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Almond, R. (1996). The Rhetorical Voice Of Psychoanalysis. Displacement Of Evidence By Theory. By Donald P. Spence. Cambridge, MA/ London: Harvard University Press, 1994. 228 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 65:811-814.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:811-814

The Rhetorical Voice Of Psychoanalysis. Displacement Of Evidence By Theory. By Donald P. Spence. Cambridge, MA/ London: Harvard University Press, 1994. 228 pp.

Review by:
Richard Almond

The psychoanalyst who has original ideas and a desire to communicate them faces a dilemma around the special status of Freud's writings and ideas. Despite the fact that Freud occasionally indicated that his ideas were speculative and tentative, he and his followers treated his work as a canon of received wisdom, if not religious doctrine. The analyst with a new idea or perspective must, as a result, place his or her work in one of two positions: either as an addendum to Freud—an expansion, clarification, or filling-in; or as a substitute for some or all of Freud's theory—a critique, dissent, or complete theoretical schism. Another way to put it would be to say that Freud established himself as the oedipal father, the leader of the primal horde. Such a titan can sire only submissive followers, promethean rebels, or permanent exiles.

Donald Spence's third book both examines this problem and, at the same time, exemplifies it. Subtitled Displacement of Evidence by Theory, the volume is largely an analysis of the difficulties created by psychoanalytic language, specifically, the rhetorical nature of Freud's writing, a problem that continues to bedevil psychoanalysis today. In his first book, Narrative Truth and Historical Truth, Spence applied the idea of narrative to psychoanalytic process, suggesting that what is discovered is not the actual past, but the story of the patient's present psychology. Here, he turns to an examination of theory as narrative. Spence argues that Freud used powerful rhetorical devices to persuade his potential followers that his ideas were correct. While claiming that his conclusions were scientific hypotheses based on clinical observation, Freud, in fact, developed highly evocative metaphors that won acceptance for his ideas by evoking powerful symbols and touching central cultural themes.

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