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Martin, M. (2014). History and Psyche: Culture, Psychoanalysis and the Past edited by Sally Alexander and Barbara Taylor. Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History, Series Editors, Anthony J. La Vopa, Suzanne Marchand, Javed Majeed. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012; 356 pp; £60 hardback, £17.99 paperback. Brit. J. Psychother., 30(3):404-407.

(2014). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 30(3):404-407

History and Psyche: Culture, Psychoanalysis and the Past edited by Sally Alexander and Barbara Taylor. Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History, Series Editors, Anthony J. La Vopa, Suzanne Marchand, Javed Majeed. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012; 356 pp; £60 hardback, £17.99 paperback

Review by:
Moira Martin

The interplay between the past and the present is central to the practice of both history and psychoanalysis and this book provides thought-provoking and innovative insights into the dynamic nature of that relationship. A related theme of the book is the connection between internal and external worlds, between the individual psyche and the historical context. With this focus on past and present and on inner and outer realities, the book as a whole has much to commend it to both historians and psychotherapists; indeed the highly sophisticated analysis of cultural and discursive forms is relevant to literary, philosophical and sociological studies.

A collection of 15 essays, the title is part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History series and its origins lie in a series of seminars on psychoanalysis and history held at the Institute of Historical Research. The editors, Sally Alexander and Barbara Taylor, have done a superb job in bringing together an exceptionally fine collection. All the essays are well researched and challenging and, despite the diversity of subject matter, there is a strong sense of consistency throughout.

The book is divided into three parts: Part I, ‘Freud, Freudianism, and History’, includes three essays which re-examine some of Freud's key ideas. Michael Roth's account of his conversation with Freud's biographer, Peter Gay, reveals a tension between Gay's view of Freud as rational, liberal and scientific and Roth's belief that Freud's ideas were shaped by historical circumstances and that his final work, Moses and Monotheism, demonstrates Freud's struggle with Jewishness, ‘with its history, its traumas, and above all, its relation to authority’ (p. 23). T. G. Ashplant's essay also examines Freud's response to anti-Semitism, though at an earlier point in his career. Ashplant provides a wide-ranging and nuanced discussion of the recent literature on psychoanalysis and politics and suggests that Freud's conceptualization of the Oedipus complex was partially shaped by his painful experience of anti-Semitism as a young man.

Ashplant's view that Freud created ‘an ambiguous legacy at the heart of psychoanalysis, one allowing both normalizing and critical interpretations of gender construction’ (p. 42) is developed further in Elizabeth Lunbeck's essay.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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