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White, R.S. (2009). Forms of Knowledge: A Psychoanalytic Study of Human Communication. By Anna Aragno. Baltimore: Publish America, 2008, 428 pp., $29.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(4):1020-1025.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(4):1020-1025

Forms of Knowledge: A Psychoanalytic Study of Human Communication. By Anna Aragno. Baltimore: Publish America, 2008, 428 pp., $29.95.

Review by:
Robert S. White

This is not a book for the ordinary clinical analyst. Anna Aragno comes to psychoanalysis after a career as a prima ballerina. Thus, she should be well suited to know something about nonverbal communication. Her musicality shows through in her use of a symphony as a metaphor for listening at different semiotic levels. She has organized the book into a four-movement classical symphony. Surprisingly then, the book is written in a highly dense and verbal academic style, full of philosophical terminology and history, as well as linguistics and semiotics. Here is a typical sentence: “We look to ontogenesis to analyze the micro-sequential stages in the mediation of natural expression by verbal semiotic means” (p. 101). I would translate this sentence as follows: we use the growth of a living organism as a model for the detailed stages of human expression of meaning through signs and symbols in words.

This is an ambitious book. Aragno states that we lack a unified theory of affects, of the unconscious, of learning. How do we know what we know? What are the diverse forms and channels of communication that are assimilated and understood? She has as her aim a general psychology. She wants to unify theory and develop an interpretive master-method. She proposes to weave into a synthesis ideas and information from the various schools of psychoanalysis and allied disciplines.

Does she succeed in these aims? The answer is mixed. I am in great sympathy with her aim to develop a topography of the unconscious, and in this I think she largely succeeds. However, I do not think a general psychology of psychoanalysis is possible at this time. Other points of view, especially a theory of drives and internal structures, remain important. The writing is loose and wandering and often hard to follow. I believe the book could be edited down considerably to make it more coherent. She touches on many other points, especially ideas about supervision, but I will focus here on what I consider her original and clinically important thesis of unconscious communication.

The heart of the book is a psychoanalytic study of communication from the outset of life and the modes of communication at each stage of development, forming a complex set of nonverbal and linguistic interactions.

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