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Tip: To see Abram’s analysis of Winnicott’s theories…

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In-depth analysis of Winnicott’s psychoanalytic theorization was conducted by Jan Abrams in her work The Language of Winnicott. You can access it directly by clicking here.

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Schapiro, B. (2005). The Death-Ego and the Vital Self: Romances of Desire in Literature and Psychoanalysis. Gavriel Reisner. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003. 277 pp. $55.00.. Am. Imago, 62(3):373-380.

(2005). American Imago, 62(3):373-380

Book Reviews

The Death-Ego and the Vital Self: Romances of Desire in Literature and Psychoanalysis. Gavriel Reisner. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003. 277 pp. $55.00.

Review by:
Barbara Schapiro

Psychoanalysis and literary romance share much in common: both are concerned with desire, with elusive objects of desire, and with the dark, hidden, and fantastic dimensions of the human imagination. Gavriel Reisner's The Death-Ego and the Vital Self explores the interrelationship of psychoanalysis and literary romance with original and often illuminating results. Reisner begins with a critique of Northrop Frye's definition of romance as a form of wish-fulfillment and nostalgia for an imaginative golden age. Frye's understanding, Reisner claims, depends on early psychoanalytic theory and on a “simplified notion of desire” based on the pleasure principle (13). Reisner looks instead to Beyond the Pleasure Principle with its dualistic conception of the drives, along with the Lacanian notion of desire as a “seeking of that which cannot be found” (15). He sees romance as “the literary expression of divided desire, projecting conflicts to engage opposing wishes and clashing fantasies” (17). Through this lens, Reisner not only traces psychoanalytic meanings within literary romance, but most intriguingly, he also examines the literary methods and meanings within Freud's own theorizing in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Reisner indeed reads Beyond the Pleasure Principle as a form of romance, with Freud as the bewildered knight serving two mistresses—“pleasure” and “the beyond,” or the death drive. Reisner distinguishes five fragments of narratives within Freud's essay, four of which he categorizes as regressive stories of return that activate the Lacanian Imaginary and enact the death drive, and one that records an advance, a figurative expression of life-energy. Only through literary representation, Reisner contends, can Freud give expression to the abstraction of the death drive.

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