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Kafka, E. (1987). Freud for Historians: By Peter Gay. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. 252 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 56:402-403.
(1987). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 56:402-403
Freud for Historians: By Peter Gay. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. 252 pp.
Review by: Ernest Kafka
There are at least three main aspects to this book. It is a psychoanalytic primer intended for the edification of historians. As such, it presents mainstream psychoanalytic views succinctly and pleasingly, in relatively jargon-free, straightforward language. Secondly, the book serves as a vessel to contain reviews and asides that comment on the work of many authors, both historians and psychoanalysts. Gay's comments, some brief and some more extended, include appreciations, chidings, analyses, and suggestions. Some are stimulating and very worthwhile; all are of interest. Thirdly, the book raises a number of questions of general intellectual interest, often without providing answers.
Gay discusses the tendency of many historians towards reductionistic thinking. They prefer to limit their view of motivation to self-interest in a narrow sense, omitting consideration of such factors as sexuality, aggression, guilt, and defensive trends. Analysts, on the other hand, and Gay quotes Hartmann in support of his point, often omit self-interest from their consideration, and they neglect practical, realistic factors in their historical explanations. Analysts could perform a very useful function if they were to contribute an understanding of how libidinal, aggressive, moral, and defensive wishes interrelate with contextual, historic reality. Such a contribution would help historians to enlarge their view of self-interest and of conflicts among multiple interests. Gay chides analysts who fail to provide connections between such "hard realities" as food scarcities and technical innovations, conflicts in which the mind clearly has an important share, such as class antagonisms, and the "murky underworld of the concealed and contradictory emotions that are the psychoanalyst's chosen playground" (p. 119). Neither the rational nor the irrational, neither fantasy nor the real, should be slighted.
Gay proposes a second problem issue. This relates to the understanding of the connections between individual biography and group behavior. He believes insufficient work has been done in furthering the understanding of interrelationships between crowd psychology and the functioning of institutions and individual psychology, between what he calls "the stubborn self" and "indispensable and stifling culture."
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