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Berman, J. (1988). Primal Scenes: Literature, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis. Ned Lukacher. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986. 342 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(1):179-184.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(1):179-184

Primal Scenes: Literature, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis. Ned Lukacher. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986. 342 pp.

Jeffrey Berman

I had been driven to assume that impressions from the second year of life, and sometimes even from the first, left a lasting trace on the emotional life of those who were later to fall ill, and that these impressions—though distorted

and exaggerated in many ways by the memory—might constitute the first and deepest foundation for hysterical symptoms. Patients, to whom I explained this at some appropriate moment, used to parody this newly-gained knowledge by declaring that they were ready to look for recollections dating from a time at which they were not yet alive. (Freud, 1900, pp. 451-452)

Freud's account of the difficulty of reconstructing historical truth anticipates the crisis of interpretation in the postmodern world. How can an analyst ever be certain that he has correctly reconstructed the crucial events of a patient's life, including the conflicts from which mental illness arises? Memory, Freud realized, is notoriously unreliable; it distorts, exaggerates, and represses the truth. Can there ever be an accurate recollection of the truth, especially when the events that shape personality are buried in the long-forgotten past? Are there objective criteria that may be used to instill a sense of conviction in a patient, or must conviction always remain an act of faith, both for the patient and the reader of a psychiatric case study? Does truth itself actually exist, and if so, how can we infer it?

Ned Lukacher does not quote the above passage in Primal Scenes, but he would certainly agree with Freud that memory is treacherous.

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