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Psychoanalysis and Its Passions

by John Forrester

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-674-53960-5
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

 Six long, probing essays on Freudian psychoanalysis and its cultural legacy, which stand in welcome contrast to some of the recent facile debunkings of Freudianism. Forrester (coauthor of Freud's Women, not reviewed; History and Philosophy of Science/Cambridge Univ.) writes on topics ranging from justice and envy to the deeper meaning of the sculptures and other objects from classical antiquity that Freud collected. He is particularly adept at making cross-cultural and interdisciplinary links, noting, for example, that both the neo-Freudian Melanie Klein and St. Augustine understood the notion of envy as deriving from the infant's resentment at dependency on the seemingly ever- flowing breast and the fear of losing its supply of sustenance. While Forrester's prose is sometimes quite difficult, it's never ponderous, and can even be entertaining. And in the title essay, perhaps the book's best, he responds in careful, measured tones to such contemptuous anti-Freudian polemicists as Frederick Crews and Stanley Fish. These and other critics who fault psychoanalysis for pretending to be a ``natural science'' while lacking empirical verifiability misunderstand its essential nature, Forrester contends. Psychoanalysis is not and never was a science, he argues, but rather a tool intended to help ordinary people achieve greater self-understanding; its significance can be found largely in popular culture. And while it has scientific elements, it also is almost unique in that its ``meaning'' can't be captured academically; the most subjective of the human sciences, psychoanalysis must be experienced before it can be judged. The great merit of Forrester's book is that it takes both Freud and his critics seriously. The author is both rigorous about classical psychoanalysis's limitations and deeply respectful of its enormous contributions to our culture and specifically our understanding of the self. He has made a profound, sometimes scintillating, contribution to the history of this most multifaceted science and craft.