Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis: From Freud’s Death Bed to Laing’s Missing Tooth

Author(s) : Brett Kahr

Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis: From Freud’s Death Bed to Laing’s Missing Tooth

Book Details

  • Publisher : Karnac Books
  • Published : 2023
  • Cover : Paperback
  • Pages : 348
  • Category :
  • Catalogue No : 96947
  • ISBN 13 : 9781800131903
  • ISBN 10 : 9781800131

Reviews and Endorsements

Few books are simultaneously informative, deep, playful, and pleasurable to read. Combining humility and respect for his subjects with creative audacity and understated eloquence, Brett Kahr’s Hidden Histories of British Psychoanalysis is a rare book of such sort. The two words in the title that give away the author’s passion and craft are “Hidden” (with its impish promise to unveil secrets) and “Histories” (with its sombre acknowledgment of the myriad, divergent sources, choices, and agendas in writing history). Based upon laborious archival research and personal interviews with the London glitterati of psychoanalysis (e.g. John Bowlby, Marion Milner, Enid Balint, Pearl King, R. D. Laing), Kahr offers us a penetrating glimpse into the post-Freudian developments in British psychoanalysis, while introducing us to the strengths and solidities of his dramatis personae as well as to their whims, idiosyncrasies, and occasional madnesses. This is a great contribution to our professional literature indeed!
Salman Akhtar, MD, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Jefferson Medical College, and Training and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia

This is a very sneaky book. Ostensibly it is a series of tales from the history of Anglophone psychoanalysis in the twentieth century. But, in reality, it is a readable, often funny, account by the best historian of psychoanalysis of his generation, Brett Kahr. As much autobiography as historical account, it shows what happens when a brilliant mind meets an intractable object. The essay on the young student Brett Kahr and R. D. Laing’s missing tooth is itself worth the price of the volume, and has the possibility of becoming the classic essay on the pitfalls of celebrity.
Sander L. Gilman, PhD, Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at Emory University

A self-described “clinical historian”, a prolific writer and biographer of Donald Winnicott, with a passion for the rigorous rendering of historical detail and the healing of the human soul’s most intractable sufferings, Brett Kahr has made a reputation for himself as the eminent narrator and in depth analyst of the vagaries and some of the most protracted motifs and aspects that animate the legacy of psychoanalysis and that of its leading and lesser-known figures (the “elderly psychoanalysts”, as he lovingly calls them, whose homes, libraries, and couches he recalls visiting here).
The present collection of essays adds a series of important chapters to this ongoing and captivating lifelong project. In an at once engaging and well-documented fashion, Kahr takes us back to the contingent elements that, together, gave psychoanalysis in the United Kingdom its inescapable force and necessary radiance. From Freud’s unknown English teacher, to the growth of his English speaking clinical practice, and his remarkable Anglicisation, via the untold sources and adventures related to Winnicott as filtered through his marital life, up to the contributions made by a host of significant but much less-known theorists and practitioners, from “unassuming icons” to “bad boys” in British child, adult, and couple analysis, Kahr’s unique book traces overlooked names and cases, concepts and practices, that have not received the attention they deserve in what he calls “psychoanalytical historiography”.
Kahr is attentive to and appreciative of the networks, both familial and professional, within which great thinkers produce their psychoanalytic ideas and do their clinical work. He relies not only on his interviews with his heroes and heroines, but also on conversations with family members, colleagues, patients, secretaries, and medical doctors alike. In a non- judgemental way, he, at times tenderly, also registers the errors, deviations, and even perversions of these great figures. There is a moving resemblance between the fragility of “psychoanalytical psycho-biographical reconstructions”, including the author’s own, and the carefully observed deterioration and bodily disintegration of the heroes and heroines portrayed as they age or fall ill: Freud’s skin, Khan’s cancer, Milner’s loss of hearing, Laing’s falling tooth, and more. Kahr is acutely aware of his heroes and heroines falling into pieces, disintegrating, even shattering “into million pieces”, and, as a clinical historian, seeks to put them back together again, precisely by finding meaning in their history.
There is a dark side to these stories, therefore, which the psychoanalyst in Kahr believes one needs to explore, as only the deep probing of such “shadows” yields understanding and the possibility of avoiding their repetition. If the psychoanalytic work turns ghosts into ancestors, Kahr, for his part, does the same with corpses. Indeed, his previous work on the schizophrenic feeling of bodily disintegration keeps him close to the material reality of bodies, odors, sounds, and textures, which are evinced in each one of the remarkable encounters collected in this partly oral history, which relies as much on countless hours spent in the archives.
Kahr’s Hidden Histories is a labor of love that in its caring attentiveness humanises the great figures on whose shoulders it stands. Highly readable and greatly enticing, this latest addition to the Freud Museum’s and Karnac’s promising new series, will speak to professionals, historians, and the wider interested reading public alike.
Orna Ophir, PhD, Associate Director of The DeWitt Wallace Institute for Psychiatry, Weill-Cornell Medical College, New York, and a Member of the History of Psychoanalysis Committee of the International Psychoanalytical Association

Using storytelling and clinical and research tools, Brett Kahr’s sorcery brings to life several well-known personalities in the British psychoanalytic panoply – its “superstars” as well as its “bad boys”. While profoundly respectful, Kahr’s thoughtful critique of rigorously sourced archival papers, oral history research, and personal interviews rewards the readers with much wisdom and inspiration from foundational figures of psychoanalysis.
Joan Raphael-Leff, PhD, Retired Professor of Psychoanalysis, and Leader of the Academic Faculty of Psychoanalytic Research at the Anna Freud Centre

I fear I have done Professor Kahr a disservice by sharing so many spoilers from his magnificent book. But in my defence, I have shared them with you as an encouragement for you to read it yourself. [...] His commitment to this project shines from his loving descriptions of Marion Milner’s home (it needs a good clean) to his open-minded inquisitiveness into the potential motivations of those like Khan or Laing who can so easily be dismissed as heroes or villains. [...] In the words of this text Brett communicates his deep enthusiasm for the hidden histories that, due to his diligence, are no longer hidden. After all, this book is the result of his exhaustive archival research alongside the interviews he personally conducted.
Aaron Balick, Psychology: Applied, 2023

In this charming book of essays, Professor Brett Kahr exercises his passion and skill in historical storytelling to contextualise the personal and professional history of various aspects of 20th century British psychoanalysis. [...] [This book], is a unique and welcome addition to the literature. Derived from countless interviews (over 900 alone into studies on Winnicott, including fifty of his former patients), and from devoted explorations of archival material as well as self-reflection on his various meetings, the tone of the book ranges from the anecdotal to the historiographic, and is very enjoyable [...] Psychoanalysis at its very core embraces the hidden in our histories. It is a joy to read this book which embraces the hidden histories in our psychoanalysis.
Helena Michaelson, Psychodynamic Practice

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