SELF PSYCHOLOGY AND THE HUMANITIES: Reflections on a New Psychoanalytic Approach by

SELF PSYCHOLOGY AND THE HUMANITIES: Reflections on a New Psychoanalytic Approach

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A posthumous collection of several unpublished and four previously published papers by the leading psychoanalyst of self psychology, all edited by Charles B. Strozier, a professor of history and Kohut's close colleague. For the most part, the many unpublished papers herein (called ""fragmentary writings on psychohistory"" by Kohut) were still in unedited first draft at his death and needed much editing, and the book's concluding seven interviews or conversations taped by Strozier with Kohut, the last he gave before his death, are ""heavily edited."" What is self psychology? Comments Strozier: ""Even a term as basic as 'self' means one thing between 1966 and about 1974 and something quite different from then on. As editor I have naturally not interfered with such inconsistencies."" This book collects Kohut's writings and teachings about the role of the individual, as well as of the ""group self,"" in history, art, religion, and politics--or the humanities. Each man and each historical group has a ""nuclear self"" and for demonstrations of these, Kohut looks to the tragic hero, such as Shakespeare's Hamlet or Kafka's ""Mr. K.,"" to Proust's narrator who seeks to recapture a non-Freudian past (he's not out to uncover Oedipal material and alleviate guilt), and to Hitler's rise in Germany. Kohut admires Eugene O'Neill's lines in The Great God Brown: ""Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue."" In Kohut's terms, man in the ""emotional flatness and sterility"" of the 20th century is born guilty, fragmented, alone, depressed and yearning, and turns to ""drugs, sex, noise or whatever to fill the void,"" while parallel advances in science and culture shift him from the guilty to the tragic. The nuclear self of an individual is attuned to the nuclear self of his society. One needs to see plainly the continuity of the self from childhood to the present, but that self has been formed in accord with his nation's self. Two selves--two kinds of history--exist side by side and interact. Kohut shows how the fluid outlines of paranoia in Hitler sucked up the guilt and humiliation of the German people, after their massive defeat in WW I and subsequent widespread demoralization, and gave them a powerful rebirth, secure focus of energy, and what Kohut would call ""idealizable selfobjects"" of culture: an art, politics, religion and so on which appropriately mirrored the people's needs. However, Kohut thought this essentially fruitless, because Nazi Germany--humorlessly focused on becoming whole and invincible--was only ""an interlude,"" not meaningfully creative. Kohut's essays herein explore the nature of courage, leadership, narcissism, creativeness, charisma, group psychology, narcissistic rage, idealization and cultural selfobjects, humor as a defense against craziness, religion, ethics, values, and much more. When he is on target--much of the time--he is a great awakener, spellbindingly cultured, generous, idea-rich, and gives you a good strong pinch where you had most fallen asleep. But when the secret snake-oil of psychoanalysis begins leaking down the page, one feels duped and wants to strangle and kill. With study, the clear places should brighten the darker alleys.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1985
Publisher: Norton