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Wilson, L. Blum, H.P. (2005). Biography, autobiography and history. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86(1):155-158.

(2005). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 86(1):155-158

Biography, autobiography and history

Reported by:
Laurie Wilson

Moderator Harold P. Blum

Harold Blum initially observed that psychoanalysis has an essential life-history dimension related to biography and autobiography. As psychoanalysis became an important part of the intellectual discourse of the 20th century, biographers routinely considered the subject's childhood and family relationships with an especial focus on character, internal conflicts and hidden motives. Freud, and many other celebrated individuals, became the subject of psychobiographies which in the early years were plagued by reductionism and oversimplification. More recently psychobiographies have taken into account consideration of overdetermination and multiple perspectives along with a greater awareness of life cycle, culture and gender. Another significant shift has been the move away from a focus on pathology and trauma toward ‘the influence of normative and non-traumatic vicissitudes of life experience’. Blum also noted that the differences between clinical analysand and biographical subject are considerable and furthermore that the biographer is inevitably subject to his own countertransference and other sources of bias. He cited Freud's trenchant comment about biography from a letter to Arnold Zweig (May, 31, 1936): Anyone who writes a biography is committed to lies, concealments, hypocrisy, flattery and even to hiding his own lack of understanding, for biographical truth does not exist, and if it did we could not use it.

Blum commented on the contradiction in Freud's antipathy toward biography and autobiography and the fact of his numerous applied analytic psychobiographical writings on Leonardo, Goethe and Dostoevsky.

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