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Duncan, J.A. (1988). In Search of a Past, by Ronald Fraser, Verso/New Left Books, 1984, 187 pages, hb £15, pb £4.95. Free Associations, 1(11):131-138.

(1988). Free Associations, 1(11):131-138

In Search of a Past, by Ronald Fraser, Verso/New Left Books, 1984, 187 pages, hb £15, pb £4.95

Review by:
J. Ann Duncan

The opening sentence: ‘There's a long silence, and then I say …’ indicates the three functions of this book. It is an attempt to find a self through utterance, after a lifetime of noncommunication; this was prompted by the wish to break a writer's block and involves a search for a discursive mode in the psychoanalytic situation, the so-called ‘talking cure’ in which one participant often remains silent.

Ronald Fraser is a well-known oral historian, author of several books on Spain, in particular Blood of Spain: The Experience of Civil War (1979). He has chronicled the lives of others but used this partly to compensate for a lack of self. In this book he directs his professional skills and method into his own past in order to discover his personal identity.

The result is part autobiography, part social history, and both narrative modes are set within the framework of the analytic discourse. The horizontal enquiry method of oral history, which amasses views of different people, is combined with the vertical investigation of psychoanalysis, which explores one individual in depth. Through the unusual combination of these two methods the author hoped ‘to uncover the past in as many of its layers as possible’ (p. 118). Just as Proust in his vast novel tries to show simultaneously how ‘our social personality is composed by other people's opinions of us’, yet the only truth is to be found within ourselves at an often unconscious level, Fraser combines the documentary and the personal, giving a picture of a bygone age as well as insight into an individual psyche.


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