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Smith, H.F. (2005). Editor's Introduction: On Specificity. Psychoanal Q., 74(4):935-941.

(2005). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 74(4):935-941

Editor's Introduction: On Specificity

Henry F. Smith, M.D.

A recent article in the New York Times Book Review held Freud and his followers responsible for the death of contemporary fiction (Siegel 2005). It is an old argument. No longer full of the particular, under the alleged Freudian yoke characters have been reduced to generalities. The article provoked a storm of reasoned protest for this and other charges.

Curiously—and perhaps as a sign of the shifting cultural and political winds—nearly twenty years earlier in the same New York Times Book Review, its then editor, Anatole Broyard, ran an interview with a friend, a retired psychoanalyst. Now an avid reader of fiction, the analyst commented that what he missed most about clinical practice—and could not find in the contemporary novels he read—was the “terrific specificity” and “gorgeous incongruities” he used to encounter in each of his patients. He compared “authors who aren't faithful to their characters” to patients “who lie about their dreams.” Broyard, clearly sympathetic to psychoanalysis and its appreciation of detail, entitled his editorial “Fiction That Lies about Its Dreams” (Broyard 1986, p. 11).

As in fiction, one of the telltale signs of a paper we want to read is its appreciation for the specificity and incongruity that bring patients and ideas to life. The papers in this issue of the Quarterly illustrate the enormous variety of form, subject matter, and method by which this may be accomplished, as is characteristic of creative and disciplined thinking in contemporary psychoanalysis.

Most of them speak for themselves.

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