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Trotter, A. (2019). Approaching Psychoanalysis as a Subversive Phenomenon. Fort Da, 25(1):43-55.

(2019). Fort Da, 25(1):43-55

Approaching Psychoanalysis as a Subversive Phenomenon

Amber Trotter, Psy.D.

Part 1: Foundations

In the current moment of upheaval, many analytic thinkers and clinicians are experiencing renewed sensitivity to the sociopolitical dimensions of clinical practice and a desire to participate in radical politics. In the attempt to engage in sociopolitical discourse and action in useful, responsible ways, questions emerge about the basis for psychoanalysis's radical potential. What might be intrinsically subversive about psychoanalysis — beyond issues of basic dignity and compassion? The barbarism of the current administration and cultural climate is such that opposition to it can feel like the paramount task. Yet outrage at atrocity is not necessarily radical. Like so many other progressives today, analytic thinkers risk collapsing all leftist agendas.

At its inception, psychoanalysis offered something radical, subverting hegemonic values and views, including the prevailing conceptualization of the human psyche (Aron & Starr, 2012; Lear, 1998; Zaretsky, 2015). Undermining prevailing epistemological claims, Freud's clinical work demonstrated plainly that “the intellect is a relatively weak player in the theater of the mind” (Carnochan, 2001, p. 100). As much a theory of society as of psyche, psychoanalysis revealed the human tendency towards complicity in our own enslavement. Analytic illumination of the dialectical processes of internalization, along with reification of the social order, rendered analytic concepts vital to “many if not all of the great progressive currents of the twentieth century” (Zaretsky, 2015, p. 2). In other words, in its early years, psychoanalysis appeared intimately linked to radical politics.

In contrast, as is well known, the second half of the 20th Century witnessed a psychoanalysis marked by conformity, insularity, divisiveness, cultural ascendance, and subsequent marginalization. This suppressed — if not extinguished — psychoanalysis's subversive potential. Analytic therapy became an elitist enterprise, often promulgating rigid and oppressive social norms (Aron and Starr, 2012; Jacoby, 1983).

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