A History of Psychoanalysis

By Joseph Schwartz

Viking. 339 pp. $28.95

This is how odd this book is: After wading through one of the most tortuous first chapters (of anything, anywhere) it is possible to imagine; after reading harrowing accounts of how Henry A. Cotton, as superintendent of Trenton State Hospital, undertook to cure the mentally ill in his care by ordering the extraction of 10,000 of their teeth between 1919 and 1921; after reading through a gratuitous seven-page history of the Workers' Revolution and subsequent White Retaliation in Budapest during approximately those same two years (a narrative that seeks, perhaps with undue chivalry, to justify the over-the-top theories of Melanie Klein), the reader of "Cassandra's Daughter" is confronted with this remarkable admission in the author's concluding chapter: In his history of psychoanalysis, he's left out any discussion of Jung, because he doesn't want to be bothered.

"We have a lot to learn from Jung's insights into how we are formed collectively, both in our collective unconscious and our collective conscious," Joseph Schwartz tells us. "But the way that Jung has theorized his understanding is too confusing, too rooted in Western religious traditions for me, as a third-generation atheist, to grasp." So Jung is too "confusing." But Schwartz has left in his account of, for instance, Jacques Lacan's approach to this field: "Lacan's vocabulary was informed by private rather than shared meanings so that his writing is invariably opaque, disintegrated, a result of an impossible goal to create a language uncontaminated by prevailing social arrangements. His attempt has inevitably been experienced as psychotic and does simulate psychosis in its repudiation of normal discourse."

I know, Jacques Lacan is "important" and holds a place in contemporary literary criticism as well as psychoanalysis, but to leave out Jung (after he breaks with Freud) and leave in Lacan? What kind of "history" is this? (And--now that I think of it--what about Wilhelm Reich?) "Cassandra's Daughter" is definitely "a" history, instead of "the" history, because, again, Schwartz includes what he likes and excludes what he doesn't.

Thus we get some of the most puzzlingly constructed sentences: Melanie Klein "had not yet begun to examine the deep inferiority that was to become the signature of her work, but she introduced another dominant theme, the desirability of preventive child analyses." ("Inferiority" is the signature of Klein's work? In light of what Schwartz says about the "psychosis" of Lacan, what's that supposed to mean?) We read some of the cheesiest gossip: Ernest Jones complains to Freud himself that Joan Riviere, both patient and psychoanalyst, "devoted herself to torturing me without any intermission and with considerable success and ingenuity, being a fiendish sadist." (Is that how "professionals" are supposed to chat about their clients, and how much of that still goes on in this profession?) We're also pelted with showers of "facts" that lead nowhere: In a discussion of Marie Langer, the Austro-Argentinian psychoanalyst who worked with victims of Argentina's repressive government in the 1970s, the author takes us back to Langer's graduate school days at the University of Zurich. One of her professors was Eugenie Schwarzwald, who hired some "good, Marxist scholars," including "Aline Klatschko Furtmuller, wife of Carl Furtmuller and organizer of the Furtmuller Sunday Evenings attended by the politically minded psychoanalysts in prewar Vienna. In the 1920s Furtmuller was a Social Democratic city councillor in addition to her post at the Schwarzwald Schule."

So this history is idiosyncratic, madly uneven in tone and density of prose, but still, given the--what, lunacy? originality of thought?--of psychoanalysis as a discipline, an interesting book. The author places the intellectual history of psychoanalysis on a level with Darwin's theory of evolution or Marxist ideas about economics and class. Schwartz likens the invention and/or discovery of "the analytic hour" to Galileo's telescope--that empty hour becoming the instrument for seeing into the inner lives of humans in a way that had not been possible before the end of the last century. He argues persuasively that psychoanalysis was not well served by being linked with traditional medicine here in the United States. And he argues--much less persuasively--that "biological psychiatry" attacks only the symptoms of mental illness and has led to "what is colloquially called Prozac Poop-out." (Again, do professionals really talk that way to each other?)

The author's task is difficult. At the end of a century that has increasingly learned to depend on science and rigorous scientific method, he must winningly describe the lives and works of people who, often, seem more bizarre than the "clients" they set themselves up to treat (and cure). Most of us know--or think we know--about Freud's astonishing early work, his bold theories, his stubborn refusal to allow dissenting views. And we know at least a fair amount about Adler and Jung, their counter-theories and eventual defections. But the chapters dealing with psychoanalysis in London in the '40s were certainly new (and appalling) to me. What in heaven's name were these people thinking? When they wrote letters, didn't they ever consider that historians or scholars might someday get hold of them?

The vicious arguments here recall the bitter schisms in the early Christian church or, much more recently, the blazing moral wars in the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous. The dynamic is, invariably: "I'm right, you're stupid." "I'm good, you're evil." Or "I'm the perfect psychoanalyst, you're not fully analyzed, and what you're espousing is not psychoanalysis!" Each theory vies with another, each proponent bad-mouths another, while some berserko out in Trenton orders 10,000 teeth pulled, and scientists in a lab somewhere quietly invent Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac. The mentally ill drift through their torment, serving unwittingly as case histories in some "expert's" tendentious arguments. The author here tries to make sense of it all--except for Jung. I guess you've got to draw the line somewhere.

Carolyn See, whose reviews appear in Style on Fridays.