Cassandra’s Daughter: A History of Psychoanalysis in Europe and America (Book Review)

Author:  Schwartz, Joseph
Publisher:  Penguin Books, 1999
Reviewed By:  Thomas Kennedy, Summer 2003, p. 68

Cassandra’s Daughter: A History of Psychoanalysis in Europe and America by Joseph Schwartz, offers a condensed, and, at times, intimate glimpse of the early infancy, childhood, and adolescence/ early adulthood of the psychoanalytic movement. In particular, it focuses upon the struggles of separation and individuation, as well as other related interpersonal conflicts as the psychoanalytic movement grew and developed. His references to the political-social influences of various personal relationships impacting the early analysts through relationships with individuals outside the analytic community offers a deeper understanding of these early years.

Of particular interest is Schwartz’s report of the years between WWI and WWII in Europe, of the socio-economic upheaval, as a result of the realignment of forces post WWI. His depiction of the turmoil of that time, the unleashed aggressions, and massive killings / exterminations reflects powerfully the impact of change upon “normal” or established levels of functioning. The data he reports clearly illustrate that these changes exacerbated the instability of relationships among people, at that time, in a most dramatic and often frightening fashion. His depiction, although rooted in the early 1900s, felt so current, so alive, and so pertinent to our present experiences in Iraq, Bosnia, as well as other sites of conflict. Through this account, Schwartz offers a reminder of the impact one can and often does observe in the analysis of individuals, when powerful forces are released and behavioral patterns change.

I was especially appreciative of this reminder offered in parallel form, as I have encountered in supervision or training of therapist, a sometimes insufficient appreciation of this phenomena and reality. As I read this section of his book, I recalled Freud’s admonition in the early years of analysis that the person in treatment should not make major changes, at least without lengthy discussion/ exploration. Thus, as repressions are reduced, as unconscious material gains access to consciousness, as individuals revisit memories and feelings from earlier years, and recover early trauma, upsurges in the personality occur that easily appear revolutionary, threatening, yet very powerful. Although psychoanalytic treatments have become extended in time, this admonition would still appear relevant in today’s treatments

Especially interesting, in addition, is his appreciation of the processes created by Freud: the listening cure, the defined analytic hour, and the observation of transference-counter-transference phenomena seem clearer and more celebrated than in other earlier readings. Similarly, his depiction of the reactions of Breuer to one female patient, offering extended emergency sessions captures the struggles within this work in establishing a balance between empathy and separateness. He offers with considerable clarity an understanding of Breuer’s inability to stay with the container of the scheduled analytic hour and his “naive” handling of transference-counter-transference, but also due to his presentation of the impact of the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship upon the analysts personal life, outside the consulting room. Shades of the film, Love Sick and the struggles depicted in the book, August.

The richness of the presentation of the struggles within Britain of the competition between the views of Melanie Klien and those of Anna Freud, and the richness in detail of the political / interpersonal struggles around these rivalries, that heightened the interpersonal difficulties that have permeated the history of psychoanalysis and its practitioners, “experts in human relationships is presented in an engrossing fashion.. In this regard, it would seem that the struggle depicted here is to determine who of these early women was to be “ Cassandra’s Daughter.”

Similarly, his description of the conflict between the goals of orthodox psychoanalysis. and those of the object relation orientation are clearly stated in his rejection of the “ Man Alone” concept. Schwartz clearly defines the emphasis upon independence, as evidence in American culture, as reflecting a neurotic pursuit of isolation in an effort to avoid vulnerability.

Schwartz’s attempt to cover the history of psychoanalysis at times appears to lack sufficient focus. He covers considerable ground, sometimes seemingly too much, with resultant limitations in focus and depth. In reporting the conflicting views and theories, he seemed, at points, to emphasize interpersonal conflicts and personal needs, possibly underestimating other factors. For example, I wondered whether Freud and Jung suffered their differences, in part, due to their attempts to identify singular dynamics to explain the personalities of different populations. Particularly, their different views regarding the role of the therapist, the importance of exploring intimate sexual material, the management of transference/counter-transference reactions as well as the concept of working through unconscious conflicts may well be rooted then in their treating different patient populations. However, he does underscore in a most clear, and alive fashion how closed, tight, and incestuous the early analytic circle had been.

Reviewer Note

Thomas F. Kennedy is a psychologist in private practice in Goshen, N.Y.

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