ease and lighthearted carelessness are the dominant moods, even when Pontalis grouses about his odd irritation with insomniacs (“everything becomes a worry to them”) or wonders whether it is better to lie the patient down or sit face-to-face. In a sense mocking the very idea that such things could ever be reduced to encyclopedia-style entries, Pontalis’s prose flows freely and musically, wandering across the page with no particular place to go and no reason to get there. As such, it seems more like a pillow book of midnight scratchings.
The introduction sums it up: “It reads as if it were written first and foremost for the author himself and only secondarily for his readers.”