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Stone, A. (2003). Where Will Psychoanalysis Survive?. Fort Da, 9(1):77-86.

(2003). Fort Da, 9(1):77-86

Where Will Psychoanalysis Survive?

Alan Stone, M.D.

A famous maxim found in Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy states, “A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself.” I think most of those who became psychoanalysts in my generation assumed that this maxim had to be true. Whether critical of Freud, as some people were, or reverential, as we were here in Boston, we all hoped to be able to see farther than the giant and to build on the foundation Freud had begun.

The most beautiful and moving description of the collective enterprise at that time was given by John Murray at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. In presenting his interesting insights into narcissistic entitlement, he compared what we were doing to the construction of the great cathedral at Chartres, where workers toiled for more than a century, and declared that he would be satisfied with his career if he had placed one brick in the conceptual cathedral of psychoanalysis. Although Murray was more impassioned than most of my teachers in psychoanalysis, I think at some level they shared his conviction and tried to pass it on to us.

Unfortunately, I and many others in my generation have lost that sense of conviction and, with it, the feeling that we are part of a collective enterprise. To us, the maxim about dwarfs standing on giants seems untrue or, at least, inapplicable to psychoanalysis. Those who stand on Freud's shoulders have not seen farther, they have only seen differently—and often they have seen less. Rather than building a cathedral, psychoanalysts have built their own churches. Consider from this perspective the two great women, Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, who dominated psychoanalysis after Freud's death. Each of them thought she was standing on Freud's shoulders and extending his true vision. And their adherents certainly believed they were building Freud's cathedral and accommodated both their psychoanalytic practice and thinking accordingly.

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