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Introducing Psychoanalysis
Introducing Psychoanalysis
by Ivan Ward
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea... didn't work here, 26 Sept. 2010
This Introduction starts with a brief flurry of definitions of psychoanalysis and why it's worth reading about, and then forges ahead into Freud's formative work on sexual psychodynamics, leading to the Oedipal Complex and a load of tosh about castration complexes and penis envy. Here, the emphasis sensibly leans towards metaphor and symbolism, rather than the original truths Freud decided he was spouting. The majority of the rest of the book concentrates on a series of different `mind models' developed either by Freud or successors to explain, 1) how our mental experiences are organised (ego, id, super-ego), 2) how it develops (ego-control), 3) what the mind's made of (differing external and internal objects and roles/types), and 4 & 5) how psychic content gets into and is then expressed (poorly or otherwise) by our psyche. We then end on traumatic symptoms and how psychoanalysis is applied, through therapy, to aid the patient in a process of active and positive change.

Does the book work? For me, no. There are no chapter breaks, the graphic art scenes meld into one another making it difficult to take stock of what is a sizeable series of theories, and (cardinal sin) the connecting narrative isn't strong enough. Our main characters (the narrator, Freud, a neurotic fireman) are too fleeting or unnecessary to tie the whole story together. Given psychoanalysis is a subject which prizes itself on creating coherency from fracture, an understandable grand narrative is the least we can expect. Two stars it is then. If you're looking for a sensible introduction, you can't go wrong with A Short Introduction by Milton, Polmear & Fabricius, it's a bit longer but you'll remember a bit more than just the pictures this time.

The Undiscovered Self:
The Undiscovered Self:
by Carl Gustav Jung
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A million zeros joined together do not add up to one...", 19 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Undiscovered Self: (Paperback)
...says Jung, who, in this slender volume, describes a world of mass politics and trash culture which in its attempt to cater for everyone finds it sustains no-one, leaving masses of people denuded of any genuine individual experience of either themselves or their environment.

Jung focuses his energies here on two of the most pervasive modern institutions, the State and Organised Religion. He sketches how the State itself denies insight and reflection to its citizens by making us all dependent on it to some degree, as it tugs on our religious heartstrings with promises of a heavenly freedom from cares if only we work and work today. And so, as the State subverts our physical needs, the Church provides moral cover for our massive Western ego-trip, which denies that violence and darkness could ever be a part of our reality, our innate human capacity (phew, what a get-out).

All this goes on unnoticed as Modern Man suffers under a collective neurosis. The valid needs of our unconscious psyche are consistently starved of expression by a culture obsessed with ego-consciousness. It must confirm its own existence, its own narrative, and bombards us daily with advertisements, political dogma, and moral creeds to ensure we don't for a second start reflecting on the absurdity of the world and our place in it. Jung asks us to simply stop, reflect that "man is an enigma to himself", and consider how we might engage in a truly self-nourishing and self-renewing relationship with a world that is no longer a mere illusion.

A great little book, this. A positive call to arms for all those who feel disenchanted with the Western world. Five stars all the way.

Jung: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Jung: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Anthony Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "There can be no doubt that Jung was an odd and unusual man...", 12 Sept. 2010
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... so says the author, Anthony Stevens, about our man Jung; psychiatrist, psychotherapist, cultural critic and part-time guru.

Now this Very Short Introduction is divided into eight sizeable chapters, which include a beefy biography, a run-down of Jung's most prominent theories, their relation to therapeutic involvement, and then some tailings on how Jung's legacy stands today. The biographical detail in the first chapter is pretty full, which given the complexity of Jung's upbringing and adult life is pretty handy, though presumably the following quote, "In my life No.2 has been of prime importance, and I've always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come from within", has been included for its comedy value alone.

In comparison to the VSI to Freud, Jung has less of a tangible narrative, and although his own work is known for its obscurity, perhaps breaking down the chapters further to make them lighter and easier to reflect upon would have helped. But, chewing through the chapters on Archetypes, the Stages of Life, and Psychological Types does give you a basic sense of the major texts, which Stevens sums up as Jung's "attempt to compensate for his sense of personal oddity and isolation."

I'm a big fan of Jung, certainly of his requirement for Individuation through meditative reflection and self-exploration, and the best thing to be said for this volume is how well it contrasts him as an individual against the prevalent cultural and academic trends of his time; as part Western academic, part Eastern mystic. It's a reasonable summary, but I'd say if you want a real sense of the man and his perspective before delving into the deeper stuff, give `The Undiscovered Self' a read first.

Freud: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Freud: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Anthony Storr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Nothing to do with Science...", 12 Sept. 2010
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... but everything to do with storytelling. And thankfully, storytelling is an area our author Athony Storr is pretty amply skilled in.

The book itself is divided into twelve chapters, which handily break down some of Freud's hefty ideas into bite-sized, single-sitting nuggets. They cover (roughly) five areas; firstly, a vague psychoanalytical portrait of the man himself; secondly, early influences and works; thirdly, the major theories from internal mental structures to the neurotic's potentially delusional construct of an acceptable external world; fourthly, the wider cultural implications of his ideas as hit on in `Civilization and its Discontents'; and then lastly a brief synopsis of where Freud stands now.

Given the VSI's pop remit, there are obvious hits and misses, which ultimately break down to editorial constraints. So early on we're told that, "Freud himself, as one might expect from the character sketch given, concentrated on anal traits", which lends a chuckle, but nowhere are we told about Freud's personal experiences of psychological distress, which contributed so much to his own creative process.

Most importantly though, the clear message from this book is that no matter what you think of the Freudian paradigm, and opinions range wildly, Freud's influence in creating a non-judgemental theatre where an individual can freely associate with themself, and develop along the way a "greater understanding of their own strengths and limitations", validating their own "individual subjective experience", is something of unquestionable significance and relief for many people given the "feeling's of helplessness" that modern Western culture is so often guilty of seeding.

Good solid introduction, go buy.

Wessex Tales (Wordsworth Classics)
Wessex Tales (Wordsworth Classics)
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The north road from Casterbridge is tedious and lonely...", 11 Aug. 2010
Professor Michael Irwin, plodding through his obligatory academia-sheen intro to this edition, tells us that many Hardy novels can be identified from their first line alone. So it's gurt lush like that five out of the seven short stories here start with some reference to agricultural England, the south-west, meadows, ewes, cows, dairies, milkers, and a town (of the singular and non-bustling variety). Which is fair enough really, as Hardy's animus was his personal vision of the region he grew up and spent most of his life in; his Wessex, a Dorset of the past, worn away by the same inevitable forces of fate and time he sets up against all his most memorable characters.

In his General Preface to the Novels and Poems, Hardy described how one of his aims as a novelist was to "to preserve for my own satisfaction a fairly true record of a vanishing life", and his method seems surprisingly modern. In all the Wessex Tales he stresses his separation from the narrative by presenting it as a piece of local myth, a story passed on through the generations. All the tales are brought up from the past, "fifty years ago a lonely cottage stood...", adding to the dreamlike quality of Wessex, a place that never really exists but in the imagination of Hardy himself, but which you half expect to see popping out of local archives and museum daguerreotypes.

Some of the stories are linked directly to historic events of the early to mid 1800's; like the stationing of the King's guard's at Lyme Regis, and Napoleon's possible reconnoitring of the south coast. Some stories are pure drama, or even horror; The Withered Arm has a healthy macabre edge to it. The two major stories, novellas almost, Fellow-Townsmen and Interlopers at the Knap, are brilliant examples of Hardy's depiction of people at the whim of not only their own ineluctable fate, but also their own failures of character. People who fail to make that stand for their own, and because the blank universe itself will not intercede, fail to take what was there for them all along.

The Wessex Tales are a great introduction to Hardy's general themes, his naturalistic approach, and his questioning of late Victorian social morality. You can read any of them in a sitting and none of them disappoint. Can't ask for more than that.... except for maybe a happy ending here or there.

Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Poems, Tales, Essays and Reviews. [Penguin English Library].
Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Poems, Tales, Essays and Reviews. [Penguin English Library].
by Edgar Allan Poe
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day...", 2 Aug. 2010
...I picked up Poe as a part, and start, of a larger look at short stories in general. It surprised me to find out that he only relied on the genre as a source of income and that writing poetry was his personal animus, especially when the gulf in quality between what he produced in the two forms is so evident.

The first section in this selection, without argument, tries to put the poetry behind us, as it should. Poe's stated objective when composing poetry was to create an indefinite sense of romantic beauty reliant on musical rhythms and "sweet sound". He even uses the words "airy and fairy-like" in one letter to a friend. With such aims I'd almost hoped for something Yeatsian maybe, given the colonial parallels and New England Transcendentalism sweeping the country at the time. Yeats however, Poe ain't; his rhythms run like brick couplets in a slack sack, he bleats out sleepy exclamations for every lady weeping his way, and (put simply) his poetry is really REALLY boring.

But then he redeems it all with his turn for the pop flavour of the 19th century month; dark, darkly humorous, gothic and edgy short stories. The editor here has the pacing just right; first up is Manuscript Found in a Bottle, #4 is The Fall of the House of Usher (amazing), #7 is The Murders on the Rue Morgue (amazing times two), #10 is The Masque of the Red Death, and by that point you're hooked. Poe's method is all about leading you in gently and slowly building up the tension before crashing a curtain down around you to reveal something pretty sick he's been hiding there all along. The Murders on the Rue Morgue is a perfect example of that, with all the elements of the mystery on the top floor leaping, screeching down to the ground for Dupin (our hero) to resolve at the last. Sometimes Poe misses, you don't need to read The Man of the Crowd, but the disappointments are few and far between compared to his poetry.

The last section of this book is a mix-match of Poe's personal philosophy and essays he wrote for publication, not of all of which are of themselves massively enlightening, but they add to your idea of him as a person; his tetchy arguments against contemporary writers, his sense of an intuitive understanding of beauty (even if he couldn't always pull it off himself in practice), his space fillers for magazines, there's little bits all there. Overall if you want a good source for Poe this isn't a bad start. If you're looking for a few words of intelligent biography though, I'd miss the introduction and have a look at the Norton Critical Edition of his short stories instead.

Bodin: On Sovereignty (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
Bodin: On Sovereignty (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
by Jean Bodin
Edition: Perfect Paperback
Price: £18.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Sovereignty is absolute and perpetual power...", 13 Jun. 2010
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Part of the more sprawling Les Six Livres de la Republique (1576), On Sovereignty is Jean Bodin's attempt to provide a legal definition for the "absolute and perpetual power" which the inchoate nation-state was becoming able to claim over itself and its peoples.

At the time Bodin wrote his Republique, political norms throughout Renaissance Europe were on the move. Ruling parties and dynasties were becoming adept in their use of print, a development of the previous century, and were wealthy, a whole continent wealthier now the Americas were opening their mines and manpower to entrepreneurs willing to take the Atlantic plunge. The long internecine struggles of weak kings over their loose patchworks of feudal domains were beginning to look decidedly more one-sided, and the lucky few who found themselves in power suddenly had a lot more to lose. The strongest monarchies were those who fostered a bureaucracy able to regulate, and tax, and a foreign policy able to influence the emerging mercantile tendencies of their people, and Bodin, trained in jurisprudence, barrister to the Parlement of Paris, was thick in the middle of this seedling legal system.
Bodin's solid academic background, following a decade in residence at the University of Toulouse, left him with a sense of the growing irrelevance of medieval Europe's tired reliance on Roman legal precedence, and though the Republique is peppered with Roman case law, his allegiance is always to local legal traditions, and the primacy of French law within the French kingdom. For Bodin, the most relevant factor in any country is its own authority. To be sovereign, he decides, a government must be able to appoint and recall its own magistrates, to ordain and repeal laws, to declare and terminate war, to have the right to hear final appeals, and, should it choose, to overturn a death sentence in the face of prevailing legal custom. To have these powers is to be the power.
Now, this power could be equally well held by democracies, aristocracies, or monarchies. Bodin has no favourites here, his issue is sovereignty per se, where it's located, and how it's used in a clear and consistently incontestable manner. "Sovereignty is indivisible" is his catchphrase; the authority in any country being its clear locus of executive, legislative and constituent power. If you divide sovereignty between the parties of a country, if you give different powers to different people, Bodin says, they'll fight like cats in a bag for the rest of it.
The problem with this set-up is that governing bodies could then, effectively, become a law unto themselves, with no system of checks and balances to moderate reckless policy. Sovereignty, as a clear legal entity has become here almost more important than the real-politick workings of states at the time, whose securities against tyranny were often implicitly understood rather than clearly held as constitutional norms. One supposes the reason Bodin's work became so popular and influential was this very ability to split opinion, between the ruling bodies on one side, who would develop the theory further towards a divine right of kings, and those on the other, who saw the whole project as a justification for Despotism.

Finally then, this volume. Julian Franklin, who edits, translates and introduces does a fair job. His introduction is beefy and steers thankfully clear of extended biography. The only issue for me was that Franklin's something a little too zealous with the translational notes. If you want a narrative sense of what Bodin's chatting you do need to ignore the array of characters, distracting your attention away to the footnotes, listing the petty differences found in other manuscripts, and plough of regardless through the body of the work. Too often the footnotes seem entirely superfluous anyway, for example:
" For `all' L107, A5 substitutes, `almost all'."
Is there really a need? I understand the Cambridge series is text-book territory, but appendices are there for the finicky details so there's no real need to clutter the page with what for most people are academic tailings. Other than that little rant, I'd say this little work is pretty good context for an understanding of Renaissance monarchy, and the inevitable Enlightenment backlash that was to come.

Emotion: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Emotion: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Dylan Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good enough for my pennies, 19 Oct. 2008
The VSI series is something of a mixed bag quality-wise, but Evans has done a good job with this sharp introduction to Emotion.

Eschewing the thorny little devil of definition till last, Evan's first chapter introduces us to several categories of emotion. He describes how the most basic emotions (fear, joy, disgust) are common to most higher-animals through the shared limbic system, an age-old group of brain structures, whilst other emotions we're more complicit in creating, either by incessantly thinking over them (cognitive feedback) or through social expectations of our behaviour.
The second chapter deals with the bad press emotion sometimes picks up as an occlusion to rational, and so presumably saner, thought. Evans tries to show how emotions have been an important evolutionary tool for the past 100million years; fear and joy each being quite functional adaptations teaching us what to avoid and what makes sense to cherish.
The following two chapters deal with our ability to induce emotions and how our emotional potential affects us every day in positive ways we are often unaware of. Finally, in chapter five, Evans begins to ask the question, `what is emotion?' His answer is that there is no stock of emotions as such, but rather emotional events, combining behavioural, neurobiological and evolutionary aspects. And although this may seem unsatisfying to some, it does leave the door open nicely for the evolving areas of AI and Robotics. Computers with genetic algorithms evolving their own programmes and environmental interactions may well develop forms of emotive consciousness different from our own yet no less `real'.

I liked this book. Evans has enthusiasm and a sense of humour, he's not too stompy in the boggy bits and leaves enough trails for the intrepid to explore. Frankly, that's what you look for from an intro writer... other VSI authors take note.

Malignant Sadness
Malignant Sadness
by Lewis Wolpert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "My purpose is to try and understand this dreadful affliction in scientific terms.", 20 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Malignant Sadness (Paperback)
Hence, as the subtitle of the book, `The Anatomy of Depression', suggests, Wolpert is essentially trying to bring some objective security to the diagnosis of depression, where in his experience of it he found confusion and helplessness. Personally, I found a little unseemly his frantic grasping for every fact, every statistic that allowed him to say that something was now `known' about the condition, a discomfort only added to by his almost hysterical bias against any kind of phenomenological approach to understanding oneself as a depressive. Wolpert still approaches depression as an illness you catch, rather than a condition you live with or through; anyone whose read Laing will remember his injunction, `one cannot catch schizophrenia, one becomes schizophrenic.' Similarly, we should be talking about depressive states and tendencies, their recognition and therapeutic engagement, rather than treatments or cures.

Anyway, that aside, the book is well written in terms of its own perspective. There are three rough sections; the first six chapters define the whats and wherefores, seven through nine provide major theories in the areas of genetics, evolutionary psychology, attachment theory and cognitive behavioural therapy. The longest chapter (predictably) centres on discussion of brain regions and their interactions through a complex system of neurotransmitters, auto-receptors and hormone imbalances. The final three chapters are an overview of current treatments, medicinal and therapeutic. Interestingly, Wolpert admits that none of the current treatments are any more effective than each other, and suggests that a mix of treatments based on an individual assessment would be most appropriate.

I'm surprised this book has been so well received, to me it seemly disappointingly one-dimensional. At no point does the author attempt to portray in his own words his experience, at no point does he offer any ground to those who might find a narrative engagement with the self important. He seems to be of the opinion that the more statistics he throws into the pot the more appealing his argument; I might have swapped a couple of chapters for one sentence I felt I could believe in. Be sure to read around, this is far from the complete and sympathetic picture the subject deserves.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 8, 2013 11:24 AM BST

The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Jean-Paul Sartre
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You live in a void, you're an abstraction, a man who is not there. It can't be an amusing sort of life.", 18 Jun. 2008
The Age of Reason puts Mathieu Delarue's character on trial. We find him in a moral quandary over his mistress of seven years, recently pregnant; does he marry her, or does he try to maintain his `freedom'? The first option is seen by Mathieu as something of a dreaded defeat, the latter... well that develops into more of a problem as it dawns on him that he has absolutely no firm idea of what freedom means. The more the issue is explored the more obscure it becomes, the less assured Mathieu feels in his life, and so the more fateful his choice of marriage or abortion becomes.

The novel's really a fictional presentation of Being and Nothingness and what is mainly explored through Mathieu's character here is issue of bad faith. He criticises bourgeois life but, as the crisis of Marcelle's pregnancy proves, he is only one decision away from the traditional water-torture of career and family. He approves of his friend Brunet, a Communist, but at the same time admits to himself:
"...I don't want any change. I enjoy railing against capitalism, and I don't want it suppressed because I should no longer have any reasons for railing, I enjoy feeling fastidious and aloof. I enjoy saying no, always no, and I should be afraid of any attempt to construct a finally habitable world, because I should merely have to say - Yes; and act like other people."
In his attempt to conform to a youthfully misconceived ideal of freedom Mathieu finds himself beholden to emptiness and ugliness, ultimately he has achieved nothing with his life. The Age of Reason is very much the realisation of a life wasted and sets the scene well for the following volumes, The Reprieve and Iron in the Soul, where Mathieu must define some kind of engagement with life as it forces itself upon him through the second world-war.
Now I know all this sounds a tad glum but Sartre is a writer with a violent sense of humour and, as with his earlier novel Nausea, I did find I was laughing plenty after my initial dismay at a world so grim had subsided. I mean;
"There was in that ill-favoured face of Sarah's an intriguing, almost voluptuous humility that evoked a mean desire to hurt her, to crush her with shame, `When I look at her', Daniel used to say, `I understand Sadism.'"

I found it took me a couple of chapters to acclimatise to Sartre's superficially bleak mood, but after that The Age of Reason was spankingly good. If you haven't read any of the philosophy don't worry, Sartre was a good enough fiction writer for the Roads to Freedom series to stand on its own merits. Top stuff.

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