Probing minds are on psyche

"The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, Volume Sixty-One"; Yale University Press; $65

Nearly 70 years after Sigmund Freud's death, his spiritual heirs are still turning out learned papers with great enthusiasm, attempting to shed light into the dark recesses of the human mind.

Providing a perfect forum for them is "The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child," an annual started in 1945 by Anna Freud, the icon's psychoanalyst daughter, and her colleagues. The title seems to suggest that it pertains only to children, but actually, it brims with articles of great human interest and originality on topics that range from infancy to grandfatherhood, from the origins of aggression to the mysteries of human resilience.

The volume is divided into five categories: Clinical Contributions, The Child Analyst at Work, Theoretical Contributions, Research Studies and Applied Psychoanalysis. Of particular interest to the general readership is probably the last one, which deals with the psychoanalytic investigation of movies, literature, philosophy and religion, among others.

An article by Dr. Eugene J. Mahon, a training and supervising analyst at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute in New York, for example, offers an intriguing view of "purgatory."

Purgatory as a concept was not always with us, he states. It was "invented" by the human mind several hundred years ago to get it out of the dilemma that the absolute concepts — heaven and hell — had created for themselves in the first place, he theorizes. He implies provocatively that this theological concept may have unwittingly influenced Freud, who was an atheist, when he began to reflect on the unconscious dimensions of guilt and human morality as he set about "inventing" his own famous concept, the Superego, the internal moral voice.

Throughout the volume, the contributors from the United States, Israel, Switzerland and England mull over such intriguing questions as why certain infants pull their hair out; what dreams of children tell us about their developmental struggles; why Stephen Sondheim puts so many psychopathic characters on the stage; how "A Streetcar Named Desire" reflects the tortured relationship between Tennessee Williams and his lobotomized sister, Rose; and what Romeo and Juliet can still teach us about the turmoil of adolescence.

This inspiring collection of articles offers psychoanalytic thinking at its best, and anyone who is interested in the workings of a complex apparatus called the psyche will find it a very worthy companion.