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“Readings” is an ongoing feature in the News, in which members are invited to write about a book, article, or author that has had great impact on their professional lives. For more information, contact the Editor.
John Bradley Carroll, Ph.D.
Farmington Hills, Michigan
The works I’ve read that have been the most influential in my work as a psychoanalytically-informed psychologist have not tended to be professional works. In reading the novel The Way of the World, by William Congreve as a teenager, I was intrigued and moved and more than just somewhat undone by the way that novel made plain to me that people could and did live and act very much against their own interests emotionally. They could and did live in the service of motivational complexities they could not acknowledge and could only dimly understand, much less explain rationally—all stuff I later came to know but not love as my, your, our compulsions to repeat.
Similarly, in reading Women in Love, and D. H. Lawrence in general, I was moved and undone in yet another way. His writings taught me something in that way we learn from authors about things we already know but have never articulated. He taught me something about the power of and the movement of and the potential lushness of passions in people’s lives. He teaches about the tension between our crisp little geographies of behavior and the rumbling, shifting plate tectonics of desire beneath those geographies. I have often thought it useful to think of Lawrence when trying to actually understand the struggles everyone has with the theoretics of libido and its aims. Libido in the professional literature is so dry and so easily argued over and defended against. Not so, in Lawrence.
Andre Gide’s L’immoraliste was similarly emotionally alarming and instructive but in the area of what I later came to know and understand technically as the tense and imperfect nature of the deeper, more arid characterological compromises. Gide teaches on the human side of how people choose those compromises though what I mean by “the human side” here is not at all synonymous with “empathic excuse-making” for people’s choices.
Mario Vargas Llosa covers related terrain but with more panache in In Praise of the Stepmother. What a gloriously sly and true tour of libido that is, all about the rumbling tectonics of desire undoing careful geography in ways you don’t want to predict—just like life.
And in terms of wanting to understand the complexities of thought and emotion and love and psychological structure—in other words this business of trying to craft interpretations—Shakespeare’s Sonnets have always been startlingly instructive, smart, happily confusing and invigorating. Don’t laugh—Bill was on to something—read a couple—start with #31 or maybe #28. The guy knows how to carefully speak the truth of complicated, elaborated affects. Think of the sonnets as calisthenics for psychoanalysts.
In terms of technical, professional writings, I always find Freud’s “Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety” worth re-reading. It seems to me he has the terms of the puzzle right even in those years when I am not in agreement with his construction of the puzzle. And Michael Basch’s article, “Communication Science and Developmental Theory,” is a paper I always find valuable (though very demanding) to re-read for its lack of cant and the depth of his explanations about what it is we are doing with/to the mind when we work psychoanalytically—this paper sure isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile, meta-psychologically speaking.
MSPP Home Back to February 2002, Vol. 12, No. 1 Reading Room