Review of: His Brother’s Keeper: A Psycho-biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
By Stephen M. Weissman
(FROM: PSYCHOANALYTIC QUARTERLY, V.60:no.3:p.513-515)
By Stanley M. Coen,M.D.
Faculty, Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute
Who said psychobiography is dead? Here is Stephen Weissman writing an engaging, novelistic account of the life and creativity of Coleridge. Weissman tells his story very well—simply, elegantly, with a minimum of psychoanalytic jargon, using psychoanalytic formulations in a spare but effective manner. The reader easily becomes absorbed in Weissman’s personal and convincing rendering. His psychological reading of the interrelations among Coleridge’s life, conflicts, and creative work is fascinating. This is a moving but sad tale. I recommend it to psychoanalysts, academicians, and literary critics as an example of fine biography illuminated through psychoanalytic psychology. The criticisms I offer involve matters of taste, bias and perspective. In no way should they be understood as detracting from Weissman’s accomplishment.
Weissman is more concerned with telling his story than elaborating a psychoanalytic theory of artistic creativity. Thus the hypothesis he offers can be accepted or rejected, in whole or in part, without detracting from his overall work. In the introduction, he outlines briefly his psychology of artistic creativity as involving loss, separation, sensitivity, and depression, which are managed by creative imagery transformed into permanent works. Creativity is exhilarating, intoxicating and addictive—certainly a useful theory to apply to Coleridge (and his opiate addiction). Weissman, however, connects this creative ecstasy only to wishes for immortality, in line with his idea of vital defense against loss and depression. This is too narrow a formulation….
I recommend this book as delightful reading, something which can rarely be said for psychoanalytic books. If Weissman heeds by wish for a little more theory and criticism, I hope that he nevertheless preserves his elegant narrative style in his next book.
Stanley J. Coen, author of:
Between Author and Reader: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Writing and Reading