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Cooper, P.C. (2019). Under the Totem: In Search of a Path By Michael Eigen. London: Karnac, 2016, 109 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 106(2):203-204.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Review, 106(2):203-204


Under the Totem: In Search of a Path By Michael Eigen. London: Karnac, 2016, 109 pp.

Review by:
Paul C. Cooper, M.S., NCPsyA

This new offering from Michael Eigen presents a series of reveries and freely flowing trains of thought. What the reader will encounter are gems threaded together that can be read as unique “contemplations.” They flow beautifully and naturally from Eigen's life experiences and studies. The writings are at once highly personal, such as in his narration of a dream (p. 9), and simultaneously communal, forming and coalescing into brief readings. At the same time, each individual piece captures poignantly, poetically, and deeply, the shared trials, tribulations, and joys of the human condition. Eigen's voice creates the opportunity for a reader to sit with, relate to, find resonance with, and open creative pathways within the context of one's own life. The book serves simultaneously as a beautiful work of art and as a practical guide, as the title suggests, of one traveler's “search of a path.” The reveries playfully and poignantly push language to the extreme—sometimes joyfully, sometimes with sudden terrifying turns.

For instance, Eigen asks: “Can you feel the tears of life that touch the heart?” (p. 15). He adds, almost parenthetically, “the double meaning of tear as weeping and ripping” (p. 15).

The same open-ended orientation and multidirectional flow finds expression in Eigen's comments on psychoanalytic theory. For instance, in a discussion on the relation between rage and fear, he reconciles seemingly opposing theoretical camps by noting that “one could put a double arrow between these two formulations, rage as a response to fear, fear as a response to rage, destructiveness in response to fear-pain and fear-pain in response to destructiveness” (p. 91).

In this sense I am reminded that we are paradoxically separated and alone, and at the same time connected and not alone.

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