NONFICTION

THE INSANITY OF NORMALITY: Realism as Sickness: Toward Understanding Human Destructiveness by Arno Gruen (Grove: 226 pp.; $21.95). You have to admire Arno Gruen for marching to the beat of his own drummer, for claiming to have discovered no less than "the source of our malaise and unhappiness" mostly by himself. Gruen, a psychoanalyst who lives in Switzerland, far removed from the ever-heated infighting of his profession, ponders self-repression, individual autonomy and realism with virtually no reference to the many others who have written thoughtfully about such issues in the past.

This is not to say that Gruen's basic ideas are unsound. Children forsake their own desires and identity in favor of those of the parents, he argues plausibly, because this is the only way they are able to gain a feeling of power, something they need because they are taught that powerlessness is shameful. Children thus subconsciously come to "hate everything in themselves that could bring them into conflict with parental expectations." This self-hate causes them to look even more for validation in "external pursuits" such as the quest for power. The mass pursuit of power, in turn, creates "an absence of human values" that we have come to accept as the "real world." Those who can adapt to this culture of denial are considered "normal," while those who can't are considered crazy; thus this book's title.

Unfortunately, though, Gruen's theories are callow because he makes no effort to criticize or even acknowledge the similar but more developed theories of writers such as Erich Fromm and Anthony Storr. His glibness is particularly evident in his unreflective notion of "the self" and in his half-baked notion that schizophrenics are visionaries who "withdraw from the outer world in order not to have to submit to its claim to power."

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