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Surveying the Analytic Field
Anouchka Grose, Karnac, 2016
Reviewed by Derek Hook
As Patricia Gherovici (2017) has recently noted, the histories of psychoanalysis and hysteria are intimately connected. Both demonstrate that there is no natural object for the drive; both are testimony to the fact that there is no pre-given “normal” model of sexuality. The imperative to reiterate these two fundamentally Freudian principles is particularly urgent today in an era of trans-gender/sexuality, in time when psychoanalysis is more than ever be called upon to demonstrate its relevance. Hence, the urgency of attending to what hysteria might be, and what diverse forms hysteria might take in today’s world.
To read the full article, click here.
Psychoanalysis without Walls
*Republished with Permission, from Public Seminar, Jan. 19th, 2018: http://www.publicseminar.org/2018/01/give-a-woman-an-inch-shell-take-a-penis/
On February 8, 2018, The New School will host an event entitled “Sexual Harassment and Assault: Eros, Power, Violation, and Consent.” Psychologist Jeremy Safran will moderate a panel featuring Lew Aron and Adrienne Harris from NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, Katie Gentile from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Lisa Rubin and Ali Shames-Dawson from the New School for Social Research, who together will creatively engage the pressing ethical, political, and psychological questions arising from the #MeToo movement. This panel is meant to sketch — rather than answer — the most significant questions this moment brings to the fore, before transitioning into workshop style breakout groups. In the weeks leading up to the event, we will host contributions from the panelists, and we invite readers to submit responses via submissions@publicseminar. org and to participate in the event on February 8 ( Registration & More Details Here ). The event will not be filmed. Below is our first piece, from panelist and frequent Public Seminar contributor Katie Gentile.
Towards a Progressive Psychoanalysis: Interview with Dr. Lewis Aron*
*Republished from Psychology of Aesthetics Magazine, Sep. 29th, 2016: http://www.psychologyart.com/towards-progressive-psychoanalysis-interview-dr-lewis-aron/
By Dr. Robert Frashure
How did psychoanalysis come to define itself as being different from psychotherapy? How have racism, homophobia, misogyny and anti-Semitism converged in the creation of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis? Is psychoanalysis psychotherapy? Is psychoanalysis a “Jewish science”?
Inspired by the progressive and humanistic origins of psychoanalysis, Lewis Aron and Karen Starr pursue Freud’s call for psychoanalysis to be a “psychotherapy for the people.” They present a cultural history focusing on how psychoanalysis has always defined itself in relation to an “other.” At first, that other was hypnosis and suggestion; later it was psychotherapy. The authors trace a series of binary oppositions, each defined hierarchically, which have plagued the history of psychoanalysis. Tracing reverberations of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and homophobia, they show that psychoanalysis, associated with phallic masculinity, penetration, heterosexuality, autonomy, and culture, was defined in opposition to suggestion and psychotherapy, which were seen as promoting dependence, feminine passivity, and relationality. Aron and Starr deconstruct these dichotomies, leading the way for a return to Freud’s progressive vision, in which psychoanalysis, defined broadly and flexibly, is revitalized for a new era.
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Psychosis Therapy Project: An Innovative Psychoanalytic Treatment Program // An Interview with Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz
By Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkoler
We met with the psychoanalyst Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz in March of 2017 in London on the occasion of a two-day conference, “Transgender, Gender and Psychoanalysis,” an event she organized with The SITE for Contemporary Psychoanalysis and the Freud Museum. We were intrigued by the Psychosis Therapy Project (PTP), an anglophone psychoanalytic treatment center for psychotic patients she directs, and asked her if she would be willing to be interviewed for Division Review to tell us about her current work.
In Part I last week, I discussed the Bastos et al. study out of Brazil that found long-term psychodynamic therapy (LTPDT) to have better outcomes than fluoxetine after 24 months of treatment. This week I’ll take a look at another recent study involving another randomized controlled trial (RCT) of LTPDT (called by the authors Long-term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy or LTPP). In a study out of Britain, Peter Fonagy and colleagues examined the value of LTPDT as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression.
To read the full article, click here
Psychoanalysis and empirical research have not always been on friendly terms. Recent decades, however, have seen an increase in psychoanalytically-informed research. One area where this research has expanded is in assessing the outcomes of psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapies. (In brief, psychodynamic therapies are based upon psychoanalytic principles but may not include all the features, such as use of a couch, of traditional psychoanalysis.)
Much of the research on the outcomes of psychodynamic psychotherapy has focused upon short-term, if not explicitly time-limited treatments. In general, this research demonstrates that short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy is better than no treatment and is roughly equivalent in outcomes to other types of treatment.
Study of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (LTPP) has proven more difficult. Random assignment, the preferred technique for making strong conclusions regarding therapy efficacy, is difficult when patients are assigned to long treatments, due to patient resistance to randomization and their tendency to drop out of longer treatments that are either not working or working well enough that patients feel they’ve had enough.
Last year I was surprised to read an article in JAPA that was filled with statistics. This week I was equally surprised to receive an email from APA about the current American Psychologist, to click on the link, and to find that the first reference in the article was to Freud. Once upon a time I won a bet with a behaviorist friend that Freud was cited more during a specific time frame than Skinner, but it seemed to me that the time was long past when psychoanalytic or psychodynamic articles would be the lead in the American Psychologist.
The second surprise was the title. It appears from the title that the article is calling into question the primacy of the alliance as a predictor of therapeutic outcome. Both my clinical and my evidence based selves reacted to this.
Haven’t we fought long and hard to have Freud’s (1937/1964) “unobjectionable” transference (which this article cites in its opening passage and which in itself was wrestled from the “objectionable”, meaning pathological, transferences - as if these and other transferences really could be, in the words of one my favorite supervisors, “analyzed away”) to become, again following the article’s lead, Greenson’s (1965) working alliance and the many mutations of that before and since?
When discussing Strachey’s translation of Freud (Freud, 1905/1953) the first problem that pops up is almost inevitably his translation of the German Trieb by “instinct.” Instincts, as the standard objection goes, have a predetermined object that is given to them by nature to accomplish their biological function, whereas this wouldn’t be the case with Triebe that don’t have such a pre-given object…
To further discuss this question I will turn to the first edition of the Three Essays, and I will comment on some key decisions that Ulrike Kistner, Herman Westerink, and I made in discussing the first English translation of this text (Freud, 1905/2016). In doing so I will concentrate on a major distinction Freud makes in the Three Essays that passed unnoticed (or even rendered invisible) in most translations. I will argue, more concretely, that the 1905 edition of the Three Essays is not so much centered around the distinction between Instinkt and Trieb, but rather around the distinction between Geschlechtstrieb and Sexualtrieb. This distinction is completely lost in the Standard Edition and in the older French translations.1 Strachey translates them both as “sexual instinct.” This second distinction resembles the one between Instinkt and Trieb, but it is not identical to it. It should further be read in relation to the term Geschlechtsleben that is linked to it.
In Search of a Minor Place: Review of The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness
By Matthew Oyer, Ph.D.
The Political Self: Understanding the Social Context for Mental Illness
By Roderick Tweedy (Ed.), London, UK: Karnac Books, 223pp., $46.95, 2017
How many styles or genres or literary movements, even very small ones, have only one single dream: to assume a major function in language, to offer themselves as a sort of state language, an official language (for example, psychoanalysis today, which would like to be a master of the signifier, or metaphor, of wordplay). Create the opposite dream: know how to create a becoming-minor.
(Deleuze & Guattari ,1986, p. 27)
The alleged irresponsibility of the philosopher, Slavoj Žižek’s endorsement of Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 United States presidential election has been largely panned, but there does seem to be some truth to Žižek’s claim that Trump’s election would force each of us to confront our complicity in the current state of affairs. As much as we try to throw ourselves into the superiority-jouissance of reading and watching the news and the trolling and being trolled of social media, we cannot help but be tossed back into I have done nothing, to the horror of what now? Žižek (2017) noted how the Left and Right alike are engaged in politics of Fear, which leads to efforts to destroy the external object, and that what is needed is a shift to politics of Angst, that we might be compelled to transform ourselves.
For psychologists and psychoanalysts confronting this Angst, the appearance of the Karnac collection The Political Self, edited by Rod Tweedy and released at the beginning of 2017, is a welcome arrival. As psychoanalysts, what little we do know is that Žižek is quite right in this regard; if we are to change, if the world is to change, Angst rather than fear can show us the way. Even the form of this book is apropos. One wishes for the heterogeneity of a collection: the dissent that forces us into thought, and towards, one can only pray, the act.
Such heterogeneity is, of course, circumscribed by any collection’s editor, but Tweedy, himself, seems to cut a rather idiosyncratic figure: attracted, on the one hand to inimitable Romantic figures, the likes of William Blake, Nick Cave, and R.D. Laing; and on the other, to contemporary research on neuroscience and brain lateralization. Tweedy (2013) synthesized these interests in an earlier book on Blake’s Urizen as the god of the left hemisphere. I will speak more of this synthesizing tendency later. For now, I will only repeat that it is less synthesis and more conflict and heterogeneity that interest me.
From this position, it is one of the strengths of the collection that it almost immediately evokes an old, but still profound and, ultimately, timely historical debate. David Smail, the book’s inspiration, and whose chapter on a “social-materialist” psychology inaugurates it, levels a pugnacious, if often uninformed, critique of psychoanalysis and Freudian-Marxism as developed by the Frankfurt School and represented within the collection by Joel Kovel’s reading of psychotherapy in late capitalism. In some respects, the differences embodied in Smail’s and Kovel’s chapters rehash a debate within the Frankfurt School, between Erich Fromm, whose disappearance from the psychological canon Smail bemoans, and Herbert Marcuse. And behind this debate, if we are convinced by Jacoby’s (1997) persuasive account, lies a yet earlier schism: that between Adler and Freud.
Smail is critical of psychoanalysis’s elision of the social context in its overly “internal” view of psychic life. The figures he speaks of approvingly in this respect—Adler, Fromm, Horney, Sullivan, and Laing and Cooper—are precisely those figures Jacoby targets for trading “the revolutionary core of psychoanalysis for common sense” (p. 19). Smail argues that there has been a massive repression of social-cultural “interests” within psychoanalytic theory and their replacement with internal concepts like the unconscious and the drive, which are then subject to the influence of the psychoanalyst and justify his existence in the place of political or economic activism.
Smail declares, “find it puzzling—even paradoxical—that so many of the Frankfurt writers, in order to theorise the influence of material, societal conditions on personal subjectivity, felt it necessary to turn for help to psychoanalysis” (p. 49). For Kovel’s Marcusian-inflected reading, psychoanalysis is necessary precisely to avoid lapsing into a simplistic, mechanical model of a subject buffeted and controlled by external forces. A theory is needed that can elucidate the mediating processes by which external oppression is internalized, by which phylogenesis repeats in ontogenesis: the primal father eaten by the brother clan; the identifications that sediment in the ego; Oedipus and the installation of the superego; the reality principle’s imprint on the drives themselves. It is just such a simplistic, mechanical, and common-sense model that Smail proposes. Jacoby’s (1997) critique, that all of the modernizers of the 20th century ridiculed Freud’s 19th century mechanical biologism, but that “there is nothing new or novel about the idea of the individual as an autonomous monad which is affected by outer forces” (Tweedy, p. 33), could just as well have been directed at Smail.
For Smail, psychology and psychoanalysis ultimately disappear behind a social-materialist reading of history and political praxis.
The crucial theoretical point I’m trying to make is that by conceiving of “drives” as “interests” we turn traditional psychology inside out, so that rather than seeing individuals pushed from within by various urges and desires for which, ultimately, they are personally responsible, they are pulled from without by the social manipulation of, in the last analysis, inescapable biological factors of being human. (p. 42).
Without any theory of mediation or any awareness that such a theory is necessary, what role or function could either psychology or psychoanalysis play? Psychology is instead entirely explained by political and economic theory.
Smail’s application of political and economic categories to psychological analysis is, of course, far less common than the opposite approach: psychologism. Recently, this has been most evident, and most impotent, in the constant debates and discussions about Trump’s mental health and his psychiatric diagnosis. Diagnosing Trump is not only delusional (a misplaced certainty that we are the masters of what is normative at a time when he has much more power to determine the normative than any psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst [Reisner, 2017]); at best, it distracts us from real political engagement, and, at worst, narcotizes us with superiority and a sense of engagement when, in fact, we are retreating into quietism. The Political Self thankfully forgoes discussion of Trump’s narcissism, psychosis, dementia, or perversion, but it is not without contributions that rely on this kind of direct application of psychological categories to political analysis. Most notably, Jonathan Rowson’s interview with Iain McGilchrist, whose book The Master and His Emissary (McGilchrist, 2009) popularized the discussion of hemispheric differences and conflict, summarizes some of the implications of his application of neuropsychological research to a sweeping reading of cultural history.
McGilchrist explains his formulation of brain lateralization: “it is not about what each hemisphere does, as we used to think, because it is clear that each is involved with literally everything. It is about how it is done—an approach, a stance, a disposition towards things” (Tweedy, p. 88). He suggests that we should have thought of the brain, not in the metaphoric terms of a machine, but, rather, in terms of the person (“What’s he or she like?”). If we would have begun with these questions, it is argued, we would have seen much more clearly the differences and relationship between the hemispheres: a left hemisphere that uses a decontextualized, abstract, instrumentalized rationality, impervious to challenges to its position that is colonizing a right hemisphere that utilizes a contextualized, concrete, synthetic, and affectively-nuanced reason receptive to challenges to its position. There is no question that this evokes images of good and bad angels sitting on shoulders, or at least two homunculi with distinct, if caricatural, personalities jousting across the corpus callosum.
If Adler, Fromm, and nearly all schools of neo- and post-Freudianism sought to correct Freud’s mechanical psyche with a concept of the self, McGilchrist is not content to stop there and must even “self” the hemispheres of the brain. But, as the Frankfurt School theorists pointed out regarding the culturalist neo-Freudians (as did Lacan of the ego psychologists), with this “selving,” comes the loss of the critical decentering that Freud accomplished with his discovery of the unconscious, and with this selving, there is a return to a general psychology of synthesis. We have made our way to the self of The Political Self and to the tendency of self and text alike towards synthesis.
Pluralism is a common feature of late capitalism: to accept and legitimize all differences and variations but only by flattening them out (Benvenuto, 2016). Exchange requires this flattening synthesis. This tendency is very evident in The Political Self: a bit of neuroscience; a smattering of Marx; a dash of attachment theory; a little twelve step between Freud and Jung on our way to the neo-Freudians and anti-psychiatrists. If we can just add a little something new, it may all work, the self and the system alike. Above all, that is what capitalism demands: it must appear to work. Lacan said, “What distinguishes the discourse of capitalism is this: the Verwerfung, the rejection, the throwing outside all symbolic fields… of what? Of castration” (Holland, 2015, p. 8). Thus, an idealized synthesis undermines the discursive heterogeneity that first seemed promised by the book.
There is no doubt that psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts look the most ridiculous of all when clawing and cloying for respectability and a place in the major discourse: medicalization; randomized controlled trials; acronyms; psychotherapy integration; neuropsychoanalysis; media campaigns; wine and cheese open houses… Psychoanalysis: the discovery of a knowledge-in-failure; of a method of thinking with and through castration. Indeed, the moment it works, it is not.
We have moved well beyond The Political Self, but, perhaps to the questions that inspired me to read and write about it. For, like many others, I am lost. I would like to think about how to develop a political practice, and what role psychoanalysis might have within that practice. I don’t have any answers, but I do know that whatever contribution psychoanalysis is to make, it will not be that of an addition, but of a supplement. And if it is to act as supplement, it must remember and remain what it is: ever a becoming minor.
Benvenuto, S. (2016). What are perversions?: Sexuality, ethics, psychoanalysis. London, UK: Karnac.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1986). Kafka: Toward a minor literature. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Holland, J. (2015). Capitalism and psychoanalysis [Editorial]. S: Journal of the Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique, 8, 1-5.
Jacoby, R. (1997). Social amnesia: A critique of contemporary psychology. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the Western world. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.
Reisner, S. (2017). Crazy like a fox: Evil is not a psychiatric illness. [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty1HhODKVaI&feature=youtu.be.
Tweedy, R. (2013). The god of the left hemisphere: Blake, Bolte Taylor and the myth of creation. London, UK: Karnac.
Tweedy, R. (Ed.). (2017). The political self: Understanding the social context for mental illness. London, UK: Karnac.
Žižek, S. (2017). Donald Trump’s topsy-turvy world. The Philosophical Salon: A Los Angeles Review of Books Channel. Retrieved from http://thephilosophicalsalon.com/donald-trumps-topsy-turvy-world/.
Suffering, the Other, and a Vote for Trump
Maria M. Christoff
As the current political environment in the United States swings towards a totalitarian orientation (Arendt, 1948/2004; Ellenberger, 1970; Sullivan, 2016; Z. Williams, 2017; R. Williams, 2016), it is important to critically examine the dialectic between politics and psychoanalysis. Goggin and Goggin (2001) were correct to point out that the relevant question is not only how political should psychoanalysis be in practice, if at all, but also, “What conditions in a society or political system nurture and support the profession and practice of psychoanalysis, and what conditions hinder it?” They and others, such as Danto (2005), demonstrate that psychoanalysis thrived in liberal to socialist-leaning environments, where it was free to offer its services to all, regardless of race, religion, and economic status; where academic environments were inclusive and accessible; and where healthcare, including mental healthcare, was widely available. On the flip side, it suffered in fascist and authoritarian regimes (Goggin & Goggin, 2001; Kuriloff, 2013). Regardless of the challenges psychoanalysis might face in coming years, the unconscious mind cannot now be un-thought. The idea of internal motivational forces contained within but beyond the control of the body, whether an individual body or a societal body, will persist into an uncertain future.
Psychoanalysis for Peace
Regarding what effect the discovery of the unconscious mind would have upon human nature and politics, early psychoanalysts were quite hopeful. They imagined a world in which drives were recognized and provided with appropriate outlets, allowing creativity and harmony to flourish (Goggin & Goggin, 2001; Danto, 2005), in addition to simply creating a political body capable of loving and working without neurotic misery. Curiously, in the 1932 correspondence between Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud titled “Why War?” (Einstein, Freud, & Gilbert, 1939), Freud seemed to sell his own theories short. He seemed to forget the assertions he had made in “Future of an Illusion” (1927/1961) and “Civilization and its Discontents” (1930/1961) regarding the constant tension between drives and civilization, and to settle instead into a comfortable notion of inevitable evolutionary progress. Einstein wrote to ask Freud what the study of psychoanalysis could offer towards world peace. In his words, “Is it possible to control man’s mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychoses of hate and destructiveness?” (Einstein et al., 1939, p. 4).
In his response, Freud begins by asserting the existence of two constant, interactive, and unavoidable drives, libido and aggression. He goes on to situate the instincts and will of the individual in opposition to civilization, as he described in “Totem and Taboo” (1913/1955). To deal with this, a different form of violence, called law, evolved with human societies to keep individuals in check. However, an opposing force of identification, love, and a sense of community also works to hold nations together. It is a Romantic notion; the same innate forces that struggle for primacy within the individual also duel at the societal level. Fear of violent retaliation by the law, as well as genuine affection, work in tandem to inhibit destructive libidinal and violent impulses of both the individual and the masses. Freud writes, “There is no use in trying to get rid of men’s aggressive inclinations,” but “[a]nything that encourages the growth of emotional ties between men must operate against war,” (Einstein et al., 1939, p. 11). Freud did not often speak of empathy (Christoff & Dauphin, 2018; Agosta, 2014), and neither did he in this correspondence. Talk of empathy has played a prominent role, on the other hand, in current political discussions. In this letter, Freud focused on identification as the source of emotional ties. The warm feelings of similarity he alludes to resemble a form of nationalism. If words were put to this form of identification, they might run, “You are like me. I am good, so you are good. It’s good for us to be good together, and our goodness together is better than even our separate goodnesses.” This self-centered emotional closeness is quite distinct from the reaching-into practice of empathy. I will return to the discourse of empathy in current politics below.
Continuing with Freud’s response to Einstein, at the moment when a reader of Freud might expect a fresh idea that would illuminate the topic, he asks, “Why do you and I and so many other people rebel so violently against war?” (Einstein et al., 1939, p. 12). This flies in the face of his previous assertion that on both an individual and a societal level, the aggressive drive is inescapable. Manageable and capable of sublimation, perhaps, but nomothetically present. Freud’s question to Einstein introduces the idea that while some people reject war, others thrive on it, and that there is an innate difference between these types of people. Alternatively, perhaps Freud suggests that although some people must still struggle with violent impulses, their impulses could not result in war, whereas the impulses of others may. It is puzzling and unclear. Freud explains,
For incalculable ages, mankind has been passing through a process of evolution of culture. (Some people, I know, prefer to use the term “civilization.”) We owe to that process the best part of what we have become, as well as a good part of what we suffer from…The psychical modifications…consist in a progressive displacement of instinctual aims and a restriction of instinctual impulses…Of the psychological characteristics of civilization two appear to be the most important: a strengthening of the intellect, which is beginning to govern instinctual life, and an internalization of the aggressive impulses, with all its consequent advantages and perils. Now war is in the crassest opposition to the psychical attitude imposed on us by the process of civilization, and for that reason we are bound to rebel against it; we simply cannot any longer put up with it…And how long shall we have to wait before the rest of mankind becomes pacifists too? There is no telling. But it may not be Utopian to hope that these two factors, the cultural attitude and the justified dread of the consequences of a future war, may result within a measurable time in putting an end to the waging of war. (Einstein et al., 1939, pp. 13-14)
Freud forgets to ask himself where those aggressive impulses go, once internalized. He pays lip service to, but quickly forgets, the perils of internalized aggression. Surely, according to his own theory, these internalized impulses will present as symptoms of anxiety. He ends by reiterating the comforting note that anything that would increase a sense of identification might prevent war—“what fosters the growth of a civilization works at the same time against war,” (Einstein et al., 1939, p. 13)—but leaves his future readers to puzzle out how humans might become pacifists without relying on a passive notion of cultural evolution to account for such a fundamental shift.
Analyzing the Moment
I have taken care to set the stage for my treatment of current American politics due to the many parallels between the European inter-war period and the present-day United States. There are periods in American history whose recognition is also necessary to understanding the current moment, including the post-civil war era (1865-1900) and the civil rights era (1950-1963) (Library of Congress, 2017; Gilder Lehrman Institute, 2017). One common thread among these various periods is the preoccupation with race and high levels of white nationalism. During the interwar period in Europe, centuries of anti-Semitic discrimination and persecution were rapidly coming to an apex (Arendt, 1948/2004). Similarly, in current United States politics, centuries of anti-Black discrimination and persecution, and post 9-11 anti-Muslim prejudice, are rapidly becoming prominent (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016; Row, 2016). Another similarity between Freud’s 1932 letter on the role of the unconscious mind in politics and the pre-election period of 2016 is the mood of complacent optimism felt by much of the American public prior to November 8, 2016 (Shahani, 2016; Scharmer, 2016). Everyone, even Donald Trump’s supporters, woke on November 9 to a different world, and felt shock (Stanage, 2016). Countless websites and news articles since have scrambled to excavate and dissect the turbulent campaign season leading to the election, and to answer the question, “How did this happen?” Not only how, but also “Why?” (Tyson & Maniam, 2016).
How can psychoanalytic thought be brought to bear on understanding this political moment? The election of Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States was a surprising unknown, and was accomplished with the votes of a mere 27% of the eligible voting population (“If ‘Did Not Vote’ Had Been a Candidate”, 2016). In this sense, his potential victory was, like an impulse arising from the dynamic unconscious, obscured from conscious recognition until it broke through in the form of an undeniable symptom. Upon recognition of the symptom, reflection of the time preceding its arrival ensues, and signs become apparent in hindsight. Also like a symptom in the psychoanalytic sense, it was, in actuality, enacted by the ego, the self. Whether ego-dystonically or ego-syntonically, despite falling short of winning the popular vote, Trump was voted into office by the American body politic. His opposition bears responsibility for his election in the same way Ernst Lanzer opened his door nightly to allow the ghost of his father to enter (Freud, 1909/1955). In the same way that a dissociated aspect of self is nevertheless responsible for the actions of the individual, so is it incumbent on the political body to allow entry to its disavowed aspects, in order to know itself (Sullivan, 1953; Stolorow, 1992; Bromberg, 1998).
An invitation to reach into and understand the motivations of Trump voters as well as those who opposed him, and how this interaction resulted in his election, need not equate to providing a platform for hate, although careful attention to the distinction is essential. Taking a critical approach to exploring current politics, authors may imagine themselves in the role of the psychoanalyst during a psychoanalytic treatment, creating a space of reflective self-curiosity in the analysand (Winnicott, 1971). In the process, it would be wise to follow Kohut’s (1971) advice, and to align oneself with the ego of the analysand, rather than the split-off aspect of the self. The purpose of analysis, after all, is to fortify the ego, to lead the analysand towards an honest encounter with negative affect and disavowed self-states, without becoming subsumed by the id or dissolving into psychosis. In Winnicottian terms, a critical approach to the outcome of the 2016 election would provide a holding space in which to process previously dissociated affect, while refusing to allow the analyst to be destroyed in the process (Winnicott, 1969). In this case, the ego of the United States is its reasonableness, its better nature, its hopefulness, its Statue of Liberty, its American Dream. The ego with which to align is the assertion that the country will not fall from its state of democratic grace to dangerous authoritarianism, fascism, or oligarchy. These values are shared by those in all major political parties, and by those individuals who voted for any of the presidential candidates.
A model for such an endeavor is to be found in the joint effort of the Frankfurt School and the American Jewish Committee in their five-volume Studies in Prejudice series (1949-1950), edited by Horkheimer and Flowerman. The project was led primarily by Jewish intellectuals who, having been forced to flee Europe during the Holocaust, turned a critical eye to their new residence, the United States. The volumes included contributions from Adorno, Bettelheim, Lowenthal, and Marcuse, among others. Recognizing that eugenics and anti-Semitism were far from localized to World War II Germany, and were instead global trends, they sought to study various aspects of these trends in American culture (Stern, 2005; Vasquez, 2016, 2017). Notable contributions of these volumes include “the f-scale,” a personality scale measuring a subject’s propensity towards authoritarian or fascist ideas and values. While the scale presented serious psychometric concerns, it is meaningful that the authors explored the personalities of the population for the origins of authoritarian regimes, rather than focusing solely on top-down power structures. This theme of looking into the suffering and frustration of the people to explain the rise of populist leaders continued into the fifth volume, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (Lowenthal & Guterman, 1949/1970).
An in-depth analysis of the similarities between Prophets of Deceit and the rise of Donald Trump following the announcement of his candidacy would be a timely endeavor, for which there is not room in this essay. A few points of Lowenthal and Guterman’s analysis, however, are key to this discussion. The agitator aligns himself with the “deep rooted malaise” of the struggling, unsatisfied people (Marcuse, introduction to Lowenthal & Guterman, 1970, p. viii). “The agitator’s themes are a distorted version of genuine social problems” (p. 139). The agitator gains the trust of the people by positioning them as part of an in-group, “like someone arising from its midst to express its innermost thoughts,” (p. 5) which requires the creation of a threatening enemy out-group. He presents as an “indefatigable businessman” (p. 117). The agitator refers to his enemies as vermin, especially rats. In dehumanizing and setting out to destroy the out-group, the agitator says publicly what others think privately (p. 124), and has every intention of making good on his promises to go after the enemy. In the end, however, “for all his emphasis on and expression of discontent, the agitator functions objectively to perpetuate the conditions which give rise to that discontent” (p. 140). Lowenthal and Guterman recognized that, despite being an accurate and informative study, their volume offered no solutions to resisting an agitator, should one arise.
There are various levels of malaise and genuine social problems that contributed to Trump’s rise to power. Among his core voting constituency, “the Forgotten People,” (Gage, 2016), there is a specific and deep suffering. Rural white communities with the highest drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates, as well as high unemployment rates, were the biggest supporters of Trump in the 2016 election (Monnat, 2016). Monnat (2016) likens the complex picture of economics, drug dependence, and death rate to a measure of “despair,” and notes that the communities with the highest level of “deaths of despair” were also the strongest supporters of Trump nationwide. Some of these same communities have seen a sharp increase in newborns with neonatal opioid addiction (Mostafavi, 2016), which is increasing at a rate 80% higher than that in urban areas. But poor whites were not the only Trump supporters. He found support in all geographic areas, among all income brackets and all levels of education, including 53% of all white women (Lett, 2016; Sasson, 2016). Rather than the white women’s vote being a response to a specific suffering, it seemed to seek to negate the suffering of Black women and other women of color (LaSha, 2016; McDonough, 2016). Women of color felt betrayed by the white women who voted for Trump (Obie, 2017), seeing their votes as both a refusal to stand up for their civil rights and a willful ignorance of issues of race in feminism that have been long discussed by Black and Latinx feminists (Lorde, 1984; Moraga & Anzaldua, 2015). White women who voted for Trump identified with his call to “Make America great again” and responded to the sense of personal deprivation implicit in the slogan. Responding to suggestion, they unconsciously imagined themselves as the real Americans who had lost something they deserved (Kurtzleben, 2017; Gurr, 1970). Lowenthal and Guterman (1949/1970) identified the psychology in this positive identification as simple Americans, real Americans, or forgotten people: “In the characterization real Americans the abstract adjective real barely conceals the negative meaning of non-real. What the agitator implies is that his adherents are all those who do not fall under any of the categories of the enemy. His elite or in-group is essentially negative; it depends for definition on those in the out group” (p. 108). In the context of the 2016 election and victory period, Trump’s forgotten people were non-Black, non-Latinx, non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Jewish, non-women, non-LGBTQ, and non-immigrant. The negation of difference was celebrated with giant Christmas trees (Sharp, 2016; Birnbaum & Liptak, 2016). Christian male whiteness was reinstated as the invisible standard against which all difference was thrown in sharp relief (Hall, 1992; Haraway, 1988). This is reflected in Trump’s choice of cabinet members and appointed officials (McCarthy, 2017). White suffering, in this context, took precedence over current and historical Black suffering (DuVernay, 2016; Black Lives Matter, 2016). Trump invited the assertion and voicing of white suffering, which included a silencing and whitewashing of Black suffering, immigrant suffering, and Native American suffering (Donnella, 2016; Sammon, 2016). In this election cycle, racism trumped the outward elements of progress towards inclusivity.
Shaun King, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and historian, situates Trump’s rise and election as the response of a historically racist country to its first Black president (University of Michigan, 2017). Like a reaction formation, having allowed love for a Black father figure to surface to consciousness, and this affection being so anxiety provoking, a surge of reactionary fear and hatred overcompensated. Reporter Van Jones, on election night, referred to this reaction formation-like phenomenon as “whitelash” (Cama, 2016). Following a period of expansion of civil rights to LGBTQ people, increased access to healthcare for low-income people and minorities, and increasing discourse surrounding gender and racial inequality during the Obama administration, the country elected a leader who is explicitly racist (O’Connor & Marans, 2016), sexist (Cohen, 2017), xenophobic (Sargent, 2016), and ableist (Baer, 2016). As though global atrocities following the first world war, from the Holocaust to the genocide in Syria, were not enough to disprove Freud’s optimism regarding a natural evolution of civilization (Einstein et al., 1939), the election of Trump as the 45th president of the United States can be described as a national return of the repressed (Freud, 1933/1964). The 2016 election shows that, contrary to a passive evolutionary process, dynamic forces continue to operate and influence the course of history, despite the efforts of methods such as psychoanalysis and activist movements to shape history in the direction of progress (Coates, 2015; Davis, 2016). Moving from an exploration of the psychology of a nation to an individual, a case example demonstrates how dynamic unconscious forces can influence political acts.
Aidan is a 20-year-old white college student majoring in mechanical engineering. He attends a four-year commuter university in the Midwest. His parents, with whom he lives, are very religious Baptists of lower-middle income. Aidan presented for treatment to address moderate self-harm and suicidal ideation. He started cutting during high school, and it has persisted through his two and a half years of college. Aidan is conscientious, agreeable, and thoughtful. In the course of therapy, Aidan has identified that his urges to self-harm arise from feelings of unbearable guilt when he fears he may have emotionally hurt his friends. The cutting, when it occurs, provides relief, but generates more guilt, as he is letting down those who he has promised he would stop cutting, those who care about him most. Aidan’s care for his loved others is ego-syntonic and a source of pride. He has a special non-sexual relationship with a woman his age whom he has known since childhood, Ramona. Ramona is the first person Aidan reaches out to in his emotional suffering. His commitment to continuing to live when he felt actively suicidal, before starting treatment, emerged with her invitation to be used as his source of primary identification. She said, “Imagine if I was the one telling you I felt this way. That’s how I feel when you tell me you want to die.” Through empathic mutual recognition (Benjamin, 1988), Aidan developed a semi-internalized good introject (Klein, 1975), which he has slowly learned to rely upon except for in his most guilty and fragmented states, when he reaches out to Ramona for support. Reaching out to Ramona always works, and the urge to self-harm is diminished.
Throughout the course of the therapy, Aidan has expressed only liberal political views and opinions. He has expressed his support for same-sex marriage, for women’s reproductive healthcare rights, for religious diversity, and for race equality. He supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary race. For this reason, I was surprised when, on November 9, Aidan revealed to me, “I’m a pretty good liar.” What did Aidan mean? He was sometimes insincere. He would sometimes read people’s expectations and respond accordingly, instead of honestly. This ranged from the standard “Good,” in response to “How are you?” in casual conversation, to allowing his parents and others in his community to go on thinking he believes in God, although he identifies as atheist. In this case, he had withheld the truth from Ramona about his having voted for Trump.
Like most liberals, Aidan felt that Hillary Clinton would surely win the election. Like most Democratic party voters, he viewed Trump’s candidacy as a bizarre endeavor doomed to failure. Of course the country would not elect such a person as its president. Comedian Roseanne Barr, interviewed on Marc Maron’s podcast, might have articulated even the most cynical liberal perspective with her assertion about Clinton’s impending win, “She already has the receipt” (Maron, 2016). Aidan confessed he had voted for Trump, “as a joke, because it would be ironic if he won. I never really thought it could happen, though! The good thing is my county went to Clinton, so it didn’t matter anyway.” Aidan and his guy friends hung out in a group chat through the night of the election, watching history unfold like satire. The guilt did not come on until Aidan spoke to Ramona the next day. She was distraught, like so many others, worrying about the future of the country, especially the marginalized groups Trump had promised to target (Wang, 2016; Merica, 2017). Aidan empathized with her grief, consoled her, and kept the knowledge of his vote to himself. After his confession that session, the issue of Aidan’s vote for Trump did not come up in therapy again. The salient material, after all, was the mutual empathy between him and Ramona, and his identification with her.
In my reveries of Aidan following that session, I chalked his vote up to a youthful naiveté, to a lack of the context that comes from years of participation in American politics. I reflected that I had also thrown away my first presidential vote, having voted for Ralph Nader. That vote, in theory, may have helped hand the election to Bush, but, like Aidan, my county went to Gore anyway. On closer inspection, however, my naiveté had the flavor of a bubble of optimism, where Aidan’s had a cynical negativism. In both cases, the explanation is more complex than my initial impressions, and both votes contain meaningful dynamic considerations. Aidan’s vote was a negating disidentification with the very order he consciously identified with, and expected to take precedence, regardless of his political action. It was, from that perspective, a self-negating political act. Following a similar pattern to Aidan’s self-harm, aggressive impulses were so unmanageable, they had to be denied and redirected. Encountering Ramona’s perspective brought him into uncomfortable contact with a disavowed emotional state, namely anger, which generated guilt. In a sense, she talked him back into his own morality, reminding him, through his empathy for her, to stretch his empathy further outward into identification with the marginalized others who may suffer as a result of the election. Having taken these steps, he was able to undo his guilt and move on.
Aidan’s vote for Trump falls under the umbrella of a projective identification (Bion, 1959, 1983; Ogden, 1977; Bollas, 1987). His aggression, detached from consciousness entirely ego-dystonic, was thrown outward into the political sphere, a mere joke. This joke, however, does not fit the description of humor as a taboo impulse disguised and transformed into a shared sense of pleasure (Freud, 1905/1960, 1928; Christoff & Dauphin, 2018). Instead, it tells a lie about Aidan. It tells the story of a disaffected young man who values dominance, competition, and similarity. This is neither how Aidan identifies nor who I know him to be. He is a good person who values difference, equal rights, and caring for others. I am also not suggesting that Aidan harbors unconscious hatred for the marginalized groups who are already being negatively affected by Trump’s presidency (Hersher, 2017; Santos, 2017; Lewin, 2017), or that he unconsciously believes in Trump’s message, while finding this stance simultaneously unacceptable to consciousness. Rather, I am suggesting that Aidan’s banishing of his own aggression from consciousness, especially aggressive impulses towards cared-for others, prevented him from taking a political action that accurately represented his values. On the social political level, projective identification takes on the form of false projection, or pathological projection, as described by Horkheimer and Adorno (1944/2002).
The “Elements of Anti-Semitism” described by Horkheimer and Adorno (1944/2002), although specific to the perspective of German Jewish refugees during World War II, are also applicable to current American trends in hate. It was Adorno and Horkheimer’s clearly identified desire to use their historical placement to understand more general emergent themes in the dialectic of history. False projection, like projective identification, situates disavowed impulses or self-aspects into a fabricated other, created for the purpose of this projection. The group (in the case of false projection) or person (in the case of projective identification) exists in its own right, but the perception of that other is skewed in the eyes of the projector, due to the disavowal of self-aspects. Writing during World War II, they focused on the most prominent example of false projection of their time, anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, they wrote, arose from “the urge to make everyone the same” (p. 139). Like projective identification, “if mimesis makes itself resemble its surroundings, false projection makes its surroundings resemble itself” (p. 154). As part of this projection, “[i]mpulses which are not acknowledged by the subject and yet are his, are attributed to the object: the prospective victim” (p. 154). The “Bad Hombre” that Trump sees in Mexican immigrants, then, is a disidentified mimetic projection of himself. Divorced from the self, it must then be destroyed. Walls must be built. Borders must be enforced. Law and order, that form of violence dressed in civilization, must prevail. This process, however, consistently fails to cure the world. Instead, those who enact false projection “transform the world into the hell they have always taken it to be” (p. 165). Trump’s supporters and those that fail to oppose him, in turn, must participate in the pathological projection, in order to carry it through to concrete action. The manner of participation is manifold. From Aidan’s repressed aggression that usually surfaces as self-loathing (Freud, 1917/1957), to the most explicit forms of malignant hatred (Domonoske, 2016), false projection depends upon the complicity of the people.
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