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Nahum, J.P. (1998). The Irrelevance of Wolff?. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(1):270-274.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(1):270-274

The Irrelevance of Wolff?

Jeremy P. Nahum

In reading JAPA 44/2, I was struck with an irony that was perhaps unintended. The lead article is the “targeting” of infant research by Peter Wolff, one of its alleged own. Juxtaposed to this is the book section on the Freud wars, where Robert Michels, Jonathan Lear, and Robert Galatzer-Levy respond to Freud's critics, Frederick Crews and Adolf Grünbaum. The journal is in the position of promulgating in the first section what it rightly decries in the latter.

Before commenting on two issues I wish to address, let me say I agree with the positions of Peter Fonagy and Joy Osofsky, as well as Stephen Seligman, that (1) Wolff has defined psychoanalysis so narrowly that he has made it virtually impossible to enter into a discussion of the relevance/irrelevance to psychoanalysis of anything outside of this narrow purview; and (2) he has created a straw man and a series of false dichotomies that do violence to the richness and complexity of the efforts he seeks to dismiss. I can put it no better than Fonagy: “A relevant critique of this approach would have to address itself not to developmentally reductionistic straw men, but to the current frame of reference of infant researchers, developmental psychopathology” (p. 418).

Moreover, Wolff takes Daniel Stern's comment about circularity (p. 372) out of context and implies that Stern's ideas about the subjective life of the infant are based on “the subjective life of the adult, as self-narrated,” a comment that shows a careless reading of Stern.

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