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Alford, C.F. (2015). The Obsolescence of Psychoanalysis in the Age of Neuroscience?. Free Associations, 16(1):1-19.

(2015). Free Associations, 16(1):1-19


The Obsolescence of Psychoanalysis in the Age of Neuroscience?

C. Fred Alford

In ‘The Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man’, Herbert Marcuse regretted the loss of the bourgeois individual with a strong ego. Not because he thought such an individual was good, but because of what came next, what he calls mass man, whose ego is merged with others. In an entirely different utopian context, laid out in Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, the loss of the autonomous ego would be a good thing, an expression of liberation. In this world, the loss of the autonomous ego simply leaves individuals more subject to manipulation. Recently, several affect theorists, as they are known, have argued that the autonomous ego is an illusion. Or rather, ego is a rationalizing machine, giving reasons for actions that we know to be retrospective rationalizations. It might seem as if this loss of ego is good, a step in the direction of liberation. In fact, the idealization of the loss of ego, sometimes called the de-situated subject, by theorists such as Brian Massumi and William Connolly is dangerous, because it is happening now, in a world far from utopia. Massumi and Connolly employ recent neuroscientific discoveries as metaphors in their account of how individuals might liberate themselves from their egos. This essay concludes that while a genuinely neuroscientific study of psychoanalysis is possible and desirable, one must choose between utopia and science. Marcuse chooses utopia; the new affect theorists choose neither.

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