Between Emotion and Cognition: The Generative Unconscious (Book Review)

Author:  Newirth, Joseph
Publisher:  New York: Other Press, 2003
Reviewed By:  Jeffrey H. Golland, Spring 2004, pp. 37-38

Pluralism is the watchword of the day in psychoanalysis. The final issue of the 2003 volume of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, a supplement addressing psychoanalytic politics, honors outgoing editor Arnold Richards. His own target paper on psychoanalytic discourse is subtitled “a plea for a measure of humility.” The issue includes authors whose work would not likely have appeared in JAPA before Dr. Richards’s decade-long editorial tenure. Despite Richards’s plea, partisanship trumps humility in several of the compiled papers. Even the postscript essay on the history of Argentine psychoanalysis ascribes a political rationale to rejection of the North American ego psychological model. These essays provided backdrop for this review.

Between Cognition and Emotion is a contribution to the comparative theory of technique. Joseph Newirth, director of the postdoctoral programs in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy at Adelphi University, has been in practice for over a quarter century. He offers here a new integration of what he sees as evolving psychoanalytic theory. He calls his integration neo-Kleinian. It attempts to transcend what he perceives as shortcomings of traditional ego psychology, and to go beyond the insights of self psychology and the relational turn. Beside those of Klein, the writings of Winnicott, Bion, Lacan and Matte Blanco most inspire his new perspective, one that postulates a “generative unconscious” to help in understanding poetry, art, love and friendship as well as clinical work, and to turn on its head Freud’s own pre-structural goal of making the unconscious conscious.

Newirth’s model focuses on subjectivity and the subject, as distinct from ego or self, and on meaning instead of conflict. He favors a post-modern, two-person approach to the treatment of apparently functional individuals whose problems center on feelings of being deadened or disconnected. The culture of narcissism (Lasch, 1978) suggests to Newirth that this “hollow man” typifies the psychopathology of our time, replacing “guilty man” and “tragic man,” Freud’s and Kohut’s respective patient populations.

In a scholarly, thoughtful, and astute presentation, and with clinical examples from his practice and supervision, Newirth demonstrates the refinement and utility of his approach. He speaks to the development of symbolism and its failures. He incorporates Lacanian views on language and its contribution to meaning. He sees pathology as a paranoid expression of a shameful reality experience, and as an externalization of hatred. He postulates development from omnipotence to subjectivity, and resulting in the ability to sustain illusion. Technical recommendations include welcoming paradox and dialectic, addressing power issues to approach complementary relations, and the use of the transitional states of reverie, play, and enactment as treatment modalities.

Newirth is especially clear in his articulation of Winnicott’s contributions to technique, and in the description and use of the ideas of Matte Blanco. This book is an excellent example of a seasoned clinician describing his own mature thinking about the clinical psychoanalytic enterprise, and making suggestions regarding newer, helpful ways for others to think about their patients, particular the deadened and disconnected.

Why, then, would I begin this review with reference to psychoanalytic politics and humility of discourse? I found Newirth’s comparisons to be unfairly directed at an outdated caricature of my own traditional training and work. He seemed gentler with the interpersonalists (among which he includes self psychologists, intersubjective analysts, and those of the relational school), whose approaches he generally supports and tries to extend. (Perhaps reviewers from these camps would also find him unfair.) My formal training, completed over thirty years ago, was suffused with the humanizing influences of Stone and Loewald. Winnicott’s contributions and those of Guntrip and Balint were well appreciated. Kohut’s new theory was respectfully read, and his insights taken seriously.

Freudian analysts have long viewed Freud’s own technical recommendations to be more concerned with taboos than with affirmative methodology, and have modified accordingly the rigid techniques of the first generations of analysts. We approach analysands with respect; we aim to enhance their personal agency, and to foster their creativity and individualism. From the earliest days, Freudians have eschewed authority as suggestion, and have used our own inner experiences (the analyzing instrument) to achieve understanding, not merely to avoid counter-transference interference. Our work has been enhanced further by more recent theoretical challenges calling for closer scrutiny of authority issues and counter-transference, and by feminist critiques.

Newirth conveys the not uncommon triumphalist attitude that I find to be a weakness of several new theorists: giving an impression that their ideas had already supplanted prior theory instead of, more humbly, attempting to build on it. It is as if he were to say, “The traditional approach, whether called ego psychology or modern conflict theory, has been replaced by several post-modern, two-person theories, and my proposed revision improves upon and replaces these.” Freud saw himself as a conquistador; would-be successors adopt this posture (however implicitly) at their own risk.

One troubling technical recommendation is Newirth’s proposal for analytic spontaneity in response to difficult clinical situations. I wonder how spontaneity can be taught. All analysts rely on integrated unconscious resonance with the affects and actions of analysands. The “not-neo” Kleinians considered these resonances all to be projective identifications. What is the test? In one detailed clinical example, Newirth describes what became the ritual acceptance of a gift of a piece of doughnut from a patient. Winnicott is said to have taken tea regularly with his patients. Like Winnicott, neither Newirth nor his patient brought this event into verbal discourse, but it was used by Newirth to help explain treatment gain. Post hoc explanations can be offered by any of us; they no longer provide effective argumentation. No analyst analyses everything. I might have failed either by biting or refusing the doughnut, but to offer non-discussion of a treatment event as exemplary is neither consistent with a talking cure nor with an accountable two-person psychology. Newirth might reject my view as mere traditional rationalism. I will stand with Fenichel (1941) in defining psychoanalysis as a necessarily rational study of human irrationality.

Along with many other post-modern, two-person theorists, Newirth calls for optimistic, affirmative language not focusing on patient deficits. His reliance on Klein’s paranoid-schizoid and depressive terminology as central to his own formulation is both inconsistent with that goal, and unlikely to succeed in influencing a standard discourse. (For an important effort to introduce a neo-Kleinian perspective to American psychoanalysis, see Schafer, 1995).

Readers of this publication may be especially prone to buy into what I see as
triumphalism. Relational theorists hold sway in Division 39. Newirth, by accepting many of their basic premises, takes pains not to offend them. Psychoanalytic discourse is, however, much more diverse than Division 39’s seems to be. It is only in the past decade that the American Psychoanalytic Association has come to see its politics of exclusion as harmful to both theory and practice, and to embrace the pluralism of American and international psychoanalysis. It would be a mistake of equal proportion for Division 39 to repeat the insular pre-lawsuit history of “the American.”

This book is recommended. Many of Newirth’s critiques and syntheses are both detailed and helpful. I have emphasized what I see as shortcomings because I do not think we are close to a new paradigm in psychoanalysis. Instead, with Rangell (1988), I believe we have a total composite theory: unsettled, with many rough edges and lots of problems, nowhere near final. Newirth’s integrative attempt is a welcome addition to the discourse. I join Richards in hoping we can debate psychoanalytic ideas with greater humility on all sides.


Fenichel, O. (1941). Problems of Psychoanalytic Technique. New York: Psychoanalytic Quarterly.
Lasch, C. (1978). The Culture of Narcissism. New York: Norton.
Rangell, L. (1988). The future of psychoanalysis: The scientific crossroads. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 57: 313-340.
Schafer, R. (1995). The Contemporary Kleinians of London. New York: International Universities Press.

Reviewer Note

Jeff Golland is a faculty member of the training institute of the New York Freudian Society where he is also a training and supervising analyst. He teaches in both the New York and the Washington, D.C. divisions of the NYFS institute.


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