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Sayers, J. (1988). The Politics of Psychoanalysis. An Introduction to Freudian and Post-Freudian Theory by Stephen Frosh. Published by Macmillan: London 1987; 290 pp, £6.95 paperback; £20.00 hardback.. Brit. J. Psychother., 4(3):335-336.

(1988). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 4(3):335-336

The Politics of Psychoanalysis. An Introduction to Freudian and Post-Freudian Theory by Stephen Frosh. Published by Macmillan: London 1987; 290 pp, £6.95 paperback; £20.00 hardback.

Review by:
Janet Sayers

Writers on the Left have long sought to wrest an optimistic and progressive programme from Freud's otherwise gloomy forebodings about the inevitable antagonism of individual and society. Relatively recent is the attempt to do this from a Kleinian perspective as in this book.

Frosh begins by outlining the more pessimistic aspects of Freud's work: his account of individual and society, instinct and culture, id and ego as locked in irreconcilable conflict; and his resulting hopelessness of therapy ever achieving more than conversion of ‘hysterical misery into common unhappiness’. But, Frosh argues, there is also another, more hopeful side to Freud's work insofar as he treated individuals not as opposed to society but as fundamentally constituted by it, describing the ego and super ego as formed through internalisation of social relations via the Oedipus complex. And this went along with belief in the capacity of therapy to bring about not only recognition of conflict but also the necessary strengthening of the ego to withstand it.

After thus outlining these two strands in Freud's theory and practice, Frosh goes on to consider subsequent developments in psychoanalysis: first, ego psychology and the ‘culturalist school’ of Horney and Fromm which he criticises for focussing on the ego and external reality to the neglect of the id and internal reality; second, object relations theory which he says errs in the opposite direction of attending so much to internal reality, understood as essentially unified and harmonious, that it tends to write off external reality as merely ‘facilitating’ or disruptive, looking back to an idealised past of supposed unity prior to environmental (particularly maternal) failure and impingement.

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