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Kligerman, C. (1991). Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters: By Ethel S. Person. New York: Norton, 1988, 384 pp., $18.95; paperback (Penguin), $8.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 39:267-270.
(1991). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39:267-270
Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters: By Ethel S. Person. New York: Norton, 1988, 384 pp., $18.95; paperback (Penguin), $8.95.
Review by: Charles Kligerman, M.D.
In this work Ethel Person has written a paean to the "power of romantic passion," a remarkble anatomy of love. In a beautifully written introduction, the author tells us that love and its narratives have been of profound interest to her since the age of twelve, and through 354 densely packed pages we are treated to a rich harvest of this fascination drawn from poetry, novels, biographies, letters, lyrics, films, tabloid periodicals, and more. Ranging from "The Wife of Bath" to Tolstoi and Proust, to Kundera and the lurid loves of movie stars, this kind of material, combined with an eloquent, often poetic style, would inevitably appeal to the analytically sophisticated layman for whom the book seems mainly intended. Once engaged, one finds it is difficult to put down.
But the volume also offers a serious challenge for psychoanalysts, which is persuasively developed. Person maintains that romantic love, particularly its passionate form, although recognized as a powerful force throughout history, has been progressively neglected by the materialist "objective" stance of modern science and academia. Even psychoanalysis, which par excellence studies inner life and feelings, succumbs to pressure to act like a "real" science.
Person attributes this to the strenuous effort by Freud and subsequent analysts to establish psychoanalysis as an objective science—a biology of the mind, so that its conceptual framework would be able to illuminate instinctual sexual vicissitudes. Romantic love was seen as an illusion, usually short-lived, an epiphenomenon unworthy of serious scientific scrutiny, and relegated to the province of artists and poets. To be sure, there is a kind of psychoanalytic value system that approves a "mature stable love," an "affectionate bonding," but while desirable in itself, it is often devoid of the passionate transcendent quality that gives romantic love its special character and the power to launch a thousand ships.
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