I appreciate both the erudition of Dr. Bernardi's paper and its tone of sustained fairness. It's rare to encounter a paper that makes a strong, persuasive case without disparaging any particular point of view. This in itself makes the paper a valuable teaching tool.
It may, in fact, be difficult to disagree with an argument in favor of what the author calls "true controversies." Bernardi would like to see a world in which those on two sides of a conceptual debate would "...accept discussing their way of considering clinical material and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches." (p. 867) Who among us hasn't left a psychoanalytic meeting--if not in Rio de la Plata, then in Paris, New York, Paris, or Melbourne--feeling that the various factions engaged not in dialogue but in parallel play? Bernardi is justified in suggesting that our trouble hinges above all on "defensive strategies aimed at keeping each theory's premises safe from opposing parties' arguments." (p. 851) This brings to mind Adam Phillips' quip that: "The making of a theory is like the making of a phobia."
As a young clinician, I found myself drawn equally to the work of the British Middle Group and to that of Jacques Lacan, despite or because of the fact that their premises seemed antithetical to each other. A colleague who heard me give a paper on Winnicott and Lacan many years ago in New York warned that: "Trying to explain any aspect of French culture to an American audience is like trying to promote the worldview of cats to an audience of dogs. The dogs will never get it, and the cats don't care." Thirty years on, I continue--doggedly, perhaps--to encourage analysts to learn from both of these great traditions. (Luepnitz, 2011).
Although it's important not to reduce theory to its cultural contexts, some appeal to context is helpful at least in understanding our firmly held convictions. For example, it would be hard to imagine so optimistic a theory as Relational Psychoanalysis emerging anywhere but in 20th century America. In contrast, Jacques Lacan was developing his early thinking during the German occupation of Paris when many analysts (and Lacan's wife, as well) were forced to flee to the free zone. We are hardly surprised that he wrote nothing during this period and that he describes "a feeling of unreality" that permeated those years. (Lacan, l947, p.1).
It has been said that in the post-war period, French writers in general rejected narrative, partly because: "Hitler and Stalin were storytellers and it seemed naive to believe in stories. So instead they turned more and more to theory and to the absurd." (Zemour, 2010).
When Winnicott wanted a literary reference, he reached for Eliot or Tagore--never Artaud or Dali. In contrast, Lacan, in his widely read piece on the mirror stage, alludes explicitly to the Surrealist Manifesto.
Reflecting on historical context does nothing to solve the problem of creating "true controversies." It can, perhaps, allow us to view local orthodoxies more sympathetically.
I heartily endorse Dr. Bernardi's suggestion that all clincians use their personal analysis to examine their own theoretical commitments (p. 855). And in the spirit of analytic reflection, we might ask ourselves to question the premise of even the very reasonable argument posed by the author. To take seriously its claims, we must agree to analyze our hunger for "true controversies." To begin, let's have a look at his agenda for a fair and reasonable exchange of ideas. He says that we should:
1) Identify the disagreements between the two parties.
2) Establish agreements regarding the means by which the disagreement can be settled
3) Allow indefinite exploration of the merits of each position.
4) Reach agreement or mutually recognise that it is not possible to achieve one for the time being. (p. 856)
At this moment in the paper, I felt we had moved from the Apollonian to the positively parliamentarian. Would point # 5 be calling for a vote to decide if the human body is a Kleinian container or a Moebius strip?
Obviously, this is not what the author has in mind, and I mean no disrespect with this hyperbole. My point is simply to say that if our current practice of "false" or "untrue" controversy protects us psychically, so too can a desire for reform represent a search for protection from what we might call the primal scene of psychoanalytic debate. And at some point, an insistence on order and orderlness can give way to a cry for Dionysian excess--for the overheated, cacophonous, and ancestor-worshipping debates that drives us mad, but have also taken us this far.
Something that would undoubtedly serve us well both within and between psychoanalytic camps would be better writing. Analysts of all schools rely too much on jargon rather than risking clarity and orginality. Alas, I only wish there were a way of taking better care of our work in translation! Unfortunately, examples of errors, faux amis, and omitted words are ubiquitous in even the most respected journals. In the paper under discussion, Baranger is quoted as referring to the Lacanian "significant" (an adjective meaning "important") when he almost certainly meant "signifier" (a noun used to refer to an aspect of the Symbolic). Bernardi (or his translator) repeats Baranger's mistake in the paragraph that introduces the quote (p.865). Pity the poor newcomer!
None of us escapes the perils of what Lacan called "poubellication," of course. But "true controversies"--if they are indeed possible, and however defined--can't help but rely on accurate translation.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this paper. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Deborah Anna Luepnitz