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Sayers, J. (1994). Why War?—Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein: By Jacqueline Rose. Oxford/Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell. 1993. Pp. 274.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:639-640.

(1994). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 75:639-640

Why War?—Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein: By Jacqueline Rose. Oxford/Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell. 1993. Pp. 274.

Review by:
Janet Sayers

Psychoanalysis involves discovering that which we already know unconsciously, including the limits—both emotional and intellectual—to such knowledge. Facile resolution of the resulting uncertainty can be disastrous. Nowhere more so than in war, as literary theorist Jacqueline Rose observes. It can include short-circuiting the painful process of knowing that we love those we hate by projecting hatred on to the enemy, thereby doing away with the possibility of knowing to what extent the mayhem is our own or the enemy's doing.

Traditionally, women have been emblematic of uncertainty—as the sex which does not know its own mind. Rose suggests that it was precisely because Ruth Ellis contradicted this stereotype—by knowing so definitely beforehand she would kill her faithless lover—that she was hanged. Hence, too, argues Rose, the subsequent revision of the law to include the psychiatric plea of diminished responsibility, despite the observation by psychoanalysts consulted at the time that since murder is a universal fantasy there is no knowing who is normal, or who abnormal, where it is concerned.

How reassuring, therefore, despite the counter-instance of Ruth Ellis, to have a woman who knows what's what—a Mrs Thatcher, who, with her strident call for reinstating capital punishment and for war in the Falklands, made manifest, says Rose, as perhaps paradoxically no man ever could, the phallic symbolism and latent violence of the state.

Conviction, however, does not abolish the uncertainty of violence, whatever the attempts not only of politicians but also of some psychoanalysts to lodge the blame elsewhere: by Wilhelm Reich in fascism; by Jeffrey Masson in men as part of his self-appointed task of championing women against the Freudians' seeming neglect of the wrongs done women by sexual abuse.

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