ElBack in the early 70s, Eli Zaretsky wrote for a socialist newspaper and was engaged to review a recently released book, Psychoanalysis and Feminism by Juliet Mitchell. First, he decided, he'd better read some Freud. This started a life-long engagement with psychoanalysis and leftist politics, and his new book Political Freud: A History (Columbia University Press, 2015) conveys the richness of his decades of reading Freud. Following his 2004 Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis, Zaretsky's latest book, some would call it a companion, is comprised of five essays analyzing the complexity of the mutual influencing of capitalism, social/political history, and psychoanalysis, with particular attention to how and whether people conceive of their own interiority as political. (Particularly timely is chapter two: "Beyond the Blues: the Racial Unconscious and Collective Memory" which explores African American intellectual engagement with psychoanalysis as a tool for understanding oppression.) "Whereas introspection did once define an epoch of social and cultural history– the Freudian epoch– there were historical reasons for this, and it was bound to pass" says Zaretsky. But Political Freud is also a compelling argument for how badly we still need a conception of the self–or ego– with a critical and non-normalizing edge.
Eli Zaretsky is a professor of history at The New School, writes and teaches about twentieth-century cultural history, the theory and history of capitalism (especially its social and cultural dimensions), and the history of the family. He is also the author of Why America Needs a Left, Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis and Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life.
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