GENERATIONS APART by Leon Sheleff
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GENERATIONS APART

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The ripples and rough waters of oedipal conflict, especially in children and adolescents, have been charted in print for close to 80 years; but few writers have looked closely at the other side--the parents' part in this cyclical drama. In this persistent and original work, Sheleff (Tel Aviv Univ.) uses two major points--evidences of adult hostility toward the young and flaws in Freud's Oedipus complex construct--to put forward a theory of two-way generational conflict, offering an argument far more penetrating than the generation-gap trivialities of the late 1960s. Sheleff is not questioning the existence of Oedipal feelings, but he dislikes the too-eager application of the complex to, say, adolescent rebellion; moreover, he suggests that much adult behavior (e.g., the way the juvenile justice system is administered) emerges as far more hostile--in fact, as systematically biased against youth and, therefore, provocative. The hostility arises in part from personal experience, in part from political organization, economics, and cultural factors including the real rigors of parenting in modern society. Sheleff's examples are excellent, his layered characterization of parenting is precise, and his documentation is thoroughly resourceful: he looks critically at a variety of social studies (Carnegie Commission reports, psychohistories, the writings of Marcuse, Norman O. Brown, Feuer, de Mause) and also draws on fiction (Dostoevsky, Dickens), mythology, and other relevant sources. Freud's work he finds important but incomplete, and biased in this same way. In concentrating on Oedipus Rex, for example, Freud ignored the rest of the trilogy--a sequence of intense generational conflicts in which adults often acted first. Sheleff, inspired by a Persian myth, offers the Rustum complex as a theoretical framework, within the family and on a societal level, for his adult profile. It is, in many ways, more satisfying--and certainly more fully fashioned--than the Laius complex of Suttie and others. Sheleff's brief for youth as a deprived--or at least discriminated against--minority is built on a broad foundation, and his view of parenthood as intrinsically ambivalent is also firmly presented. This is an enterprising, closely argued work, rich in insights and critical illuminations.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1981
Publisher: McGraw-Hill