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Ahlskog, G. (2017). Freud: In His Time and Ours. By √Člisabeth Roudinesco. Translated By Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016, 580 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 104(3):351-361.

(2017). Psychoanalytic Review, 104(3):351-361

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Freud: In His Time and Ours. By Élisabeth Roudinesco. Translated By Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016, 580 pp.

Review by:
Gary Ahlskog, Ph.D.

Do we need another Freud biography? The answers are Yes, and Maybe. Élisabeth Roudinesco, Head of Research in History at the University of Paris Diderot, has given us a magnum opus that can be credited with at least six reasons why the answer is Yes. Just as educated voters need to know American history, just as emancipated patients must know their family history, so psychoanalysts need to be freed of a century of managed news concerning their own profession. While this book is manifestly about Freud, it is also a history of psychoanalysis that does not shirk from revealing where sand compromises its foundation. A short list of Roudinesco's contributions follows.

1.   Ernest Jones's portrait of Freud as virtually self-engendered, the myth of the “great man,” simply does not stand up to scrutiny (p. 62). Eissler made matters worse by trying to seal Freud's archives, a “disastrous” move that Roudinesco is writing to correct (p. 422). The myth that Freud possessed the gift of a unique scientific clarity must give way to a Freud who was not only energetic and dogmatic, but also ambivalent, an easy victim of rumor (p. 285), and by the end of his life doubtful of the effectiveness of treatment (p. 380).

2.   On the other side of this coin, Roudinesco is writing to turn back the tide of modern “Freud bashers” (p. 426), authors who have gotten away with ungrounded speculations, an example of which would be Jeffrey Masson's argument that Freud disavowed his Seduction Theory out of “cowardice” (p. 424), a topic so complex that it is hardly clarified by sensationalism or mudslinging.

3.   While Freud made masterful contributions to new understandings of history and culture, he was himself a product of that history and culture. The turn of the twentieth century witnessed a challenge to the traditional paternalistic order by introducing an expanded femininity purported to be dangerous.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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