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Book Review Of "Freud For Historians"

1938 words - 8 pages

Freud for Historians. By Peter Gay. (Oxford University Press, 1985. Pp. vii + 252. Preface, bibliography, acknowledgments, index.)

Freud for Historians is an argument, presented by Peter Gay, which deals with psychoanalysis in historical writing. This topic of interest is a heated debate among historians. The argument is a final book in a trilogy Gay did not intend to write. Freud for Historians follows two historiographical books, Style in History and its sequel about causation, Art and Act (p. viii). In his book, Gay presents a strong defense against misunderstandings of psychoanalytic theory.

He is developing his discussion on a principle he had discussed in Art and Act. Peter Gay, being a professional on Freud, is attacking the critics of psychohistory, and even more in depth the psychoanalytic historian. The main point of the text is to emphasize to its critics that psychoanalysis can help historians not only learn what happened in history, but why events happened. "Psychoanalysis...is not a miracle drug or a magic password; it is an informed style of inquiry, supplying answers no one had thought were available before or - even more important- suggesting questions no one had thought to ask" (p. 32, 33).

As a graduate student, Peter Gay was a beginning instructor in political science. He always had an interest in Freud, which led him "to pursue a course of reading in Freud, unsystematically and informally" (p. xii). He soon became interested in social history and ultimately became a historian. After writing Art and Act, the second book in this trilogy, he wanted to learn even more on Freud and psychoanalysis. He "entered the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis as a research candidate, to undergo ... didactic analysis and take the full complement of courses that would ...turn [him] from an informed amateur in the Freudian dispensation into something of a professional" (p. xiv). Gay presents a very solid, successful argument in this concluding book. He credits himself here to the reader of his worthiness of presenting such an intellectual discussion.

In the opening of Freud for Historians, "The Argument: Defenses Against Psychoanalysis", Peter Gay states the organization of his book, "organizing [his arguments] in a logical and, [hopefully], lucid sequence. [He] visualiz[es] the historian's defensive maneuvers as six concentric rings of intellectual fortifications mobilized against the Freudian assault" (p. 4). Although he attempts to organize his work in a comprehensible fashion, the amateur reader might benefit reading the last half of the book before the beginning. Gay dances around his points and does not express their full meanings until later on. For example, he talks about the Oedipus complex several times throughout the book, but doesn't fully explain it until page ninety-four. Being unversed in the subject, it is very difficult to follow the argument until chapter three, in which Gay...

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