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Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute & Society

Jacob A. Arlow, M.D.

Jacob A. Arlow, M.D.

In Memoriam
(1912-2004)*

By Dale Boesky, M.D.

Dr. Jacob Arlow died on May 21, 2004 at ninety-one. He was a unique and legendary figure in the International, American, New York and Michigan psychoanalytic communities. A small number of psychoanalysts have achieved lasting recognition for their outstanding work in their own field, but one wonders if there are any at all who ever excelled as broadly as "Jack" did.

First and foremost he was a master clinician, supervisor and teacher. Therefore he became a widely sought after consultant and panelist. He was a brilliant theoretician and co-authored the ground-breaking book Psychoanalytic Concepts and the Structural Theory. His clinical papers became a model for a generation of psychoanalysts because of his distinctive ability to link his theoretic views with clinical documentation. More than any other single analyst he refined and clarified the central role of unconscious fantasy in pathogenesis. And with his collaborator Charles Brenner he pioneered in the clarification of the immensely important distinction between the prior topographic and the then still emerging structural model. Freud's announcement of this distinction in 1926 awaited Jack's rigorous explanations before the analytic community could more fully appreciate the difference between decoding unconscious symbols and therapeutically investigating the motives for the patient's defenses.

He made major contributions to the literature of applied psychoanalysis. His essay "Ego Psychology and Mythology" remains a seminal contribution and his interests in this area extended to religious topics, film, and literature. He made major contributions to the topics of psychoanalytic education and supervision. His work on empathy is read to this day and it was Jack who said: "An analyst must have a tough mind and a soft heart." Ultimately his bibliography included five books, more than 140 papers, and 30 book reviews. To date his work has been translated into six languages. His numerous unpublished papers are available on the web.

Jack was Training and Supervising Analyst at The New York Psychoanalytic Institute and as a young man was appointed Turner Professor at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He was also Clinical Professor at NYU and Visiting Professor at Louisiana State University. He was at various times the President of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the President of The American Psychoanalytic Association as well as its Chairman of The Board on Professional Standards, and Vice-President of The International Psychoanalytic Association. He was honored by his colleagues in 1988 with a remarkable Festschrift volume titled: Fantasy, Myth, and Reality: Essays in Honor of Jacob A. Arlow.

Jack Arlow exerted a less visible but profoundly important scientific and educational influence on psychoanalytic education and practice in his role as Editor of The Psychoanalytic Quarterly from 1971 to 1979. He had an uncanny ear for spotting the pretentious, the false and the superficial and he brought dozens of papers to publication in a far better state than the first draft that reached his hands. Moreover he taught a group of his colleagues to carry on his editorial work when he moved on to other endeavors. As an author he was gifted with a remarkable ability for saying what he meant simply, elegantly and without wasted words. His essay "The Genesis of Interpretation" is a superb example of his remarkable concision and penetrating analysis.

Jack was publicly a formal person and privately a warm and witty friend. His secular Jewish identity was profoundly important to him. When a Rabbi who had been his patient alluded to an obscure passage in the Talmud, Jack recognized it instantly and was able to place it in the context of the patient's associations. The Rabbi responded: "Where else in the whole world could I find an analyst who can quote Talmud?" He loved his family deeply and traced his deep immersion in Jewish education to them and also his interest in languages. He said in fact that his mother had been "illiterate" in three different languages. He met his wife Alice at a Hebrew-speaking summer camp. He and Alice were avid dancers and when he was a young analyst at an Institute party they were one of the few couples on the floor when the band struck up a tango. Jack said his phone rang off the hook after that party and he advised tango lessons to anyone who wanted more referrals. He and Alice had four sons one of whom, Michael Arlow, lives in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

When psychoanalytic training was reinaugurated in Michigan in 1958 Jack Arlow commuted to Detroit frequently to facilitate the independent establishment of the new Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute. His generous and spirited contributions to the formation of our training program led to his appointment as an Honorary Member of The Michigan Psychoanalytic Society.

Jack literally "did it all" and did it with incredible virtuosity. His legacy has enriched us all.


* I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the tributes to Jacob Arlow published by Charles Brenner (Psychoanal. Q. 73:889-891) and the one forthcoming in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis by A. Richards and S. Goodman from which I have selected some of the above material. For a detailed summary of Dr. Arlow's published papers up to 1994 see also my own review: (1994) Psychoanalysis: Clinical Theory and Practice. By Jacob A. Arlow, M.D Psychoanal. Q., 63:349-357.