Friday, 11 June 2010

Freud and the case for the prosecution, part three*

So, after a pause for breath, on to my old friend’s challenge to Freud and Freudian theory.

The third of his four Ds was . . . Denseness.

Not that Freud himself was dense. Rather that so much of Freudian writing reads, in the immortal words of someone-I-can’t-recall’s accurate critique of Iris Murdoch — ‘she writes like a pen dipped in shit’.

My old friend wrote: ‘I’ll just say “Lacan”. But each school has developed its vocabulary, and its own set of brain-twisting concepts. The training is long and arduous, the rivalry fratricidal, the status hard-won, the therapy expensive and professional membership exclusive . . . there are all the hallmarks of the well-known sociological process of profession-formation.’

To which there is only answer. Or, rather six answers, all the same.

Yes, most psychoanalytic writing is barely in English. The fact that for many of them English is not their first language is no excuse. The bits I’ve read in the other languages that I can understand are equally obtuse. (I intended to give an example here but when I skimmed through some potentially dense papers, I found they made perfect — well, reasonable — sense to me. That’s what you happens when you get stuck inside a subject. You find yourself, sadly, understanding the jargon. Trust me, though, you’ll be glad I didn’t find an example.)

Yes, the training goes on forever. Which, though it makes for thoroughness, inevitably excludes those who can’t afford it. As a profession, it is now seriously worried about the lack of a new generation.

Yes, the rivalry is fratricidal. A good number of our lecturers couldn’t stand each other — and would sometimes make this, if not clear, then certainly apparent. To adapt an old Jewish joke: two psychoanalysts on a desert island, how many schools of thought? Three: one for her, one for him and one for both of them to rubbish. (An academic relation of mine said he always invites certain speakers to conferences — much as a sensible emperor would call in a Christian or two for the lions’ dinner.)

Yes, the status is hard-won, the therapy expensive and professional membership exclusive. By the end of the course, my joke was that the whole thing had become a Ponzi scheme. Analytic patients (or analysands, perhaps) are very often — perhaps all too often — trainee analysts. So, at heart, it’s a cross-generational money transfer system. Analyst one pays analyst two lots of money as the essential part of analyst one’s training. Analyst two retires — in part, on the money supplied by analyst one (and other similar trainees). Analyst three — a younger person — then starts paying money to analyst one. In time,analyst one retires — thanks to the money-stream provided by analyst three etc. Now analyst three sets up office and welcomes analyst four’s regular payments. Etc etc.

Yes, it has created a professional exclusiveness. Eventually to its own detriment, in fact. Psychoanalytic ideas and language are ubiquitous, part of everyone’s daily discourse — repression, unconscious motivations, parental influence on our psyche etc etc etc. Somehow, though, psychoanalysis lost control of its own concepts. It’s the exam question we weren’t set: ‘The more popular psychoanalytic ideas became, the less popular psychoanalysis became. Discuss.’ I will. Soon.

* This is the third of four. Previous ones were Determination and Distance.

Something for the weekend?

1. Sigmund Freud through the eyes of his grandson.

2. A voice from the dead.

3. The great Bobbie Batista reports on the un-wonders of Franz Kafka International airport. (You might have to put up with a short ad. Wait. It's only ten or twelve seconds. It's worth it.)

4. A Dutch view of English sport.


Lo Jardinier said...

Blimey, you're getting the posts up quicker than I can respond. Couple of things to say about this one: firstly that I was disarmed by your saying 'Yes' to everything - the craftily concealed 'buts' only becoming apparent on the third reading.As usual, your response is more detailed and considered than the question. Secondly it was coming across some old books and notes when tidying that reminded me of something. I used to work with a much-respected colleague who was Gestalt-trained, and for some years sought contact, dialogue, in-the-moment relation as the No 1 element (in training, anyway). 'It's the relationship that heals, it's the relationship that heals: my professional rosary'(Irvin Yalom). I guess this is more a cavil with those who over-intellectualise Freud so that the blood and guts of the exciting oddness of glimpsing inside the other person gets ignored. So, respect, Jenny. She used to say 'One concept is enough for an afternoon - we have to get people to feel it in their bodies'.

Lo Jardinier said...

PS - I note the word verification thingy often comes up with oddly appropriate neologisms - today's was 'Ingst', which sounds like South African existential dread to me.

Peter Silverton said...

Ingst would also make a fine national suffix . . .

as in . . . where do you live? in ingstland

. . . in a universe where one of the multinational languages is thinglish - as in put the thing on the thing, would you, thingie ...