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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession
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on 25 August 2013
Since the 1920s, psychoanalytic thought has permeated our culture and the way we look at the world. It has found its way into everything from art to law, literature to anthropology. But the clinical world of the psychoanalyst remains mysterious. In this book, written in 1980, Janet Malcolm attempts to throw some light on the practice of psychoanalysis, its complexities, contradictions and difficulties.

She bases her explorations on a series of interviews with a well-established Manhattan practitioner ("Aaron Green") and it's his positions, as an orthodox Freudian, that are given centre stage (although she also touches on developments and elaborations such as the object-relations theory)

Malcolm knows her stuff, and this is one of the clearest explanations of some of the central practices in psychoanalysis that I have read. But its the "impossibilities" of the whole enterprise that are the focus of the discussion. In this respect, it makes a fascinating companion piece to Jefrey Masson's "Final Analysis". Masson was trained in a similar mileau at a similar time, so that many of the same tensions occur in both books; the unnaturalness of the patient-analyst relationship, the counter-intuitive nature of many interpretations, the secrecy of the professional hierarchy and its savage treatment of 'apostates'. Masson, as is well known, became disilliusioned and disgusted, culminating in his writing the incendiary "Against Therapy" and "The Assault on Truth". Malcolm is more considered, but even so, adds her own critique of Freud's "Dora" case (and rather persuasive it is too!).

However, overall, her approach is even handed, and the reader finishes the book feeling better informed, rather than harangued into taking one side or another.

A fascinating read that would fully justify 5 stars if only it were updated to reflect the changes in the field over the last 30 years or so.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 July 2014
Whilst nothing Malcolm writes is not worth reading, this is not her at consistently full power. I am judging her by the formidable, forensically brilliant standard she sets in 'The Journalist and the Murder' and 'The Silent Woman' where she says things I have not read the like of before. This is not so original and I flatter myself that most of the points had occurred to me, if not as cogently as they are expressed here. She does well to notice Object Relations theorists - unusual for an American - but as A.N. Other reviewer notes, no account is taken of more recent developments, such as CBT and NLP or even the more eclectic, less fundamentalist tendency of the Neo-Freudian Psychodynamic practitioners. This book is, for at the start, neither as tautly expressed nor as startlingly original as the best of her work; Rosemary Dinnage and others have done as well as this and Malcolm has written better elsewhere. Yet it does spring into sharp life as she explores the ideas of her quasi therapist viz.'Aaron Green',whom she interviews, as well as others to a shorter extent. He is delightfully candid and clever. This is the best, the middle of the book: Malcolm ask good questions, identifies the intricacies of the rival Psychoanalytic bodies with skill and intelligence which makes the book worth buying. Her choice of respondents and those she quotes is fairminded and often fascinating, since they are, on the whole, an endearing and various group. These therapists and her conversations with or responses to them bears much rereading and I wish I had read this before training as a psychotherapist (Failed; I might have made it beyond 14 months with this).
However start with 'Journalist' if it is Malcolm that you are interested in, and combine this with Ernest Gellner if it is an appraisal of Psychoanalysis you are after (no, I am NOT the late Mr Gellner's agent). He may not capture the pungency of The Hour, but he too is fair-minded, on its ideas. Malcolm is, as ever, superb in asking the right questions and listening hard and analysing the answers. Very stimulating. (I think even her shopping list would be interesting).
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on 4 May 2016
I've read Freud, Jung and psychology for the past forty years. Every now and again I come across a real gem that brings the last hundred years kicking and screaming into the 21st century. This book is amongst the best I've read that does this and some. Freud is just as relevant today as he ever was.
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on 19 August 2015
Well written informative book ...quick delivery ..
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on 30 August 2016
Anything Janet Malcolm writes is required reading...
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on 21 August 2014
As a layman in psychoanalysis, all I can say is that this book reinforced my belief that the psychoanalytic field is more an ideology (or a religion for initiates in sacred mysteries and rites) than a scientific discipline.
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on 18 September 2014
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