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  • Reconceptualizing Psychoanalytic History
  • Bruce Rudisch
Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis. George Makari. New York: Harper, 2008. viii + 613 pp. $32.50 (hc), $18.99 (pb).

If, as Hegel opines, "the study of the history of philosophy is the study of philosophy itself" (1805–6, 1:30), then might it also be argued that the study of the history of psychoanalysis is the study of psychoanalysis itself? If so, then George Makari's Revolution in Mind is a must read for anyone with a serious interest in the field.

Makari's book effectuates an eye-opening paradigm shift in the telling of psychoanalytic history. At its core, it provides a corrective to the mythologizing that presumes a linear model of intellectual development. The classic rendition of psychoanalytic history begins with the ideas of Freud arising in a relative vacuum, as Freud himself presented them in On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914), then moves through his subsequent elaborations of libido theory and structural theory, and culminates in the apotheosis of American ego psychology. The title and subtitle of Makari's volume serve multiple functions: they capture not only his guiding theme of the allied yet distinct Freudian and psychoanalytic "revolutions" but also, and perhaps more importantly, the transformative value of reconceptualizing psychoanalytic history.

In his preface, Makari points out the flaws in previous versions of psychoanalytic history that center on the genius of Freud's revelations about the unconscious. In their various iterations, a false choice is presented in which Freud is seen either as an intellectual prophet who delivered great truths regarding the life of the mind or as the fraudulent purveyor of a pseudoscientific closed system of thought aimed at instantiating a particular bourgeois vision of family life. Makari exposes the fallacy in this type of binary thinking as he helps the reader to [End Page 263] understand the historical milieu in which such thinking arose. The recurring motif of Makari's book is the blending of theory and politics, whereby the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is filtered through the dynamics of power and exclusion.

The book is laid out in three separate sections. The first, "Making Freudian Theory," dips into the depth psychological soup simmering in Western and Central Europe in the late nineteenth century, which Freud boiled down to a neat and comprehensive account of the life of the mind. As Makari elaborates, it was out of the debates of his predecessors regarding the knowability of man's internal life, as well as from several coexisting and interrelated strands of thought, including sexology, French psychopathology, and German bio- and psychophysics, that Freud assembled his conceptual edifice. In Makari's words, "Freud did not so much create a revolution in the way men and women understood their inner lives. Rather, he took command of revolutions that were already in progress" (5).

Makari's book can be seen as bracketed between, or rather suspended above, two classic volumes on psychoanalytic history, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), by Henri F. Ellenberger, and Peter Gay's Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988). While both of these books clearly have their merits, neither captures the essence of Makari's historical approach. In contrast to Ellenberger and Gay, Makari makes it overt that the antecedents of Freud's libido theory and ideas regarding the unconscious are found in the work of the English Associationalists and of Ribot: "Associationalists pressed forward only one simple precept regarding emotion: humans were pleasure seeking and pain avoidant" (13). Makari portrays Freud less as a creative than as a systematizing genius, one who forged an "extraordinary synthesis" (119) with the introduction of libido theory in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905).

The second section of Makari's book is entitled "Making the Freudians." Here Makari outlines the consolidation of the Freudian thought collective to which one was granted membership vis-à-vis professed allegiance to libido theory. The focus is on the key players involved, including Karl Abraham, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler, among many others. Abraham, seen by Freud as a full adherent to libido theory, is quoted in a 1908 letter to [End Page 264] Max Eitingon...


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