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Burston, D. (2013). The Still Small Voice by Donald Carveth London: Karnac, 294 pp.. Canadian J. Psychoanal., 21(2):369-372.

(2013). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21(2):369-372


The Still Small Voice by Donald Carveth London: Karnac, 294 pp.

Review by:
Daniel Burston

The Still Small Voice is a timely, moving, and important book that could play a significant role in reviving and reshaping contemporary psychoanalytic thinking on the subject of conscience. Donald Carveth, director of the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, demonstrates that the tendency to equate the superego with conscience—a tendency that began with Freud—is actually a trite and dangerous misconception. Indeed, Carveth recommends that we approach conscience as a completely separate entity—one rooted in our capacity for empathy and sympathy, and in our earliest identifications with a nurturing mother, rather than with a punishing, castrating, and moralistic (Oedipal) father. This is a wise move, in my opinion. He also notes that the current climate of opinion, which stresses trauma, neglect, abuse, and even interpersonal relations—to the detriment of inner conflict—is not the optimal setting for sharing reflections like these.

The book is dedicated to the psychoanalytic sociologist Eli Sagan, who said that the Freudian theory of the superego is woefully inadequate, because it fails to acknowledge the pivotal role played by the mother in human development (Sagan, 1988). Carveth deepens and develops Sagan's critique, drawing on a wide range of sources, but above all, on Melanie Klein and various Christian theologians.

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