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Sanville, J.B. (1999). The Psychoanalytic Mystic: Michael Eigen. Binghamton, NY: ESF, 1998, 224 pp., $29.95. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(3):929-934.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(3):929-934

Mind and Society

The Psychoanalytic Mystic: Michael Eigen. Binghamton, NY: ESF, 1998, 224 pp., $29.95

Review by:
Jean B. Sanville

We psychoanalysts have rarely defined ourselves as mystics, but here is Michael Eigen poetically affirming that for him there are moments when psychoanalysis is a form of prayer and that many of us experience something of the sacred in our work. He introduces this collection of papers, most of them previously published, by telling us he has been on speaking terms with his Jewish conversationalist God since he was a little boy. As a young man he dipped into Catholicism, Buddhist and Hindu writings, Taoism, and Sufism. Then, for some years after his father's death, he immersed himself in Judaism and the Kabbalah. Pychoanalysis and mystical states have had, he declares, both enriching and destructive impacts on him; they interpenetrate, add meaning, and provide challenges, but he does not see himself as a disciplined “practitioner” of either. In his personal story and in his accounts of his therapeutic work and play with persons who attempt to make use of analysis and of the spiritual, he invites us to glimpse the place of the mystical inclinations of humankind as they might be seen were psychoanalysis open to including such data in its purview.

Calling attention to the fact that Freud wrote more books on religion than on any other subject except sexuality, he suggests that Freud's works are rich with implications for mystical experience. Eigen himself draws on four more recent authors who for him reveal interfaces between psychoanalytic and mystical experience. There is Milner, who links all symbolic life with an orgasmic sense of generativity, while for Lacan “symbolization is already a kind of castration at the heart of the real…. it is through a glass darkly” (p. 15). The latter figure could seem to be antimystical, since he views mystical feeling as an imaginary way of feeling more whole, but Eigen suggests that Lacan's jouissance may exert its appeal precisely because of its proposed asceticism.

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