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The book is an introduction to the 'relatively new' genre of
'philosophical autobiography'. The first two chapters outline some
characteristics of philosophical autobiography; they offer a large list of the
main examples belonging to this category and some detailed analyses of the main
representative narratives in 'self-reflection' and 'life-writing' like Plato's,
Marcus Aurelius', Abelard's, Al-Ghazali's but also Dante's and Kahlil Gibran's
among many others. The third chapter hosts the main argument of the book, - which
is an extension of Shlomit Schuster's doctoral thesis presented at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1997. The author proposes some ideas for an alternative form of
psychoanalysis that she calls 'philosophical psychoanalysis'.
The purpose of the new approach she advocates is not
therapeutic, but rather a 'suggestion for how to understand persons as
subjects'. The premise of the investigation is radically anti-freudian and
practically rooted. Schuster asserts: "Among the people I spoke within my
private philosophy practice are those who have received psychoanalytically
oriented psychotherapy and have felt that the Freudian method did not address
their specific problems or what they considered the background of their
problems. People often feel the need to relate their present problems to their
past, but not necessarily through a Freudian or other clinical developmental
theory. If one looks for nonclinical development understandings of the self one
can find numerous philosophers who aimed at analyzing and describing the
development of the self, the soul, the emotions, or memory". Paradigmatic
in this sense are the three autobiographies that Schuster outlines in detail in
the following three chapters: Augustine's, Rousseau's and Sartre's.
In some alternative psychotherapeutic treatments,
'rebiographing' is already used to help people to write their pasts and
interpret matters in a novel way. Instead of searching for continuity and unity
of the self through a 'due influence' of the past over the present, influence
which is given as acquainted by those therapies, Schuster proposes that
continuity and consistency are obtained through philosophical reflection.
"The narrative-self I propose is not characterized by an ideal narrative
structure in which the person can only be a little different in the present, or
in the future, from what he or she was in the past. From my perspective the
search for the good life may direct persons to make drastic changes in themselves, as is made explicit through accentuating philosophical continuity
and consistency in the lives of Augustine, Rousseau, and Sartre." The
ideal of a 'radical change of mind' is the main issue, both theoretical and
practical, of Schuster's purpose. Focusing on the dialectical distinction
between the 'slavish mental activity' and the 'free mental activity',
appropriated from Dewey, the author argues that philosophers such as the three mentioned
above "described their awareness of slavish aspect of mental activity, but
also described an autonomous philosophizing and how free philosophical activity
changed their very being and life". Schuster's proposition of 'philosophical
psychoanalysis' aims also to present itself as a 'qualitative approach' like
the qualititative research originated in phenomenology.
In the epilogue of the book Schuster notes that "The
relationship between self-narration, narration, self-renewal, and change
coincides with ancient suggestions of self-transformation through personal
confessions, or the creative, transforming speech of priests, prophets, and
© 2002 Paola Teresa Grassi
Teresa Grassi, Italy
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