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Ross, J.M. (2010). Brothers, Sisters, and a Return to Reality. Psychoanal. Inq., 30(6):496-510.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(6):496-510

Brothers, Sisters, and a Return to Reality

John Munder Ross, Ph.D.


Our Founding Fathers are recast, in Joseph Ellis's words, as The Founding Brothers (Ellis, 2000). His is a book that chronicles the love, hate, rivalries, and betrayals taking place between geniuses such as Hamilton and Madison, Adams and Jefferson, and the impact of primitive ambivalences on our nascent country and their sublimation in the checks and balances of its enduring Constitution.

In more despotic days, Abel's killing of Cain was sanctioned by custom and almost by law. It was de rigueur for the Ottoman or Mogul heir-apparent as he ascended the throne to kill off his younger brothers as not only potential but also presumptive usurpers.

Nor do brothers have a lock on sibling rivalry. In a poem by Sharon Olds, she kills her sister's fish with ammonia (Olds, 2007b, pp. 15–16). In another, the poet's sister enters her room just as “Hitler entered Paris” and pees on her (Olds, 2007a, b, p. 44).

On the verge of collapsing into obscurity and despair, Herman Melville writes an unexpected sequel to his epic Oedipal allegory, Moby Dick (Melville, 1851). A story barely longer than a novella, Pierre, or the Ambiguities (Melville, 1852) tells a tale of undisguised brother/sister (or at least half-sister) incest—lest there remain any doubt about the notoriously ambiguous whiteness of the whale. Concluding, Melville tells us that he has simply if “recklessly” followed “the endless flowing river in the cave of man” (p.

[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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