Thursday, May 6, 2010

REVOLUTION IN MIND: The Creation of Psychoanalysis, by George Makari. Or, DECENT BOOK, EDITORIAL DISASTER.

This is a competent narrative of the origins of psychoanalysis. My judgment of it is clouded by two personal factors: my resentful envy of the prestigiously prestigious prestige with which the book is saturated (the author's "numerous awards," Harper Collins Press, Cornell U., Columbia U., etc.), and my scholarly obsession with issues of English grammar and rhetoric that most people regard as trivial. The two combine in the thought that if a less privileged author were to make this many mistakes of this kind, the book would be trashed in the press or completely ignored. I don't want to ruin anybody's day, but from my perspective the villain here is the "wonderful editor" named explicitly on page 488.

The great William Arrowsmith is the only translator of Nietzsche into English who bothered to render the closing section of the first of the four Untimely Meditations, in which Nietzsche offered a large sampling of the infelicities (often amounting to what we call "howlers") in the writing style of "David Strauss, the Writer and Confessor." Here is a similar bestiary of what Harper Collins allowed out of the house in this book by George Makari.

p.263. Makari makes some good use of the famous remark by Ferenczi, "In times of war, the Muses are silent." He meant that the nascent psychoanalytic community would have to temper the theoretical creativity of its more intellectually independent members until the discipline matured, otherwise such creativity might exacerbate the factionalism that threatened to destroy psychoanalysis as a viable branch of medicine. Fine. But then we get these lines:

"Members who wished to rewrite 'our Science' had to be silenced. This Nuremberg directive had Adler's name on it, but he showed little interest in modifying his views or deferring to these concerns. In the end, he was the Muse that needed to be silenced."

So Adler was a Muse? Adler was nobody's Muse, and even if he was, that's not what Makari is trying to say. He means that Adler was the PERSON who had to be silenced, but he goes for the repetition as if this did not matter. Also, "to be silenced" was absolutely not what Adler "needed." This is a street idiom, where the needs of the aggressor are stated as the victim's needs--as when a thug says "you need to give me your money." No, you need my money; what I need is a cop.

p.264. "Freud had tolerated Stekel, even admired his uncanny critical acumen, but was contemptuous of his theorizing." This is the first we've heard of Stekel's "uncanny critical acumen" or Freud's admiration of it. There's no footnote. Surely such a strong formulation demands at least one example?

p.266. "Freud publicly touted his tolerance of diverse opinion, as exemplified by his barely contained capacity to endure Wilhelm Stekel..." What Freud "barely contained" was his contempt for Stekel, not his capacity to endure Stekel. Was his capacity going to escape?

p.267. "When Freud announced Stekel's departure to the Vienna Society..." We can work out from the context that "to" governs "announced" and not "departure," but good prose does not burden the reader with ear-snagging ambiguities like this one; the author is supposed to resolve them, so that the reader doesn't have to slow down and do it himself. This book has all too many grammatical ambiguities of this sort.

p.268. Along these lines, read the last complete paragraph on page 268 and watch yourself backpedaling to be sure of just who is "he" and who is "the older man."

p.269. "The long paper did not appear to be a rebel's yell, for it opened by paying homage to Sigmund Freud's dream book and took as a given that that hero of classic Greek drama, Oedipus Rex, was living inside us all." The phrase "rebel yell" comes from the American Civil War and is out of place here. If accidental rhyme in prose is to be avoided, "book and took" is not good; neither is "that that." The literature of the Fifth Century BCE is called "Classical," not "classic." The name of the figure in question, like the drama which bears his name, is simply Oedipus, not Oedipus Rex (which is both Latin and extraneous).

p.270. "Like Helly Preiswerk, Frank Miller was an adept, a woman who made the unconscious manifest." I may have missed something in previous pages (I did go back and look again), or I may be the only educated person who hasn't heard of Helly Preiswerk, but who the hell was she?

p.271. Summarizing Jung's interpretation of the fantasies of his patient Frank Miller, Makari writes: "Her psychological struggle with the 'Father Imago'...provoked unconscious religious fantasies that traced the historical movement from the moral decadence of Roman times to the founding of Christianity and Mithraism." The incoherence of this passage is perhaps more Jung's responsibility than Makari's, but a different sort of writer might direct the reader's attention to the problem instead of merely repeating it. Is it Jung or Makari who writes of "the moral decadence of Roman times"? Decadence is a decline; exactly what morally superior past is supposed to have preceded this decline? Are "Roman times" the decadent times? Surely the early Republic with its citizen-farmer-soldiers was not a decadent society, and surely "Roman Times" include "the founding of Christianity and Mithraism," since those gradual events preceded the fall of the Western Roman Empire by several centuries. If "moral decadence" refers to the reign of Nero, there's a chronology problem, since that emperor allegedly illuminated his rooms with the burning bodies of Christians; they were already around during his reign, so its "decadence" cannot have resulted in "the founding of Christianity."

p.273. "Freud then added innocently that his own thought moved forward when he felt 'compelled to by the pressure of facts or by the influence of someone else's ideas.'" His thought moved forward when he felt compelled to--to what? To move forward, in the kitchen?

p.274. "Again, Auguste Comte's curse rose." Specters rise; curses do not.

p.283. "Jones had not mentioned anything about secrecy, but Freud emphasized it: 'this committee had to be strictly secret in his existence and in his actions.'" Again one can't tell whether the error lies with Freud, or Jones, or Makari; obviously we want a third person singular possessive pronoun which was probably his/its in German and has unfortunately been rendered (by whom?) "his" instead of "its" in English. If the error predates Makari, he should have inserted [sic:]; if not, he or his editor should have fixed it.

p.286. "But Jones also expressed reservations." Nope. Jones, too, expressed reservations. You want to add Jones to the list of people with reservations, not add reservations to the list of what Jones had.

p.290. "But some core propositions--especially the defining of the unconscious--were very difficult to prove." The defining was difficult to prove? The defining was a proposition? This is just incoherent.

p.298. "The Viennese philosopher Ernst Mach..." Mach was a physicist, one of the most important figures in the history of that discipline. Makari calls him a philosopher because Makari is only interested in the small part of Mach's work that fits neatly into philosophy (so it can be more easily related to psychology), and apparently has not heard of the rest.

p.298. "Mach argued for description only in science, and he viewed synthetic explanations as unwarranted." The word Makari needed was "speculative," not "synthetic." For a neo-Kantian like Mach, "synthetic" propositions are already part of our a priori knowledge of the world by virtue of our inborn epistemic equipment; we cannot elide them without landing in what James called "a blooming, buzzing confusion." Without synthesis there can be no description, let alone theory.

p.324. "Food was scarce, funds unavailable, and the capacity for communication outside Hungary difficult." Nothing like a difficult capacity, eh?

p.326. "Jones had little interest in laymen, but Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs took the Brunswick Square applicants and expressed the wish that by bringing these people into the fold..." He took them? Where?

p.328. "The establishment of such guidelines was of TANTAMOUNT IMPORTANCE..." People make this sort of mistake because they have neither read enough books in English to absorb the idioms of the language by rote, nor learned enough about language in general to know that "tant" is a correlative pronoun that means "so much, as much as." Paramount importance, not tantamount.

p.339. "He digested the standard cafe fare: Weininger, Schopenhauer, and Kant..." Not in that order, I hope.

p.344. "Therefore, conflicts...were entirely out of conscious, which meant..." Conscious is an adjective. We speak of "the unconscious," but I've never seen "conscious" used as a noun--certainly not without an article.

p.374. "Like prewar Berlin itself, Abraham gave little hint of originality in his early writings." I can't imagine what that means.

ibid. "In this regard, Abraham shared Ferenczi and Rank's belief that more attention be paid to the analytic situation." Trainwreck.

p.377. "...modes for interaction" This should be "modes OF interaction."

p.393-4. "For the close reader, Sterba had let the Technical Seminar's rabbit out of the bag." That's "cat out of the bag," not "rabbit out of the hat" and certainly not "rabbit out of the bag."

p.401. "Much of these discussions occurred at..." Should be "many," not "much."

p.417. "The victory of the Nazis and the Aryanization of the Berlin Institute was a catastrophe not just for Germany. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, it also announced a grave, immediate threat to Europe and more immediately, Austria." I am not calling anybody an anti-Semite, but in a book about Freud and the origins of psychoanalysis this passage just stinks. It's like writing a book about the origins of Blues music and saying the slave trade was a disaster not just for the shipbuilders whose galleys were often wrecked on the ocean, but also for the investors in those shipping companies. Not very sensitive.

p.428. "This conclusion encouraged Klein's move from the complexities of inner and outer to just the inner." Writer and editor are sleeping peacefully.

p.437. "...who Anna introduced.." WHOM she introduced.

p.438. "After the rise of the Nazis, many German analysts came to Vienna to participate in the stimulating analytic scene, despite the risk that Hitler's shadow loomed over Austria." I see no way to construe this that does not involve a mistake. "Loom" is not a transitive verb. Also, risk + shadow + loom = redundancy.

p.453. "...continuum between biology, psychology, and sociology." The preposition "between" is used for two elements; AMONG is used for three or more.

p.454. "...moral and ethical self-reflection.." What is the difference? If there is none, or if you haven't the space to specify it, then choose one term and drop the other. As it is, you're blowing smoke.

p.465. "In 1938, 30 percent of the I.P.A. membership lived in America, and that percentage was about to grow exponentially." That's a howler.

What is the smallest exponent? 30 to the zero power is one, so he can't mean that. 30 to the one is 30, which is no growth at all. But then 30 squared is 900. That means that out of every 100 (per-cent, remember?) psychoanalysts, 900 of them live in America. Or if he means 30% times 30%, then the number is getting smaller, not growing.

p.466. "On the first day of September 1939, Adolph Hitler invaded Poland." That's the worst way to put it. The Wehrmacht invaded Poland; millions of enthusiastic racist Nazis from Germany and Austria invaded Poland under orders from Hitler, the mentally ill puppet of military industrialists and financiers like Krupp, Thyssen, and Bayer.

p.471. "A series of ten discussions took place between January 27, 1943, to May 3, 1944." FROM x TO y, or BETWEEN x AND y, but not BETWEEN x TO y.

I haven't cited any of the merely typographical errors which plague this celebrated book. The errors I have cited above are the sort that students make--intelligent students who are simply too young and inexperienced to have read the thousand books you've got to read in order to accumulate so much mental exposure to good writing that you stop making these errors. But this book--which has its merits, and even a few passages of grace and beauty--bears four flatulently adoring blurbs from Harold Bloom, Paul Auster, Jonathan Lear, and Murray Gell-Mann. Heck, let's throw in the very Nobel Prize withal, shall we? Somebody pick up the phone and call Stockholm...

Meanwhile, can I have my $32.50 back?

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