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Richards, A. (1984). Narcissism: Psychoanalytic Essays: By Béla Grunberger. New York: International Universities Press, 1979, xix + 311 pp., $22.50.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 32:199-204.

(1984). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 32:199-204

Narcissism: Psychoanalytic Essays: By Béla Grunberger. New York: International Universities Press, 1979, xix + 311 pp., $22.50.

Review by:
Arnold Richards, M.D.

In Narcissism: Psychoanalytic Essays, Béla Grunberger presents a series of papers written between 1956 and 1971, together with a preface and introduction written in 1971 for the French edition. Most of the papers appeared originally in the Revue française de Psychoanalyse and are available in English translation for the first time. Encompassing a variety of theoretical and clinical concerns, the essays are bound by a common theme set forth in the introduction: "the source of all the various forms of narcissism," Grunberger writes, is a prenatal state of elation, an intrauterine state of omnipotence and self-sufficiency from which man was "traumatically expelled and that he never ceases longing to recapture" (pp. 10, 12). This hypothesized state, basically continuous with Freud's "primary narcissism," is presented as the central explanatory construct by which we can understand (a) object relations during the various developmental stages, (b) psychopathology, (c) the analytic process, and (d) the mechanism of analytic cure. This grand hypothesis, however, is nowhere subjected to confirmation or disconfirmation in the clinical situation. Presumably, Grunberger's conviction rests on his belief in the heuristic value of the hypothesis; clearly the notion of prenatal elation has helped him make sense of his clinical experience and the human condition generally. If we adopt the view that psychoanalytic theories are "created equal," and that the pragmatic test of a theory is its ability to promote the analysis, then the "truth value" of the hypothesis is not really at issue. It is simply Grunberger's myth of early experience, on a footing with the myths of Freud, Melanie Klein, and others before him.

But "truth value" considerations aside, Grunberger's construct fails even the test of internal coherence. In general, the idea takes off from the physiological notion that the fetus exists in a tension-free equilibrium.

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