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Wilson, M. (2015). Lives in Theory: Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst. By Adam Phillips. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014, viii + 178 pp., $25.00 hardcover, $15.00 paperback.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 63(6):1251-1255.

(2015). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 63(6):1251-1255

Book Essays: Book Reviews

Lives in Theory: Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst. By Adam Phillips. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014, viii + 178 pp., $25.00 hardcover, $15.00 paperback.

Review by:
Mitchell Wilson

The biographer's occupational hazard is living with the proscription of the imaginative use of his imagination, as he toes the line of historical fact or at least keeps steady view of the details approximating something like the life lived by his subject. In this sense the biographer works inductively, from the ground up, as the accretion of facts and particulars builds through the march of linear time. Even if the biographer succeeds in wrapping those details within a larger set of ideas, social events, the Zeitgeist in which the subject lived, the reader can't help but feel somewhat beleaguered by chronology, especially with a figure so written about as Freud. How many more times, for example, will we read about Freud's experience in Brücke's lab, his interactions with Charcot in Paris, or his extended courtship with Martha Bernays? The answer is: any time we read a biography of Freud.

But what if the biographer decides to tell half the story, as Adam Phillips has chosen to do in his Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst! Instead of something exhaustive (and therefore potentially more ponderously obvious), Phillips ends his telling of Freud's life in 1906. (Freud died in 1939.) In his introductory chapter, Phillips notes in parentheses that “what interrupts our concentration as readers may be as telling as the book we are reading; Freud is always making the case for interruption” (p. 10).

Interruptions… yes, they can be especially generative. Most strikingly when they are put in parentheses, making the minimized all the more powerful for being so. Interrupting a life in its midst is exactly what Phillips does in Becoming Freud.

With his decision to end the telling when Freud is fifty years of age, Phillips opens for the reader a surprising imaginative vista, and achieves a kind of caesura, a flash, that provokes thought and perspective akin to a well-timed psychoanalytic intervention.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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