[Review of the book Canada's king



Title [Review of the book Canada's king: an essay in political psychology].
Author(s) Scott Greer
Date 2000
Volume 41
Issue 3
Start page 200
Abstract Rev. of Canada's King: An Essay in Political Psychology, by Paul Roazen Roazen also makes clear the limitations of his endeavor we cannot diagnose King's disorder, even with a first-hand account of his symptoms from an expert such as Meyer. Nor can we reach any firm conclusions about the cause of King's symptoms, although there are numerous plausible explanations ranging from simple fatigue to more severe mental disturbances that interfered with his contact with reality. Roazen also eschews any "presentism" in that we cannot use "contemporary wisdom" to "clarify," "elucidate," or, worse yet, "explain" a given historical or biographical subject. By looking at the state of psychiatry almost 85 years ago, where an infected tooth was seen as a plausible cause of mental disturbances, we might well find that in another 80 years our "contemporary science" may look like so many stone knives and bearskins. One question that arises, however, is whether Roazen's book should be called a "psychobiography" or even a "psychological biography" (it is referred to as both on the cover), since he does not proffer the kind nor certainly the degree of psychological interpretation that is usually found in psychobiographies. Curiously, Roazen himself does not use the terms "psychobiography" or "psychological biography," but refers to his work as "an essay in political psychology," or simply as a "biography" informed by the Freudian tradition. Traditional psychobiographies and psychological biographies utilize some form of personality theory, usually psychoanalytic or psychodynamic, in the analysis of their subject. Roazen's "Introduction" does provide a rather lengthy discussion of the ways in which Freudian thought has been and can be applied to biography, and so I was naturally expecting a psychoanalytic or perhaps psychodynamic interpretation of the material he so carefully presented. However, this was not to be. We do get some sense of Meyer's impression, which was heavily psychodynamic, and while many of King's symptoms and personal interactions lay ripe for a psychoanalytic interpretation, Roazen resists putting King on the couch. Instead, Roazen takes a more "journalistic" approach, reporting on the construction of King's disorders and diagnoses as they were understood at the time. The introductory material on Freud and psychoanalysis does actually turn out to be relevant, however, in that it helps the reader make some sense of the psychoanalytic terminology prevalent in psychiatry during the early 20th century.

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