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  • Profile of A Latency Woman: Development for Biographers
  • Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

Introduction: Methodological Lacks

Since Studies in Hysteria, psychoanalytic case studies and biographies have grown up together. They have been related like step-siblings, from the same father. And they both show his parenting influence, but not in the same way. Case writing has grown with psychoanalysis, becoming more and more sophisticated while incorporating—as Freud’s own practice forecast—complex understandings of clinical perspectives, complex theoretical debates, and attention to the historical and social contexts of cases, the environments of diseases. But biography writing has never had a rich tradition of psychoanalytic reflection and methodological sophistication. Its practice still chiefly depends on “content analysis” as the Studies in Hysteria did; intricacy comparable to that of the Wolf Man case has largely eluded it.

On the model of Freud’s case writing practice, which he applied to subjects like Leonardo to produce “pathography,” his early followers wrote a rich library of case-like biography writing, an achievement that compelled the whole art of biography in the twentieth century toward psychoanalysis, if not directly or doctrinairely, then indirectly, as a matter of cultural osmosis or absorption of the psychoanalytic “climate of opinion.’” On the other hand, the genre influence did not flow so strongly in the other direction, and psychoanalysis itself has only recently become biographical—in two senses. First and most obviously, in the late 1950s the history of psychoanalysis began to be written as a biographical history, a history of clinicians and the depth psychological sources of their [End Page 235] theories and practices. Launched officially and monumentally by Ernest Jones, this history was a history of Freud biographies, but now it is a burgeoning biographical archive of books, oral histories, and memoirs of Freudians, former Freudians, and anti-Freudians. Second, within psychoanalysis, clinicians have stepped into their case studies: there they are, telling what they said and did, exploring their countertransferences, setting themselves in the history of psychoanalysis, becoming subjects for biography as they explore their countertransferences.

Over the decades of this uneven joint development of psychoanalysis and biography, it seems to me that three methodological roads have appeared and been considered, if not taken. The first road is the most widely acknowledged and the most consistently taken. It is understood that different people looking at or imagining the same subject will see different beginnings of a life narrative and attribute different significances to childhood events and experiences. Appropriators of Freud’s theories line up along lines of faction within the fold: some, for example, looking at an infant subject see the primary narcissistic baby Freud saw, and some see a baby programmed for relatedness; some think that what can be observed can be read as the manifest content of intrapsychic process, some think that such readings are the readers’ fantasies. And everyone is in a quandary because it is obvious that the materials with which a childhood—some version of a childhood—could be thoroughly or deeply reconstructed are never available to biographers. Biographers always deal with little fragments, little bases of inference and are tempted to “content analysis” because they do not have a psychoanalytic situation, a transferential process, to work in and with. Such divisions of opinion and problems of material have had an impact on psychoanalytic biography writing, and particularly on biographical—or autobiographical—writing about psychoanalysts. But there is not yet a literature that approaches multidirectionally the methodological and technical issues raised by complex interplays of subject, biographer, biographer’s biography, theory, and theoretician’s biography over the question of how to reconstruct and determine the significance of childhood.

The second methodological road can be pointed by noting that all modern biographers work with a developmental [End Page 236] line in mind that extends over the course of a life. Each has ideas about stages or phases, key junctures or forks, processes of identity formation, anxieties of influence, meanings of identifications, and, generally, developmental norms and deviations. For most, these ideas are sketchy and full of blanks because they have been acquired piecemeal from a culture in which developmental theory in some form is as taken for granted and as unexamined as evolutionary...

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