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Waddell, M. (1989). Eric Rhode, On Birth and Madness. 222 pp. London: Duckworth 1989. £14.95. J. Child Psychother., 15(2):119-123.

(1989). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 15(2):119-123

Eric Rhode, On Birth and Madness. 222 pp. London: Duckworth 1989. £14.95

Review by:
Margot Waddell

“The epigraph to John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, a quotation from Ecclesiastes, asserts that our ignorance concerning the history of the foetus provides a model for the limitations of knowledge — and for the means by which we come to knowledge.”

In citing this epigraph in the Introduction to his explorations of the significance(s) of birth and madness, Eric Rhode establishes the central interest of the book: the relationship between birth as a physical act and birth as mental transformation — between generative and mutative experience. He examines the different layers of meaning beyond the biological facts, tracing transpositions and “estrangement of definition” through centuries of belief and superstition about denial of, and belief in, the creative nature and emanatory power of the interior of women's bodies.

He begins, and concludes, with the certainty that, in terms of the life of the mind, the uterus remains “the paramount source of mystery” (p. 16). He thinks of birth as a “certain kind of crisis” (p. 23), lodged in a disjunction of consciousness, not of the individual alone, but of family, of community—in a sense, of culture.

Eric Rhode's interest in these issues took him, we are told, to a unit for mothers in breakdown at the time of childbirth. Believing, as psychoanalysts have always done, that knowledge of disturbance illuminates normal developmental processes, he made extensive tape recordings of his conversations over a period of two years.

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