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O'Carroll, L. (1996). The Pragmatical Apprentice. Free Associations, 6(3):461-476.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(3):461-476

The Pragmatical Apprentice

Larry O'Carroll

Doubt, indeed, is inseparable from research, and surely we have not got hold of more than a little fragment of the truth (Freud, 1937a).

Freud began that process of dissolution, reinvigoration, and reformulation we know as psychoanalysis when, his isolation at an end, he invited others to join him in the project of institutionalising his doctrine as a knowledge and practice. Soon enough, Wednesday chats in a fin-de-siéclè parlour had given way to a heterogeneity of claims celebrated by the International Congress; rings had been distributed as a symbol of protecting the faith; heretics had been excommunicated, and newcomers like Klein and Winnicott welcomed—on condition that they could be read as adding to the first word. Oddly, however, this fractured history has rarely been addressed in terms of what it might advise of the therapeutic powers of the Babel of tongues that is psychoanalysis today.

Consider what is said to the apprentice by his teachers. Come to your own position, make what you will of our babbling condition, he is ironically advised. No fool, he knows there is sense, even wisdom, in this. Yet it does not help him. Who says that? is his first question. What master? In any case, the capacity to avail himself of his teachers' advice will come long after his apprenticeship has come to an end, so cannot be called on to serve it. What does he do in the meantime? He reads indefatigably, listens to others in his position, tries to learn from his teachers, whilst practising the therapeutic arts. After many years of this hard labour, he too will be ironical; which does not mean that nothing will remain to be learned.

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