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Kohon, G. (1989). Freud's Discovery of Psychoanalysis. The Politics of Hysteria: By William J. McGrath. New York: Cornell University Press. 1986. Pp. 336.. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 16:129-130.

(1989). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 16:129-130

Freud's Discovery of Psychoanalysis. The Politics of Hysteria: By William J. McGrath. New York: Cornell University Press. 1986. Pp. 336.

Review by:
Gregorio Kohon

William J. McGrath, a Professor of History at the University of Rochester, has written a very interesting, scholarly, well-researched book. The main thesis in McGrath's argument is that the discovery of psychoanalysis is 'a process … closely interwoven with the violent political history of his [Freud's] time'. McGrath is in clear opposition to a series of other authors who, in the last few years, have directed their academic efforts towards attempting to prove that Freud's work is a 'step backward': for example, Frank Sulloway, Peter Swales, Jeffrey Masson, and Marianne Krull (see my review of Krull's book in The Sunday Times, 15/3/87). McGrath sees Freud's intellectual adventure as a fundamental advance in human knowledge. While the title of the book speaks of a 'discovery', not just a theory or an invention, the subtitle indicates McGrath's belief that Freud's ideas were 'influenced by the political conditions of his day'. 'Politics', he says, is used as referring to the 'affairs of the city and thus by extension of the outer world in general'.

The subtitle is a bit misleading. Although McGrath clarified the meaning he gave to it right at the beginning of the book, it creates certain expectations in the reader. In the present cultural climate of today, it may be interpreted in terms of a feminist stance; or, for instance, as a suggestion that the book's main argument will be centred on the consideration of hysteria, which it is not.

The book is, in fact, an accomplished history of Freud's intellectual development.

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