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Reviewed by:
  • Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision
  • Robert R. Holt
Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision. Louis Breger. New York: Wiley, 2000. viii + 472 pp. $30.00.

After the many biographies of Freud that have been published, do we need another one? Many psychoanalysts may have felt no such need. Jones's monumental three volumes surely laid out most of the facts of Freud's life in as much detail as most of us would ever want, and the major biographies by Clark and Gay have filled in a good many interesting details that have come to light since Jones wrote, as well as correcting some of his errors. True, Peter Swales continues to show an astonishing ability to unearth new information about critical episodes, and Carlo Bonomi has made some important discoveries; but until the ridiculous censorship of the Freud Archives is breached, it is unlikely that we will know for certain how to resolve various mysteries.

One important element has been lacking from all of the biographies, however: a convincing, psychoanalytically sophisticated interpretation of Freud's personality. It is not surprising that the sturdy and serviceable volume by Clark is thin in this respect, since he admittedly has no psychological or psychoanalytic credentials. Jones and Gay were so blinded by loyalty and dogmatic adherence to the standard myths that they might as well have not had any training or experience as analysts.

At last, however, Breger has filled this gap, with a persuasive, well-argued case for his nuanced, multidimensional portrait of his profession's originator. Neither hagiographer nor detractor, he presents one of the most balanced appraisals yet of Freud's strengths and weaknesses, his faults and virtues. Another asset of the present book is its helpful depictions of the sociopolitical context at key times of the subject's life; especially valuable is the chapter on World War I and the problem of war neuroses. I also found that the excellent portraits of other leading figures in early psychoanalysis added a good deal to my understanding.

The book of course reviews all of the major events in Freud's life in a lively, readable style. Breger's principal contribution is his interpretation of the conflicts and motivations of [End Page 739] his hero, and his persuasive argument that they significantly influenced key aspects of psychoanalytic theory as well as shaping the movement he founded. Despite Freud's faults, most of which are presented unflinchingly but without Schadenfreude, it is clear that the author does consider Freud a genius and his ideas an indispensable basis for his own clinical practice.

Louis Breger, now Professor Emeritus of Psychoanalytic Studies at the California Institute of Technology, had a Freudian training at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute, where he became a training analyst. His doctorate in clinical psychology and a long academic and research career paralleling many years of clinical practice are undoubtedly related to his having become founding president of the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis.

The new portrait first postulates a "severely traumatic" childhood, which left a series of scars that decisively shaped the mature personality. To my mind, Breger exaggerates the degree of trauma. If it was that severe, why was it not noticed by any previous biographer? He does, however, make a pretty good case that the various stresses to which little Sigismund was exposed--particularly his mother's seven deliveries in his first ten years--were probably more traumatic than has previously been thought, and the resulting genetic hypotheses are indeed plausible. Briefly, Breger creates a picture of a child repeatedly robbed of his mother's love and attention by rivals, suddenly deprived of a loving maternal substitute (the Czech nursemaid) followed shortly by emigration from a peaceful country village to a distant big city and the vanishing of other members of the extended family including his principal playmates. The first symptomatic form of the resulting neurosis was the travel phobia that plagued Freud's early adult years, the fear of being left behind by the train. Later, Breger points to evidence of recurrent depressions and physical symptoms, notably relieved by cocaine.

In his self-analysis, Freud attributed the phobia to oedipal conflicts originating...


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