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I have to start this
review with expressions of puzzlement. I believe that I have never written more
question marks on the margins of a book. More precisely, I have used as many
question marks as I would need for a dozen scholarly books. I would say that this
reflects its lack of internal consistency. My most important impression about
the book is that it consists of two irreconcilable sides, no matter the issue
we discuss: composition, writing style, hypotheses, or conclusions.
To start with, the book
has two parts. It is important to note these parts were once books of their
own, two among Dr. Frankl's several books. These separate volumes are now
merged together without, so it seems, any major adaptations of material or
style. This edition published in 2003 is the third one. It does not seem to be
much different than previous ones, with additions mainly addressing possible
psychological foundation of terrorism and terrorists.
first part of the book is entitled Archaeology of Mind. It opens with a
chapter on methodological issues concerning psychoanalytic study of culture,
society, and history. After this opening definition of his standpoint, the
author provides a very detailed review of data about prehistory and ancient
civilizations, and tries to give psychoanalytic explanations of their major
characteristics. He discusses matriarchal cultures, the emergence of Homo
sapiens, and patriarchal cultures of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The second part -
entitled Civilisation: Utopia and Tragedy - proceeds from there and
gives a survey of all major cultural trends that followed. In less than 200
pages, Frankl writes about Jerusalem, Athens, Christianity, Renaissance, and
other important societal issues all the way to contemporary music or al-Quaeda.
far as his methodology is concerned, Frankl is a faithful Freudian. He agrees
that "sociology [is] just an applied psychology" (p. 1), and he hopes
that " … the study of history could become analytic interpretation"
(p. xii; emphasis in the original). And in the same manner, Hesiod is
considered to be a prodigious psychoanalyst and his "Theogony" a
sketch of the psychoanalytic understanding of development (pp. 206-220). The
author believes that " … the most important contribution of psychoanalysis
will emerge in its application to the social neurosis … " (p. xi), and
embarks on a study of prehistoric man's life, customs, and survival using what
I consider a direct application of the Kleinian child analysis (cf. p. 55ff).
equation between psyche and culture is achieved through the author's
reductionistic attempt to find a single principle that would explain phenomena
from both realms. This basic principle is named externalization: "It is a
fundamental characteristic of man that he externalizes his mental processes by
reproducing them outside himself in material symbols and cultural ideas"
(p. 32). The illustration provided should help us understand the process:
"[The first man] would, on seeing a stone, recognize in it the imagined
weapon and shape it accordingly. He would, therefore, transfer his image
outside himself and make it real by means of work" (p. 61).
this manner, society and culture are viewed as nothing but the artifacts of
human mind: "modes of human self-expression objectified in the norms and
structures of society", or "… public expression of private fantasies
… " (p. xx). Society is nothing but a shared, negotiated fantasy:
"Culture signifies the capacity to populate the world with ghosts, spirits
and myths, to communicate them to members of community and relate to them
collectively through common worship and ritual" (p. 62). Besides being
reducible to the psychological, society can also be reduced to the biological
level. One of the low points of the book is Frankl's acceptance of Haeckel's Biogenetic
law (which says that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) as an "important
theory or, rather, as an hypothesis which still needs a lot more evidence
before it can be fully accepted, and I intend to contribute to the
evidence" (p. 41). However, as Frank Sulloway repeatedly warned, this
"law" has been refuted long time ago and endorsing it means living in
the past. That Freud preferred Haeckel to Darwin is strange; that Frankl does
the same at the beginning of the XXI century is difficult to explain.
This leads the author to
a position that is closer to a Jungian theory of the collective unconscious
(cf. p. 76), than to the contemporary relational turn in psychoanalysis. This
is evident in his claims that "the prehistoric experiences of our race are
reproduced in the unconscious layers of the individual mind" and that
"we inherit not only … [our ancestors'] … achievements, but also their
bloody, sadistic and sacrificial fantasies" (p. 169).
The question I wanted to
see asked did not appear even once - What is a cause and what an effect? I
think that the author underestimated possible cultural influences on personal
development, despite the abundance of theories and data of this kind in
developmental psychology. Throughout the book everything is explained in a linear
fashion - human mind influences society. There are no reversed influences, no
accounts of their interaction or collision. Furthermore, the author neglected
"social forces" which organize the realm and are not reducible.
One strong point of the book is Frankl's account of the
Oedipus complex. He is critical toward the thesis of the universality of
Oedipus complex in history, in different societies and among primates. He
claims that the Oedipus complex is characteristic of patriarchy, and that it
would be a mistake to equate patriarchy with society. And this, I believe, sets
him on the right track when he writes that "the Oedipus complex did not in
fact start in the family but in society, or rather, let us say it developed in
society and in the family to become an interacting feedback process" (p.
The strongest point of
the book is without any doubt Frankl's incomparable erudition. His knowledge in
areas so diverse as history, archeology, languages, arts and literature,
sociology, etc., is absolutely impressive. I cannot remember reading a
psychoanalyst who could be a professor of so many disciplines. This is a kind
of a book that is usually written by a group of scholars. I am sorry to find
that this knowledge produced just interesting narratives, which seem to be
completely untestable and aimed at reducing wonderful diversities of our minds
and cultures to a single principle.
© 2004 Aleksandar Dimitrijevic
Dimitrijevic, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Psychology, Belgrade,