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Haynal, A.E. (2006). Masud Khan: The Myth and the Reality. By Roger Willoughby; foreword by Pearl King. London: Free Association Books, 2005, xxxii + 320 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(1):131-133.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(1):131-133


Masud Khan: The Myth and the Reality. By Roger Willoughby; foreword by Pearl King. London: Free Association Books, 2005, xxxii + 320 pp.

Review by:
André E. Haynal, M.D.

This astonishing book is very meticulously and precisely researched. As Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, a former close friend of Khan, stated: “This outstanding work far outreaches a simple biography and helped me, personally, to better understand the particularly enigmatic and unsettling personality of Masud Khan.” Furthermore, this text is a quest to understand the dimension of the “tragic” in the context of a twentiethcentury intellectual life in a well-defined psychoanalytic and literary context. This book is a scrupulous, day by day, detailed reconstruction of an existence; it is a real “inquiry,” a work of ten years, a work of labor, written with the conviction that it should be possible to understand the motives and complications behind an exceptional and tragic life.

The author's background in psychology, psychoanalytic studies, and philosophy predestines him for this task. It enables him to present a thrilling narrative in interweaving plausibly Khan's hopes and vulnerabilities. This book is compassionate, well documented, and scientific. The foreword by Pearl King, eminent historian and outstanding member of the British Society of Psychoanalysis, sets the tone: It is friendly and reflects a profoundly critical attitude.

Masud Khan, a native of British India, presumably from a family of rich, landed proprietors and horse-breeders and son of a young dancer, claimed he had written a university master's thesis on James Joyce's Ulysses, “which…wasso brilliant that it had to be sent to someone in London to be assessed” (p. 19). However, should such a thesis exist, no copy of it survives. Khan moved to England to pursue his studies in literature and psychoanalysis. He continued to be perceived as a stranger, someone outside the conventional lifestyle, showing a penchant for aristocratic and extravagant behavior.

He became nevertheless an influential member of the British psychoanalytic establishment, based on his literary talents and his hard work in this domain as well as his extravagant, sometimes refreshing, unconventional views about psychoanalytic theory and practice.

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