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Mourning Freud

Mourning Freud analyses Freud’s experiences and theories of mourning as the basis for exploring changes in psychoanalytic theories and practices over the course of the 20th century.

The modernist Freud of the early 20th century has ceded to the postmodern Freud of the 21st. Madelon Sprengnether examines this phenomenon from the perspective of Freud’s self-analysis in relation to his generation of theory, the challenges and transformations wrought by feminism, cultural studies and postmodernism, and the speculations of contemporary neuroscience concerning the unreliability of memory. She offers a significant interpretation of major biographical episodes in Freud’s life, arguing that Freud’s inability to mourn the losses of his early life shaped his theories of mourning, which in turn opened the field of pre-oedipal studies to his successors, enabling a host of new psychoanalytic theories such as object relations, intersubjective and countertransference theories, Lacanian analysis, and trauma theory. Many of these approaches converge on the formulation of mourning as critical to the process of ego development. Through this argument, Sprengnether traces the shift from modernism to postmodernism-from an emphasis on mastery to vulnerability, from vertical to horizontal systems of meaning-making, and from what is representable in words to the realm of the nonverbal.

Mourning Freud, by exploring Freud’s own struggles with mourning, allows us, in turn, to mourn him-releasing him from frozen idealization while demonstrating the relevance of his work to the 21st century.

Praise for Mourning Freud

“Mourning Freud is an important intervention in discussions of psychoanalysis, literature and feminism. The product of a quarter-century of careful and deep thought by a prominent literary and academic figure, it delivers a set of beautifully written analyses of the relationship between psychoanalysis and social issues, mediated through the motif of mourning. In this book, Madelon Sprengnether offers a delicate and immersive experience of rethinking Freudian and post-Freudian theories of intimacy and loss.”
Stephen Frosh
Professor of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck, University of London, UK
“Mourning Freud is a beautifully written book in which Sprengnether respectfully, intelligently develops penetrating critiques of Freud's work-particularly in the areas of pre-Oedipal development, mourning, and female psychology-not for the purpose of dismissing Freud, but for the purpose of revising and extending some of his most pivotal ideas. This is a book that leaves the reader feeling that he or she has not simply listened to a writer in the act of thinking; instead, the reader feels that he or she has had the privilege of taking part in a remarkable conversation.”
Thomas Ogden
Psychoanalyst and author of Reclaiming Unlived Life: Experiences in Psychoanalysis (2016)
“Madelon Sprengnether's The Spectral Mother was one of the essential texts to grow out of the fruitful intersection of feminism, literary theory and psychoanalysis. In this collection of essays, Mourning Freud, she has made another important contribution to the psychoanalytic theory of culture. Sprengnether is to be congratulated for deploying her mastery of the pre-Oedipal turn in psychoanalysis, trauma theory, Freud studies, and neuropsychology to properly mourn Freud-to transform him from 'a ghost into an ancestor.' In so doing, she has not only advanced psychoanalytic discourse beyond the infantile polemics of the Freud Wars, but also helped us to form a more mature picture of the first psychoanalyst as well as of ourselves.”
Joel Whitebook
Faculty, Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, Columbia University, USA, and author of Freud: An Intellectual Biography
“An odyssey of scholarship, Mourning Freud is a beautifully written book. Sprengnether is clear-eyed and compelling.”
Anthony Elliott
Dean of External Engagement, University of South Australia