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by Robert M. Young

In the investigation of mental processes and intellectual functions, psychoanalysis pursues a specific method of its own. The application of this method is by no means confined to the field of psychological disorders, but extends also to the solution of problems in art, philosophy, and religion. In this direction it has already yielded several new points of view and thrown valuable light on such subjects as the history of literature, on mythology, on the history of civilizations and on the philosophy of religion. Thus the general psycho-analytic course should be thrown open to the students of these branches of learning as well. The fertilizing effects of psycho-analytic thought on these other disciplines would certainly contribute greatly towards forging a closer link, in the sense of a universitas literatum, between medical science and the branches of learning which lie within the sphere of philosophy and the arts.

— Sigmund Freud ’On the Teaching of Psycho-analysis in Universities’ (1919)

I have written this because I was asked to give a lecture in a series under this title to the MA students in the Tavistock/University of East London Psychoanalytic Studies programme. Here is the rubric I was given:


1. To give an outline of the development and contemporary state of the field of psychoanalytic studies.

2. To present a number of different views about the content and boundaries of the field.

3. To identify key issues in the use of psychoanalytic ideas in non-clinical settings.

4. To provide an opportunity for students to compare and explore their reasons for doing the course.


For reasons I will explain I should have found this an easy assignment, but it wasn’t — for reasons I shall also explore.

The short answer is simple. Psychoanalytic Studies is the academic discipline which is concerned with teaching and research about psychoanalytic theory and practice. As a discrete discipline it began quite precisely at the University of Kent at Canterbury , where the first course was taught in 1985, and the first Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies was established in 1986. The onlie begetter of this discipline was Dr Martin Stanton, who founded the course and the centre and did much to foster the growth of the discipline in Britain and abroad. He was, for example, one of the main influences in the establishment of it professional organization, the Universities Association for Psychoanalytic Studies (UAPS) which has a journal, entitled PS, published by Rebus Press, the first issue of which appeared in April of this year. He was also co-founder with Bernard Burgoyne of THERIP, the Higher Education Research and Information Network in Psychoanalysis. THERIP is nominally a broad public forum, while UAPS is exclusively concerned with the university subject.

Dr Stanton’s centre and MA were the direct inspiration for about a dozen other programmes — at Middlesex, Sheffield, Essex, East London/Tavistock, Brunel, Manchester Metropolitan, Leeds Metropolitan, University College London, Goldsmiths, Hertfordshire, LBS Dublin, Trinity Dublin, Belfast. Programmes are in the process if being launched in Bristol and at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. The growth of these MAs has inspired sympathetic scholars in other countries to launch similar programmes, for example, in Australia at LaTrobe and Melbourne Universities (the latter of which has not survived), at the New School for Social Research in New York and the New England Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies in Vermont, which also intends to offer a distance learning programme. I am told that there are still others at Emory (in Atlanta), Chicago, Berkeley, Florida-Gainsville, SUNY Buffalo, Columbia, and UCLA. Yale and Cornell are thinking of starting something up following Emory's model. There are also undergraduate programmes at LSB Dublin and at Leeds Metropolitan.

In January another journal will be launched, Psychoanalytic Studies, with a distinguished international editorial board including scholars from a wide variety of points of view within psychoanalysis and analytic psychotherapy (i.e., Jungianism), broadly conceived. The Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, published from Antioch in the US, is now in its third volume. For many years until he was unfairly deposed, Helmut Dahmer, a trained scholar, edited Psyche, which was a haven for scholarly work on psychoanalysis in Germany. All of this has occurred at a time when psychoanalysis as a theory and as a clinical practice has been subjected to withering criticisms from a number of quarters, so much so that the combined criticisms have been called ‘The Freud Wars’, a subject to which I will revert in my concluding remarks.

I am extremely proud of all this and can take some personal satisfaction from it. When he was setting up his programme, Martin Stanton came to Karl Figlio (now head of the Essex centre for Psychoanalytic Studies) and me and said that our work and the journal Free Associations, which we then edited together, were the main inspiration and model for what he was trying to do. I worked with him as a visiting lecturer and then Visiting Professor in the subject at Kent for a number of years, and Stanton was for a time Managing Editor of Free Associations. I chose to move on and now hold the only chair in Psychoanalytic Studies. He, too, has moved on and has just taken up a post at the Tavistock Institute of Marital Studies, and the Kent centre and programme have been, I am sorry to say, completely closed down.

There were, of course, other people who played an important part in the development of the subject, in particular, Barry Richards and Michael Rustin, who have together set up a broad and multi-faceted programme in human relations at UEL, based on the psychoanalytic point of view. I dare say that it is the broadest programme of its kind. The Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies at Sheffield, created and until recently directed by Dr Tim Kendall, which offers a psychotherapy training and related MA programmes (including distance learning) and doctoral research in Psychiatry, Philosophy & Society and in Disability Studies, is, I believe, the largest psychoanalytic centre in Europe. We are also involved in an ambitious outreach programme. In addition to our distance learning MAs, we have set up a series of email discussion forums embracing a wide spectrum — one in psychoanalytic studies and one for each of our other MAs. I and my colleague Ian Pitchford have set up affiliated ones on Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere, Object Relations, European Psychotherapy, Darwin-and Darwinism, Evolution and Science as Culture. Each of these has an associated web site, and extensive archives of information, including a vast Dictionary of Mental Health and extensive Guides to the Internet. The Sheffield centre’s site gets over a thousand visits per day, the one where my writings are gets between one and three thousand (that’s over four hundred thousand per year for each site) and the new Human-Nature.com site is growing fast and has received over a hundred thousand hits in the short time since it was set up. The email forums with which we are associated have from a hundred to over five hundred subscribers, and the InterPsych consortium of over fifty forums in mental health founded by Pitchford has well in excess of ten thousand subscribers.

The multi-faceted programme at Essex has four part-time professors — two psychoanalysts, Bob Hinshelwood and Joan Raphael-Leff and two Jungian analysts, Andrew Samuels and Renos Papadapolous. They offer a growing variety of MAs, visiting fellowships and doctoral research. There is also a large (and largely Lacanian) programme at Middlesex, inspired and maintained by Bernard Burgoyne. A related development is the MA in Group Relations, based on the work of Wilfred Bion and other psychoanalytically-oriented people concerned with groups and institutions and founded by Professor Paul Hoggett at the University of the West of England in Bristol. A similar programme is being developed by Professors Toma Tomov and Gordon Lawrence, David Armstrong and me at the Bulgarian Institute of Human Relations at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia.

I wonder if you are finding this recitation informative but less than inspiring. Well, I was asked to speak about the development, content and boundaries of the discipline, and I am not yet done. I think it is narrow-minded and historically churlish to define the discipline strictly in terms of developments explicitly under the heading of psychoanalytic studies in the wake of Martin Stanton’s initiative, admirable though the things I have so far described are. Psychoanalytic Studies is now an academic discipline, but scholarly research about the theory and practice of psychoanalysis has a long and distinguished history. I cannot say where it began. Perhaps, like so much else, it started with Freud. The Interpretation of Dreams contained a scholarly review of the literature, and his ‘On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement’ certainly qualifies as psychoanalytic studies. My own list of admirable contributors to the subsequent history of intellectually distinguished research is a long one. I first came to it in Ernest Jones’ The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, which appeared while I was an undergraduate, In this same period there were helpful historical and conceptual studies by David Rapaport, Peter Amacher and Walther Riese. My own role models for academic distinction are John Burnham’s detailed studies of American psychoanalysis, Judith Hughes’s studies of recent theory and of Freud’s practice and Peter Gay’s biography of Freud, which has superseded Jones’, while his multi-volume psychoanalytic exploration of Victorian sensibilities is truly awesome. The best psychoanalytic biography is Victor Wolfenstein’s The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution, while his theoretical treatise on Psychoanalytic Marxism is stunning. I have reservations about the frame of reference of the writings of John Forrester — for example, his placing psychoanalysis as fundamentally a part of popular culture and his writing rather too much to entertain— but there is no doubt that his output is extensive and his researches are probing and thought-provoking. His trajectory was through Lacanianism, and I believe he may have come out the other side. There are many who remain within this framework, and they write prolifically and, in my view, too often inaccessibly, about literature, film, sexuality, culture and all sorts of things.

I could and should go on at length. Writings by psychoanalysts who are not also trained scholars suffer from an almost unavoidable whiggism (the belief that history leads inexorably to me and my subject), and this taints the volume of Psychoanalytic Pioneers and Ellenberger’s research, even his admirable The Discovery of the Unconscious.. People who are scholars first and concerned with psychoanalysis second or simultaneously do not have this problem so worringly. Paul Robinson’s book on The Freudian Left and his more recent studies on Freud and His Critics are both in this scholarly genre.

.Phyllis Grosskurth’s biography of Melanie Klein and her book on the early circle around him are, in my opinion, also good examples. Indeed, there are many admirable biographies — of Fromm, Rank, Reich, Winnicott, Hugg-Helmuth, Adler, Ferenczi, Jung, Deutsch, Jones, Guntrip, Laing and Lacan, among them. Complementing these, we have a goodly number of sets of scholarly editions of letters. Then there is the debatable but growing genre of psychobiography, e.g., of Isaac Newton, Henry James, Richard Nixon, Gough Whitlam. Alongside these, there is a growing critical literature, much of it psychoanalytic, about biography and autobiography.

There are also a number of dictionaries which are works of scholarship and far from mere compilations: Laplanche and Pontalis’ The Language of Psychoanalysis, Hinshelwood’s A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought, Newman’s Winnicott’s Words, Abram’s The Language of Winnicott, Evan’s Lacan, Elizabeth Wright’s Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary.

I greatly admire certain works of critical history, especially Roudinesco’s volumes on the history of French psychoanalysis, Russell Jacoby’s critique of conformist psychology, Social Amnesia, and his account of what happened to the left wing of the first generation of analysts, especially Fenichel, in The Repression of Psychoanalysis. Joel Kovel’s White Racism: A Psychohistory, is in this radical tradition. In the sphere of the psychoanalytic study of the arts, there is so much going on that Norman Holland, also a leading contributor, complies a extensive annual bibliography, runs an email forum and edits an ejournal in this sphere.

We have recently had dissertations on Winnicottian film theory, Kleinian aesthetics, Kleinian feminist epistemology, Irigarayian film theory, psychoanalytic supervision, the case study, Bakhtin and psychoanalysis, Proust and psychoanalysis. I am currently supervising eight dissertations, and colleagues in Sheffield are supervising a total of about a dozen more. I cannot say what doctoral research is in progress elsewhere, but I am sure the numbers are growing, e.g., at the Tavistock, at Essex and in Cambridge, places where I know a little about what is going on.

Where does one stop listing scholars? With Psychoanalysis and Feminism, published in 1974, Juliet Mitchell almost single-handedly brought Freud back into the frame for feminists, Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Jacqueline Rose, among many others, have pursued this path. John Fletcher, Jonathan Dolomore, Beverly Burch, Noreen O’Connor and Joanna Ryan and others have explored sexual identity and sexual orientation. A number of recent scholars have stood back and reflected psychoanalytically on culture, including aspects of psychoanalytic culture: Christopher Lasch, Paul Roazen, Sander Gilman, Michael and Margaret Rustin, Barry Richards, Karl Figlio, Meg Harris Williams, Margot Waddell, Stephen Frosh, Janet Sayers, Marike Finlay, Donald Carveth, Andrew Samuels, Michael Adams, Judith Kurzweil, David Tacey, Anthony Elliott, Ian Parker, Rozika Parker, Rosalind Mirsky, Parveen Adams, Barnaby Barrett, Peter Swales, Peter Rudnytsky, Sonu Shamdasani, Fred Alford, Barry Richards and colleagues and Jonathan Lear (of whom more anon). My own favourite among all of these writings (because it speaks directly to my own history and current condition) is Paul Hoggett’s essay on the psychoanalysis of commitment, entitled Partisans in an Uncertain World.

I do not want to fail to mention practising psychoanalysts who have done historical and/or conceptual research, some of it useful, some profound. I have in mind, for example, the work Humberto Nagera, Joseph Sandler and others did in compiling texts with respect to basic concepts in psychoanalytic theory. Something similar can be said of the writings of Ricardo Steiner on the history of psychoanalysis, especially in Britain, and his and Pearl King’s editing work on The Controversial Discussions between Kleinians and Freudians in London in the 1940s. Or Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel’s historical and conceptual essay, The Ego Ideal. Or Horacio Etchegoyen’s monumental tome on The Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique. Some psychoanalysts and psychotherapists who have not had the benefit of a scholarly training in history have written historical essays, mounted historical conferences and, and some have launched journals, one in Europe and a new one in Britain, Psychoanalysis and History.

My idea of a properly scholarly and thorough piece of research is a forthcoming book by Douglas Kirsner, an Australian scholar who spent a decade interviewing psychoanalysts in America. He then spent a long time transcribing and analysing his interviews. He has come up with a very impressive historical and political analysis of the inner dynamics of four of the main American psychoanalytic institutes — New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. Each has its distinctive problems and resolutions. Each provides a riveting story. For example, senior people on the staff of the Chicago benefited financially from trust funds of patients or ex-patients. In Los Angeles there was an ongoing row over the role of Kleinian ideas and practice, and the American Psychoanalytic Association threatened over a period of years to close down the institute unless they got rid of the influence of Kleinian ideas which were challenging what they called ‘traditional American psychoanalysis’, which was code for ego psychology imported from Germany. In New York and Boston there were ongoing conflicts over that perennial bugbear of psychoanalytic organisations: how to decide who gets to be a training analyst. The Continental émigrés who went to American as a haven from Nazi persecution were very slow to let native Americans have power, though their own wives seemed to be meritorious. This is a searching study of institutional dynamics and the vicissitudes of power. Each institution made progress in solving its conflicts, but some split and, as I see it, all would have benefited from operating within the accountability of a university affiliation, something psychoanalysts have tended to avoid. The text of his book, Unfeee Associations: Inside Psychoanalytic Institutes, is at the human-nature.com web site, and it will be published I hard copy in the new year.

So much for lists. I turn now to issues. What is Psychoanalytic Studies for? I suppose I cannot address that without saying something about what psychoanalysis is for. It is obviously for treating neurotics, borderlines and some psychotics - as Freud put it, helping them to move, if we can, from intolerable distress to ordinary human unhappiness. Freud was a neuroscientist, a clinician, a psychologist and so on. Beyond that, however, he was a philosopher of human nature, society, culture and was profoundly concerned with the origins and prospects of humankind. Many consider him a pessimist. I am not one of them. I consider him realistic though rather more stoical than I am. I suppose I should acknowledge that I am rather more stoical that I was. The Roman Stoics taught the proper attitude of integrity, endurance and in the last instance, opting out to adopt toward historical situations which could not, at least for the forseeable future, be changed. Freud wrote eloquently about the origins of law from the incest taboo and the origins of civilization in the sublimation of polymorphously perverse sexuality in the primal horde. He held the view that sanctions and guilt are essential to prevent people from acting from urgent selfish motives and that as a consequence, neurosis was the price we pay for the degree of civilization we do manage to maintain. He believed that at bottom our creative and destructive instincts are always and everywhere in conflict and that we live our lives in a perpetually fraught space between the two great instincts of Eros and Thanatos.

It is worth remembering that Freud was at the height of his powers at the time of the First World War, during which he and his family suffered great deprivation (he was 58 in 1914). He also suffered from an increasingly debilitating cancer of the pharynx for the last sixteen years of his life, necessitating numerous painful operations and the wearing of an uncomfortable prosthesis. He had to flee from Austria in the wake of the Nazi takeover of Austria and died in exile not many months later a few hundred yards from here at three in the morning on 23 September 1939.

A revealing anecdote was told by his biographer and devoted adjutant, Ernest Jones. In August 1919 Jones and a companion were the first foreign civilians to reach Vienna after the war. He had not seen Freud for six years. Jones recalls that 'there were, of course, comments on the vast changes in the European situation, and Freud surprised me by saying he had recently had an interview with an ardent communist and had been half converted to Bolshevism, as it was then called. He had been informed that the advent of Bolshevism would result in some years of misery and chaos and that these would be followed by universal peace, prosperity and happiness. Freud added: "I told him I believed the first half"'. (Jones, Freud , III: 16).

This is my way of introducing my own view that all of thought, including scientific thought, is inescapably about values and occurs within an ideological framework. Freud and psychoanalysis are no exceptions, and it is part of our task to think about the moral and ideological aspects of psychoanalysis. Freud is often thought of as someone who did not hold overtly political views, although he is always considered a liberal. I want to spend a few minutes shattering this illusion. Near the end of his life, he wrote a set of New Introductory Lectures (Freud, 1933) which were designed to help the publishing house with which he was associated to get out of a situation (which I know too well) of not quite being able to break even. In the last lecture he addressed himself to the whole question of psychoanalysis in relation to world views. He says that the abolition of private property sprang from a misguided illusion about human nature. He did not himself take a view on the economic consequences of the Soviet attempt to build communism but said, 'I can recognise it's psychological presuppositions as an untenable illusion' (quoted in Gay, 1988, p. 549). He argued that aggression was not created by property but, rather, was a source of pleasure (Ibid.). Freud's theory of civilisation 'views life in society as an imposed compromise and hence as an essentially insoluble predicament' (Gay, 1988, p. 547). He says that we can neither live without civilisation nor live happily within it, but at best we can achieve a truce between desire and control' (p. 548). Freud wrote,


I recognise ever more clearly that the events of human history, the interactions between human nature, cultural development, and the precipitants of primeval experiences (as whose representative religion pushes to the fore) are only the reflection of the dynamic conflicts among the id, ego, and superego, which psychoanalysis studies in the individual the same events repeated on a wider stage. (quoted in Gay, 1988, p. 547)'

His recent biographer, Peter Gay, comments: 'He could not have stated the essential unity of his thought any more forcefully' (Ibid.).

I want to dwell on Freud's most extensive comments on Marxism. He thought socialism and Marxism pursued forlorn hopes. It is important to have a sense of context for this passage. He is reflecting on ideology as world view — Weltanschauung, — something of which he believed himself to be free. The first world view on which he comments, albeit briefly, is anti-scientistic anarchism, which he deftly caricatures and reduces to relativistic sophistry. He continues,


The other opposition has to be taken far more seriously and, in this instance I feel the liveliest regret at the inadequacy of my information. I suspect that you [he is referring to the imaginary audience for his lectures] know more about this business than I do and that you took up your position long ago in favour of Marxism or against it. Karl Marx's investigations into the economic structure of society and into the influence of different systems upon every department of human life have in our days acquired an undeniable authority. How far his views in detail are correct or go astray, I cannot of course tell. I understand that this is not an easy matter for others better instructed than I am. (Freud, 1933, pp 176-77)

Having begun in a disarmingly diffident way, he moves onto the attack:


There are assertions contained in Marx's theory which have struck me as strange: such as that development of forms of society as a process of natural history, or that the changes in social stratification arise from one another in the manner of a dialectical process. I am far from sure that I understand these assertions aright; nor do they sound to me ”materialistic” but, rather, like a precipitate of the obscure Hegelian philosophy in whose school Marx graduated. I do not how I can shake off my lay opinion that the class structure of society goes back to the struggles which, from the beginning of history, took place between human hordes only slightly differing from each other. Social distinctions, so I thought, were originally distinctions between clans or races. Victory was decided by psychological factors, such as the amount of constitutional aggressiveness, but also by the firmness of the organisation within the horde, and by material factors, such as the possession of superior weapons. Living together in the same area, the victorious became the masters and the vanquished the slaves. There is no sign to be seen in this of a natural law or of a conceptual [dialectical] evolution. (p. 177).

He goes on to assert that 'men always put their newly acquired instruments of power at the service of their aggressiveness and use them against one another'.

Moving on, Freud indulges in a bit of potted history of military technology in a rather technological determinist way and continues with what has become a familiar rebuttal of the base-superstructure model in which economic forces determine cultural manifestations. He reiterates a position which, in fact, Marx and Engels also held and which every enlightened Marxist has also held, that is, that superstructure influences base just as much as base influences superstructure. He tells us that 'the relation of mankind to their control over nature, from which they derive their weapons for fighting their fellow-men, must necessarily also effect their economic arrangements.' (p 178). He then appears to offer us a sense of mediation:


But it cannot be assumed that economics motives are the only ones that determine the behaviour of human beings in society. The undoubted fact that different individuals, races and nations behave differently under the same economic conditions is alone enough to show that economic motives are not the sole dominating factor. It is altogether incomprehensible how psychological factors can be overlooked when what is in question are the reactions of living human beings...' (Ibid.).

Freud next brings instincts into play and says,


If anyone were in a position to show and detail the ways in which these different factors — the general inherited human disposition, its racial variations and its cultural transformations — inhibit and promote one another under the conditions of social rank, profession and earning capacity — if anyone were able to do this, he would have supplemented Marxism so that it was made into a genuine social science. For sociology too, dealing as it does with the behaviour of people in society, cannot be anything but applied psychology. Strictly speaking there are only two sciences: psychology, pure and applied, and natural science (p 179).

We have here, again, Freud's own swingeing reductionism, at least as simplistic as anything of which he accuses Marxists. There is natural science, and there is psychology. There are, therefore, fundamentally no intellectual niches for what Durkheim called social facts. There is no sense of the relative autonomy of the social. There are, finally and fundamentally, no mediations. No economics, no social psychology, no anthropology, not even — finally — history.

I will offer two more paragraphs to make clear both his commitment to reductionism and his deep scepticism about Marxism.


And although practical Marxism has mercilessly cleared away all idealistic systems and illusions, it has itself developed illusions which are no less questionable and unprovable than the earlier ones. It hopes in the course of a few generations so to alter human nature that people will live together almost without friction in the new order of society, and that they will undertake the duties of work without any compulsion. Meanwhile it shifts elsewhere the instinctual restrictions which are essential in society; it diverts the aggressive tendencies which threaten all human communities to the outside and finds support in the hostility of the poor against the rich and of the hitherto powerless against the former rulers. A transformation of human nature such as this is highly improbable (p. 180).

In conclusion, he says,


Unluckily neither our scepticism nor the fanatical faith of the other side gives a hint of how the experiment will turn out. The future will tell us; perhaps it will show that the experiment was undertaken prematurely, that a sweeping alteration of the social order has little prospect of success until new discoveries have increased our control over the forces of nature and so made easy the satisfaction of our needs. Only then perhaps may it become possible for a new social order not only to put an end to the material need of the masses but also to give a hearing to the cultural demands of the individual. Even then, to be sure, we shall still have to struggle for an incalculable time with the difficulties which the untameable character of human nature presents to every kind of social community.' (p 181)

Reverting to Freud's claim that all social phenomena are really id, ego, and super-ego writ large, my aim in what follows is to canvas on behalf of the future of Psychoanalytic Studies a crucial dimension of the problem — how we grant all that is appropriate to id, ego, and super-ego and to the family dynamic as prototype, as well as other, more primitive mechanisms, while giving due weight to the relative autonomy of the social. We somehow have to find our way between the extreme form of theories of nature and human nature which says that truth and human nature are made and not found (Rorty, 1989), on the one hand, and utterly fatalistic and pessimistic views, whether socially fatalistic or biologistically so, on the other.

I want to begin this part of my remarks by granting a lot to Freud. If he is right, and I regret to say that many events in the twentieth century support his pessimism — extending from the baleful consequences of the Soviet Revolution and the Great Cultural Revolution which began in 1929, to the Chinese events under the same name in the 1960s and beyond to the events of Kampuchea and other draconian and genocidal movements in several metropolitan and Third World countries right up to the threshold of the millennium. Even so, in the spirit of Sisyphus, I think that we must try again to push the stone up the hill, knowing that the chances of its rolling back over us are quite large. The problem, I suggest, is one of levels. The need is not to get away from the primitive but to work with it — not as fixed but as deucedly hard to shift.

Indeed, the key might lie in Freud's own motto: 'If I cannot bend the higher powers, I will stir up the lower depths' (Freud, 1900, p. ix). Herbert Marcuse offers us the beginnings of a compromise. He accepts the necessity of repression for civilisation. Here he is with Freud. But he distinguishes between socially necessary repression on the one hand, and what he calls 'surplus repression' on the other (Marcuse, 1966, pp. 37-8). The second characterises a specific epoch and is available for attempts to modify it. For Marcuse, Freud's biologism is petrified or frozen history — second nature (Jacoby, 1981, p.31).

You will recall that some minutes ago I turned to the question of what Psychoanalytic Studies is for and immediately went into a long digression about what psychoanalysis is for, in which I canvassed Freud’s views on civilization and politics. Toward the end of this digression I began to address our own version of this question and to touch on some potential modifications of Freudian orthodoxy. Putting the matter quite bluntly, I am satisfied that Philip Rieff was right when he said that the writings of Freud are the most important body of thought put to paper in the twentieth century. I would, however, supplement his view by saying that a way must be found to synthesize Freud with Darwin and Marx, i.e., to arrive at a comprehensive synthesis of views on human nature which gives due weight, as we have seen that Freud did not, to the socio-economic and ideological aspects of human nature, thought and society. Moreover, we have to bring these into the appropriate relationship with more recent developments deriving from the Darwinian tradition. Biology, the socio-economic and the unconscious must each be seen, each in its due measure, as constitutive of human nature. At present, for the most part, the grand narratives of Marx and Freud are out of fashion, yet I am sure we cannot generate a rich enough view of humankind without them. This is part of the task of Psychoanalytic Studies — to look after this part of the Ark of the Covenant during the current diaspora. By diaspora I mean the dumbing down of how it is fashionable to think of human nature. Just because genetic explanations are — to the extent that they are — true, does not mean that other levels of understanding our natures are invalidated or that we must always go for the genetic or instinctual explanation when another level of causation and explanation is more appropriate. Sophisticated Darwinian psychologists grant this, while reductionist ones do not. Unconscious motivation has fundamental roots in biology — by which I mean genetics, instincts and the kinds of motivations Darwinian psychologists write about — but experience of significant figures, especially in infancy, and the context in which we grow up modulate the biologically given. The whole weight of the most important theoretical development in psychoanalysis since Freud — object relations theory — is found in the pan of the scale marked ’human relations’. In the central triangle posited by Freud, the emphasis has shifted fundamentally from the aim of the instinct to its object. We must mine the insights of Fairbairn, Klein, Winnicott and Guntrip, the originators of object relations theory, to more fully understand this approach and its consequences for how we view ourselves as individuals and in groups and institutions and cultures. Moreover, as Bion showed, the true causes of group behaviour are not sufficiently understood, pace Freud quoted above, in terms of the Oedipal triangle and the interrelations among id, ego and superego. There is a deeper level of understanding and explanation which takes account of the role of primitive processes, in particular, the psychotic anxieties which invade the lives of individuals and undermine the work of groups and institutions, leading them to panic actions and to the kinds of rigid procedures and structures investigated by Isabel Menzies Lyth and others. This is an important theoretical task.

Of course, clinical work, group relations settings and consultancy will contribute fundamentally to this work, but Psychoanalytic Studies has a conceptual and historical task all its own. I’ll give you a striking example. If you read the literature on object relations, all of the object relations theorists tend to get lumped together. There are some good reasons for this, but there are differences which need to be looked at very carefully and which are seldom mentioned. Fairbairn believed that if you sorted out your psychoanalytic difficulties, you would have no internal objects, while Klein believed that the unconscious and perpetual conjuring with internal objects was the sine qua non of having a mind and of thinking. What are we to make of this apparent utter incompatibility?

Conceptual research has not been a forte of practising psychoanalysts and psychotherapists; indeed, many are intolerant of it. There is a widespread belief that if you are not citing clinical cases, your work is suspect. For example, I once set out to write historical and theoretical clarifications of the concepts of projective identification and of countertransference, and, if I say so myself, the result was thought by many to be helpful. However word got back to me that some clinicians whose views I would value simply said they could not make head nor tail of what I was saying. One said it was just social theory (whatever ‘just’ social theory may be!), while another had simply found it impenetrable. I argue that conceptual research is as important in psychoanalysis as it is in philosophy and in the natural and human sciences. Psychoanalysts are insecure about their respectability, so they cling to the clinical so that they can claim that they are safely grounded in the empirical domain. Unfortunately, our empirical domain is the unconscious.

This is perhaps the place for me to address an issue which is commonly raised about Psychoanalytic Studies. I shall make short work of it. It is sometimes said that it is dangerous, inappropriate or something else bad to teach psychoanalytic theory divorced from clinical work. I think it is desirable for serious people to be at some point in their lives in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, but it’s not essential to do so while studying Psychoanalytic Studies. More controversially, I would advocate that students on a Psychoanalytic Studies course should take part in an experiential group and/or work as volunteers for, say, half a day a week, in a mental health setting, a hospital or a community mental health resource centre. Having made these suggestions, however, I want to defend the legitimacy and academic autonomy of Psychoanalytic Studies apart from clinical training or clinical experience. Nobody says you cannot learn psychology, sociology, physics, etc. as abstract theory. I know psychoanalysis is particularly reflexive, but so is religion, but we don’t make church attendance or even being a believer a prerequisite of religious studies.

Coming back to my agenda for the discipline I want to put its basis even more forcibly. I say that there is no alternative to psychoanalysis if we want to understand human nature on the hoof in a way which includes our most baffling, distressing and moving dimensions. That is why applied psychoanalysis exists. It has been found helpful by people writing about music, art, literature, film, culture (including popular culture), aesthetics, ethics, penology and much else. Tell me how much behaviourism, cognitive psychology, sociobiology, Darwinian psychology and other branches of so-called ‘scientific psychology’ have contributed to the illumination of our troubled and our cultural and our aspiring selves. Their explanations have their place, but when applied to the areas where psychoanalysis has been helpful, they are usually pitiful and offer explanatory factors which will not cut it, e.g., kin selection, birth order, competition for mates, reciprocal altruism. Some of their explanations are ingenious and some are promising, but they do not resonate with the dialectic of experience. Moreover, some of those who put them forward most assertively give off more than a hint of philistines and reductionism. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, I advocate the integration of explanations drawn from bringing together the perspectives of the legacies of Darwin, Marx and Freud, but I want a sophisticated integration, not one constructed from elements which often rob culture of its richness. I have friends who do not mind about this and do not insist on being moved by scientific explanations if they will fix, for example, mental disorders. I say I want the biological and ideological explanation — and even the pill — to leave room for making sense of the subjective experience of neurotics and psychotics, as well. Peter Barham has made this point eloquently in his writings on the subjective worlds of mental patients, as have Ronald Laing (though sometimes overstated) and Harold Searles (never in my experience overstated; I am giving a day school on his work this coming Saturday).

It has been pointed out to me that the popular and self-help psychologies which provide the basis for much popular writing is psychology does touch on emotions and everyday experience. Of course I grant this, but I presume to say that they routinely do so superficially.

To be even blunter, I don’t think there is much hope for humankind unless we come up with an understanding of human nature which pays due respect to the dark side of our natures. According to a recent study conducted by the National Statistical Office, seventy per cent of prisoners in England and Wales have two or more mental illnesses, including substance abuse. About half are considered to be sociopaths. The personalities of both leaders and followers in the grotesque events which make too many of our headlines are shockingly disturbed. I am thinking about various bombers, mass executions, hate wars, gangs, cults, .e.g., in Japan, American militias, Ku Klux Clan, in the Middle East, in South America. Each of these has its historical, geopolitical and socio-economic causes, but each also has its developmental and psychoanalytic dimension. Who is predisposed to sign up to death squads? The same can be said of children who abuse and sometimes kill other children and of those who are abused and, in their turn, grow up to abuse. This is true, for example, of over three quarters of Indians in Manitoba, In some communities every person has been abused, grownups and children alike. Tell me that psychotherapy and altered child-rearing practices are not relevant there. I have been asked to give a lecture in January on what, if anything, psychoanalysis has to say to this situation in Manitoba, and I believe that because of my work in Psychoanalytic Studies, I can perhaps say something potentially helpful.

Ideology is to society, culture and to belief systems what unconscious motivation is to individuals. Indeed, it is by unconscious means that we acquire our values and beliefs. To be a member of a group or subculture is to acquire its projective identifications, and this occurs largely by unconscious processes. One of the places where this is clearest is in racial prejudice, as Wolfenstein shows in his study of the work and personality of Malcolm X. Wolfenstein is that rare combination, of which there are a few others, a trained scholar who is also psychoanalytically trained. He holds a chair in political science and is also a psychoanalyst. He shows how we acquire the beliefs which we hold without thinking about them and through which we actually have experiences. Freud says that we distort experience to the point of hallucination in the very process of having experience. This is where beliefs and the unconscious are forged together and why it behoves us to conduct research in applied psychoanalysis, especially where bad behaviour is concerned.

I want to say a word about the perverse. We must not conflate the perverse with perversion. Indeed, a question which is exercising me at the moment is whether perversion is perverse. This is both a theoretical and a clinical question. Its answer was once thought obvious; indeed, Freud, for all the tolerance in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, thought the answer was obvious, since he thought that if we lingered too long over any form of foreplay on the path to what he had no doubt was the natural outcome of sex, intercourse to orgasm, we were in the domain of perversion.

But nowadays our norms of sexual behaviour and orientation are more plastic, though how plastic they should be is an as-yet unanswered question, one to which the answer will probably continue to change as a function of changing mores in the wider society. The answer cannot be found exclusively in the consulting room, since there are other dimensions — social and moral — to explore.

The perverse is a potentially overlapping but not perfectly congruent domain. It is the mental orientation where fair is foul and foul is fair, as in ‘Macbeth’, where the moral order is inverted. Gianna Williams and Margot Waddell have shown that a person can be perverse at pre-school age. They argue that in looking at whether or nor a person’s sexual activities are perverse, you have to evaluate the unconscious phantasy during intercourse or other sexual practices, whether homoerotic or hetroerotic. The answer cannot be know in advance or in the abstract. Looking at the concept of the perverse more broadly, for example, in the Jeremy Bulger case, it is clear that the boys who murdered him were perverse. It is also clear that such people can benefit from psychoanalytic therapy, as can children who abuse other children. However, the chance of being helped diminishes with age, and this has implications for child welfare, child care facilities, secure units and prisons.

I want, just before closing, to say something more about why psychoanalysis is important and to suggest some reasons why it is under such fierce attack. Freud is said to be a liar and to have falsified his case studies and to be a coward who drew back from the seduction theory. Psychoanalysis is said to be methodologically unsatisfactory and all sorts of other things, among them that it is said not to work. I grant that full analysis is increasingly unrealistic for economic reasons, but I also claim that outcome research shows that psychodynamic therapies are at least as good as any other and maintain that it is better for the inner self. I suggest that the attacks Freud and psychoanalysis (and on Jung, Bettleheim and many others) have a deeper source. I believe that they are part of the dumbing down I mentioned earlier. I believe that the attackers wish to turn a blind eye to the fact that we have inner worlds, since they want to abrogate the concepts which go with it — integrity, character, anguish, depressive (as opposed to persecutory) guilt. We are living in times when it is very tempting to seek external answers, to search for truths which are merely truths of the surface, to go for technologies and quick fixes and, as Jonathan Lear (a scholar and analyst in Chicago) puts it in an eloquent defence of psychoanalysis, ’to ignore the complexity, depth and darkness of human life’ (Lear, 1998, p. 27). Lear goes on to say,


It is difficult to make this point without sounding like a Luddite; so let me say explicitly that psycho-pharmacology and neuro-psychiatry have made, and will continue to make, valuable contributions in reducing human suffering. But it is a fantasy to suppose that a chemical or neurological intervention can solve the problems posed in and by human life. That is why it is a mistake to think of psychoanalysis and Prozac as two different means to the same end. The point of psychoanalysis is to help us develop a clearer, yet more flexible and creative, sense of what our ends might be. "How shall we live?" is, for Socrates, the fundamental question of human existence — and the attempt to answer that question is, for him, what makes human life worthwhile. And it is Plato and Shakespeare, Proust, Nietzsche and, most recently, Freud who complicated the issue by insisting that there are deep currents of meaning, often crosscurrents, running through the human soul which can at best be glimpsed through a glass darkly. This, if anything, is the Western tradition: not a specific set of values, but a belief that the human soul is too deep for there to be any easy answer to the question of how to live (Lear, 1998, p. 28).

I heartily commend Lear’s entire article to you. He wrote it some years ago on the occasion of the cancellation of an exhibit on Freud in Washington, one which was reinstated and has recently opened.

Here is another take on why Freud is under attack now: I think that the period since 1989 has been horribly sobering. Take away the Cold War and what do you get? Peace? Fraternal Love? Generosity of Spirit? No, you get, as Freud observed, the return of the (literally and militarily) repressed. We are now having to face in more complex forms the destructive, envious, ungenerous and murderous side of human nature. The desiccation of compassion is apparent in the escalation of drug-related killings, mass, gratuitous and serial murders, the annihilation of children on the streets of Brazil, Dahmer, Frederick and Rosemary West, the Soviet Mafia, Muslim fundamentalists, Yardies, American militias whose members recently dragged an innocent man to dismemberment and death near where I was raised in Texas and so on. Remove the evil empire as a convenient scapegoat in which to locate everything negative and you have to face up to the destructive impulses of your own country, your region, your city, your neighbourhood, your ethnicity, your kids' school, your self. I think this leads to a hatred of the way of thinking which has most to say about these things — psychoanalysis. So let's get Freud. He brought up all this stuff. He said that civilization was a veneer over polymorphous perversity, incest, rapaciousness, ’man’ as ’a wolf to other men’. He said that discontent to the point of neurosis was the price of civilization, goddam him. He must be a cheat, a liar, and anyway all his followers fuck their patients, don't they? And get them to tell lies. And turn them against their wives and husbands. The analysts and therapists are held responsible for evoking all these things that I cannot bear to know about my friends, my family and myself.

I am coming to the end. I want here to say something about agendas. I have been sketching mine, but I freely admit that there are others, which is why it is good to have many sites where Psychoanalytic Studies are conducted. I obviously think my preoccupations are important, but I know well that others are, too. All are legitimate as long as their practitioners follow Freud’s motto which I have already quoted and which appears at the front of his masterpiece, The Interpretation of Dreams: 'If I cannot bend the higher powers, I will stir up the lower depths' (Freud, 1900, p. ix). That’s the main thing — to keep stirring.


This is the text of a talk in a series on ’What Is Psychoanalytic Studies?’ given to the students on the joint Tavistock/University of East London MA in Psychoanalytic Studies 10 November 1998.

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