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Review of F. Alvah Parsons, The Psychology of Dress

Joan Riviere Karnac Books ePub

A review of this book has really no place in this journal. The book is in effect a description of clothes and costume in the upper classes from mediaeval times to the present day, limited almost entirely to Western Europe. In a disarming preface the author, who is president of the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, disclaims any attempt at a history of costume or at ‘a technical psychological treatment’ of the subject. His title is therefore misleading. The quality of the psychology in the book may be gathered from the letterpress under the illustrations, of which the following are examples:

‘Our modern young women may find solace in Queen Victoria’s attempt to cover her ears.’

‘It was not given to the ladies to exploit the new and less autocratic fashion of dress, but it was arrested by the Empire.’

The author’s style is not adapted to the serious student, whether of costume or of psychology. The book is well produced, and as a popular work has its attractions. Its 150 full-page photographic illustrations, taken from paintings, portraits, and engravings, many of which are beautiful, have great interest, though this would have been increased by information concerning the title, creator, and present location of the originals.

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: An inner world

Joan Riviere Karnac Books ePub

[This chapter continues Joan Riviere’s exposition of the concept of an inner world, begun in The unconscious phantasy of an inner world reflected in examples from literature’ (1952), with a brilliant psychoanalytic examination of Ibsen’s play Master-Builder. Here it is the figures and forces in the more abnormal inner world in which the Master-Builder, not having mourned his losses nor repaired his inner world, acts out instead, in a catastrophic way, his competitive phantasies in relationship to the internal parents and the parents’ children. Riviere shows how, unless both sexes come to terms with their hate and aggression directed towards the internal parents and repair the damage done to them, they cannot be in a position to relate to and to love others, without greed, exploitation, guilt and despair. The Master-Builder’s attempt to fulfil the manic dream of the young girl, Hilda—who uses him, as he tries to use her, to fulfil his dream of manic reparation of a destroyed inner world— leads to his death.

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Those wrecked by success

Joan Riviere Karnac Books ePub

This is Joan Riviere’s most important and original contribution to psychoanalytical theory and practice. In it Riviere addresses the problem of certain types of patients who respond to improvement in analysis by becoming worse. Freud, in his discussion of the phenomenon in The Ego and the Id (1923b), considers that patients who become worse as a consequence of an improvement in analysis are narcissistic, and he implies that they are unanalysable. He attributes the inability to make use of the analysis to a deep sense of guilt that does not allow for the pleasures of improvement. Here Riviere discusses Freud’s point of view and shows that he considers that such patients must somewhere have the capacity to be analysed or he would not devote eighteen pages in The Ego and the Id to the phenomenon. She goes on to show the need to attend to these patients’ inner world of object relation and most particularly to the anxieties that underly their relationships,

Klein’s paper ‘A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states’ (1935) of the year before had demonstrated that the need to work through the depressive position imposes tremendous strains on the individual as he integrates loving and hating feelings towards the same object. Riviere sees this as the task from which the patients who show a negative therapeutic reaction are fleeing. They show a manic denial of a terror they fear, the depression that would overwhelm them. There is no better description of depression than the one given here. To read it is to understand the most powerful fears: the patient’s unbearable pain and guilt, his conviction that he needs to sacrifice his life for his objects, that cure will lead irrefutably to his death. Manic omnipotence masks such fears, and the persecutory component in the depression of patients who suffer the negative therapeutic reaction is tyrannically in evidence.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Freud in the 1930s

Joan Riviere Karnac Books ePub

This paper is more than a book review-it is a lucid and incisive appreciation of Freud’s thinking as he supplements theories that he had presented in his original Introductory Lectures (1916-17 [1915-17]). Joan Riviere shows once again her acute sensitivity to Freud’s meaning and message, as well as her admiration for him and his work: Freud tells us repeatedly that none of his ideas claims to provide a final solution—not to anxiety, not to self-destructiveness, nor to the formation of the superego. She notes ambiguities and discrepancies in some of his hypotheses, ambiguities and discrepancies that he was the first to acknowledge. She points out, for instance, that in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a [1929]), published three years earlier, Freud relates the severity of the superego to the individual’s own aggressiveness and here that aspect of its organization has hardly a mention. She also comments that it is difficult to see that ‘internal mental conflict does not arise in the child until the passing of the Oedipus complex’ and regrets that he does not accept the evidence concerning pregenital stages which confirm, extend and amplify his own hypotheses.

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CHAPTER FIVE: Defensive femininity

Joan Riviere Karnac Books ePub

Joan Riviere’s creativity is evinced in this paper. She demonstrates with convincing clinical material a fraudulent femininity in a certain type of woman, not overtly homosexual, but not fully heterosexual. This bisexual woman hides a wish for masculinity behind a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and the retribution she fears from both men and women.

Riviere traces the roots of the homosexual development in women to frustration during sucking or weaning which gives rise to intense sadism towards both parents, particularly the mother. This results, as Klein reports in her paper ‘Early stages of the Oedipus conflict’ (1928), in an overpowering fear of her mother and consequent need to placate her.

This paper has been of interest to those who espouse a feminist cause. Stephen Heath, in his article, Moan Riviere and the masquerade’, in the book Formation of Fantasy (1986), quotes Riviere’s paper to substantiate his contention that sexual identity in women is precarious. However, he does not seem to see that the paper is exclusively about a certain group of women, neither clearly homosexual nor clearly heterosexual, in whom femininity is a masquerade. Riviere gave a broader understanding of the complexities of women’s sexual development in the paper she presented three years later, ‘Jealousy as a mechanism of defence’.

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