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Goldberg, A. (1983). Frontiers in Psychoanalysis. Between the Dream and Psychic Pain: By J.-B. Pontalis. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1981. 224 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 52:118-119.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 52:118-119

Frontiers in Psychoanalysis. Between the Dream and Psychic Pain: By J.-B. Pontalis. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1981. 224 pp.

Review by:
Arnold Goldberg

One of the functions of language is the rhetorical: the capacity to evoke an emotion or to move someone by virtue of the style rather than the particular thought or content. At times one reads or hears something that is felt to be significant, but the particular informational content remains elusive. I suspect that the average psychoanalyst reading this series of essays by J.-B. Pontalis, the famed co-author of The Language of Psychoanalysis, will likely be moved, excited, bewildered, and annoyed by them rather than merely informed. They are more evocative than interesting, more likely to stir one to private musing rather than to sharing their contents with a colleague. They deserve an audience, but it is unlikely that they will achieve popularity, except among those who can patiently read one or two essays at a time and reflect upon them with the lack of closure that is a necessary part of our everyday work.

My first encounter with the book led me to feel that it must be poorly translated. It did not seem at all clear to me what Pontalis had in mind. So many of his essays begin and end with questions. So many of his statements seem to be modified almost into contradictions. For instance, there is an intriguing chapter on the birth and recognition of the "self." It seems to tackle the problem that has recently been revived as to whether we should banish the word "self" and restrict ourselves (or whomever we would restrict) to just using "ego" instead. Pontalis carefully reviews the pros and cons of this and says, "I claim that clinical experience revealed the necessity for introducing the self and that this concept is unreceivable! But this contradiction is not the kind that should worry a psychoanalyst that much since the gap between theory and practice is a condition for the progress of its 'science' and cures: if matched perfectly, the subject would be closed" (p. 137). A reader who requires clarity and decisiveness will be unhappy.

Pontalis is a well-read psychoanalyst, and American readers will be confronted with their own shortcomings in their reciprocal knowledge of the French literature.

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