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Segal, N. (2004). Incest: A New Perspective by Mary Hamer (Cambridge: Polity, 2002, x + 188 pp); reviewed by Naomi Segal. Psychoanal. Hist., 6(2):265-267.

(2004). Psychoanalysis and History, 6(2):265-267

Incest: A New Perspective by Mary Hamer (Cambridge: Polity, 2002, x + 188 pp); reviewed by Naomi Segal

Review by:
Naomi Segal

It is not only hysterics who suffer from memories; we all do. Most of all, according to Mary Hamer, we suffer from not being allowed to remember: the damage done to children is multifold and incest is one form of it; all these forms of damage need to be seen in context, a context in which ‘abuse is not an aberration from regular social order but quite the reverse: abuse is an end product of the social order that we have come to accept’ (177).

Much of this book is not about incest in any of its senses, though Hamer argues well for the range and variety of acts which we place under its rubric. The wide range of incestuous acts—between or within generations, broadly transgressing the kinship rules of a given society, male-led or female-led, enacted or not—means that a generosity of approach is needed in considering it. Often Hamer is talking more broadly about the abuse, neglect or suppression of children's imagination and freedom to think. But she retains the word ‘incest’ in her title explicitly for the impact it will have, the nerve it touches and the awareness of taboo that it arouses in readers. Among a number of autobiographical moments, she repeats her experience of the ‘incomprehension or distaste’ (31) of friends to whom she told the subject of the book while working on it; ‘writing about incest is an act to bring one's own family under a cloud’ (ix). The shock effect of the title is exploited to prepare the ground for an analysis of the shock waves that form our childhood and adulthood.

Hamer takes a number of approaches to her subject. She refers to psychoanalysts and psychotherapists whose views and/or methods took them off the beaten track: Ian Suttie, Sándor Ferenczi, Valerie Sinason and Estela Welldon. She considers public cases, those of daughter Sappho Durrell, student Jennifer Montgomery and Father James Porter, who was charged in 1992 with sexual abuse of children, and offers, in each case, a nuanced sympathy to both the subject and object of the events.

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