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D'Angelo, L. (2015). Sex Versus Survival: The Life and Ideas of Sabina Spielrein. By John Launen New York: Overlook Press, 2015, 384 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 102(4):581-588.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Review, 102(4):581-588

Book Reviews

Sex Versus Survival: The Life and Ideas of Sabina Spielrein. By John Launen New York: Overlook Press, 2015, 384 pp.

Review by:
Laura D'Angelo, MDiv, LP

In his book Sex Versus Survival: The Life and Ideas of Sabina Spielrein, John Launer sets out to liberate this brilliant woman and original thinker from her tainted image. Launer makes a case that politics and sexism rendered Spielrein and her groundbreaking work invisible after her murder by the Nazis in 1942. Virtually forgotten until the 1970s, Spielrein was revived as a spicy sideshow in the epic fallout between Freud and Jung. Launer challenges that narrow version of Spielrein by lifting up the intellectual and written legacy of Spielrein, a medical doctor, psychoanalyst, and linguist.

Launer is the first biographer to receive unrestricted access from the Spielrein estate to Sabina's letters and diaries. Launer tills Spielrein's most intimate writings, bringing us closer to her heart and mind. Some chapters begin with Spielrein's own words, allowing her writing to open out and invite readers into her misrepresented life. Launer unearths hospital records that correct false notions about her relationship to Jung. In her academic papers, we see the forward thrust of Spielrein's continuous project to ground psychoanalysis in biology.

Launer makes a powerful case that Spielrein's impact is as widespread as it is unchampioned. And that raises troubling questions: Why did a woman who contributed so much to psychoanalysis—a great thinker who influenced the great minds of her time—plummet into obscurity only to be resurrected as a titillating foot note to the Freud versus Jung fallout?

Spielrein's reputation was largely derived from two books. Launer says that the first book, A Secret Symmetry, by Aldo Carotenuto, published in 1980, was slanted toward exculpating Jung.

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