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Young, R.M. (1989). Post-modernism and the subject: Pessimism of the will. Free Associations, 1Q(16):81-96.

(1989). Free Associations, 1Q(16):81-96

Post-modernism and the subject: Pessimism of the will

Robert M. Young

The splintering and ephemeralization which characterize post-modernism seem new and alarming, but to a psychoanalytic eye they evoke familiar phenomena: fragmentation, being in pieces, splitting, part-object relations. Nor is the present the first time such topics have been considered in the Western intellectual tradition. The great fissure that exists in our fundamental scheme of thought arose in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the breakdown of the schema of Aristotelian organicist explanation. We have had a major split in our way of thinking ever since. There were tensions in the late Renaissance which were tugging away at Aristotelian explanation in terms of formal, final, material and efficient causes, but in the scientific revolution knowledge and reality were codified in such a way that mind and body, subject and object, culture and nature, fantasy and external reality and the whole and the part, were split.

I could go on to list other dualisms with which we have been faced. Of course, there have always been attempts to heal this fissure — but many more, I think, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There have been attempts at various monisms or attempts to enthrone one side or the other of the great Cartesian split. I am thinking in our own time of Gestalt, of holism itself, of organicism, of emergentism, of phenomenology and, in the Marxist tradition, the point of view of totality.

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