Key Ideas for a Contemporary Psychoanalysis: Misrecognition and Recognition of the Unconscious (Book Review)

Author:  Green, Andre 
Publisher: Routledge, 2005
Reviewed By: Susan DeMattos

The Last Will of Andre Green

Andre Green begins this book with a quote from W. B. Yeats’s “The Tower”: “It is time that I wrote my will.” It is an opening that stops readers in their tracks.

In his preface, Green stated that this book would be his attempt at an outline of psychoanalysis, and his final book. Then, toward the end of this book, he writes that he is “transcribing here the essential ideas that have informed my writings from 1954 to 2002” (pp. 234–235). Considering how much Green has written in over forty years, Green’s aspirations make writing a review of this book quite daunting.

Green’s essential writings have included books on affect (The Fabric of Affect in the Psychoanalytic Discourse), on symbolization, absence, and the dead mother (On Private Madness), on narcissism (Life Narcissism, Death Narcissism), on masochism and analytic failure (The Work of the Negative), on time (Diachrony in Psychoanalysis), and on psychoanalytic thinking (Psychoanalysis: A Paradigm for Clinical Thinking).

Green is proposing to condense over a thousand pages of writing into a three hundred–page book. He is once again debating Lacan, absorbing Winnicott and Bion, rereading Freud and in rereading, rediscovering Freud and psychoanalysis. Green himself approaches his task by modeling himself after Freud, who at the end of his life wrote An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, by describing this work as an outline. As was the case with Freud’s, it is much more than that.

Indeed, one of the things I most valued in my reading of Green is the way he brings his readers back to Freud and helps his readers appreciate Freud all over again. Having said that he was taking Outline as a model, I went back to look again at this work from the end of Freud’s life. In sixty pages and nine chapters, Freud succinctly lays out what is most essential to him in psychoanalysis: the apparatus of the mind (brain, acts of consciousness, the vast area of the unconscious); a theory of instincts that includes Eros and the death drive; the development of sexuality from birth forward; the distinction between primary and secondary process; the importance of dreams for understanding unconscious mechanisms; the technique of psychoanalysis; and the roles of id, ego, and superego. Having been directed to Outline by Green, I have a sense of what Green will feel is important to address: the centrality of the unconscious, a model of motivation that focuses on destructivity and the negative, the embodied nature of subjectivity that does not neglect sexuality, multiple modes of thinking and feeling, and dreams as the royal road to listening to unconscious communication. I am no longer in the dark because he has given me a beacon.

Reflecting on my experience so early in this book, I realize that there is a way to approach this book by remembering what Green (1986, p. 16) had said about “the analyst who writes”:

Every analyst is aware of the psychoanalytic process within the cure. It could be that, for the analyst who writes, a psychoanalytic process exists which does not reveal itself through his self-analysis alone. I propose to call it the theoretical psychoanalytic process. One owes one’s personal style of thinking to this process… Perhaps writing is also part of the analyst’s private madness.

Unable to summarize Green’s lifework, I chose instead to enter into a sort of theoretical psychoanalytic process with him. Green (p. 39) describes the psychoanalytic process as “the creation of a ‘second reality’” in the therapy session between what can be known and what is disturbing and warded off. Green also describes his thinking and writing as a psychoanalytic process. Reading Green’s writing allows the reader to enter into this psychoanalytic process. For me this involved reading passages of the book aloud and noticing what I easily attend to and what is disturbing. Green invites his reader to think with him, to meet Freud again, and to create together a contemporary psychoanalysis.

In his preface, Green (p. xvii) begins to create a psychoanalytic process, a reverie. He writes that the book would never have been written if an unnamed friend “had not made me the suggestion—or challenge?—‘And why don’t you write us an Outline of Psychoanalysis?’” This sentence did several things to me. First, it made me curious about the unnamed friend—who was it, why had their paths diverged, how do you decide whether something is a suggestion or a challenge? The unnamed friend became an absence that I longed to fill. And part of filling that absence was by going back and rereading Freud’s An Outline of Psycho-Analysis. This would happen over and over again in reading this book. Green would review Freud’s papers on technique when discussing the work of psychoanalysis, such as chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams when he talked about the setting, or he would refer back to the case of the Wolf Man to illustrate how Freud did not talk about or understand the psychoanalytic process. To flesh out his thinking on transference, Green would go back to “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” and “Constructions in Analysis.” Discussions of the ego would bring in “The Ego and the Id,” “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety,” and Freud’s paper on narcissism. “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” would come up again in Green’s discussion of the superego, as would Freud’s paper “The Uncanny” in discussing destructivity oriented toward the outside.

The way Green writes ends up anchoring the reader in Freud’s work, much in the way I imagine Green anchored himself when he was debating Lacan or listening to patients or, more recently (Green, 2010), questioning Winnicott’s concept of being. And by reminding the reader of Freud’s last will, Green is setting the stage for explaining the concerns he has with contemporary psychoanalysis.

Green moves from his preface to some preliminary remarks where he again begins by quoting Freud’s Outline and describes the urgency with which Freud wrote it, so close to his own death. Green also reminds us that Outline was unfinished. Green then asks himself and his readers why another outline needs to be written. Green offers two reasons: first, the crisis in psychoanalysis, and, second, his need to outline his own work. This sets the stage for first reviewing what Green sees as the crisis in psychoanalysis, his subjective history, and then discussing psychoanalytic practice and theory as developed and refined by Freud and himself.

I found myself reading Green’s subjective history of psychoanalysis since World War II as a combined case history and presenting problem. Having come from Egypt to Paris as a stateless person at the end of WWII, Green is describing a history that he has lived through while practicing in Paris. I did not begin analytic training until 2000, far away from Paris on the United States’ Pacific coast, in an institute much influenced by Stephen Mitchell. I was very glad that Green described his history as subjective, because it is very different from my own. As a psychologist, I was in agreement with Green when he talked about the monopoly of psychoanalysis by medical doctors and Freud’s stance against it. I also share Green’s view that faced with the medicalization of psychoanalysis, Horney, Fromm, and Sullivan developed a dissident movement. Having read Green’s reading of Freud’s later writings on the splitting of the ego and the ego as a double agent, I understand why Green is so critical of an ego psychology that champions an autonomous ego. Green does describe Kohut as developing a self-psychology in opposition to ego psychology, but seems resistant to it because it moves away from drive theory. Green’s description of the Freud- Klein controversies in England differ from the descriptions I have read in biographies of Winnicott and Khan, which describe the formation of the 1952 Club to allow younger analysts to create a more open dialogue than was possible at the British Society.

While Green does acknowledge some admiration for Thomas Ogden, I find myself regretting that he has not yet discovered Jessica Benjamin’s (1990) work on recognition and destruction, which shares some of his thinking on recognition and misrecognition of the unconscious, or Emmanuel Ghent’s (2002) use of Edelman, Greenberg’s (1991) discussion of drive theory, or Mitchell’s (2000) understanding of absence in his description of Loewald.

But what becomes clearer and clearer as one reads Green’s writing on the practice and theory of psychoanalysis is that drive theory is an essential, though not the only essential, element of contemporary psychoanalysis. Certainly it is there is Freud’s Outline:

The forces which we assume to exist behind the tensions caused by the needs of the id are called instincts. They represent the somatic demands upon the life of the mind. …After long doubts and vacillations we have decided to assume the existence of only two fundamental instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct. (Freud, 1940, p. 31; italics in original)
Greenberg (1991, p. 42) suggests that Freud and his followers expected too much of drive theory. And yet what Green (p. 114) writes about the necessity of drives seems quite convincing:

What defines the drive is, on the one hand, as Freud indicated, that it is a limit or border concept between the psyche and the somatic that grafts the psyche definitely on to the body. And, on the other hand, that it is the demand of the body made on the mind—“the demand for work”—so that the mind finds solutions that make it possible to overcome the situation of lack. It demands an end to the tensions that inhabit it and cries out for satisfaction.

Green summarizes the work of psychoanalysis, therapeutic indications, setting-process-transference, transference and countertransference, the organizing axes of pathology, and the modalities and results of psychoanalysis and psychotherapies. In describing classical psychoanalytic treatment, Green (p. 20) notes that “Freud developed psychoanalysis to treat people who were in touch with their libido and could invest it in people in the present.” Green (p. 41) emphasizes the aim of psychoanalysis:

…not so much the process of becoming conscious, as it is customary to say, as the recognition of the unconscious; recognition because it emerges against a background of misrecognition. The gap which separates the two terms of this couple is largely a function of what I have called the work of the negative, which I shall return to later. When all is said and done, everything that I have said only takes on meaning within a conception of psychoanalysis which recognizes within itself the existence of clinical thinking. This means that we have to cease to see clinical work as a set of empirical findings in which theory simply precipitates (in the chemical sense), but rather to see it as comprising many forms of the psyche with its own specific mode of causal thinking which the analyst must detect and never lose sight of (italics in original).

In discussing transference, Green (p. 50) reveals the impact of his debate with Lacan:

In 1984, in the course of a reflection devoted to the place of language in psychoanalysis, I proposed the idea of a double transference. According to this conception, it is necessary to articulate:

1. A transference on to speech: it is the result of the conversion of all the psychic elements into discourse. It is what induces me to say that, in analysis, it is as though the psychical apparatus were transformed into a language apparatus. Since this intrapsychic dimension makes it possible to elaborate the psychic elements which do not belong to language into elements of discourse, it is also intersubjective, since language presupposes an enunciator and a co-enunciator.

2. A transference on to the object: admittedly, the object is necessarily included in the act of speech, for almost all speech is addressed to someone who is supposed to hear it; nonetheless, the idea of transference on to the object implies that the transference comprises dimensions which cannot be contained in the discourse.

It strikes me that what Green is describing as a double transference in psychoanalysis is equally true in writing or reviewing one’s work: we have to find the words to say it and we have to address those words to a particular audience that we hope will hear us.

In discussing countertransference, Green draws on the work of Ferenczi, Heimann, Winnicott, and Kristeva to consider transference and countertransference as a couple, as well as the function of the setting: “one has to analyse how the setting is experienced and given meaning by the analysis and by the  analyst, his unconscious function” (p. 57).

In discussing the organizing axes of pathology, Green acknowledges how Klein and her followers extended psychoanalysis to non-neurotic populations. Green (p. 60) distinguishes five domains: “1. sexuality, 2. the ego, 3. the superego, 4. the disorganizations produced by destruction towards the outside, and 5. internal destruction in the principal forms of negative narcissism and primary masochism.” Green (p. 64) goes back to Freud’s Outline to outline the relationship of seduction via maternal care. He (p. 70) notes that borderline cases concern the pathology of the ego. About the superego, Green (p. 71) writes that “Freudian theory took an important step forward here: identification does not occur with a ‘concrete’ part of the parental objects related to their person, but to a metaphorical, abstract entity, existing in absentia.” He (p. 72) again draws on Winnicott in describing destructivity towards the object:

Since Winnicott, we know that destructivity does not necessarily imply contact with the object. On the contrary, disinvesting the object can involve the satisfaction of destroying it by making it feel that it does not exist.

Throughout his section on practice, Green is able to use his own work and that of Winnicott to demonstrate the coherence of Freud’s work.

Having described the key ideas in classical psychoanalysis, Green describes how Freud’s thinking evolved through several epistemological breaks about the unconscious (“What Freud is trying to tell us, constantly and vigorously, is that the unconscious can only be constituted by a psyche which eludes the structuring of language, it is constituted essentially of thing-representations” [p. 99]), the id (“the drive belongs by right to the psychical world and is no longer situated outside it” [p. 101]), the ego (“Admitting that a large part of the ego is unconscious means recognizing at the same time the limitations of the analyst’s power, for unconsciousness here takes the form of the ego’s unconsciousness of its own resistances.” [p. 102]), and the superego (created in the development of the second topography and also having a double nature in the id and ego and influenced by instincts). Green concludes his description of Freud’s epistemological breaks by acknowledging that more attention needs to be paid to “the functions and the dynamic of the object” (p. 109). Green then devotes the second half of his book by proposing “opening the way for a renewal of theory” (p. 111) through a theory that attends to both a subject line and an object line:

Though it is true that the role of the object does not occupy a sufficient place in Freud’s work, it still needs to be understood that ultimately, what the analyst is dealing with is a subject who is the product of his exchanges; but, insofar as he has constituted himself through them, he can now only be envisaged on the basis of his own structure as a subject. (p. 122, italics in original) This sets the stage for the recapitulation of Green’s work on representations, affect, character, inhibitions and compulsions, space and time, configurations of the third, language, speech, and discourse in psychoanalysis, the work of the negative, and recognition of the unconscious, that is, the themes of his life’s work. What he adds in this book is how it all fits together. It is quite a will.


Benjamin, J. (1990). Recognition and destruction: An outline of intersubjectivity. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 7 (Suppl.), 33–47.

Freud, S. (1940). An outline of psycho-analysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21, 27–84.

Ghent, E. (2002). Wish, need, drive: Motive in light of dynamic systems theory and Edelman’s selectionist theory. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12, 763–808.

Green, A. (1986). On private madness. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.

Green, A. (2010). Sources and vicissitudes of being in D.W. Winnicott’s work. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 79, 11–35.

Greenberg, J. (1991). Oedipus and beyond: A clinical theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mitchell, S. A. (2000). Relationality: From attachment to intersubjectivity. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press


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