The ability to mourn: disillusionment and the social origins of psychoanalysis

Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1989)
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Abstract

Peter Homans offers a new understanding of the origins of psychoanalysis and relates the psychoanalytic project as a whole to the sweep of Western culture, past and present. He argues that Freud's fundamental goal was the interpretation of culture and that, therefore, psychoanalysis is fundamentally a humanistic social science. To establish this claim, Homans looks back at Freud's self-analysis in light of the crucial years from 1906 to 1914 when the psychoanalytic movement was formed and shows how these experiences culminated in Freud's cultural texts. By exploring the "culture of psychoanalysis," Homans seeks a better understanding of what a "psychoanalysis of culture" might be. Psychoanalysis, Homans shows, originated as a creative response to the withering away of traditional communities and their symbols in the aftermath of the industrial revolution. The loss of these attachments played a crucial role in the lives of the founders of psychoanalysis, especially Sigmund Freud but also Karl Abraham, Carl Jung, Otto Rank, and Ernest Jones. The personal, political, and religious losses that these figures experienced, the introspection that followed, and the psychological discovery that resulted are what Homans calls "the ability to mourn." Homans expands this historical analysis to construct a general model of psychological discovery: the loss of shared ideals and symbols can produce a deeper sense of self (psychological structure-building, or individuation) and can then lead to the creation of new forms of meaning and self-understanding. He shows how Freud, Jung, and other psychoanalysts began to extend their introspection outward, reinterpreting the meanings of Western art, history, and religion. In conclusion, Homans evaluates Freud's theory of culture and discusses the role that psychoanalysis might play in social and cultural criticism. Throughout the book, Homans makes use of the many histories, biographies, and psychobiographies that have been written about the origins of psychoanalysis, drawing them into a comprehensive sociocultural model. Rich in insights and highly original in approach, this work will interest psychoanalysts and students of Freud, sociologists concerned with modernity and psychoanalysis, and cultural critics in the fields of religion, anthropology, political science, and social history.

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