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Ingleby, D. (1984). The Ambivalence of Psychoanalysis. Free Associations, 1A(Pilot):39-71.

(1984). Free Associations, 1A(Pilot):39-71

The Ambivalence of Psychoanalysis

David Ingleby


Almost since the beginning of the century, psychoanalysis has sat like an undigested meal in the collective stomach. Unable finally either to assimilate or eliminate it, writers have endlessly churned over its merits and demerits. One feels a certain diffidence about adding one's own burp to this chorus.

The list of books on psychoanalysis which are offered to the public year after year never ceases to amaze. At one end of the scale are the hagiographers and gossips, who seem to imagine that their intimate revelations about the grand old men and women of psychoanalysis will somehow yield up its secret: no royal family was ever subjected to such obsessive prying. In a more serious vein are attempts to fathom the intellectual or social implications of psychoanalysis, and the interminable debate over its political character. For as well as being one of the most daring and radical ideas ever put forward, psychoanalysis is also part of a deadening and conformist apparatus; this paradox, which underlies the permanently troubled relationship between psychoanalysis and the Left, will be the subject of this article.

There is, however, an immediate disincentive to joining this debate: there are really many different debates going on about the political character of psychoanalysis, all proceeding from different starting-points and all meaning something different by the word. In this situation one risks behaving like the hapless party-goer who butts into every conversation and picks up the wrong end of every stick (‘Who was that person?’). Standing back a moment from the throng, we can make out several different themes in the chatter:

1)   People differ in the way they analyse the content of psychoanalysis.

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