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Kirsner, D. (2004). The Intellectual Odyssey of Elliott Jaques: From Alchemy to Science. Free Associations, 11(2):179-204.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(2):179-204

The Intellectual Odyssey of Elliott Jaques: From Alchemy to Science

Douglas Kirsner, Ph.D.

From His Intellectual Beginnings right throughout his long life, Elliott Jaques, who died in March 2003, undertook a very rich and detailed project that encompassed fields as varied as psychology, psychoanalysis, management, economics, biology, psychiatry, philosophy, semantics, art, and anthropology. The terms ‘polymath’ and ‘renaissance man’ do not begin to describe a person who has made so many substantial contributions across so many fields. Readers of this journal will perhaps be familiar with Jaques's psychoanalytic contributions (during the 1950s primarily), and, of course, his concept of the mid-life crisis. They may not be so aware of his later work, which developed beyond these ideas. A prevalent myth about Jaques is that he ‘left’ psychoanalysis after departing from the Tavistock in 1953, or when he began working on ‘management’ issues. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Jaques always maintained his interest in and use of a psychoanalytic perspective, although it was scarcely his exclusive standpoint. For Jaques, psychoanalysis always meshed with sociology and social structure and was never reducible to it.

I will chronicle Jaques's intellectual odyssey, relying mainly on dialogues between us in the early 1990s. I was privileged to be in constant contact with Jaques from 1990 when we met at a conference in Washington DC until his death in 2003. I was fascinated by the reach of his inquiring mind that habitually thought outside the square. I firmly believe that his ideas, when considered seriously and in detail, are those of a genius and will be judged by history to be major contributions to many fields of endeavour.

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