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Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst by Adam Phillips

This picture of a young Sigmund Freud covers Adam Phillips' book, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst
Book Review:
 Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst
 by Adam Phillips
Published May 27th, 2014
Yale University Press - Jewish Lives Series

  This is not meant as a full-on biography of Sigmund Freud.  For that, I (and the author, based on the number of references) would recommend Freud: A Life for Our Time by Peter Gay.   A book on "young Freud" is tantalizing, since so much of his work relates to childhood and the process of becoming an adult.  It's natural for anyone with even a cursory interest in his work to wonder about Freud's own childhood.  As Phillips points out, it is also natural to wonder about Freud's relationship with his own Mother.

These are questions that may forever remains unanswered.  This would be a good place to interject that Phillips did no original research for this book, and relies entirely on fairly well known prior biographical accounts to weave his narrative.  In my mind, this in no way diminishes the value of Becoming Freud.  Becoming Freud is analgous to the 33 1/3 series published by Continuum, where authors discuss the importance of a specific album in whatever manner they feel appropriate.  Here, Phillips uses prior biographies of Freud to make meta-biographical points about the experiences of Freud as a man and their influence on his work.

  Specifically, he discusses the idea of Freud himself simultaneously disliking biography, conceptualizing his own life and work in terms of biography, and integrating biographical concepts into the work itself.  Thus, quotes from prior biographies of Freud are a launching points for Phillips own, more detailed, speculations.  As a volume in the Yale University Press Jewish Lives series, there is a need to discuss Freud's Judaism and the role that it played in the period covered.

    Freud married "above" his own family- the daughter of a wealthy Orthodox rabbi.  This despite the fact that he was a non practicing/atheistic Jew.  In Vienna of his time, one could simply not disown oneself as a Jew, and the idea of the unwilling outsider was to permeate his life and his work.

   Phillips hits deepest when he talks about the fact that Freud came up with most of major works while he was fathering six children in eight years.  This little discussed biographical detail would seem to carry great weight in a mind that placed the greatest emphasis on childhood experiences, both as it relates to his own experience as a child, a son and a father.  The reader is left with the impression that bourgeois values firmly shaped his values even as he came up with ideas which would be instrumental in destroying those same values.

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