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Book Forum: PSYCHOANALYSIS   |    
Influential Papers From the 1920s
Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:1766-1767. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1766
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Birmingham, U.K.

Edited by R.D. Hinshelwood. London, Karnac Books, 2004, 280 pp., $45.00 (paper).

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This collection is the second of the Key Papers Series from the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, which is "intended to provide an overview of the development of psychoanalysis, as articulated through its principal scholarly journal." The authors are all first-generation Freudian analysts, Freud himself being purposely excluded. Although these papers have virtually no direct clinical relevance to contemporary psychiatric or psychotherapy practice, the book is a marvel of sorts, by turns fascinating and frustrating to read.

1921 saw the birth of Ernest Jones’s International Journal of Psychoanalysis, the new field’s first English-language journal. The scene is difficult to imagine. There is no translated Standard Edition of Freud’s works; the founding prophet is still writing from Vienna. "Superego" is among his latest ideas. Melanie Klein remains safely ensconced in Berlin, now the cultural center of the movement. She and her yellow hat will not hit the lecture halls of London for several more years. The Melanie Klein-Anna Freud schism has yet to occur, and my hero among the classic analytic writers, D.W. Winnicott, is a young pediatrician soon to begin his own analysis with James Strachey.

Everyone is very serious and very excited. In the aftermath of the Great War there is an unstated sense of urgency. If this new "science" can get to the bottom of things, perhaps another such disastrous outpouring of "Instinct" can be avoided. But there is also a childlike delight among these authors as they play with their shiny new conceptual toys. Initiates into a mystified knowledge, they invoke magic words like "penis envy" and "object-libido" with a glee that anticipates the use of "hegemony" or "essentialism" by devotees of more recent movements.

Some of the unique excitement of the time recorded here also came, of course, from the true import of the prophet Freud’s revelation: that something magical can occur when one human being sits down to listen to another without direction, preconception, or judgment. That dream and fantasy lead us to unexpected levels of understanding and the possibility that the developing transference may recapitulate deeply embedded patterns of relationship. This generation of authors was the first group to share these experiences in common.

Like every other movement that ever attached itself to a prophet, however, it soon went terribly wrong. The followers proceeded to build a conceptual edifice around these fundamental discoveries that depended on their shared imaginings about what was going on in their consulting rooms. This amounted, finally, to a group delusion that always found what it was looking for: "castration anxieties," "oral-sadistic fixations," "urethral erotism," and, above all, "oedipal longings." Offhand comments from Freud were quoted to "establish" the basis for whole new flights of speculation. As the authors in this book make up their theory out of whole cloth it becomes almost painful to read, although, in the case of Karl Abraham, it can also amuse. Of people who were "overindulged in the sucking period," he writes that "their whole conduct in life shows that they expect the mother’s breast to flow for them eternally, so to speak" (p. 199).

There is a section on child analysis. The very first child analyst, Hermine von Hug-Hellmuth (who has an interesting paper here), was murdered in 1924 by a nephew she had raised "according to psychoanalytical principles." This scandalous comeuppance provides the unstated backdrop for an inaugural square-off recorded in these pages between the radical Klein, who continued to advocate for "full" analyses of young children, and Anna Freud, who recommended a leavening with "pedagogical measures."

In a section on female sexuality, future apostate Karen Horney here confines herself to a polite reinterpretation of the "castration complex" in women. She wryly observes that "an assertion that one-half of the human race is discontented with the sex assigned to it…is decidedly unsatisfying" (p. 110). Joan Rivière’s insightful case presentation "Womanliness as a Masquerade" is marred by her certainty that it all comes down to her subject’s urge to bite off and possess her father’s "invincible sword" (pp. 134–135). Today’s reader must convert such language into metaphor in order to tolerate it, and past a point one ceases to bother.

Sandor Ferenczi alone shines through confidently as an original thinker here, in his own paper and even in a critique by Edward Glover. Ferenczi dared ask such questions as, Is insight always necessary? May the therapist ever be justified in acting symbolically within the transference rather than interpreting it? When can treatment be shortened? His thanks for anticipating the drift of much later theory (e.g., Mahler, Winnicott, Kohut) was to be marginalized within the movement.

It is often observed that the history of psychoanalysis resembles the history of a religious movement far more than that of a science. Bringing up the rear with a paper on lay analysis, Ernest Jones, in this connection, represents a familiar figure: the politician-systematizer who follows after the prophet, codifying the rules and deciding who’s in and who’s out. He advocates, contra Freud, for medical dominance in analysis. At the beginning of a new movement, he patiently explains, "beggars can’t be choosers," but now that analysis is established, the "cranks, failures…and various abnormal types" can be safely purged from the ranks through promotion of an Institute-based training system run primarily by physicians (pp. 255–256). Jones here reminds me of nothing so much as a fourth-century bishop ordering that the riffraff be removed from the church grounds.

Thus, the transition from revelation to bureaucracy was already well underway. Prophet Freud, who had endured intellectual and professional isolation for decades, may well have seen this process occurring, but its rewards were evidently too great for him to oppose the cultural momentum of a vital young movement with himself at its revered center. And so the analytic institutes grew, conferring their newfound legitimacy on succeeding generations. Although these generations would produce some towering innovators, there would be increasing strain in de-literalizing and bending the old analytic categories, stretching them to fit around new ideas. How far these concepts can be stretched and reinterpreted before they break remains to be seen.

In sum, although many of today’s busy psychiatrists will find little of use to them here, those who have discovered that the history of intellectual and religious movements illuminates our work will be well rewarded by a perusal of this book.




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