Reviews - What do customers think about Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History?
A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Culture Nov 21, 2006
Brown presents a psychoanalytic theory of culture and history. The essence of this theory is contained within the following passage: "Culture exists in order to project the infantile fantasies into external reality, where they may be seen and mastered." Brown suggests that we are the source of society, culture and history. His perspective differs from theories of the reigning scholars, who propose that culture "descends" upon people from above (mind is shaped by discourse or the symbolic order).
Brown proposes a more difficult (and profound) way of understanding society, suggesting that cultural forms are created and perpetuated to the extent that they fulfill specific human needs and desires. A psychoanalytic theory of culture would require articulating why human beings bring into being certain ideologies and institutions--and why they are perpetuated.
My own research and writing builds upon Brown's theories in books such as "Hitler's Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology," "The Psychoanalysis of Racism, Revolution and Nationalism," and "Symbiosis and Separation: Towards a Psychology of Culture."
Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph. D.
Controversial, insightful, and a bit over the top Aug 14, 2006
This is a highly provocative work of psychoanalysis scholarship, especially for those of us with only a passing knowledge of Freud's work. Brown interprets and modernizes such seminal Freudian hypotheses as the castration complex and penis envy, love and religion as neuroses, the connection between feces and money, and the body's impediments to happiness. It is in this final arena that the book goes a bit over the top (though rooting Protestantism in Luther's bowels leaves "the top" in the dust as well), with Brown abandoning a more careful analysis of Freud in favor of a highly esoteric plea for the return of the body to its primal, unoppressed state. This is perhaps the most innovative section of the book, but it also undoes some of the work Brown did in earlier chapters to place the problem in the unconscious, accessible only via psychoanalysis (the occasional blatant evangelism is another drawback of the book for me).
A fascinating read that, though flawed, will level a swift kick to most readers' views of personhood.
erudite exploration based on a flawed premise Oct 14, 2005
Brown martials an impressive array of scholarship in this exploration of psychoanalytic concepts applied broadly to human history and culture. He bounces Freud off many great works of philosophy, poetry, and theology, and makes some impressive sparks fly.
Unfortunately, the book is based on the absurd premise of the "death instinct", a concept Freud posed late in his career when his broad cultural speculations removed him from the concrete realities of therapy. With the instinctual dualism of this sex-death theory, Freud replaced the earlier, more sensible instinctual dualism he had once posed between sex and hunger. The sex-hunger, (or sex-reality, or species survival-individual survival) split that Freud's early work is based on is to my mind the one that makes sense, rooted as it is in concrete biology, and should never have been abandoned.
Brown's writing is crippled by its foundation on the "death instinct", which posits all repression as self-repression, thus letting society off the hook for the human misery its strictures cause.
In his final chapter, Brown purports to offer "The Way Out" of our societal morass, but the inherently misanthropic, conservative prejudices of 'death instinct' theory leave him capable of only the vaguest platitudes in this direction. Those interested in a real psychological theory of life against death would do well to check out the therapeutic and social writing of Paul Goodman, who wisely dismisses the 'death instinct' and makes some vital practical suggestions for altering our lifeways, at all levels, to allow Eros freer reign.
Inspiring Psychoanalytical Meaning of History Aug 20, 2005
An awesome book on the psychoanalytical meaning of history. I read that this book was admired by Jim Morrison in his bio by fellow band member Ray Manzarek. Books to read come in strange ways. I also read about this book referenced by the integral psychologist and philosopher Ken Wilber.
This books gives credibility to Freudian Analysis. Nor that it was ever lost, but there are neo-Freudians which of course differ from Freud and there is the reductionism when one looks only through one paradigm, regardless of it's accuracy. This is because there are other modes or of insight that co-inside and yet contradict some of Freud, but that's the beauty of it all, of the psychoanalytical analysis paradigm. And this paradigm is one of the subjective mind, unless you consider Freud to also be biological, then it would take in objectivity, but only in certain levels and degrees. And so this book I think expounds profoundly and is a deep book.
OK, this book speaks of Freud's "pleasure principle," "reality principle," Oedipus complex," "death instinct," castration anxiety," and while this outwardly may sound very limited, the issue comes down to one thing, repression. And whether its sexual, excremental, power or various levels of blocked emotional energies, the theories employed as to why and are very valuable in understanding ourselves and others. And this repression is based on sublimated infantile erotic pleasures beyond into a reality principle and in many cases death instinct. There are many fascinating chapters/essays on these ideas. The fact of the matter is we all came from the womb, all had consciousness of embryonic narcissistic selfhood and sought pleasure and had to deal with reality. We all had a mother (not including abandonment) who became our entire world, our need for pleasure verses pain and desire to possess and it was of a erotic nature. And we all had to deal with separation aspects as major threats to our consciousness.. So much of psychoanalysis rings of truth.
Interesting how the death instinct is the desire to get back to the womb, the incapacity to accept the individuality of life. So it's this form of romanticism, to get back to the child, to play. Unfortunately it negates life in that it fails to accept and represses and causes a life view, either socially, politically, individually & etc. to live a live of undue restraint or hardships with the idea that this life is all temporary, working towards dying in this life to be rewarded with the return back to the womb. And so this is a death against life, a life where the irrational Dionysian play is destroyed and we live in a purely empirical scientific age of logic and rationalistic work, where living is logic in work, as opposed to the idea of play, of childlike ability to live in the present moment, without historicity and guilt and instead the moment where all action is spontaneous play. But instead we repress our play, create history from guilt and rationalize a materialist way of living. The archaic man sublimated his guilt in group activity and had this marvelous trait of each year erasing his historicity in sharing, but even then it was a form of sublimation of guilt. Modern man just builds on his history and lives a capitalistic life based on valueless commodity. Value is measurement, quantity, no longer quality and art. Money has become our excrement. The archaic man transferred or sublimated his sexual and infantile narcissistic energies into a community or shared social system. The modern man sublimates his into money and things he puts value into.
History seen through the eyes of psychoanalysis can be viewed as the sublimation of repression. In this, the infant first exists according the pleasure principle in where is bodily functions take first priority. The reality principle of course combats this and the young child develops the Oedipus complex, wishing to completely own his mother, jealous, wishing to eliminate his father or become the father to himself.
In sublimation, there is the repression of bodily and sexual instinctive desires into what we know of as culture. And the higher the culture the greater the sublimation. What has culminated is our era of objective materialism and empirical science which represses the non-rational nature of wish fulfillment's, desires and instinctual drives. Brown proposes that we reestablish our Dionysian roots, the creative, non repressive self where the use of a money and culture are not the means of escaping the pleasure principle. Instead we play, erase historicity, loose the guilt and accept our entire bodies, not just our minds.
The essay on Jonathan Swift, his exposure of what appears to be prideful human intellectuals and cultural values to come from the anus and excrement (the as***le and sh*t). And he both Norman O. Brown and Jonathan Swift link as all ideas as coming from the human body, ideas used to empower persons, elevate and leave teachings that far outlive the human being's body, another wards a way to be immortal, as an act of repression of the anxiety of death, of separateness. The idea of becoming one's own father - immortality, the Oedipus complex. There is much to this. And yet in a sense, all "matter" comes from excrement, which is what all we are made from biologically, the very biological make up that brings forth our minds and intellectual ideas.
Much, much more to this book, not said here.
well done Sep 7, 2004
De-sublimation is what Brown prescribes to his readers. The book is well researched and well written. Much of the book twists your mind.
You need a good background in psychology, religion, poetry and philosophy as well as a quick mind to be able to grasp many of the abstract concepts.