| Home - Robert M. Young | What's New | Search | Feedback | Contact Us |
Robert M. Young Home Page
Index of writings by Robert M. Young
WORD version of this article
Introduction to this article
Email Robert M. Young
Process Press
Science as Culture
Free Associations
Kleinian Studies
Human Relations, Authority and Justice

THE CURIOUS PLACE OF PSYCHOANALYSIS IN THE ACADEMY

by Robert M Young

My title is ambiguous. I could be describing the actual place of psychoanalysis in universities or in academic life viewed more widely. I could be describing its rightful place. I could mean its deeper influences, no matter how little or how much it appears in course lists or reading lists. I will say at the outset that there is no question in my mind that psychoanalysis is one of the three (four if you count actual religion) grand narratives of the twentieth century. Two have of late been widely discredited — psychoanalysis and Marxism — but not by me. The third — Darwinism — is well and truly in the ascendant, but I fear that it is so in the very troubling guise of a universal solvent. I did not coin this hyperbole. Daniel Dennett did in his over-reaching book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (1995). I am a Darwin scholar of some standing and would not wish to diminish what the understanding of human nature, society and culture owe to his heritage, but I am sorry to say that it is my opinion that sociobiologists and Darwinian psychologists strike me as the oversimplifiers of our time, with overweening ambitions for a simple line of explanation that reminds me in its simplifications of behaviourism some decades ago. Too much is being explained with too little.

There are, of course, also and very prominently the combatants in what the press call ‘the Freud Wars’. I have read some, though by no means all, of them. I have even debated one or two, in particular, Adolf Grünbaum and Jeffrey Masson, and I am sorry to say that I found them tricky bullies, vacillating between bombast and self-pity. As for Webster, Erwin, Crews and their ilk, I find then ill-read zealots — ill-read because they fail to encompass much, if any, of the history of psychoanalysis since Freud, and zealots because any stick will do to beat psychoanalysis. I find myself, as perhaps a psychoanalytic person is bound to do, suspecting their motives. This does not, of course, disprove their assertions, but it does influence how long I am willing to hang around to engage with them. When I debated with Adolf Grünbaum on television he made a wonderful Freudian slip and called me Dr Maxwell (my middle name is Maxwell) and then made an enlightening self-interpretation, saying that he had confused me with General Maxwell Taylor, who had been head of US forces in Vietnam. I took it that he was implicitly granting some validity to the psychoanalytic theory of parapraxis, as well as feeling combative about of my arguments. At the meal after the programme a close and loyal friend of Grünbaum, a philosopher of science of some note, took me aside and said that he admired my work as much as he did that of his friend. He wanted me to know that Grünbaum's brother was a psychoanalyst and that Grünbaum had embarked on his vehement attack on psychoanalysis when he learned that his brother had multiple sclerosis. As I say, not exactly a refutation but certainly interesting. Masson’s stock in trade is to judge the priesthood by the priest and to throw the theory out with the alleged misdeeds of the theorist. As my anecdotes about Grünbaum show, that is an intriguing approach but not, in fairness, a definitive one.

What is the curious place of psychoanalysis in the academy? Let’s start with some simple data. There are people doing doctoral research on psychoanalytic topics. I know of several dozen in Britain and North America, eight with me and twice that number at the Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies at the University of Sheffield where I work and probably more than twice that number — about 30 — somewhere in Britain. There are several dozen taking the MA in psychoanalytic studies by distance learning offered by the Sheffield centre. There are about twenty MA programmes in Psychoanalytic Studies. Most of them — about a dozen — are in Britain and Ireland, but there are also some in Australia and the USA. There is a Professional Organization in Psychoanalytic Studies in Britain with its own journal, PS. There is a new journal, Psychoanalytic Studies, published by Carfax, with a distinguished international editorial board. There are many psychoanalytic journals — about sixty in English. Most are primarily clinical but many are mixed clinical and non-clinical and some are academic, including empirical research. There are several clinical training programmes in academic settings. In Britain, as in the rest of the world, most training programmes are not based in universities. It is said that this is so because the University of Vienna treated Freud so badly, and the aversion persisted. I think this strategy was a big mistake over the past hundred years, but the trend at present is toward getting university affiliation. I know of several which have them (Kent, North London IPSS, N. Lond Gestalt, Hertfordshore, Sheffield, Leeds). and several which are seeking them.

There are 4000 members of Division 39 of the American Psychological Association in the following sections: (I) Psychologist-Psychoanalyst Practitioners; (II) Childhood & Adolescence; (III) Women and Psychoanalysis; (IV) Local Chapters; (V) Psychologist-Psychoanalyst Clinicians; (VI) Psychoanalytic Research Society; (VII) Psychoanalysis and Groups;

(VIII) Section on Family Therapy; and (IX) Psychoanalysis of Social Responsibility. There are thirty local chapters throughout the United States. There are abut four thousand psychoanalysts who are members of the International Psychoanalytic Association in North America and about the same number again in the rest of the world. There are several thousand more psychoanalytic practitioners in that country. In Britain there are about 300 practicing psychoanalysts in the IPA affiliated society but about 2500 psychoanalytic practitioners altogether. There are a number of academics who are working on psychoanalytic topics, some of whom are also clinicians. When I asked myself who I meant, more than six dozen names came easily to mind, and there are surely many more, since I do not read any language other than English with any skill. In addition to people in the arts, there are many clinicians with university and university hospital clinical academic appointments. There are also many in cultural studies, film studies and English literature departments, most of whom are Lacanians.

First a retrospect; then I will try to flesh out my picture of the present. When I was an undergraduate and a medical student in the 1950s, people with psychoanalytic trainings and interests held many posts in psychology departments and medical schools. I was a research assistant to one at the Yale Institute of Human Relations — John Dollard. It was also quite usual for a psychiatry department to have several psychoanalysts on its faculty, and certain ones were dominated by them, e.g., Cincinnati, Yale, Rochester, Columbia. The volumes of Ernest Jones’ three-volume biography appeared in 1953, 1955 and 1957, and the 24 volumes of the collected Freud began appearing in 1953, the last volume in 1974. They were the foundation of the success of the new Basic Books list, whose founder went on to become head of Harvard University Press. The eminent philosopher Richard Bernstein spent his summer earnings between my freshman and sophomore years buying successive volumes of Freud’s Complete Psychological Works and gave a well-attended talk about this reading early in the next autumn term. In my senior year the distinguished Frankfurt School scholar, Herbert Marcuse, turned up and talked about his new book, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Enquiry into Freud. Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving was newly-published, and his Escape from Freedom and Man for Himself were highly popular, as was Robert Lindner’s The Fifty-Minute Hour, which became a perennial best seller. Talcott Parsons, a Harvard professor and the doyen of American sociology, drew heavily on Freud in his theoretical work. The distinguished Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom wrote a book on Psychoanalysis and Philosophy, and another philosopher named Wisdom, J. O., who was a philosophy professor at the LSE was a prolific writer on the subject.

Philip Reiff’s magisterial Freud: The Mind of the Moralist appeared at the end of the decade, and I read it in my first year as a graduate student in Cambridge. In it he said that Freud’s works were probably the most important body of thought committed to paper in the twentieth century. I believed it, and having spent the intervening decades working on Malthus, Darwin, Marx, and Spencer, and having latterly returned to Freud, I still do. Melanie Klein published Envy and Gratitude in 1957 and died in 1960, Donald Winnicott died in 1971, the year Playing and Reality was published. I well remember when our Radical Science Collective set up a psychoanalysis reading group, to which I did not at first belong, and when some months later Barry Richards suggested that our reading group should stop reading trashngs of psychoanalysis by leftists and should return to the psychoanalytic classics.

Psychoanalysis, in short, was everywhere and much-respected, except, of course, in most university psychology departments. It continued to be respected, as I experienced things, throughout the sixties, seventies and early eighties. I will give you some examples which come to mind. The film of the best-seller ‘Compulsion’ appeared in 1959. The events with which it was concerned involved the gratuitous kidnapping and murder of a boy in Chicago by two overpriviledged college students in the 1920s. Their defence by Clarence Darrow (played by Orson Wells in the film) was the first case in which psychoanalytic insights were extensively used in a court case. Similar psychoanalytic insight is given by the interaction between the stable boy Firth and the psychiatrist Richard Burton in ‘Equus’ in the 1960s. Freud: The Secret Passion’ with Montgomery Clift as Freud (1962), ’Marnie’ (1964). By the time we get to ’One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975), psychoanalysis has more or less disappeared and has been replaced by an assertive picaresque anarchism in the face of arbitrary institutional authority: the free spirit Randle McMurphy vs. the fascistic Nurse Ratched fighting to the death over the souls of the inmates. Only the Indian Chief gets away with his frontal lobes intact.

Laing’s The Divided Self appeared in 1959. It caused a sensation among people interested in politics, human nature and society, and he was a prominent presence at the international conference on The Dialectics of Liberation in London in1968. Norman O. Brown’s Life against Death was another influential source of inspiration in that decade. I read it on the boat going over to England in 1960. People of a psychoanalytic orientation were central to public issues, for example, Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse were the gurus of the student revolt of the mid-1960s. Their pamphlets were everywhere, e.g., Reich’s ’Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis’, ’The Sexual Struggle of Youth’, Marcuse’s ’Repressive Tolerance’ and his ‘Critique of Pure Tolerance’. Lacan became the object of serious study by leftists in that decade and was solemnly pondered in the pages of The New Left Review. Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974) put Freud back on the agenda of feminists whose first wave had reviled him. Important writings by Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein. followed. Juliet Mitchell is now an analyst, as are Chodorow and Julia Kristeva. Many members of the political movement of the 1960s became analysts and therapists. I could name dozens in Britain and the US.

When did it fade away? Penguin published fifteen volumes of Freud’s writings in paperback between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s. Janet Malcolm was writing admiringly about Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession in The New Yorker at the beginning of the 1980s. Her essays entitled In the Freud Archive, showing that all was not well within the psychoanalytic establishment, appeared in book form in 1983, and the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute’s own Jeffrey Masson’s bizarre attack on Freud, The Assault on Truth, was published in 1984. Adolf Grünbaum's The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique was also published that year, although he had been publishing articles in this vein since 1977. Ernest Gellner wrote ambivalently, mostly attackingly, about The Psychoanalytic Movement in 1985. The ‘Voices’ Channel Four television series was broadcast in the UK in 1986 and was, on balance, respectful. Frederick Crews proposed the first of his series of attacks on Freud to the editor of The New York Review of Books in 1992, and things have gone from bad to worse in the intellectual press ever since.

I was in analysis and was training as well as publishing psychoanalytic books like crazy under the Free Associations Books imprint in the 1980s and early 1990s, and so, oin a smaller scale, was the British Psycho-analytic Society. The academic discipline of Psychoanalytic Studies was inaugurated by Martin Stanton at the University of Kent in the late 1980s, and I was appointed to the first professorship in the subject there and then at Sheffield in this period. There followed, as I’ve said, the creation of about a dozen other graduate programmes in psychoanalytic studies in the next few years with major academic programmes and a number of professorial appointments University College London and at the universities of East London, Sheffield, Essex, and the East of England, with more programmes still to come. Just when the wolves were shouting loudest in the highbrow press and clinical psychoanalysis was in sharp decline in the US, there was beginning a renaissance of academic and clinical interest in the subject, first in Britain and Ireland and soon in North America and Australia. In France psychoanalysis was in vogue throughout the whole period and remains so. It also looms large on the internet.

What is the current situation? I get lots of anecdotal information from my roles as a scholar, teacher, editor and internet fanatic, but I have not been sure how general my knowledge was. I am still not, but I will share with what I have been able to discover from kind respondents to a plea on the internet after I agreed to give this talk. It is still not in any way systematic, but it is at least interesting.

I heard little from my respondents about the influence of orthodox or neo-Freudianism anywhere, although, of course, it is the reigning approach in the main International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) psychoanalytic training institutes in the US, France and Germany. Nor did I hear much about the influence of Klein, though Kleinian and post-Kleinian ideas are powerfully influential in Britain, Italy and Latin America, and it is my impression that they are making headway among clinicians in North America. I also heard nothing at all about psychoanalysis as influential in psychology or any other of the so-called human sciences. Traditional learning theories, perception research, cognitive psychology and Darwinian psychology are predominant, and psychoanalysis is not even the subject of refutation. It is simply not reckoned. This is not new.

The fact that the major exhibit on Freud at the US Library of Congress could be postponed for five years but did finally occur in 1998 strikes me as a good indication of the widely split opinions about the subject as well as the some sense of the respectability of psychoanalysis. As someone wrote to me,

 

There was a big reaction to the Freud exhibit at the Library of Congress. Almost all those interviewed in the all too clever newspaper articles about it were academics who study psa, or use it in their academic work. While there was a lots of negative reaction to Freud (Crews leads the list), the strength of the reaction shows Freud still lives.

The approach most often mentioned by respondents was Lacanianism. It is said that in the clinical world there are more Lacanian practitioners than there are members of the IPA, but I believe that few of them are in the USA. Some say that the academic influence of Lacan is in decline; some say it is still going strong. The Lacanians certainly have their share of sectarianism. One reads about lots of this in Paris, where Jacques Alain Miller and others squabble over Lacan’s mantle and Elisabeth Roudinesco writes wittily about the history of Jacques Lacan & Co. and biographically about Lacan’s eccentricities and his autocratic ways. I have seen a version of Lacanian sectarianism in London, where I sat in frustration for many years on a committee with a leading Lacanian. I also served unhappily in a department with another for several years. I found neither of them congenial or principled. One branch of London Lacanians indulges in a kind of numerology, while others will have nothing to do with that approach. A number of the British and Irish MA programmes are Lacanian, and Lacan remains influential in film studies, cultural studies and English literature, as he does in many countries, notably Canada, the USA, Australia, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. One observer wrote to me, ’The Lacanians, who understand nothing else about politics (in my modest opinion), understand academic politics perfectly, and have strong influence in some departments.’

In the USA there is a pleasant group of Lacanians associated with the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society which published a semi-annual Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society which is broad enough in its sympathies to include Terry Eagleton, Frederic Jameson and Victor Wolfenstein on its editorial board and Don Carveth and me among its correspondents. Unfortunately the tolerance of the editor, Mark Bracher, is not shared by all his co-adherents to Lacanianism. In fact, there was an acrimonious split last year in which the chair and a number of the committee members of the association’s annual conference resigned over — I confess it amused me to see — the accessibility of the theory. Note that the dissidents were against it. Here is an excerpt from their letter of resignation:

 

Recently, the Executive Committee has intensified its demand, always implicit, that participants in the conference and in the Journal represent their thoughts in ordinary language to make them accessible for those not versed in high theory. Such a demand will, we feel, ultimately have the effect of watering down complex thinking to suit and please an audience that does not come to learn, but to be made comfortable. Not only would this inhibit submitting contemporary doxae, of whatever stripe, to critical examination, it would have the effect of pressuring participants to conform their thinking to prevailing currents of opinion.

We thus simply hereby announce our resignation, effective immediately, from the Board and from the Journal.

We would, at the same time, also like to express our best wishes for continued success of APCS, JPCS, and for the coming year's meeting in Atlanta. We regret that we are no longer able to join forces with you.

I must say that I thought Lacan difficult of access until I tried to read Zizek, whom I have heard called the head of the confessing Lacanians. I now realise he and his acolytes make a policy of inaccessibility — or perhaps I should say, no compromise over accessibility — something I have long suspected but was too diffident to suggest until now. I have other reasons for keeping my distance from Lacanianism. I have hinted at one. Most of those I have met are arrogant and intolerant. I also balk at the idea that the bottom line in human nature is language; I think it is primitive feelings. One of my informants put this nicely: ’While language is a necessary condition, it is far from a sufficient condition to explain the psyche and human nature. It does not take into account pre-linguistic or extra-linguistic organizations of mind’ (Jon Mills). And then there is the remarkable fact that in Lacanian psychoanalysis there is no concept of countertransference. My view, like that of many modern psychoanalytic practitioners, is that interpreting one’s countertransference is the essence of analytic work, so I am unlikely to be attracted to an approach which abrogates the very concept of countertransference.

Looking more broadly, there is this information from Alan Stone, writing in the Harvard Magazine in early 1997:

...a computer search of [1997] Harvard course catalogs for classes whose descriptions mention either Freud or psychoanalysis turned up a list of 40, not counting my own two courses. All of them are in the humanities, particularly literature; no course is being given in the psychology department, and next to nothing is offered in the medical school (’Where will Psychoanalysis Survive?’ Jan-Feb, pp. 35-39).

In addition to its full MA in Psychoanalytic Studies, the New School in New York offers several courses with significant psychoanalytic content in its distance learning programme, e.g., ‘Psychoanalysis and Literature’, ‘Freud and Nietzsche’.

Catherine Peebles painted a picture of the US academic scene:

 

As far as I know, in the humanities there is vibrant and ongoing discussion informed [by] various psychoanalytic theories (especially Lacan, Lacan's Freud, Irigaray, Klein, Winnicott, Juliet Mitchell, and, recently, Bion). Just last year, for another example, Cornell University's Society for the Humanities' annual theme was "Why Trauma? Why Psychoanalysis?" and comprised a group that included literary scholars, social theorists, and clinicians.

I saw a list of twenty-four universities, compiled in 1995, all but a handful in the US, with psychoanalysis-friendly psychology programmes. Another person writes from the West Coast,

 

My general impression is bi-directional. On the one hand, the de-medicalization of psychoanalysis has created an opening for more margin-walkers -- people with a foot in both clinical and academic camps. On the other hand, most of what passes for psa in academia continues to be Lacanian or post-Lacanian, and mainly in lit departments. Some of this work is very good... But some of it... is a recitation of dogma -- Zizek is the reigning god in this circle... By contrast, the University of California Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Consortium, which meets annually, continues to be vigorous, lively, and a wonderful meeting ground of Kleinian, object relational and Lacanian/post-Lacanian perspectives.

Bottom line: Healthier, I'd guess, than 10 years ago, but

precarious nonetheless.

 

Psychoanalytic studies was, as I have said, first established as an academic discipline in Britain in 1986, but is it now becoming widespread. Emory in Atlanta has a number of thriving psychoanalytic programmes, especially in psychoanalytic studies. Someone concerned with it wrote,

 

There are also (well-established as well as aspiring) programs at the New School for Social Research, U of Chicago, UC Berkeley, U of Florida-Gainsville, SUNY Buffalo, Columbia, and UCLA. Yale and Cornell are thinking of starting something up following Emory's model. It seems that most of these program are due to the forceful presence of one or two psychoanalytically oriented scholars. Others, like Emory's, has strong ties to its university psychoanalytic institute. NYU has a post-doc that is clinical, but does have some few connections to the Humanities.

(Edward Gamarra)

Departments of management also have their share of people making use of psychoanalysis. Someone wrote to me, ‘I recently came back from a meeting of the Organization for the Psychoanalytic Study of Management. The head of this group, a former student of mine, has a chair in management study at University of Missouri, Columbia...’. There is also the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations, of which I am a member and which meets in a different country practically every year. A number of its prominent members have university posts. I am also told that ‘There are a few psychoanalytic types in the International Society for Political Psychology. Stanley Renshon, who until recently edited the journal, is an analyst. Unfortunately, the quantitative types seem to have taken over in the last year of two.’ This commentator concluded, ’In summary, as the fortunes of practising analysts continue to decline into nothingness, the fortunes of American academic psychoanalysis look as good as they have in some time. Less intellectually coherent, perhaps, but alive.’

I am told that ‘In Canada psychoanalysis really has no purchase outside of the context of cultural studies, a few English departments (usually as a cultural studies stream) and a handful of graduate programs (e.g., Center for Theory and Criticism at Western, and the Methodologies for the Study of Western History and Culture program at Trent)’. (Peter van Wyck). There is, of course, quite a lot more going on in the Toronto area (including the University of Toronto Program in Psychoanalytic Thought sponsoring this talk) and some in Montreal, but it would be presumptuous of me to spell that out.

To summarise the North American scene, as I have mentioned, certain subjects come up again and again as importantly influenced by psychoanalysis: Film Studies, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory and Management Studies. Certain centres also seem to have a lot going on: Buffalo, Cornell, Florida, Emory, Toronto, New York, Haveford.

Looking further afield, I heard quite a lot about activities in Australia, especially at Melbourne, LaTrobe and Deakin. One person wrote,

 

Psychoanalytic interests here in Melbourne are catered for by many specific interest groups, many of which have their own training programmes and processes for membership. They are not 'recognised' in university programmes or in formal state registration processes, but they have very satisfactory memberships and new applicants.

If anything, I would have the impression that here at least, interest is very substantially on the increase, as the ubiquitous cognitive/behavioural paradigm is so very humanly, and intellectually inadequate to imagine much less engage with the varieties of human experience, whereas the psychodynamic paradigms offer at least a richness and texture of understandings, metaphors and languages with which to meaningfully engage the life of the mind.

Turning now to Latin America, I am told that

 

Generally speaking, Psa does not have an important status in Latin American universities, except in Argentina and Uruguay, where it is very important. Owing to the make up of Argentine culture (which unlike the other countries in the area is French and English in the ideas, and not Spanish), Psa has a very important position in the structure of thought in Argentine psychology.

The Argentine Psychoanalytic Association was founded in the 1940's, and the figures that moved there were both locally and internationally significant. Then in 1958, they founded the career of Psychology at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. This grew very quickly and of course was psychoanalytically oriented, mainly towards Melanie Klein's thought, which was very much criticized by American psychoanalysts.

In those times the Tavistock clinic was the reference out of the country. Later, besides M. Klein, there came the influence of Fairbain, Winnicott, Bion; but then, opinions and thought turned more and more toward Lacan, which nowadays is almost hegemonic throughout Argentine Universities where there are psychological studies, except for the University at the Province of San Luis, which is the only cognitive-behavioral one.

I think I can say without exaggerating that London, New York and Buenos Aires are the three psychoanalytic capital cities across the world; where Lacan is concerned, Paris and Buenos Aires.

(Daniel Gomez Dupertuis)

From Brazil I heard,

 

The Instituto de Psychologia of UFRGS (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul) has three departments. Mine is Departamento de Psicanálise e Psicopatologia. Our professors, most of them lacaninans, give classes to graduation students in Psychology. Two of us are doctors from Laboratoire de Psychopathologie Fondamentale, Paris VII, and we have students in post-graduation too.

I myself am engaged at this moment in psychoanalytical research with graduation students in psychopathology. My classes are proposed as "The psychoanalytical direction of scientific beginning in psychpathological research" (A direçăo psicanalítica da iniciaçăo científica em pequsia psicopatológica). It is an effort to change teaching and learning in the academy courses of psychology.

(Prof. Dr. José Luiz a)

I want to stress again that I am sharing only what I have been told, and that is obviously unsystematic. I have said very little about France and Italy and nothing abut the rest of Western or Eastern Europe. I do know that there are active, though fledgling programmes in most East European countries and former members of the USSR. There are properly established programmes in Leningrad and Moscow, while the one in Budapest never died; it only went underground during the period of Soviet hegemony. I am co-director of an ambitious Bulgarian Institute of Human Relations at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia, but we are mostly enthusiasm. Our grant applications either get turned down or the money mysteriously disappears. We have managed to do some serious clinical supervision, and enough group relations conferences in the Bion-Tavistock tradition have been held for the Bulgarian staff to have been in charge of the one in 1998. But there are no trained psychoanalytic practitioners and no academics properly trained in psychoanalytic theory. I am delighted to say that the translation into Bulgarian of my book, Mental Space, was completed two weeks ago, and the institute has a small but significant library of essential psychoanalytic books in English, where there was not a single set of Freud in the country until recently. I hear from time to time from provincial universities in other East European and former Soviet republics about their hopes for clinical and academic programmes in psychoanalysis, but funding is a perennial stumbling block. Some people, for example, Harold Stern from Philadelphia, Malcolm Pines from London and Gordon Lawrence, David Armstrong and I (also from London) have made regular trips to various Eastern centres, but it is an understatement to say that there is a great deal still to be done. I think it’s no accident that so many centres in a part of the world where the human spirit was constrained and oppressed for so long have turned eagerly from Pavlovianism to psychoanalysis for a liberating approach to human nature, culture and society.

What, I propose that we should aggressively ask, is the alternative to psychoanalysis? I believe that there is none. Perhaps I should say none that does not involve dumbing down — the search for a theory of human nature and society which eschews character and morality. There are two main ones currently on offer. The first is cognitive psychology which was explicitly founded on abrogating from its brief the whole area of emotion. Howard Gardner wrote in summarising this approach in his book, The Mind’s New Science,

 

First of all, there is the belief that, in talking about human cognitive activities, it is necessary to speak about mental representations and to posit a level of analysis wholly separate from the biological or neurological, on the one hand, and the sociological or cultural, on the other.

Second, there is the faith that central to any understanding of the human mind is the electronic computer. Not only are computers indispensable for carrying out studies of various sorts, but, more crucially, the computer also serves as the most viable model of how the human mind functions.

The third feature of cognitive science is the deliberate decision to de-emphasize certain factors which may be important for cognitive functioning but whose inclusion at this point would unnecessarily complicate the cognitive-scientific enterprise. These factors include the influence of affective factors or emotions, the contribution of historical and cultural factors, and the role of background context in which particular actions or thoughts occur (Gardner, H., The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1985, pp. 6-7).

Though mainstream cognitive scientists do not necessarily bear any animus against the affective realm, against the context that surrounds any action or thought, or against historical or cultural analyses, in practice they attempt to factor out these elements to the maximum extent possible... And so, at least provisionally, most cognitive scientists attempt to so define and investigate problems that an adequate account can be given without resorting to these murky concepts (Garner, 1985, pp. 41-42).

I gather that over the last couple of years the study of emotion has become fashionable again, though it's notable that all the recent books are by philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists rather than traditional cognitive scientists.

The second alternative to psychoanalysis is sociobiology, which in its current form is called Darwinian Psychology and uses evolutionary variables to explain human behaviour. Darwinian Psychology does not ignore emotion, but its explanations are in term of the contribution of a given way of reacting to competition for mates and survival. These explanations are often ingenious, but I think they are also often far-fetched. That is, they use distal explanations when proximal ones are called for. Don’t get me wrong. We must find models for the inner world, and how computers work is likely and how we evolved is certain to contribute to understanding human nature. But behaviour and motivation are multi-layered, just as physics, chemistry and biology are. It is notoriously true that you cannot get back the subjectively experienced properties of tables and chairs from fundamental particle physics or the subtleties of food flavours from biochemistry. Similarly, the layers of historical explanation in evolution and the layers of causal explanation of behaviour do not all reduce to the struggle for existence. There are other layers which provide accounts which have their own efficacy and appropriately satisfy curiosity. When I ask someone why he has done something, I do not want to hear about his serotonin levels. I might find an explanation in terms of brain injury or drug reaction relevant in some cases, but in most cases I want reply which informs me about his motivations, one which includes a moral dimension. I will feel fobbed off by anything else.

I believe psychoanalysis is fundamentally about character and its defects and vicissitudes and about morality, by which I mean one’s relationship to behaving well and to altruism. It is in the business of explaining and enhancing character and of increasing the emotional capacity for acting morally. I don’t think any other form of psychological theory currently on offer is much use in these tasks. As far as I have seen, the people who slag off Freud and psychoanalysis do not even attempt to offer the rudiments of an alternative with anything aproaching the scope, texture and subtlety of psychoanalysis.

Actually, I think the situation is far worse and that the attacks on psychoanalysis from academics and from advocates of other forms of psychology and of brain chemistry are either based on ignorance about what really happens in psychoanalytic therapy or are part of a profound cultural process of superficialization of how we think about humankind. The are part of a general cultural process of dumbing down. I am not naive or unpsychoanalytic enough to believe that they are all bad and we, the psychoanalytic community, are all good. On the contrary, how we treat one another, how we conduct our relations with the public and how we react to human need, especially the needs of people with little money — all these have led us to be seen as arrogant, greedy, elitist, inward-looking and complacent.

I’ll give you an example. Two psychoanalysts were appointed to consultant posts in the National Health Service in a major university town in Britain. They proceeded to act in a purist way, cleaning out the honorary posts which were filled by local psychotherapists, recommending full psychoanalysis to patients and generally pissing everyone off. The response in quite a short time was that the local health authorities simply got rid of them. And guess what? No one, including and especially the local psychoanalytic psychotherapists, stood up for them; they had hardly a friend in the world. I do not think this was because of a general antipathy to psychoanalysis or psychodynamic approaches. In fact, one was replaced by someone who is a Jungian and also trained in a new hybrid, cognitive-analytic therapy. It is shorter term and involves some didactic elements. I remember the public relations officer of the British Psychoanalytic Society saying in a public setting and in a ’shock-horror’ voice that next people would be advocating mixing psychoanalysis with short-term forms of psychotherapy. I am suggesting that diplomacy and willingness to offer less pure forms of psychodynamic therapy are essential to survival, including the survival of four and five times per week psychoanalysis where appropriate and realistic.

In closing I want to look to the future. When I was privileged to be a Scholar of the House in my final year as an undergraduate at Yale I set out to crack the problem of self-knowledge in an academic year. That was he year I started to read psychoanalysis seriously and decided to become a psychoanalyst. You won’t be surprise that I did not quite sort it out, but life has a way of saying, ‘You will not complete the task, but you may not give it up’. I think recent work on this matter has made great strides, strides, for example, in uniting the classical Freudian idea of maturation with some recent Kleinian ideas about the Oedipus complex. I have essayed about these developments at length elsewhere (and am drawing on that test here), but I want to share now a passage by Ronald Britton which never fails to move me. He sees 'the depressive position and the Oedipus situation as never finished but as having to be re-worked in each new life situation, at each stage of development, and with each major addition to experience or knowledge' (p. 38).

Here we have a useful cross-over between Kleinian and Freudian theory. Projective identification lies at the heart of the paranoid-schizoid position, in which splitting, projective mechanisms and part-object relations predominate. Once again, this configuration is in a dynamic relation with the depressive position, in which whole-object relations, concern for the object and integration predominate. These ways of thinking have recently been brought into relationship with one another. As David Bell puts it,

 

The primitive Oedipal conflict described by Klein takes place in the paranoid-schizoid position when the infant's world is widely split and relations are mainly to part objects. This means that any object which threatens the exclusive possession of the idealised breast/mother is felt as a persecutor and has projected into it all the hostile feelings deriving from pregenital impulses (Bell, 1992, p. 172)

If development proceeds satisfactorily, secure relations with good internal objects leads to integration, healing of splits and taking back projections.

 

The mother is then, so to speak, free to be involved with a third object in a loving intercourse which, instead of being a threat, becomes the foundation of a secure relation to internal and external reality. The capacity to represent internally the loving intercourse between the parents as whole objects results, through the ensuing identifications, in the capacity for full genital maturity. For Klein, the resolution of the Oedipus complex and the achievement of the depressive position refer to the same phenomena viewed from different perspectives (ibid.).

Ronald Britton puts it very elegantly: 'the two situations are inextricably intertwined in such a way that one cannot be resolved without the other: we resolve the Oedipus complex by working through the depressive position and the depressive position by working through the Oedipus complex' (Britton, 1992, p. 35).

This provides us with something like Rosetta Stone, a key to translating between the Freudian and Kleinian conceptual schemes. In the recent work of Kleinians this way of thinking has been applied to broader issues, in particular, the ability to symbolise and learn from experience. Integration of the depressive position — which we can now see as resolution of the Oedipus complex — is the sine qua non of the development of 'a capacity for symbol formation and rational thought' (p. 37). Greater knowledge of the object 'includes awareness of its continuity of existence in time and space and also therefore of the other relationships of the object implied by that realization. The Oedipus situation exemplifies that knowledge. Hence the depressive position cannot be worked through without working through the Oedipus complex and vice versa' (p. 39).

This way of looking at the Oedipal situation also offers a way of thinking of self-knowledge or insight:

 

The primal family triangle provides the child with two links connecting him separately with each parent and confronts him with the link between them which excludes him. Initially this parental link is conceived in primitive part-object terms and in the modes of his own oral, anal and genital desires, and in terms of his hatred expressed in oral, anal and genital terms. If the link between the parents perceived in love and hate can be tolerated in the child's mind, it provides him with a prototype for an object relationship of a third kind in which he is a witness and not a participant. A third position then comes into existence from which object relationships can be observed. Given this, we can also envisage being observed. This provides us with a capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own, for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves (Britton, 1989, p. 87).

I should perhaps add that none of the people I have just quoted has an academic position, but their ideas are now widely taught by academics in psychoanalytic studies.

I am running out of time, so I must close with some cryptic and tantalising but heartfelt pointers to the future. I believe that the concept of projective identification and that of countertransference (which is a species of projective identification found in the consulting room) will come to be seen as the basis for all learning and all communication (academic psychologists please take note). I believe that the understanding of the dynamics of groups and institutions will be found in the exploration of psychotic anxieties and that the concept of containment and the process of detoxification will turn out to be the key to human civilization. I believe that the role of unconscious models of the body will turn out to be central to a new integration of the self and will lie at the heart (forgive the pun) of a new epistemology, one which is non-objectivist and non-Cartesian. I believe that Lacanian cultural theory will have to make space for new approaches founded on ideas from Winnicott and from Klein and people influenced by them, in which the transitional and the primitive will loom larger than they have hitherto. I also hope that the desiccated and scientistic concept of personality which academic psychology has developed as a pale shadow of the concept we had before and need again, will give way to the concept of character and that psychoanalysis will re-enter psychology departments through that door. Finally, I hope that the paltry and embarrassing dynamics of our profession will be transformed for the better. Since we no longer march under the banner of the medical and biological scientisms which prevailed when I was training to be a psychiatrist so I could practice psychoanalysis, I hope we will enrich our world view from the arts and from humanism, good ole humanism.

This is the text of a talk delivered to the Programme in Psychoanalysis and the Humanities at the University of Tornoto on 9 January 1999.

Erwin, E. (1995) A Final Accounting: Philosophical and Empirical Issues in Freudian Psychology. MIT Press.

Copyright: The Author

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ
robert@rmy1.demon.co.uk


The Human Nature Review
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.com logo

UK -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | Books and Reviews | The Human Nature Daily Review | Search |