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Kerr, J. (2010). Book Review Essay: So Long to Once upon a Time: Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis. By George Makari. New York: HarperCollins, 2008, 613 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 97(3):495-518.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Review, 97(3):495-518

Books: History of Psychoanalysis

Book Review Essay: So Long to Once upon a Time: Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis. By George Makari. New York: HarperCollins, 2008, 613 pp.

Review by:
John Kerr

Once upon a time, every analyst knew the story of how psychoanalysis started. The outline went something like this: Once upon a time, a lonely genius, fighting against the prejudices of his era, and working on his own, made breakthrough discoveries in the understanding of the unconscious, including a novel appreciation for human sexuality and especially infantile sexuality, discovering as well the meaning of dreams and how they could be decoded. Forging these new truths in the heat of the therapeutic encounter, and via a heroic self-analysis, this solitary genius fashioned the only truly scientific and efficacious treatment method for neurosis.

Well, Freud was a genius, and he did invent psychoanalysis, but the rest of the account is mythical. Human sexuality was on everyone's mind at the turn of the nineteenth century—as a scientific topic, I mean— sexuality in childhood had already been discovered; clinicians like Charcot, Janet, and Richard von Krafft-Ebing were already investigating the meaning of at least some dreams in some patients (Sand, 1992); the unconscious as a topic had pretty much been done to death; and on it goes. This is a matter of history.

It was long an unwelcome history in analytic venues. The careful reader will have noted that “once upon a time” appears not once but twice in the first paragraph. The one pertaining to Freud is ordinary fairytale usage; the other one, oddly and disconcertingly, refers to real historical time. It was not so long ago, a couple of decades tops, that analysts were still holding on to a mythic view of Freud; they resisted, sometimes with real vehemence and anguished protests of “Freud bashing,” the historical scholarship that was meant to set the record straight.

Why that was the case deserves sympathetic scrutiny (see Kerr, 1992), and how and why it resolved, or dissolved, more recently is another topic worth investigating.

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