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On Being Normal is a sparkling book that will likely engulf
readers' attention with flames of intense scholarship, with respect to
psychodiagnostics. Sole author, and
brilliant writer and researcher, Professor Paul Verhaeghe is a professor of
psychoanalysis (at the University Of Ghent, Belgium). Through the medium of this fascinating, and intensely
contemplative, book, Verhaeghe immerses the reader in the daunting profundities
of psychodiagnostics. Those who will
accept the challenge of reading this quite abstruse book in highly attentive
fashion should emerge feeling greatly refreshed with knowledge and insights,
impinging on psychoanalysis and psychopathology.
It cannot be gainsaid that Verhaeghe is an unapologetically tough,
intellectual interrogator, who is unafraid of plunging headlong into the seemingly
fathomless theoretical and empirical waters of mental suffering. Wielding a highly critical, but also quite
perspicacious and brightly intellectually illumining, saber, Verhaeghe
methodically cuts a swath through a thicket of thorny issues, attached to
mental centric malaise. The theoretical
musings, of Verhaeghe, are rooted, deeply, in the soil of Lacanian and Freudian
psychoanalytic thought, and, to some measure, are filtered, introspectively, by
Verhaeghe, through the prism of empirical research data. Metaphorically, Verhaeghe, in workaday
manner, meticulously builds a bridge, connecting psychoanalytic theory and
empirical research findings. The
overarching focus is on clinical psychodiagnostics, with an emphasis on the
tedious constructing of a metapsychological theoretical framework.
Although Verhaeghe often proffers distinct views and preferences, he
also appropriately acknowledges the possible legitimacy of variant approaches,
with respect to sundry intellectual tasks undertaken arduously in the
text. There can be no reasonable doubt
regarding Verhaeghe's stunning brilliance and contemplativeness. Nor can there be serious dispute that this
strikingly esoterical, and prolix, tome is a seminal contribution to the
Structurally, the textual contents are trifurcated, into three
parts. Multitudinous footnotes,
sometimes quite terse but at other times rather lengthy, interestingly and instructively
embellish the text. Multifarious
research references additionally contribute, materially, to the text's academic
potency. The injecting of some clinical
fragments, into the textual body, serves an edifying purpose, as well; indeed,
a heavier dose of clinical anecdotes would not have been unwelcome.
An important thematic thread, tying together the chapters comprising the
book's first part, is the perceived salient need for the sturdy erecting of a
metapsychological, theoretical foundation.
The skilled demarcating of the respective bounds of clinical
psychodiagnostics and medical diagnostics garners Verhaeghe's rapt attention,
in chapter one. In chapter two,
Verhaeghe proceeds to expound, in recondite fashion, on the psychodiagnostic
enterprise, when cast in the framework of scientific study. The genesis of the
system known as the "DSM" (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders) is broached, also.
The artful weaving of a complicated tapestry, revealing the structurally
determined epistemological impotence of psychodiagnostic categorization is
accomplished in chapter three. In a
somewhat turbid, meandering way, Verhaeghe, in chapter four, sketches brief
outlines of various paradigms. In the
last chapter (chapter five), of part one, Verhaeghe takes direct aim at
clinical psychodiagnostics bound conceptually to the ensuing treatment. Pitfalls to avoid, in the quest for a
metapsychology useful for clinical psychodiagnostic purposes, and positive
characterizations for treatment, are subjects painted adroitly by the firmly
unyielding and skilled brush of Verhaeghe.
In part two, Verhaeghe endeavors to germinate the theoretical seeds
planted earlier, in part one; and toils away at providing some useful
elucidation of the pivotal relationship binding the subject and the Other. The theoretical influences of Lacan and
Freud reverberate powerfully through the pages of this textual part. The coming into being of the subject in
relation to the Other, particularly in the context of the primary mother and child relation, is sewed assiduously into the fabric of chapter
six. A rather intricate, involved
elaboration of the mechanism of defense is the crux of chapter seven. At the heart of chapter eight is an
adumbration of a circular model, pertaining to becoming a subject. Chapter nine tinges the textual body with a
measure of neo-Darwinist discussion; and rivets attention on the identification
of an evolutionarily grounded purposiveness in human behavior. Part two's last chapter examines anxiety,
guilt, and depression in the framework of psychodiagnostic theory and
metapsychology. Interconnections, of
anxiety and depression, with guilt are exposed tellingly.
In the book's last part, Verhaeghe works hard to fathom diverse
pathologies, especially concerning structural relations of the subject with the
Other. Panic disorder and somatization,
for instance, draw centerstage attention in the masterfully written chapter
eleven. Tentacles of Verhaeghe's
attention extend to an examination of the Freudian description of anxiety
neurosis. Post-traumatic stress disorder,
together with borderline disorder, are the cynosure of chapter twelve. The central argument, propounded by
Verhaeghe, is that an understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder as well
as borderline personality disorder necessitates a very clear stress on actual
pathology. The subjects of hysteria and
obsessional neurosis, and their attachments to psychopathology (with vestiges
of Freud and Lacan insinuated into textual crevices), are taken up in chapter
thirteen. Perversion, particularly
perverse structure and perverse traits, are dissected and examined
painstakingly, in chapter fourteen.
Finally, the heart of the tome's last chapter is an attempted unraveling
of some of the mysteries of psychosis.
Verhaeghe studies carefully the structural relation of the psychotic
subject toward the Other, with a focus on the Other as language.
Indubitably, this very impressive book is immensely enlightening and
revealing regarding the innumerable intricacies, and attendant opaqueness,
enveloping psychodiagnostics. At the
same time, the subjects broached by Verhaeghe in many instances suffer from
inadequate empirical study; the labyrinthine complexity of human behavior is
highly elusive of lucidity of understanding; and discussions steeped heavily in
Lacanian and Freudian thinking will, most likely, remain forever unfinished.
Clinicians and researchers ensconced in the expansive mental health
realm, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts, should be
greatly gratified, intellectually, by Verhaeghe's stellar contribution to the
continually growing field of psychodiagnostics.
2005 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law
degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from
Columbia University. His area of
special professional interest is healthcare.