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  • Commentary on "Does the Professor Talk to God?"
  • William L. Thornton, M.D.

Freud, in his public lectures, said that real conviction of the truth of psychoanalytic propositions comes only with experience in the method itself. This appeal is easy enough to deride, smacking as it does of religious enthusiasm and indoctrination. But psychoanalysis is, to borrow Yeat's phrase, a journey through the labyrinth of another's being, and this unique involvement with another person allows certain phenomena to appear in clearer form, just as specified laboratory conditions allow other truths to emerge. The hermeneutic conundrums of the analyst as participant-observer, whose theory already guides attention towards certain classes of mental acts, are accepted as unavoidable consequences of human interaction. Neu shows that conviction in the interpretive accuracy arising from psychoanalytic experience is based on evidentiary claims that can be made explicit.

This issue of conviction can be looked at from a number of related angles: as an external question regarding the scientific validity of psychoanalysis, or as two internal questions—that of the analyst's conviction that his understanding of an individual is well founded, or the analyst's ability to usefully convey this truth to the analysand. Neu more directly addresses the first question; the third is a complex matter of psychoanalytic technique. Clarification of the analyst's own mode of knowing is of greatest clinical relevance here.

Analysts do become sure by the sort of arguments that Neu demonstrates; making explicit the full array of utterances and acts that must be coherently accounted for leads toward the comprehensiveness to which analysis aspires. But analysis is not simply a gathering of data; it is the development of a relationship driven primarily by the analysand's wishes and fears. The reflective examination of the structure of this relationship is what organizes the plethora of observations. Case reports imperfectly reflect the cumulative force of experiencing such an interaction over extended periods of time. Here the history of the person's desires comes to life.

To adequately articulate the actualities of this peculiar duet requires a narrative gift only a few analysts have. Yet it is the narrative's ability to convey the quality of the living person that comes closest to the sources of the analyst's conviction. This is clear in the case studies of Theodore Jacobs, which read like fine short stories. Psychoanalysis would be a richer and less intellectually suspect discipline if we could make the aesthetic judgments of the interpretive art as explicit as the data Neu organizes from the little Hans case. [End Page 161]

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William L. Thornton
Department of Psychiatry, UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, TX 75235-8898, USA


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