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Rothenberg, D.J. (1998). Penetrating Love: A Review of Love Relations by Otto F. Kernberg. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. xiii + 203 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(2):323-327.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(2):323-327

Penetrating Love: A Review of Love Relations by Otto F. Kernberg. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. xiii + 203 pp.

Review by:
Daniel J. Rothenberg, Ph.D.

In this book Otto Kernberg offers a sweeping, sometimes compelling view of the subject of love. Combining a few new articles with a reworking of others previously published, the book's ambitious scope offers a thoroughgoing analysis of a wide range of topics in self-contained chapter form. Subjects range from psychophysiological explications of the sexual experience to discussions of “sexual” versus “erotic” desire and an extended portrayal of “mature love.” Three chapters address the dynamics of couples: “Love, Oedipus and the Couple” “Aggression, Love and the Couple”; and “The Couple and the Group.” In addition there are focused and sustained treatments of aggression, superego factors, group dynamics, and narcissism as they pertain to love.

The manner in which this volume has been structured has a dual impact. On one hand its topical arrangement provides thoroughly developed chapters that can, in effect, stand alone. Yet, they stand too much alone, highlighting inconsistencies that make for a lack of conceptual unity and cohesion. Further, because these chapters span some twenty years of published writings, the book does not do full justice to the nuanced shifts within the development of Kernberg's own thinking over time. Because many of its most essential views are presented with varying degrees of stridency and clarity, often embedded within lines of thought more differentiated than the current presentation conveys, the book becomes difficult to follow.

Kernberg begins this volume almost charmingly, by heeding his colleagues' urgings to set aside his seemingly exclusive focus on aggression and to “write about love” (p. ix). He does not, however, linger for long in the realm of the romantic, the evocative, the inchoate.

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