Monday Book: Pre-shrunk history of the couch


THE HISTORY of philosophy, AN Whitehead once remarked, was a series of footnotes to Plato. In much the same way, the 100-year history of psychoanalysis can be seen as a series of footnotes to Freud. Joseph Schwartz offers a brief history of psychoanalysis alongside a robust defence against its many detractors. The book is packed with fascinating insights and controversial propositions; the only adequate response from a reviewer would be to write another book.

There have been many capsule histories of psychoanalysis, but Schwartz's is fresh and captivating. He is particularly good on figures who have been neglected in conventional accounts - Bowlby, Winnicott, Fairbairn, Riviere - though there is nothing about Erik Erikson or Sabina Spielrein, and nothing significant about that truly great figure, Erich Fromm. There is little about Jung after his break with Freud in 1912, but then the depth psychology that Jung developed thereafter had little to do with psychoanalysis proper.

Schwartz's main argument - that psychoanalysis has undergone a "paradigm shift", taking it from Freud's study of instincts and drives to a modern emphasis on human relations - is overstated. Freud's emphasis on genitality implied the value of human relationships as an end. In this he was unlike Jung, who thought the end of analysis should be a quasi-solipsistic "individuation process".

The difference underlay Jung's famous distinction between introverts and extroverts. Introverts derived value from subjectivity; extroverts defined themselves in relation to objects (by which Jung often seemed to mean other people). Schwartz rightly connects this distinction with the prejudice in our culture in favour of introverted "spirituality". Psychoanalysis, by contrast, tries to understand human emotions by reference to the material world; hence the oft-made distinction between Jung's "numinous" concerns and Freud's "atheistic materialism".

Schwartz maintains that suspicion towards psychoanalysis is mainly engendered by our reverence for "objective science". "To those who regard the world of human feeling as inherently unreliable, who distrust the novel and poetry as sources of human knowledge, the claims of psychoanalysis will always be unsatisfactory."

The point is well made. How could you use the principles of physics to prove that Hamlet, Moby Dick, or The Brothers Karamazov were "true"? The demand to "prove it!" is the mantra of the half-educated. As Hume said, practically everything we take for granted cannot be "proved"; there is only a variety of evidence that can be interpreted in different ways.

Schwartz, a distinguished scientist before he became a clinician, takes the attack into enemy territory. He is scathing about the claims of modern molecular psychopharmacology to have made psychoanalysis obsolete. Even if we ignore drug firms and their claims as market capitalism, Prozac and other "wonder drugs" treat symptoms rather than deep causes.

Vulgar science, with its emphasis on empiricism, is committed to the view that symptoms are causes. Hence the hostility of empiricism, with its denial of deep structures, to any dualistic system, be it Plato's distinction of appearance and reality, Marx's of base and superstructure or Freud's of conscious and unconscious. Psychopharmacology, Schwartz says, is "the dream of a magic bullet... a 19th-century Romantic illusion from the great days of the isolation of bacterial agents of disease".

Schwartz sometimes telescopes his arguments, and does not always resist the temptation to use the crutch of jargon. Sometimes, too, profound insights are juxtaposed with pedestrian remarks. I was particularly disappointed to note those hoary old cliches "patriarchy" and the "invisibility of women". Schwartz even suggests, surely with tongue in cheek, that hostility to psychoanalysis may arise because dealing with human emotions is perceived as "women's work". The old idea of "resistance" is thereby parlayed into misogynism.

Yet he triumphantly makes his case that no one has bettered the analytic hour as a means of dealing with human misery and trauma. Psychoanalysts, he says, are the 20th century's garbage collectors, trying to heal the pain caused by the most barbarous century in history. Outside organised religion, no one else does this work or considers it important.

Cassandra could see the future clearly but was punished by Apollo, who decreed she would never be believed. Cassandra's daughter, aka psychoanalysis, grasps a truth about the human condition and is punished by being derided. But as long as its practitioners are people of the calibre of Joseph Schwartz, it can take accusations of charlatanry in its stride.

The reviewer's biographies include a life of CG Jung

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