Having only recently been invited to join in this conversation I hope my late arrival on this scene does not cause too much consternation. Whilst the discussion has already taken off I would like to start with a first response to Dr Bernardi's very clear and thoughtful paper calling for 'true controversies' in our field.
He raises the question what impedes proper dialogue between the psychoanalytic orientations and suggests a way forward that would enable fruitful discussions to take place between them.
I have formed some views on this question based on my personal experience, historical study and observations of the British (or should I say, London) psychoanalytic scene, a scene permeated by a climate which I would not expect to be greatly different in essence from that prevailing in other countries (and the contributions to the discussion so far appear to bear this out). Regarding the way forward my optimism has its clear limits, for reasons I intend to spell out.
The diversification if not fragmentation of the psychoanalytic field over the last 100 years has proved to be an immensely creative process, but also one that led to a confusion of tongues which, I am sure everybody agrees, cannot be remedied by better translation alone. Given this situation it has become virtually impossible to produce a definition of psychoanalysis that would be recognised by most of its practitioners. Each and every one of its concepts and practices is hotly contested between the various schools. You all recognise the picture; I hardly have to spell it out in detail.
One of the perennial controversies dividing the field concerns the question, also raised by Dr Bernardi, what kind of discipline psychoanalysis is – does it belong to the natural or human/social sciences? There is ample evidence in Freud's writing that lends support to either side of the debate, and Dr. Bernardi, reasonably in my mind, argues it belongs to both. There is a way, however, in which it also differs from both, and I believe this difference is, paradoxically, both vital and lethal for our field.
Unlike both natural and human/social scientists psychoanalysts do not acquire the knowledge and skills most pertinent to their practice through a process of study of their chosen subject alone. The requirement by an analyst in training to undergo personal analysis – training analysis, so-called – is regarded by many to be the most important aspect of their formation, the main channel of transmission of an understanding of unconscious processes. Freud thought that only by experiencing it first-hand, as it were, can the idea of an unconscious mind acquire the force of a deep personal conviction needed for psychoanalysis to take its effect. Furthermore, personal analysis is meant to prepare the budding analyst by making sure their own neurotic hang-ups do not interfere with their clinical work, and a successful training analysis is considered a main step in the authorisation of an analyst qua analyst. What is a successful analysis? We know better than to expect agreement on this question. Many schools would suggest a successful outcome entails an element of internalisation of or identification with the psychoanalytic process itself. We are meant to have been personally transformed by our training/course of study. In this sense psychoanalysis appears to belong less to the culture and practices of a university and more to the tradition of the Greek schools of philosophy where the acquisition of knowledge was deemed inseparable from the transformation of the student. The presence of this dimension of the formation of an analyst locates psychoanalysis in the vicinity of a spiritual discipline, in the sense that Foucault used this term. Jonathan Lear calls psychoanalysis a subjective profession, since it is the assumption of a very particular subjective position on the part of the person of the analyst that makes doing the work of analysis possible. Our subjectivity is the 'tool' of our trade.
The point I wish to make here is that psychoanalysis operates from the start based on personal experience, conviction, identification, transmission via one's own analysis, the idea of lineage, the idea or ideal of the practitioner having undergone some form of 'metanoia' – in other words from a deeply personal involvement leading to an identification as an analyst of a particular kind which is both personal and professional. At the end of our training we say things – and are often expected to say things like: I am a Kleinian, I am a Lacanian, I am a Jungian etc. (Remarkably, hardly anyone calls themselves Freudian these days.) In genuflecting in this fashion we identify ourselves in the field, we express our beliefs and our allegiances.
How, given our deeply personal investments in our beliefs do we engage in 'true controversies'?Even if research or rigorous conceptual debate were capable of addressing, and perhaps even settling, points of divergence one by one (which I happen to doubt), psychoanalytic concepts, like other beliefs, do not exist in isolation. Each concept/belief is embedded in a network of other concepts/beliefs so that conceding to a change on one point tends to set in motion a series of changes of associated beliefs. This can easily be demonstrated using one of the examples Dr. Bernardi cites – the question of the early vs late Oedipus complex. To accept, for instance, the Kleinian version of the early Oedipus does not only imply a shift in dates; it appears to demand a 'conversion' also in term of ideas which are clearly on the level of meta-psychology. And meta-psychology is not only beyond psychology, it is beyond anything – and here I believe I am in agreement with Dr. Bernardi – that is accessible to empirical research.
Freud's famous quip about the 'narcissism of small differences' should not be read as indicating that those differences are so small they should be easy to put to one side – on the contrary, it is precisely because the differences between neighbouring communities/countries are small that they have to be emphasised and defended at considerable cost. What is at stake are questions of identity which are based on self/other differentiation and often tied to issues of power, i.e. access to resources.
'Erkenntnis und Interesse' (translated into English as 'Knowledge and Human Interest'), the title of Habermas' hermeneutic work in which he discusses psychoanalysis, keeps alive the Marxist question: Who benefits? For a historic example of material interest entering into debates on psychoanalytic truths we need to look no further than the famous (or should that be notorious) Controversial Discussions in wartime London. The fight was not only about the nature of infantile fantasy – or phantasy – as the records of the Scientific Meetings would have it; it was fought no less ferociously in the (undocumented) meetings of the Training Committee: who gets to teach, to conduct training analyses and to supervise? The outcome of this epic struggle is telling in itself: just before tearing its organisation apart the opposing camps came to a 'gentleman agreement': nothing of substance was settled, but the territory was divided up; the only agreement as to the practice of analysis concerned the question of frequency of sessions (psychoanalysis was something one did a certain number of times a week...) – an agreement Lacan later fell foul of by introducing sessions of variable length, and was promptly evicted from the IPA.
As a result psychoanalysis in Britain, as in most of the rest of the world, continues to exist in what Dr. Bernardi calls the hermeneutic model: competing approaches exist side by side. Whilst there is certainly choice and also, undeniably, movement as far as the respective strength/market dominance of the various schools it concerned, is there evidence for 'true controversies'?
Gadamer, the German hermeneutic philosopher working in the wake of Heidegger, worked out a model of understanding based on a concept of dialogue guided by a dialectic of question and answer. Understanding of an other as an other presupposes letting the questions which prompt the assertions of the other become questions for oneself. In the process of establishing the horizon of the other a shift takes place vis-a-vis one's own habitual position which, as a result, is itself put into question. True understanding, in Gadamer's terms, is always new understanding – that is understanding that changes, even if in small ways, the one who engages in proper dialogue. Understanding thus understood presupposes a preparedness to put one's pre-understanding (and by extension oneself) into question.
It would be tempting to think that this kind of openness is something that we possess as a matter of course, i.e. as a result of the course of analysis we ourselves have been undergoing as part of our training. Is anyone brave enough to make this claim? Historical as well as contemporary experience tells us that this is something we cannot take for granted, especially when a whole cluster of commitments and interests are bound up with one's position.
And yet, as Dr. Bernardi notes, ideas change raising the question what allows for this change to happen. We could approach this as a historical question; alternatively, we might ask: under what circumstances does an analyst change his or her ideas? My hunch, following on from Gadamer's ideas, is that an inquiry leading to change might be possible only with those for whom their own position/identity has already become, in some way at least, a question. In that respect their position resembles more that of a viable patient, i.e. someone willing and able to become an analysand, rather than that of an expert analyst.
Dr. Bernardi touches on this particular and peculiar inextricability of the personal investments and the conceptual positions we take up in our field when he notes that a process of serious questioning of the latter tends to pose 'the problem of narcissism and alterity'. As a remedy for this he suggests more analysis. This is not a surprising recommendation coming from an analyst of course, but in an important way it only begs the question – what sort of analysis; analysis from which position? We encounter the same problem when we attempt to follow – as I am sure we all have tried to do, and still try – the other pathway he suggests, namely, rather than to tackle questions of Weltanschauung or meta-psychology we should turn to 'the court of clinical experience' (Freud). As we all know, different lenses show us different pictures. To use a variety of lenses – as, again, I am sure many of us do at various points – can be both enlightening as well as confusing. But in clinical practice we do not just look, we also speak – at which point we either speak from a certain position, and risk coming across as over-assertive and rigid, or we speak in the 'open, shaky and diluted' manner which has perhaps become the style of intervention of those of us who are only too aware of the many controversies but find it difficult to engage with them 'truly'.
So far for now. I am grateful for the chance to engage in this conversation with you all and look forward to our future exchanges.