I recently spotted a tweet from my Twitter pal @RuthNinaWelsh saying she'd just bought Janet Malcolm's book, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. Before I knew it the very same book was in my Amazon basket, along with another by Malcolm, In the Freud Archives, my next big read. I've a weakness for pretty dust jackets and books about psychotherapy and with the help of Amazon I've been able to fill two rooms at my house and office. The Marsden Therapy library! It will certainly fill a large skip when I'm dead and gone.
Janet Malcolm's book fooled me a little. This latest edition was published in 2012, but the book was first published in 1981. Very dated then. It started as an article in The New Yorker, where Malcolm has been a contributor since 1963, and it's been expanded to 168 pages with detours into Freudian theory and practice.
At the heart of the book is an extended interview with psychoanalyst "Aaron Green", a 'forty-six-year-old psychoanalyst who practices in Manhattan in the East Nineties' (3). The book is fascinating when it describes the views and experiences of Green, this 'slight man, with a vivid, impatient, unsmiling face' (3).
To increase the word count (I suspect) the opinions of Green become departure points for fairly esoteric discussions of Freudian theory and technique (transference, analyzability) and the competing revisions of post-Freudians. In the face of all these revisions Green remains completely loyal to Freud's original conception of psychoanalysis, articulated for Green by his contemporary, Charles Brenner.
The first chapter of the book is something of a potted history of Freud's discoveries, but after that the book becomes much more interesting. The interview with Green casts light on the politics of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the eccentricities of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, the manoeuvres and bids for power and status of America's leading analysts in the '70s and '80s. There are insights too - on therapy, on Freud and on human nature - so I'm looking forward to reading my other Malcolm purchase, In the Freud Archive, about Jeffrey Masson, who did us all a great service as the editor of the Freud-Fliess letters and then did a hatchet job on Freudian studies and the field of psychotherapy with his two books, The Assault on Truth and Against Therapy
Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, London, Granta. Available from Amazon