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Martin, J. (1997). The Incest Theme In Literature And Legend. Fundamentals Of A Psychology Of Literary Creation. By Otto Rank. Translated by Gregory C. Richter. Baltimore/London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. 619 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 66:126-131.
(1997). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 66:126-131
The Incest Theme In Literature And Legend. Fundamentals Of A Psychology Of Literary Creation. By Otto Rank. Translated by Gregory C. Richter. Baltimore/London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. 619 pp.
Review by: Jay Martin
It is astonishing to realize that for eighty years following its original publication in German, no English translation existed of Otto Rank's greatest book, The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend, a work that Freud himself said took “first place” among “the strictly scientific applications of analysis to literature.” The book has become as legendary as its subject. Now, at last, it is available in an excellent translation of the first edition of 1912. (A study of Rank's revisions for the edition of 1926 has yet to be made.) Rank's work is very helpfully put into context in a fine introductory essay written by Peter L. Rudnytsky, author of Freud and Oedipus (1987). Detailed, perceptive, scholarly, and graciously written, Rudnytsky's essay is perfectly designed to assist any reader in moving with confidence into Rank's large and complicated work.
In 1906, Rank presented the germ of an idea in three lectures to the Viennese Psychological Wednesday Society, meeting in Freud's apartment at Bergasse 19. In this brief form, the work was titled “The Incest Drama and Its Complications.” By 1912 it had grown into the massive volume, The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend.
In its final form, this work was not only comprehensive and learned (though with evident defects and gaps of scholarship); it was revolutionary —and troubling. Even when Rank first sketched out his ideas, both Freud and Eduard Hitschmann voiced uneasiness about the revisionist impulse that they detected in his thesis. After all, as early as 1897 Freud had begun to develop the “fact of Oedipus” as the central paradigm of psychic development in psychoanalysis. Now, less than a decade later, Rank was boldly going beyond the master— already placing the Oedipus legend into the larger sphere of incest fantasies, and subsuming the “oedipus complex” under the broader “incest complex.”
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