Love and Its Vicissitudes (Book Review)

Author:  Green, André and Gregorio Kohon
Publisher: Routledge
Reviewed By: Michael J. Diamond, PhD, ABPP, Vol. XXII, 1 (Winter 2007), pp. 44-45

This book is comprised of two monographs that were presented at a weekend conference on Love, organized by the British Psychoanalytical Society in 2000. The book opens with André Green’s atypical psychoanalytic paper, “To love or not to love: Eros and Eris,” and concludes with Gregorio Kohon’s fascinating clinical study titled “Love in a time of madness.” Though the book’s ambitious title is quite misleading given that love in its vicissitudes are barely touched upon, nonetheless this book presents two brilliant European psychoanalytic minds reflecting on the theme of love. Green, perhaps the consummate French analyst, focuses predominantly on the nature of passion in the endeavor of love while Kohon, an Argentinian practicing in London, considers the role that madness plays in accompanying love.

Green attempts to revisit the place of love in psychoanalytic theory and practice. He asks us to consider what in the psychoanalytic method is related to love and what in the teachings of psychoanalysis is essential to love in life. In engaging these questions, Green offers a brief outline and critical analysis of different psychoanalytic positions with their strengths and shortcomings. In particular, he considers the contributions made by Freud, Balint, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Bowlby, Lacan, Bergmann, and Kernberg. His analysis leads to a difficulty that lies at the heart of psychoanalytic theorizing: namely, that the conceptual vocabulary of “science” does not easily lend itself to the poetry of the inner world and the core human experience of love. In brief, Green concludes that psychoanalysis has not contributed much to our understanding of the experience of love and that instead, it is to literature that we must turn for enlightenment about the nature of Eros in all its depth and complexity.

Holding that “passion will be our model” (p. 10) for grasping love’s elusive nature, Green states, “the main feature of love is a feeling of irresistible attraction, experienced in exaltation, and the desire to be as close as possible to the love object” (p. 11). Symbolization is regarded as a derivative of love relationships and love is viewed as “not only an opening of the senses but also an exaltation of a sensitivity to the offerings of life” (p. 11). Consequently, Green frames his erudite monograph with epigraphs drawn from Racine and Shakespeare, relates the Indian myth of Brahma and Shiva, and concludes by appending one of Shakespeare’s most haunting and mysterious poems, "The Phoenix and the Turtle," as a model to inspire one’s contemplation of love and its vicissitudes. Green’s discussion of this poem, based on an Ethiopian myth, helps us to grasp the poem’s otherwise intangible force drawing the reader to the sacrifices of identity in love (and its apotheosis in death itself), the importance in love of fusional states and primary processes, the deadly power of passion, and the realm of the ecstatic. He uses his reading of this poem’s melancholic ferociousness that defies logical analysis to support his view of what psychoanalysis can learn from poetry and what psychoanalytic theorizing has found it hard to grip hold of.

Kohon’s “Love in a Time of Madness” is a completely different kind of paper, focusing instead on an extended account of a seventeen yearlong analysis of a psychotic young man. This beautifully written case study and its wide ranging elaboration completed while the author was part of an IPA Research Group on Borderline Phenomena (2000-2003) that included André Green, Kernberg, Spillius-Bott, and others, demonstrates the virtuosity of an experienced psychoanalyst working for extended periods of time with the sufferings, the hatefulness, and the idealized love of a highly disturbed patient. Kohon’s skillfully crafted narrative demonstrates the unthinkable and incommunicable psychic extremes both patient and analyst are forced to endure in an analytic journey through fearful states of madness and delusion, idealized transference-love and terror, and ultimately love and hate. As Margot Waddell of Tavistock Clinic notes in the book’s Foreword, Kohon frames and contains “the quasi-metaphysical evocation of passion and destruction, of fusional unity and dislocation,” (p. xv) just as André Green manages in his discussion of the "Phoenix and the Turtle."

We see in this presentation of the case of Tony how a patient’s life can become a perversion of love deriving from early on where he was condemned by a mad mother to live with her in a kind of delusional unity. The absolute significance of infantile experience drawn from the mother/baby relationship in the forging of the passions and madness of love are evident throughout Kohon’s work with Tony. As a British object relational theorist albeit renouncing partisan terminologies, Kohon emphasizes the import of an infant being enabled by his mother’s mind to bear the extremes of love and hate as a normal condition—a condition that generates the ordinary or “normal madness” (p. 68) of the infantile state. This ordinary madness, distinct from psychosis, lies at the root of the capacity for passion and Eros and thus, will have a continuous presence in adult life. In Kohon’s words, “it is the personal madness present later in all forms of love . . . . It is there in all manifestations of the drives, in every expression of sexuality; it is the madness of pleasure and desire, of narcissism and idealization, a basic madness which informs human life right from the start” (p. 69).

Kohon’s sensitive and evocative narrative, somewhat more like poetry and literature, breathes life into theory and as such, makes a unique contribution to the psychoanalytic canon. For example, in describing Tony’s tragic predicament of being of his mother with no father, Kohon states, “Tony had believed . . . he was a real prince who had been given to her by the Royal Family” (p. 45). When Tony subsequently concretely demanded that Kohon was “his father,” Kohon skillfully chose neither to provide delusional satisfaction of his wishes nor to interpret his “wish to be my son” (p. 53). Consequently, by providing his own sage reflections on psychoanalytic technique, Kohon takes up love as being “at the centre of transference, making all frustrations (including the sexual ones) bearable to the patient” (p. 78). This understanding becomes paramount when dealing with the primitive patient’s idealization of the analyst—perhaps the only available experience of love and consequently necessitating considerable prudence and narcissistic health on the analyst’s part not to interfere with this idealization “just on principle” (p. 79).

This wonderful paper closes with Kohon’s distinctive musings upon Winnicott’s notion that madness is the most personal characteristic of a human being, and as such, one must come to accept the inevitable conflict between the fear of madness and the need to be mad. Kohon, with Tony, elegantly shows how psychoanalytic love is able to survive destructiveness by remaining alive to and eventually achieving some sort of balance between the fear of madness and its need to exist.

Taken together, these two marvelous and highly stimulating papers make an important contribution to what is otherwise a rather sparse psychoanalytic literature on love in its more passionate bodily and elemental manifestations. Though a short and rather concise book, it is rich in evocative writing and filled with ideas that any clinician can make use of. Green’s monograph broadens our discipline’s approach to love by bringing the poetic in closer alignment with the analytic, while Kohon helps us to see how love and hate require the analyst’s complex understandings and skillful technical navigation within the madness of deeper analytic work. I recommend this book without reservation to virtually any psychoanalytic clinician, from the most experienced to those just beginning. There are pearls of wisdom for all.

Michael J. Diamond

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