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Richards, B. (1985). The Politics of the Self. Free Associations, 1(3):43-64.

(1985). Free Associations, 1(3):43-64

The Politics of the Self

Barry Richards

The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times, by Christopher Lasch, New York, Norton, 1984, pp. 317, ISBN 0-393-01922-5.

Psychoanalytic Radicalism

Christopher Lasch is a psychoanalytic radical, in two senses. Firstly he draws deeply upon psychoanalytic theory in setting out a radical critique of contemporary society. He is a historian, not a clinician, but his historical analysis and political thought are interwoven with a commitment to a psychoanalytic outlook. This outlook is in some respects a classical Freudian one, but it is focused upon the post-Freudian emphasis on pre-Oedipal psychology and its influence on adult life.

Secondly, his argument requires that all spheres of human activity be examined psychoanalytically if they are to be understood fully. This is not to privilege psychoanalytic knowledge by placing it outside the scope of historical or epistemological critique, but is rather to require a certain consistency. For example, one of Lasch's most telling criticisms of the radical Freudians, Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown, and of the psychoanalytic feminist, Dorothy Dinnerstein, is that despite their psychoanalytic allegiances they seek to exempt some sphere of activity from the psychoanalytic understanding of the inner roots of all activity in loss, conflict and anxiety. Thus they discover pure realms of love, play or purpose in which, it is hoped, we may — in another society — escape the discontents of selfhood to which psychoanalysis unremittingly draws attention.1


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