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Gentile, J. (1998). Listening for Deep Structure: Between the a Priori and the Intersubjective. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(1):67-89.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(1):67-89

Listening for Deep Structure: Between the a Priori and the Intersubjective

Jill Gentile, Ph.D.

In recent years, psychoanalysts have been wrestling with the changes in theory and practice accompanying shifts toward what is variously called a “relational” (Mitchell, 1988), an “intersubjective” (Atwood & Stolorow, 1984), or a “dyadic systems” paradigm (Beebe, Jaffe & Lachmann, 1992). In tandem with this transformation, psychoanalysis is now widely conceived as a hermeneutic enterprise, preoccupied with the particularity of personal experience arising within a uniquely constituted intersubjective context. A postmodernist impulse, which values pluralism and multiple truths (Elliott & Spezzano, 1996) and rejects the idea of universals and “grand narratives” (Lyotard, 1984), has contributed to and become entangled with the changing identity of psychoanalysis.

This article revisits the idea of universals by contemplating the idea of a psychological deep structure. It proposes that recent shifts within psychoanalysis toward a relational paradigm and hermeneutic epistemology may provide the means for “discovering” patterns to the evolution of personal experience that may be evidence for a universal and foundational deep structure. Clinical examples of such experiential phenomena as they emerge in the evolving psychoanalytic process are described. If the hypothesis of a deep structure is accepted, psychoanalysis may be able to recover, rather than repudiate, Freud's original mission of searching for universal truths.

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