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Political Freud: A History Paperback – July 18, 2017
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Zaretsky offers a fascinating analysis of the inherent political ambivalence of psychoanalysis and its intertwined conservative and utopian strands. His book is a deeply interesting and important contribution to debates about the relationship between psychoanalysis, critical theory, and politics. (Amy R. Allen, author of The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory)
Much of twentieth-century political thought, ideologies, and movements cannot be understood without grasping the influence of psychoanalysis. Critical theory, postcolonial understandings of race, interpretations of the Holocaust and war, feminism, and the New Left all drew on Freud in both high theory and everyday understanding. In Political Freud, Zaretsky narrates the twentieth-century story with verve and insight and shows how the influences continue into the twenty-first. (Craig Calhoun, director, London School of Economics and Political Science)
Zaretsky is one of the best historians of Freudian thought. Once again he shows the social and political impact of psychoanalysis and the central role it plays in the second half of the twentieth century, in the feminist movement, the struggle of homosexuals, antiracism, and criticism of colonialism and totalitarianism. At the heart of this approach, Zaretsky analyzes Freud's relationship to his Jewishness. A remarkable book. (Elisabeth Roudinesco, author of Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida)
In this nuanced, historically attuned, and deeply felt consideration of the conflicting political implications of psychoanalysis, Eli Zaretsky traces the ways in which Freud's theories were employed to address the most pressing issues of the past century: war, racism, the Holocaust, identity politics, and the never-ending crisis of capitalism. He shows how it has underpinned conformity as well as fueled critique. Against the current of our Freud-bashing times, Zaretsky makes a powerful case for his continuing relevance as an interpreter of both our political dreams and worst nightmares. (Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley)
Readers will emerge from Political Freud with a clearer sense of what is lost and must be recovered in the much-maligned psychoanalytic tradition. This brilliant riposte to Freud-bashers ought to be, as they say, on every shelf. (Kurt Jacobsen Logos: A Journal of Modern Society & Culture)
A fascinating and compelling account of the cultural and philosophical impact of psychoanalysis on the 20th-century political scene.... [Political Freud] reveals just how deeply it is woven into the US political fabric, both conservative and progressive. Indispensable for historians of 20th-century thought and politics. (Choice)
[A] compelling and valuable examination.... Zaretsky offers a very powerful and broad account of how psychoanalysis and twentieth-century culture emerged together, tested each other critically, and shifted in response to the pressures and forces that each aroused. (Stephen Frosh American Imago)
Richly researched.... and elegantly argued. (Elizabeth Ann Danto Contemporary Psychoanalysis)
The book is a resource for understanding what went wrong and how to create a better future. (Psychohistory News)
[Zaretsky] provides a valuable context to help us grapple with the ways historical changes have impacted Freudianism with an eye to recuperating the best of an inwardly revolutionary movement. (Dan Dervin The Journal of Psychohistory)
Political Freud is Zaretsky's account of the way twentieth century radicals, activists, and thinkers used Freudian thought to understand the political developments of their century. Zaretsky shows how important political readings of Freud were to the theory of fascism and the experience of the Holocaust, the critical role they played in African American radical thought, particularly in the struggle for racial memory, and in the rebellions of the 1960s and their culmination in feminism and gay liberation.
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Here is my top ten list:
1. The primal horde was real.
2. The brothers murdered the primal father.
3. Moses was an Egyptian.
4. Psychoanalysis should not concern itself with psychotherapeutic outcomes.
5. Psychoanalysis must study only the "durable, unique personality" of the intra-psychic unconscious.
6. Freud discovered the unconscious.
7. Guilt is a Lamarckian inheritance from the primal murder of the charismatic and powerful father.
8. Sons do not want to kill mothers.
9. Freud achieved self-knowledge through his life-long self-analysis.
10. Freud was an icon of adult maturity.
Zaretsky is unaware that Freud remained an ambivalent slave to his powerful mother's will until the day she died in 1930. There is no evidence, Peter Gay concedes in his hagiography, that Freud ever exorcised her power over him. "He has no more insight than a small boy," sadly concluded Ferenczi and Rank, who knew Freud better than anyone else.
I give this book five stars as a tribute to Freud's prescient remark to Jung on their voyage to America in 1910: "Little do they know that we are bringing them the plague."
Thank you, Prof. Zaretsky, for reminding us of the lunacy of Freud.