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Friedman, N. (1960). Life Against Death. The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. By Norman O. Brown, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959. XII + 366 pp. $6.50.. Psychoanal. Rev., 47B(2):122-125.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Review, 47B(2):122-125

Life Against Death. The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. By Norman O. Brown, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959. XII + 366 pp. $6.50.

Review by:
Neil Friedman

The entry into Freud cannot avoid being a plunge into a strange world and a strange language—a world of sick men, a diagnostic language of formidable technicality. But this strange world is the world we all of us actually live in.

Norman O. Brown

Ortega tells us in Man and Crisis that facts are avoidable nuisances. They are the individual trees which hinder our appreciation of the beauty of the forest. They do not clarify; they only confuse. Galileo, in order to discover the law of gravitation, had to temporarily ignore the facts. Bodies do not really fall according to a universal law. Any real body is subject to sidereal interference such as air currents, which cause it to fall at a unique rate on every individual test. These obstructions are the facts, and only by suspending them and conceiving of an ideal theoretical body could Galileo perceive the workings of a universal law. Such a quasi-mechanical approach, Ortega claims, must become the methodology of history.

In this tradition which searches for meaning and course in history is Life Against Death, by Norman O. Brown, professor of classics at Wesleyan University. “… Feeling the need to reappraise the nature of destiny of man…,” Dr. Brown turned in 1953 to a deep study of Freud. The result is a book which concerns itself neither with what happened in Constantinople in 1453 nor with a factual history of the Black Plague in England but instead with a general psychoanalytic framework which will give meaning to each event and establish relationships between them. History becomes not the perception of the unique, but instead the perception of general laws of history: “the dynamic of history is the return of the repressed … increasing sublimation is a general law of history.” Protestantism, science, capitalism and the money complex are related and assigned their place in the Freudian scheme as examples of Western man's anal-sadistic nature. Dr. Brown's book thus rivals not only Ortega's in its perception of interrelations in history but also the works of Brown's protagonist Freud, who boasted to Fliess, “I can hardly tell you how many things I (a new Midas) turn into excrement.”

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