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Kaplan, D.M. (1965). Insight and Responsibility. By Erik H. Erikson. New York: Norton, 1964. 256 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 52A(1):133-136.

(1965). Psychoanalytic Review, 52A(1):133-136

Insight and Responsibility. By Erik H. Erikson. New York: Norton, 1964. 256 pp.

Review by:
Donald M. Kaplan

I remember asking a colleague who had just had a personal contact with Erik Erikson what sort of man Erikson seemed. Among other things, I was told that Erikson was possessed by a decided—here my informant fished for a word less pejorative but had no other—vanity. Having recently reread a good deal of Erikson, I think what my colleague may have meant was that Erikson seemed exceptionally self-conscious of his own personal career. Such a self-consciousness can be a form of vanity, but not necessarily. Or, at least, it need not be the sort of vanity that offends.

I mention this because, like much that Erikson publishes, each of the six chapters which make up this present volume was originally a delivered address, so that the quality of self-involvement is particularly apparent. Also, for his lectures Erikson employs a self-referring, indirect and often anecdotal style which tracks in upon his subject in diminishing circles but—deliberately—never quite arrives. Thus Erikson delivers not papers, in the more usual sense, but themes which almost but never quite achieve the effect of a mission. Indeed, this present volume is a medley of themes only loosely captured by the title Insight and Responsibility. Since some of Erikson's recurrent themes have to do with ethics and virtue, he is bound to draw attention to himself in the dangerous position of the visionary psychoanalyst claiming to have gleaned the Promised Land.

Though it is a fact that Erikson is an innovator, what he regards as the more important fact is that he is not a revisionist, and he conserves this paradox by remaining in conflict with himself rather than with Freud. Where others have constructed entire careers on the basis of differences with Freud, Erikson makes suggestions while denying any crisis in psychoanalytic fundamentals. He wants to add without detracting.

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