The Examined Life

On Radio 4 this week you can hear serialized extracts from The Examined Life by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. There was also a Guardian profile yesterday, which describes the book, apparently “already something of a literary sensation”, as an “delicate and utterly compelling casebook” which uses material drawn from career of analytic encounters to explore the powers and limitations of narrative in mental health and in everyday life.

A great deal of his work, [Grosz] says, “is about people coming to me with the story they cannot tell, and us working out how to tell it. They can be intelligent, articulate – but they don’t have the words. At some level, they become possessed by their story. This book is an anthology of those worked-out stories.”

He has found inspiration in the short stories of writers such as Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Andre Dubus, Chekhov, Kafka, Thomas Mann. “Down the years, psychoanalysis has become longer and more complex,” he says. “But when I taught a course on writing case histories, I discovered that what I felt was true had nothing to do with length. What counted was telling the story so well the reader had the same experience as the writer. I’m not convinced by statistics or page count, I’m convinced by someone who’s been there, got really close, seen what they’ve seen, and can put it across in writing.”

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