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Segal, N. (2002). Psychology and the Soul by Otto Rank, translated by Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1998, xxvi + 143 pp); reviewed by Naomi Segal. Psychoanal. Hist., 4(2):254-258.

(2002). Psychoanalysis and History, 4(2):254-258

Psychology and the Soul by Otto Rank, translated by Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1998, xxvi + 143 pp); reviewed by Naomi Segal

Review by:
Naomi Segal

Psychology and the Soul, ‘“unquestionably Rank's most important work”’ (Ira Progoff, cited xxi) was originally published as Seelenglaube and Psychologie in 1930, the year in which Rank was, after four years of ‘exile’ from Freud's circle in Paris, finally ‘expelled from the psychoanalytic pantheon’ (xi). It has been translated once before, in 1950, but this new translation is an effort to create a Rank for our millennium, as the spirited introductory section ‘A Rankian views the nightly news’ shows very well. What remains a dense and highly digested thesis reads elegantly and comfortably in English; the only objection I would raise is to the key word of the title. Unlike Bettelheim (for instance) in his Freud and Man's Soul or Jung, of whom at times (for instance, p. 85) Rank seems to approve, Rank is not asserting the real status of an entity called the soul. His subject is belief in the soul which is precipitated by a longing for immortality. Three pages before the end of the text, we read: ‘The soul may not exist, and, like belief in mankind's immortality, may be mankind's greatest illusion. Yet it must comprise both object and content of psychology, for the object of psychology is not facts but ideas created by soul-belief (125).

The argument is complex and intricate, consisting in a long historical/ ethnographical sweep that takes us from a ‘primitive’ state, via animism through the Christian or sexual era to the scientific era and modern development of psychology.

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