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Johnston, A. (2002). Why Psychoanalysis? Elisabeth Roudinesco. 1999. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. 181 pp. $22.50.. Am. Imago, 59(4):489-494.

(2002). American Imago, 59(4):489-494

Why Psychoanalysis? Elisabeth Roudinesco. 1999. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. 181 pp. $22.50.

Review by:
Adrian Johnston

In the current age of pharmacology, psychoanalysis risks seeming not only obsolete, but perhaps even fraudulent and fundamentally flawed in its most basic assumptions. Psychoanalysis costs too much; it takes too much time; it doesn't address the underlying physical causes of the pathologies it treats; it lacks objectivity, allowing its practitioners to offer arbitrary interpretations of patients' sufferings; it seems unable to produce curative results that can be registered at the empirical level. Does analysis still have legitimate claims to a place among the various techniques for diagnosing and curing mental illness?

Elisabeth Roudinesco, an analyst and distinguished historian of psychoanalysis in France, thinks that an adequate justification of analysis involves going on an aggressive counter-offensive against the assumptions about human nature informing the standpoint of its critics. Why Psychoanalysis? is an attempt at launching just such a rebuttal. The book consists of three parts, with four chapters each. Roudinesco spends most of the first part, “The Depressive Society,” lamenting what she sees as the regrettable consequences of embracing pharmacology as the privileged means of treating mental illness. She starts out by arguing that, in contemporary Western cultures, there is a strong desire to eliminate both psychological as well as political conflict at all costs: “Modern democratic society wants to banish from view the reality of unhappiness, death, and violence, even as it seeks to integrate differences and resistances into a single system” (5). Roudinesco, a former member of Lacan's École freudienne, relies here on sociopolitical assumptions held by many in this school during the ′60s and ′70s, assumptions echoed by contemporary leftist complaints that capitalist democracy tends to promote a “McWorld” homogeneity despite its supposed preservation of difference and contestation.

In

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