Editorial by Dana Birksted-Breen on Early View:



One thought on “Editorial

  1. Among the many valuable questions raised by Dana’s Editorial is one she recovers from Jones’ first editorial for the Journal, namely ‘what is psychoanalysis?’, a question that takes on a very different resonance in the wake of a century of psychoanalytic creativity and turbulence.
    One of the many false dichotomies that seems to spring up in contemporary psychoanalytic debate sets up a rigid orthodoxy that imposes a constricting and excluding definition of our discipline, against a loose pluralism that eschews definition altogether. Implied in this opposition is a construal of the ‘what is psychoanalysis?’ question as soliciting an answer that identifies and fixes the theoretical frame and clinical process, as though the question was a means to resolving and closing the issues it raises, of imposing a final answer.
    But I understand Dana to be saying, especially in her emphasis on ‘working in the space between different traditions’ that to ask, and keep asking, ‘what is psychoanalysis?’ isn’t to seek the answer that would put an end to the question, but on the contrary, to keep the question alive. To work between traditions, from this perspective, wouldn’t mean hitting on the neatest compromise-formation between different theoretical or technical approaches, which is just another way of privileging finality.
    So perhaps to keep a constant hold on the question of what psychoanalysis is (or better, to let it keep a constant hold on us), is to renounce the claim to know the answer. I’m tempted to say that as soon as we know definitively what psychoanalysis is, we’ve killed off its risk and its creativity.
    To take a not altogether random example: some traditions will privilege intra-psychic and genetic sources in the formation of psychic reality, where others will give priority to the environmental and relational. It’s easy and therefore tempting to take refuge in the reassuring dogma of one side of this controversy, and almost as easy to appeal to some carefully determined median point between the two. But is the choice really between dogma and compromise?
    Doesn’t Freud, as ever, show us a way beyond these sterile alternatives? I’m thinking here of the famous and startling non liquet of the ‘Wolf Man’ case, where it’s not a matter of deciding between the competing claims of unconscious fantasy and external reality, but of ensuring against any cosy repose in one of them. Is the primal scene an external perception or an unconscious fantasy? Yes! In other words, as soon as we feel too comfortable with one of these possibilities, we should feel ourselves, after Freud, troubled by the other.
    One of the many reasons the Freudian corpus should remain at the centre of psychoanalytic education and debate is that we can find in it the sources of so many different paths of analytic thinking, and so perpetually remind ourselves that the motor of clinical and theoretical creativity and innovation is precisely the non liquet, the unsettling of our settled ‘discoveries’. Isn’t this one way of understanding Winnicott’s prohibition on asking the child if she found or created the object, as a way of preserving the paradox that is neither dogma nor compromise?

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