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Sey, J. (1998). Psychoanalysis and South Africa. Am. Imago, 55(1):3-8.

(1998). American Imago, 55(1):3-8

Psychoanalysis and South Africa

James Sey

South Africa's history, and the global perception of the country, is irrevocably coloured by the horror of the apartheid system. That system, mercifully, has proven terminable, thanks to the heroic and often mortal efforts of anti-apartheid activists and freedom fighters. However, the process of economic, political and psychological reconstruction which follows on the institutionalised carnage may, like a particularly complex analysis, prove interminable.

The place of psychoanalytic theory in illuminating such a process, and an analysis of the relation between a psychological theory and a particular social and political practice and history, is an inherently unstable one. The second half of the twentieth century has seen psychoanalytic theory move out of a concentration on its clinical and disciplinary contexts, in fulfillment of the tone of prophetic speculation of Freud's later anthropological works. Crucial metapsychological concepts which preoccupied Freud, but not all of which were exclusive to psychoanalysis—like the culture/nature split, identification, ambivalence, pathology, the Other and the subject—have permeated the human sciences and been co-opted, hijacked, deformed, misunderstood or even forcefully and creatively deployed in many disciplines.

The influence of the conceptual arsenal of psychoanalysis has gone on despite, or perhaps because of, the numerous debates concerning its epistemological foundations and its clinical validity. In this regard we can recall Foucault's famous elaboration in The Order of Things (1970) of psychoanalysis as a “counter-science”—a science concerned with the secret and unspoken object of all knowledge, that is, concerned with the knowledge of the Other. Psychoanalysis is thus founded as an epistemology on the great foundational division in knowledge itself (attributed to modernity by Foucault) between conscious

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