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The Human Nature Review 2001 Volume 1: 61-62 ( 16 December )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/01/freud.html
Freud and Psychoanalysis
By Nick Rennison
Pocket Essentials Ideas
Reviewed by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, University of Haifa, Israel.
What could you say about Freud and psychoanalysis in ninety-five pages? The text starts on page seven and there are plenty of blank spaces, so the book turns out to have only seventy-five pages of real text. The author is not a specialist, but a gifted journalist and editor, who has previously written on various subjects. When judging such brief introductions to any eponymic theory, my criteria include first the error rate (up to five percent is always acceptable), the presence (or absence) of real howlers, and then the gossip-to-substance ratio. Such works are bound to be superficial, but their value lies in both introducing basic vocabulary and steering the reader further to more substantial works.
I started out reading the text with some misgivings after seeing the publisher’s press release, which started with “Freud took cocaine. Not only did he take it, but he also prescribed it to many of his patients in his early years” (The rest of the press release is just as bad, and worse). This claim is totally without foundation, of course, and the book itself does not make it, but it reflects a certain sensationalism, which marks its presentation of people and ideas.
This makes the book rather uneven in quality. When discussing Freud’s family, friends, and colleagues, Rennison devotes a whole page to Minna Bernays, Freud’s sister-in-law (just gossip by Jung who claimed she was Freud’s lover), less space than that is given to Anna Freud, and more than that to Karl Gustav Jung. Otto Gross receives pride of place together with Wilhelm Reich, the first almost completely forgotten and the second marginal in terms of the development of psychoanalytic ideas, despite his recognized brilliance.
There are errors that can easily get detected and corrected. Mourning and Melancholia was published in 1917, not 1915, but while getting the date wrong, Rennison does get the basic idea right. But here is a real howler: On p. 86, in the Glossary, the author introduces the “Electra complex” as “the female equivalent of the Oedipus complex”. This is totally wrong. On three separate occasions, starting in 1920, Freud strongly objected to the use of this term, which is not part of any real psychoanalytic vocabulary (see Freud’s Standard Edition Vol. 18, p. 155, Vol. 21, p. 229, and Vol. 23, p. 194).
The best part of the book is Further Resources, where the reader is directed to Freud’s own writings, biographies, short introductions, and websites. If you are considering assigning your students a brief introduction to Freud’s ideas, Wollheim’s 1991 book remains a favorite. Reading Rennison’s book, however, may stimulate curiosity and will not cause irreparable damage.
Buy this book from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
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© Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi.
Beit-Hallahmi, B. (2001). Review of Freud and Psychoanalysis by Nick Rennison. Human Nature Review. 1: 61-62.
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