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Cheng, A.A. (2019). On dangerous ground: Freud’s visual cultures of the unconscious: by Diane O’Donoghue, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, $118.44, 400pp. ISBN: 978-1501327957.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 100(4):798-801.

(2019). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 100(4):798-801

On dangerous ground: Freud’s visual cultures of the unconscious: by Diane O’Donoghue, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2019, $118.44, 400pp. ISBN: 978-1501327957.

Review by:
Anne Anlin Cheng

Objects are curiously absent in Freudian psychoanalysis. Although Freud clearly had a penchant for thinking with and through things, especially aesthetic things—paintings, artefacts, antiquities, dolls, pearl drop earrings, reticules, etc.—the materiality of objectness did not seem to

interest him very much beyond its service as a vehicle for other signification. For Freud, things disappear into metaphors; matter dissolves into symptoms. The “object” of psychoanalysis more often than not denotes not real things or even persons but a structural position in a psychical grammar, that is, object as one side of the subject/object dyad and understood as “the thing in regard to which and through which the instinct is able to achieve its aim.” (Freud, Instincts and Their Vicissitudes, SE XIV, 122). In short, objects are always what the poet T. S. Eliot calls “objective correlatives” for Freud. Indeed, this move away from material reality to psychical reality is a hallmark of the origin of psychoanalysis. Freud, as the story goes, abandoned his conviction of the real roots of pathogenic infantile scenes in favour of psychical reality and, in doing so, uncovered universal pathology and psychical reality itself.

Diane O’Donoghue's new study On Dangerous Ground: Freud's Visual Cultures of the Unconscious cuts against this grain and reasserts material culture firmly back into the making of psychoanalysis, arguing that Freud's preoccupation with infantile psychical erotic life is itself a screen for the trauma of his own very material immigration experience and the very real social, economic, familial, and affective displacements that it engendered.

[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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