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Ahumada, J.L. (1998). Psychic Deadness. By Michael Eigen. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996, xxv + 224 pp., $40.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(3):940-943.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(3):940-943

Psychic Deadness. By Michael Eigen. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996, xxv + 224 pp., $40.00.

Review by:
Jorge L. Ahumada

Michael Eigen's Psychic Deadness undertakes daunting tasks in ways that raise equally daunting questions regarding what, at this point in our discipline's century-long history, the term psychoanalytic can be deemed to encompass.

As a counterpart to its relevant-enough main goal—to investigate mental states linked to psychic death as revealed in psychoanalytic practice—Eigen goes fully into mental states of aliveness. To that end he delves into a conceptual armamentarium ranging from Freud and Ferenczi to Melanie Klein, and then from Bion to Winnicott—with a bow to Lacan's Other. A valiant, roughwater endeavor it is indeed, this setting up of a scaffolding on these diverse authors' intellectual outlooks in order to create a context for their contributions on psychic deadness and aliveness. This journey makes up Part 1 of the book, “Theoretical Soundings.” The result is always fresh, enticing, and interesting, if unavoidably fast-paced and more than a bit sketchy.

Psychic deadness has a rather long and involved history. Over the decades spent building up our discipline, Freud's path led him from its milder forms in psychasthenia and obsessive inhibitions to its darker underside in melancholia, where the superego is, to repeat an oft-quoted phrase, a pure culture of the death instinct. Here Eigen, departing in this as in other matters from the American psychoanalytic mainstream, provides himself the theoretical backbone for his understanding of psychic deadness by embracing the notion of a death instinct as found diversely in Freud's work and then Klein's, and especially in Bion's idea (1965), an idea more in line with Freud's Todestrieb than in Klein's “death instinct,” of a “force that continues after….

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