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Lichtenberg, J. (1978). Psychoanalysis and Biography. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:397-427.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:397-427

V Applications

Psychoanalysis and Biography

Joseph Lichtenberg, M.D.


The more one examines the relationship between psychoanalysis and biography the greater the complexities appear. A premise with which to start an examination is that before Freud, biographies were written without benefit (or burden) of the discoveries of psychoanalysis, but that subsequent to these discoveries a biographer's view of his subject is enriched (or contaminated) by explicit information (or misinformation) about the realm of “unconsciousmotivation. As I hope to show, even this “obvious” premise requires considerable qualification—although I believe it to be more true than false.

Since I take a historical perspective in this examination I have selected biographies and autobiographies from different epochs. From the Greco-Roman period I have chosen Plutarch's Lives; from the period ushering in the domination of Christian religious thought, The Confessions of St. Augustine; from the Renaissance, The Autobio-graphy of Benvenuto Cellini; and from the “Age of Reason” Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson. Using the Augustine autobiography, Kligerman has made an excellent psychobiographic study which invites comparisons between the virtues of the original and the added depth of insight of the psychoanalyst. Out of the wealth of biographic works of the present I shall principally refer to material concerning Eugene O'Neill—an autobiography in play form (Long Day's Journey into Night), two major biographies, and three psychoanalytic studies.

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