Acidulous Remarks

For those – like myself – who were part of the university world in Paris in May 1968, the gathering for the Estates General of Psychoanalysis (EGP) at the Amphi of the Sorbonne had a special meaning. As everyone knows, in that period Parisian youth had hoped, by their occupation, to make the old Sorbonne the headquarters of a new French Revolution. For me, the idea of holding an Assembly there today held a strong ambivalence. On the one hand, I was moved by nostalgia – our own youth always moves us. On the other, I suspected a hint of regression: the EGP’s double reference to revolution – both to the Estates General of 1789 and to the student occupation of 1968 – seemed to promise a celebration of correct, leftist French Grandeur, a wish to hook oneself to the memories of a grand rebellious tradition in order to ignore the 21st century. And when, on the afternoon of the last day (July 11), we all voted on some decisions by raising our hands, I had the feeling of déjà-vu: I had already voted by raising my hand, along with thousands of others, in this very same Amphitheatre in May 1968, during that exhilarating occupation. I felt at once both tenderness and refusal.

But this time, the Assembly was constituted of analysts coming from three continents, and for them the Sorbonne and its Amphi perhaps held a completely different meaning. I was curious to see what this overlapping of memories and significations would finally produce. When the EGP was over, I said to myself, “I basically had fun”. To have fun is always a good sign. In fact, during these four days I met new and interesting people, and I learned both negative and positive things about psychoanalysts (even learning negative things is very useful). Here, I will focus rather on the negative aspects of our meeting, although I hope that my criticisms will be taken as an attempt at generosity – it is always easier and more rewarding to praise than to criticize.


* * * 

The choice of this place and this title, Estates General – both prestigious establishment and revolutionary sanctuary – probably had some effect on this conference-assembly. Somebody complained that the “integrators of texts” (lecteurs), most of whom had already presented at least one text via Internet, often took advantage of their role to read another of their own texts instead of commenting on the texts that they were supposed to have read. Perhaps it was the solemnity of the place and the universalism of the event which tempted each one of us (myself included) to commit this sin of vanity: many wanted to increase their written presence at the meeting. Some probably felt that both the place and the event were calling on them to say something essential on psychoanalysis. Personally, as an “integrator of texts” in section 6, I had not prepared anything written, since my plan had been to improvise from what had inspired me in the texts of this section. But, in the end, I allowed myself to be “corrupted” by the general practice: the evening before, I hurriedly wrote a text, which I read the following day.

* * * 

Once again, I was surprised by the habit of many analysts – Lacanians and others as well – to speak their metalanguage, even knowing very well that in an assembly of this sort many others do not share it. A radical pluralist like myself enjoys the fact that there are so many different analytic trends, and that each one aims to push its scope as far as possible; this is the rule of a very healthy competition between theories and styles. In psychoanalysis, thought trusts and monopolies did not catch on. But I find that speaking exclusively one’s own clan’s language is the equivalent, in the discourse among analysts, of resistance in clinical practice. The refusal to convince others is no less defensive than the refusal to let oneself be convinced by the other – in both cases, one is indifferent to what is other-than-oneself. I am not at all saying that we should find a common language – in fact, this common language does not exist. Nevertheless, I am still so naive as to expect that an analyst try to speak first of all the language of the other.

This probably happens because too many analysts are convinced that their task is proselytism: they have to speak as “the mouth of truth”, to be Truth’s Witnesses (and of course their specific school is the Truth), and they think that Truth is self-affirming, through their mouths. But all this is just an illusion – nobody is the mouth of truth.


* * * 

We Europeans expect a lot from Latin American analysts – perhaps too much. And our excessive expectations perhaps explain the disappointment we sometimes feel in their regard. We know that they are numerous, passionate and generally highly qualified – which is why we expect a Borges, a Garcia Marquez, a Frida Khalo, an Octavio Paz, a Piazzolla, a Glauber Rocha, a Maradona, or a Carlos Fuentes of psychoanalysis. Maybe s/he already exists, even if we have not noted him/her. Today, there is a fantasy afloat inside the heads of many European and Northern-American analysts: “analysis is declining in our countries and we must expect Latin Americans to give analysis its second youth, Latin America will lead to a re-birth of FreudÉ” This is really expecting too much from our colleagues.

At this EGP, although we heard some excellent Latin-American contributions, there was also – too often – a cultural subjection to certain European, especially Parisian, Maîtresses Pensées. Our hope in “Latina” originality often goes unrealized because many of our Latin-American friends are more concerned with Europeanizing themselves at any cost. This is a kind of Hegelian Cunning of Imperialist Reason: this one uses anti-imperialist, anti-Yankee, third-world, vindicatory verbal mannerisms in order to establish itself more firmly inside the minds of the “colonized” people. I do not want to criticize the – politically or otherwise – just claims from countries which for many reasons feel themselves at a disadvantage. But the verbal conformism of critizicing the Power can easily fall into the arms of another no less hegemonic power.

For example, I have the strong impression that the Latin-American analysts’ preference for British and French analytic masters and fashions is partially the effect of a political bias: the “rule” is to be against Ego-Psychology and Self-Psychology because they are cosas de los gringos, and thus to rejectBut is there any real gain in escaping the seduction of New York’s or Los Angeles’ cultural scene if yet one falls into the arms of Paris’, London’s or Frankfurt’s Thought Masters?


* * * 

I would be hypocritical if I were not to mention an episode which involved me personally. An “integrator of texts” in the section on the “Relationship of Psychoanalysis to Art, Literature and Philosophy” started her speech by strongly stressing the fact that no paper presented in this section even dealt with or mentioned movies and shows in general. She had seemingly forgotten that my text, presented in this section, had quoted widely from three movies – Contact by Zemeckis, Touch of Evil by Welles, and Eyes Wide Shut by Kubrik – and that the first was the object of a long description, and that the third even game me the title for my paper (Eyes Wide Shut. Is Psychoanalysis in Touch with the Real?). Nothing terrible: forgetting to read a paper can happen (I too skipped one or two papers in the section I had to integrate, because they were written in languages unfamiliar to me). But later, the same woman – a charming person – told me that in fact she had read my text and that she had even liked it. An admission which makes this slip even more interesting, because the oblivion of my paper in this case seems like a Freudian repression. And I wonder why.

This seems to demonstrate two things. On the one hand, the irrefutable truth told by this lady, that analysts – with few exceptions – generally prefer to graze among the established classics – such as Sophocles, da Vinci, Shakespeare, Goethe, Hölderlin, and even more respectable modern authors like Kafka or Proust–rather than to confront themselves with the works of the world and the epoch in which they, and above all their analysands, live. Slavoj Zizek’s choice, for example, to deal with mass culture, and especially with Hollywood cinema (which is the most popular shared art on our planet), has very rarely been followed by analysts (is it pure chance that Zizek himself is not an analyst?). I find many analysts concerned with earning a sort of academic respectability – even when they look at art works – which probably compensates and dignifies the anti-academic, even wild, practice of analysis. On the other hand, the mishap shows the difficulty analysts have in questioning their own pre-conceived opinions – even when they are right in principle – when confronted with exceptions, with opposing facts, with centrifugal lines, which might refute what they think or believe.
For example, European analysts are too often resistant to revising their clichés about American psychoanalysis. I can understand why a New York analyst who spoke at the EGP said that he did not at all recognize psychoanalysis in his country from what he had heard here at the EGP. Even I, knowing a little about American psychoanalysis from having lived in the US for awhile, have to make a hard effort to convince many Italian analysts that the image they have of US psychoanalysis is, at best, a picture of the past, and that things have really changed in the US in the last 15 years. For example, many European analysts are strongly convinced that American psychoanalysis is totally “medicalized”, that psychiatrist and psychoanalyst there are almost identical – which is today absolutely false. But holding tightly to these clichés allows many Europeans to live off the unearned revenue of commonplaces.

I think that mutual clichés about analysts of “rival” cultures or countries are based on the assumption that one’s own country’s psychoanalysis is the “good one” while the others’ is the “ bad one” (or even beter, the “evil one”). On the one hand, many French and Latin- American analysts are convinced that their task is to be a crusader of their own “good analysis” by attacking the American schools (“the evil ones”). On the other hand, many American analysts are convinced that real analysis is theirs (Ego psychology, Self psychology, Object relations), and that “continental psychoanalysis” today is a degenerative corruption. There still exists a Cold War within psychoanalysis, which we witnessed even in these days at the EGP. Personally, I think that it is wiser and more tolerant to say that every culture interpreted Freud’s invention according to its specific ethnic lines, and that all major psychoanalytic countries were able to adapt this mainly Viennese invention to their own cultural and ethical landscapes. This means that the dilemma between “good analysis” and “bad analysis” does not exist: a healthy competition is going on, as each one ethnically re-arranges psychoanalysis. As in sport, there is no “good team” or “evil team”. A little bit of cultural relativism and a sense of humor could lighten up our international meetings.


* * * 

Despite these reservations, I think our joint initiatives can be useful – especially if we can reveal what we do not appreciate in others, as I have done in this acidulous commentary. We are all very different – and the tranquil acknowledgement of this difference can be our strong common feature.

Share This Article

European Journal of Psychoanalysis