Time Past and Time Present

Review by

 Dr Vassilis Maoutsos


Pearl King’s Book 

I incline to the view that nowadays there are two distinct kinds of psychoanalysts. There are those who have a global view of psychoanalysis and others who limit their psychoanalytical understanding and interest to specific areas of psychoanalysis e.g developmental or neuro-psychoanalysis. I would say that the older cohort of analysts, like Pearl King, tends towards the former outlook while the more contemporary ones lean towards the latter.

The reason for this distinction are many and one of the things that the book under review achieves – although subliminally, imperceptibly – is to point out to the careful reader some of the factors that have given rise to the change. From that point of view alone there is no doubt that by reading this classic collection of papers one can get an almost romantic appreciation of how things used to be in this field. But I must also stress that in the above distinction between analysts there is another important and thought provoking parameter. When psychoanalysis was still a youthful profession there was such self-confidence and excitement that it seemed almost every aspect of the human world would be illuminated by it. Everything might well be located under a psychoanalytical umbrella. Psychoanalysis was the hub from which trajectories extended in all directions, be they clinical, educational, theoretical, organizational, political and what not. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that today quite the opposite is the case? In a world of rapidly changing circumstances psychoanalysishas shrunk back in a soul searching attitude, and has become shy and hesitant, unable to express herself freely as well as to be confident in what she has to say. So, in Pearl King’s book we find a writer who still talks that robust and full of energy psychoanalytical language that helps us to learn a lot not only about how things used to be but also about psychoanalytical clear-mindedness and good theoretical understanding matched with sound clinical practice. At the end, one is bound to conclude that, despite all the tribulations and the obstacles in our profession, things are moving in the right direction. Perhaps this is the reason that Brett Kahr in his foreword to this book rightly says that “if psychoanalysis were to have a Royal Family she [Pearl King] would easily be a contender for the role of the Queen….”.

In this volume Pearl King has edited some of her most important papers, not infrequently containing pioneering and influential reflections on some of the crucial milestones in the development of psychoanalysis. For example, the so sensitive issue of counter-transference were elaborated by her to the psychoanalysis of middle age patients (King P. 1974) and the very controversial topics of those years related to the theoretical splits in the  psychoanalytic world were extended by her to the organizational level and the difficulties of psychoanalytical societies and the British Society, in particular, how to control the dynamics that often threatened the teaching and other functions of the society  (King P. 1989, 1996). In fact, these have been two of her contributions that have been most in her heart. After all, Pearl King came to psychoanalysis when she was already over forty and during her rich career she had always been keen to undertake administrative posts in the British Society with great success.

It is well known that she never hesitated to come forward with new ideas, devotion to psychoanalysis and respect for the views of others. Within that spirit one can notice through the pages of her book that she has the capacity to touch upon long standing inter-personal and theoretical difficulties and to surpass them when she feels that more time is needed before something is ready to progress at another level while at the same time she has no hesitation to express tactfully her own view. ‘In fact’ she says at one point ‘Jungians and Freudians, according to popular stereotypes are often placed on the opposite poles of a dichotomy……………with the enlarging of our professional and cultural frames of reference, some points of dissension between Freud and Jung now look very different….’. I could think here that for many analysts the exact opposite might be the case if we consider how much this ‘dichotomy’ tends to gradually disappear – outside Switzerland and perhaps Great Britain – as the result of the reduction in interest in Analytical Psychology rather than the finding of common ground between Freud and Jung.

In most cases, during her creative career she has achieved to adopt a multi-dimensional approach to things. I remember her in 2001 – already quite old but full of energy lady – in Milan delivering a paper on Winnicott and the great applause that she received at the end mainly as the result of the marvelous and uncompromising way that she had managed to combine Freud, Klein and Winnicott ideas in a whole, while at the same time making justice to all of them. Perhaps because of this charisma of hers she has always been a genuine supporter of the Independent School of Psychoanalysis. In my opinion this is more as the result of her belief in one psychoanalysis independent of prejudices rather than in many different psychoanalyses that one is independent to choose from.

The independent and integrative way of conceiving psychoanalysis comes alive in Pearl King’s book as she starts with papers in the clinical field and then goint into her classic papers about the curative factors in psychoanalysis, the analyst’s parental functioning and the analyst’s own emotional states of counter-transference, ending the first part of her book with her classic paper on the affective response of the analyst to the patient’s communications. She then, grapples some unfashionable areas largely neglected by contemporary psychoanalysts: she engages herself with the difficult topics of the life cycle and ageing that I mentioned earlier on and these, of course, are inevitably bound up with the concept of narcissism. How do middle aged and elderly patients function during analysis as the result of their life experiences? What does it mean for the psychoanalyst himself/herself to practice at an old age or, as the case may be, not to practice after a certain age but without giving up her/his life-long devotion to psychoanalysis?.

In the third part of her book she offers the reader a selection of papers which in my opinion make up the most interesting reading. She calls that section “Understanding the Psychoanalytic Process”. Here, she raises issues that are probably as important and obscure today as they were at the time that these papers were written. She explores, for instance, what might be the essence of the concept of ‘interpretation’ that we sometimes so easily take for granted. I think that it will take still much longer to understand fully what Freud meant with this term because it is a meta-psychological topic that is by no means exhausted from that point of view despite all that has been written about it. So, it is very comforting to feel that while there is in the book a comprehensive argumentation and most fair treatment of it, on the other hand, one does not have to fully agree with Pearl King’s understanding of this term. Indeed, if according to Freud the two concepts ‘transference’ and ‘interpretation’ are inexorably linked together then, Pearl King’s inclination for a considerable degree of separation between the two is a point for long and productive exchanges of opinions for the future.

But Pearl King is an object relations analyst and she therefore  exposes and explores in unequivocal terms from that angle  all the spectrum of psychoanalytical concepts like transference, technical issues, training problems, organizational issues, what it means for one’s self to be an analyst, historical aspects that link together all the above mentioned and many others. These papers are uniquely didactic and informative for every practitioner not least because they raise questions that tend to be forgotten. Let us take as an example one of them: is the ‘psychoanalytic relationship’ or the ‘transference relationship’ a real relationship or an unreal one and what ‘real’ means, anyway? Clinically, transference is indeed a “process”, “a state of mind” and/or “an emotional attitude”. Especially in terms of object relationships this is certainly so mainly because the behavior of the ‘real’ object, i.e the analyst, is catalytic for the therapy. But, we must also remember that in terms of the subject’s relationship to himself the creation of the object is subjectively real but objectively not necessarily so. Therefore, in Freudian terms the transference relationship and the psychoanalytical process is based much more upon ‘fantasy’ rather than reality. And yet, it is one of the strengths of Pearl King that the reader, having been given all the information necessary, feels that she is not dogmatic about all these and that she has left him to decide for himself/herself the degree of ‘reality’ of the ‘object’ in the life of the individual.

At the end of the book the author gives us an appendix a four page catalogue which she titles: “Questions to ask (myself) about a patient’s material”. It was written in 1962 and to my mind remains an insightful, practical guide of considerable clinical and practical use for every young psychoanalyst as well as psychotherapist.


King, P. (1974): Notes on the psychoanalysis of older patients – Reappraisal of the potentialities for change during the second half of life

Journal of Anaytical Psychology 19


King, P. (1989): On being a psychoanalyst – Integrity and vulnerability in psychoanalytic organizations.

The Psychoanalytic Core. Essays in Honor of Leo Rangell

H.P Blum, E. M. Weinshel, F. R. Rodman, L. Rangell M.D


King, P. (1996): What has happened to psychoanalysis in the British Society?

Who Owns Psychoanalysis?

  1. Casement

Karnac Books 2004

Vassilis Maoutsos