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Chapter Titles

Uncovering Lives

Uncovering Lives: The Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology

Alan C. Elms

Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1994


Part One: Why Psychobiography?

1. The Psychologist as Biographer 3

"The word psychobiography looks innocent enough. It's a syllable too long to come trippingly off the tongue, but it gets easier with practice. It has good Greek roots, which separately entered the English language a long time ago. And it means pretty much what it says: biography that makes substantial use of psychological theory and knowledge." [pp. 3-4]

2. Starting from Scratch 19

"So this chapter will offer a variety of specific, basic suggestions about how to get started as a psychobiographer-especially about how to collect the data you'll need when you try to understand a life. Even if you're absolutely sure you're never going to write a psychobiography, I suggest you give the chapter a try. It will take you Behind the Scenes, and in the process it should transform you into a more perceptive reader of psychobiographies." [p. 19]

Part Two: The Heart of the Theorist

3. Freud as Leonardo 35

"Freud's Leonardo offers much to criticize. But it is by no means the best work of which psychobiography is capable. Indeed, its errors leave it far from the best work of which Freud himself was capable. By using the book to present a number of sound guidelines for writing psychobiographies, Freud showed that he knew better. Then why did he violate virtually every one of those guidelines, in the very book in which they appear? That's where his sex life comes in. But before we get to the sexy parts, we need to look at other aspects of the book's origins." [p. 37]

4. The Auntification of C. G. Jung 51

"But I would suggest that when Jung accused others of trying to 'auntify' his autobiography, it was an issue to which he was particularly sensitive because he had felt certain inclinations in the same direction. Perhaps someday, when all the Jung archives are opened to scholarly researchers, someone will finally piece the Urtext together and we'll get Memories, Dreams, Reflections as Jung (in both of his personalities) meant it to be. Parts of it will still be censored, bowdlerized, auntified versions of episodes in Jung's life; his honesty had its limits as everyone's does. We'll need to keep those limitations in mind as we read the Revised Standard Autobiography. But it will finally and fully be Jung's own myth, and that's well worth having." [pp. 69-70]

5. Allport Meets Freud and the Clean Little Boy 71

"Allport's series of denials, toward the end of the passage just quoted, indicates one of the ways in which Freud's question ['And was that little boy you?'] hit home. According to Allport, 'Freud had thought that I was suffering from an infantile trauma. I wasn't. If he had said I was a brassy young American, he would have been right. But, he didn't. . . . I don't deny that there may be traces of infantilism in all of us or traces of neurosis in all of us" (my italics). But that is just what Allport had denied about himself, perhaps silently at first but promptly and vigorously. Then he said it aloud, over and over again, in essentially these words: I am not that little boy with the dirt phobia. Keep that sentence in mind-Allport's core response to Freud's interpretation of his behavior-as we examine each element of it." [pp. 79-80]

6. Skinner's Dark Year and Walden Two 85

"Every one of Skinner's major theoretical tenets, which he had supported by empirical research on nonhuman organisms and then applied fictionally to the populace of Walden Two, can be seen as related to the family frictions of the Dark Year [in his early adulthood]. Skinner's mother had always relied heavily on techniques of aversive control to regulate his behavior, largely through variants of 'Tut tut, what will people think?' Such attempts at aversive control, from both mother and father, appear to have reached their height -- or at any rate Skinner became excruciatingly sensitive to them -- during the Dark Year. In Walden Two, such aversive control is repeatedly described as one of the outside society's worst ills. It is linked with the negative emotional states that must be eliminated . . ." [p. 98]

Part Three: Into the Fantastic

7. The Thing from Inner Space: John W. Campbell, Robert E. Howard, and Cordwainer Smith 103

"When Campbell wrote 'Who Goes There?' he probably didn't realize that the story was in any significant sense autobiographical. When his first readers responded to the story's emotional power they had no idea that this power drew from Campbell's own intense early experiences. When the Science Fiction Writers of America chose 'Who Goes There?' as the best science fiction novella ever written, few had yet learned of its subjective origins. When millions of viewers shook in their seats at the film incarnation of the monstrous Thing [from Another World], they were given no hint that the monster came from inner space. But John Campbell had been writing about what he knew best. The monster was not a standard-issue escapee from an abstract id. It was not an archetypal messenger from the collective unconscious. It had lived in Campbell's childhood home, in the heart of his family." [p. 104]

8. Darker Than He Thought: The Psychoanalysis of Jack Williamson 117

"Darker Than You Think has often been judged as Williamson's best novel. One critic characterized it as 'an important development for Williamson and for fantasy generally because of its attempts at accounting for supernatural phenomena scientifically.' Another described it as 'the finest novel of the occult produced by a science fiction writer.' Williamson wrote the novel's original version during the second year of his two-year psychoanalysis. . . . But while he was writing the book he had no conscious intention to deal with his psychoanalysis, except in a peripheral way. In response to my questions on this point he said, 'I don't know when I began to realize that Barbee's experience in the novel reflected my own change under analysis, but the time is relatively recent; it certainly happened long after the book revision.'" [pp. 118-119]

9. Asimov as Acrophobe 131

"Asimov responded by return mail from his high-rise Manhattan apartment: '. . . My acrophobia is much more severe. I live on the 33rd floor and I don't mind looking out the window horizontally, but I would be very uncomfortable looking down and I rarely try it. . . . However, my writing is certainly not a conscious attempt to deal with this. I feel no need to deal with it. I don't mind being acrophobic since I have no desire whatever to go up in a plane or to climb a mountain or to walk a tightrope. . . .' So much for my idea that Asimov might have been making his fiction serve a restitutive function. As he presented matters in the letter, he seemed to be ruling out even a defensive function." [pp. 135-136]

10. The Mother of Oz: L. Frank Baum 142

"Psychological and literary interpretations of Oz are plentiful, but they seldom say much about the Oz author. An economic/political/historical interpretation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has also been going the rounds -- the most frequent version being that the Wizard was really William Jennings Bryan, the Yellow Brick Road was the Gold Standard, Dorothy's silver slippers (they're not ruby in the book) were the Silver Standard, etc. But that interpretation displays little knowledge either of L. Frank Baum's actual political position or of his major personal concerns. Time for a psychobiographer, it seemed to me, to take a look at Baum and his world -- both his real world and his imaginary world. And my daughters were available for technical consultation." [p. 144]

11. Nabokov Contra Freud 162

"By means not explained in his autobiography or elsewhere, the young novelist Vladimir Nabokov developed a theory of personality that was remarkably similar in many ways to Freud's psychoanalytic theory. Even when we omit a considerable number of more-or-less blatant examples of psychoanalytic phenomena in Nabokov's work (presumably put there to trap the unwary Freudian), we can find many instances, important to plot or characterization or both, where he's operating on assumptions much like Freud's. Nabokov's fiction often includes dreams and slips of tongue that express a character's repressed or suppressed motives. Nabokov's characters repeatedly express their sexual desires symbolically. Sometimes they do it intentionally; at other times they appear unaware of what they're doing. Quite separately from Nabokov's burlesques of Freudianism, his fiction incorporates multiple expressions of childhood sexuality, sublimation, oedipal and other incestual urges, desires for a return to the womb, paranoia as an alternative expression of homosexual motives -- all familiar stuff to the devoted reader of Nabokov, and even more familiar to the devoted reader of Sigmund Freud." [pp. 168-169]

Part Four: Beneath Politics

12. Carter and Character

13. The Counterplayers: George Bush and Saddam Hussein

14. From Colonel House to General Haig

Part Five: Other Methods, Other Lives

15. Going Beyond Scratch




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