Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A review of Life Against Death - The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History by Norman O Brown

This review appears on amazon here. If you're submissive by nature GO THERE NOW AND CLICK THE LIKE BUTTON. If you're dominant then you have it within your immense power to bring me the greatest of joy by the smallest of your actions; I beg of you, please click the button.

Anyway...

An extraordinary, unique and thought provoking work

"Life Against Death is an extraordinary work. I recently saw it described as an attempt 'to fashion a reconciliation of Freud and Marx' (Weschler). I suppose it is in a way - it attempts to blend Marx's dialectics with Freud's dualism and implicit is the idea that man must create his own history from within given circumstances (or the son is the father of the man). But Brown's scope is so much larger than this. He believes that (with a little tweaking) psychoanalytical theory opens up the possibility of a new form of consciousness; a blissful and eternal one where we are conscious of what is now unconscious.

If that makes it sound a bit flaky/spiritual its not meant to. Make no mistake, Brown is a serious thinker and this is a hugely intelligent work drawing from psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and history. You can tell that from the quality of the reviews its attracted on here. Personally, I would recommend reading it - I seriously doubt you'll have read another book like it. But for a solid criticism this 2-star review makes some strong points.

However, more generally the gripe of the nay-sayers seems to be based on Brown's disregard for psychoanalytical practice in favour of psychoanalytical theory. If that's a problem for you, you probably won't enjoy this book. I was always far more interested in Freud's theoretical writings. Its easy to forget the subtitle is 'The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History' and I found the exploration of psychoanalytical theories of time particularly fascinating (albeit not necessarily convincing).

The reason I gave this four stars instead of five relates, in part, to the weaknesses in part five 'Studies in Anality'. This section was of particular interest to me as my main area of interest is Money. Money as feces and as related to, or a product of the Death Instinct, didn't really chime with me. I recently read William H Desmonde's Magic, Myth and Money (another rare psychoanalytical take on Money) and that seemed to me, although far less rigorous than Brown's treatment, more willing to think about Money in its own right; Brown tends to see Money exclusively as a product of psychology. Whether you agree with that idea or not, it does limit the scope of your inquiry. Hence Brown exposes just one side of the Money coin.

The other reason my review is 4 star is because Brown creates too solid a psychological boundary between human and animal. Other reviewers have noted this. It seems to contradictory to a central part of his (and psychoanalysis's) thesis.

Overall though, they don't write 'em like this anymore. Brown doesn't hold back. Its challenging and massively thought provoking. How it missed out being on any of my university reading lists, I don't know."

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