Reading Rangell; Reading Analysis in the Second Half of its Centennial

Dropped on:November 23, 2014
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“Reading Rangell; Reading Analysis in the Second Half of its Centennial”
Book review by Nathan Szajnberg, MD
“The Rangell Reader,” Edited by Beth I. Kalish and Charles Fisher, IPBooks 2103

Ceci nes pas use pipe,” Magritte’s provocative title for his unsmokable pipe, could be morphed into a title for this book, “Ceci nes pas une Festschrift.  A Festscrift, Ben Bloom, professor of education at the University of Chicago, quipped of his own honor, is a way for former graduate students to increase the value of their degrees before the Professor dies.

Well, this is not this a Festschrift, although it looks like one.

How this book was born, its development, tells us about its nature, how best to grasp it. In 1997, some members of the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Society, facing growing internal tension and dissension, asked Leo Rangell to meet regularly to study psychoanalysis and indirectly to heal the wounds in San Francisco. Some of these original members contribute to this volume.  They met for six hours, speaking of psychoanalysis, broke for lunch, talked more, then dined together.  This book is born of those meetings.

The book covers Rangell’s wide-ranging interests (which resulted in nine books, over 400 papers); Rangell’s papers are intercalated with reflective commentary by the contributors.  For instance, Chuck Fisher elaborates on Rangell’s 1969 paper on intrapsychic process.  He describes Rangell’s postulate of inter-psychic conflict to complement Hartmann’s intra-psychic conflict; the decision-making function of the ego and how Rangell revises Freud’s two anxiety theories.  Phyllis Cath takes on castration anxiety, first summarizing the American historical shifts on anxieties from castration to separation to (Kleinian/neo-Kleinian) persecutory, which she says is not identical with annihilation anxiety (Anna Freud), fragmentation (Kohut) or dread (Winniccott).  Her case of a four-year-old graphically portrays the relationship between separation and castration anxiety. She calls this, following Rangell, reciprocal. (Another developmental perspective, following Winniccott (Flarsheim, personal communication) is that earlier primitive anxieties, such as annihilation, over later development can become manifest as castration anxiety, that is, a fear of body destruction that is more focused on specific body parts rather than earlier total body damage or annihilation.) Harriet Wolfe, takes Rangell’s later paper on creativity, in which he not only distinguishes creative content (such as a dream narrative) from process (such as how a dream is constructed), but also ventures into the visual arts, ranging from Bacon to Renoir, from Rothko to Picasso. He suggests how artists capture aspects of inner life in their visual representations, such as Rothko capturing containment (in space), Picasso, the torment (and Superego elements) of Guernica, Renoir of sensuality.  He returns to Freud to remind us that the artist’s audience is in his or her unconscious (as well as those of us out here).  For Rangell, the artist is prophetic. Other thoughtful contributors include Melvin Lansky, Phyllis Cath, Michael J. Diamond, Alan Spivak, Erik Gann and others

The book traces trends in American (and international) psychoanalysis. Rangell alone, in his overarching theory assembles a set of complemental series: attachment to separation; conflict to adaptation; neutrality to empathy; drive to object; tragic to guilty man; historical to narratives.  But, he bewails the tendency in our field ot have transferences to theory. Bob Michels wrote of the young clinician’s need for theory.

More in the background are the dramatic aspects of Rangell’s political life: his long-standing frictions with Romy Greenson (and later the influx of Bion and Kleinians); his tete-a-tete with Andre Green about the limits of analysis.  This perhaps adds spice to a rich life, but is not central to understanding the contributions laid out in the book.

Too live such a long and fruitful life as Rangell’s is a gift. To have respected colleagues who add some degree of immortality to one’s work is a greater gift. And this what we have in our hands with this book.

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