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Hanly, M.F. (1994). The Psychoanalytic Theory of Greek Tragedy: By C. Fred Alford. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1992. Pp. 218.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:422-423.

(1994). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 75:422-423

The Psychoanalytic Theory of Greek Tragedy: By C. Fred Alford. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1992. Pp. 218.

Review by:
Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Hanly

In his most recent book, C. Fred Alford, Professor of Government at the University of Maryland, shows how the complex tragedies of the Greek poets can illuminate, and be illuminated by, the psychoanalytic ideas of Klein, Lacan, Freud, and others. The author depicts the tragic poets' vision of pity as man's only reliable civilising force. He holds up the Greek poets' capacity to know they were not free and yet were responsible. He shows how we might still learn from the tragedies, in their complex rendering of human passion and family tragedy. Alford's thought is free of an idealisation of culture. He takes the Greek tragic poets seriously in their sole commitment to 'truth-telling about the passions', even when these truths are most disturbing and disruptive of the polis.

One task of civilisation is to denote what is good and what is bad. The Greeks, during the period of the tragedies, were in a crisis over just this issue, a crisis Alford refers to as the Dionysian crisis. In the world-view of the ancient Greeks, only rigid separation of good and bad prevented pollution of the good by the bad; but for the Greek tragic poets, separation between good and bad had failed, and they projected this failure on to the gods. Alford helps to understand the experience of this crisis using Klein's distinction between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions.

The breakdown of this separation leads to confusion and reversal, coupled with heightened doubts about whether people can act more virtuously than the gods, even should they be able to distinguish good from bad.

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