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Suler, J.R. (1990). Theories of the Unconscious and Theories of the Self: Raphael Stern. Hillsdale, NJ, The Analytic Press, 1987, 282 pp., $36.00.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 7(1):157-160.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 7(1):157-160

Theories of the Unconscious and Theories of the Self: Raphael Stern. Hillsdale, NJ, The Analytic Press, 1987, 282 pp., $36.00.

Review by:
John R. Suler, Ph.D.

An edited book always faces a dilemma. Ideally, it approaches a topic from various perspectives, allowing experts in the field to present their views on the topic and providing a context in which the reader can discover the similarities and differences among those experts' views. However, if the topic is not clearly defined, if the experts address a variety of unrelated issues, then the sense of interlocking perspectives and the push towards synthesis collapses. It is a thin line between a collection of papers that revolve meaningfully around an issue, and a conglomeration of chapters.

Stern's book balances precariously along this line. It is the outcome of a group of conferences sponsored by the Association for Philosophy of Science, Psychotherapy, and Ethics—an organization of linguists, psychotherapists, philosophers, mathematicians, and neurophysiologists. A diversity of contributors can be an asset: Too many cooks do not necessarily spoil the broth. In the case of Stern's book, the downfall comes from this diverse set of experts addressing, as the title makes evident, a very broad topic. Along the wide vista of the psychoanalytic world, what is not subsumed under the concepts of the “unconscious” and the “self”? The book seems to strive for an identity as a psychoanalytic work, or at least attempts to pivot around psychoanalytic themes—but at times even this focus dissolves.

The lead chapter, “The Dynamic Unconscious and the Self,” to which most of the commentaries are addressed, is by Kernberg. The reader must work hard to sift out his penetrating insights from this densely intellectual, abstruse essay.

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