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Cassandra's DaughterReview - Cassandra's Daughter
A History of Psychoanalysis
by Joseph Schwartz
Viking Press, 1999
Review by Andrew Stein, Ph.D.
Feb 29th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 9)

Cassandra’s Daughter is a book worth reading. Joseph Schwartz gives clear–sometimes brilliant–readings of a variety of psychoanalysts in very readable prose style. He ably places his history of psychoanalysis in cultural and historical context. Above all, Schwartz is fair and generous in a field that is filled with hero worship or the drivel of Freud bashers. The strength of Schwartz’s work– its sweeping synthesis– also, however, contains its one major weakness.

The main thesis of Cassandra’s Daughter is that psychoanalysis has undergone a paradigm shift. This sometimes rocky and personal process of change has replaced the instinctual-drive theory by a variety of relational models that do without the biological determinism of drives. This transition, according to Schwartz, did not happen at once or in one place. It occurred gradually, in the face of great resistance, and with different emphases in France, America and Britain.

Schwartz spends half his book discussing Freud and the conflicts that raged around the founder of psychoanalysis. In these chapters, Schwartz gives a fresh picture of Freud (something that is marvelous in itself). Schwartz is at his finest when he describes Freud as a second-rate scientist and a first-rate clinician caught between his allegiance to biological determinism and his sensitivity to the "context of...relationship" (pp.49). According to Schwartz, Freud’s efforts to base his clinical findings in a drive theory was a distraction, a remnant of his wish to be a scientist, while his most subtle clinical work pointed to the paramount importance of "listening". The Freud that Schwartz admires is not the scientist of instincts but the person who discovers that ‘symptoms have profound meanings’ rooted in relationships. For Schwartz, Freud’s commitment to a drive model meant that psychoanalysis would struggle for most the twentieth century to remove the biological husk from the relational kernel. In Schwartz’s word, the history of psychoanalysis has been a tumultuous struggle to reach the conclusion that: "the fundamental conflicts in the human inner world lie not in our seeking a reduction in tensions caused by unsatisfied drives but are associated with difficulties in satisfying a fundamental human need for relationship. (pp. 12-13).

Schwartz however dismisses the instinct-drive hypothesis too easily. He too quickly throws the baby out with the bath water by framing the history of psychoanalysis as a long purging of biologism. He does not consider what psychoanalysis gives up when it repudiates the instinctual dynamic model; and he is too quick to simply dismiss it as a remnant of 19th century biologism. Even if this criticism were true, it is not in itself a substantive reason to reject instinct theory. I would have appreciated a detailed criticism of the dynamic model on which the instinct theory rests. The nearest Schwartz comes to making this criticism is to quote Fairbairn to the effect that sexual dysfunction is a result of disturbed relationships, not their cause. Nor does Schwartz look at recent efforts to relate neurophysiology to the dynamic model, although these efforts may ultimately fail to link neurochemistry and physiology to a dynamic theory of unconscious conflicts.

Since Schwartz’s narrative stresses the superiority of the relational perspective, he naturally emphasizes the work of a number of figures who have been deemphasized in the official psychoanalytic histories. He rehabilitates, for example, Alfred Adler for holding the view that "dysfunctional sexuality was a reflected symptom of relational conflicts" (p. 113) To a lesser degree, he also gives Carl Jung a place of importance for "his insistence that the therapist remain open to the patient’s suffering in such a way that he or she actually absorbs the suffering" (p.139).

For the same reasons, Schwartz stresses the development of the American interpersonal approach in his two chapters on America. He focuses on important figures like William Alanson White and Harry Stack Sullivan who develop humane interpersonal therapies for working with schizophrenics (p.166) rather than H. Brill or the post-war ego psychologists. His interesting comments on the struggle to admit nonmedical students into training institutes stress the role of William Alanson White, who admitted nonmedical students like social workers (pp. 158, 174-6), more than the equally important struggle between the New York psychoanalytic establishment and Theodore Reik, who went on to open his own lay training institute in New York (NPAP). This material is more thoroughly discussed in Hale’s detailed study of American psychoanalysis (Hale, 1995).

The true heroes of Schwartz’s narrative are the British psychoanalysts–W. R. D. Fairbairn, J. Bowlby, W. H. Winnicott–who, following the Controversial discussion of the 1940s, develop object relational or attachment approaches that Schwartz believes are truly relational. Klein plays a key early role in this paradigm shift, according to Schwartz, because she insists on the fact that the infant-parent relationship is at the heart of the child’s development from birth and because of her analysis of childhood anxieties in terms of objects in the child’s inner world. Her work however, according to Schwartz, remains hampered by her allegiance to Freud’s drive theory, especially her insistence that the aggression of the baby was an expression of their death drive. What is required, according to Schwarz, is a fuller appreciation for how failures in human relations are the source of infantile anxieties.

The post-WWI paradigm shift, writes Schwartz, results in the emergence of three key ideas:

    1. Real loss and separation from the loved object are the source of infantile aggression.
    2. The internalization of real loss and separation, rather than innate devouring cannibalistic impulses, produce disturbed object relations.
    3. Therapy tries to repair damaged relationships and restore the capacity to love.
Key players in this paradigm shift, according to Schwartz, include John Bowlby, D. H. Winnicott, and empirical researchers of infant observation studies. But the real hero in Schwartz’s narrative is W. R. D. Fairbairn who, he writes, develops "the fully psychological theory of the human personality that Freud had been searching for at the turn of the century.... (one that) left biology behind" (p. 238). In a later passage, Schwartz elaborates: "Pleasure-seeking represents deterioration of relationships. Physical pleasure, the release of the tension of unmet relational needs, simply to reduce tension per se, represents a deterioration of relationships– s in compulsive sexuality, the seeking of pleasure for its own sake," (p. 239).

The final chapters develop the new application of forms of relational thinking to issues like the nature of subjectivity (Lacan), gender identity and culture (Horney), and the nature of the self (Kohut). In these last chapters, however, the single weakness of Schwartz’s approach resurfaces. Besides its Whig structure, he is too quick to sweep up theorists as disparate as Karen Horney and Jacques Lacan into his paradigm. I do not deny that these comparisons are illuminating, but they leave too much difference out of the picture.

Any historian faces the hard tasks of making selections–who is important and who can be left out–and weaving facts into a compelling narrative. I do not agree with all the selections that Dr. Schwartz has made, but it would be boring history indeed if everyone agreed on all the finer points. In sum, Cassandra's Daughter presents the case of a paradigm shift from a biological base to relational theories in a readable and thought provoking manner that is well worth reading.

Andrew Stein has a Ph.D. in European history, an A.B.D. in psychology (he is currently finishing a doctoral-level internship), and will be a certified Psychoanalyst in one year. Professor Stein also teaches humanities classes at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He has written on Georges Bataille, the French avant-garde, Michel Foucault, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He is currently writing a book entitled Neurosis and Postindustrial Society and has a private practice in Philadelphia where he treats patients through psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

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