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Stolowrow, R.D. Orange, D.M. Atwood, G.E. (2001). Psychoanalysis without Descartes. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 82(6):1263-1266.

(2001). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 82(6):1263-1266

Psychoanalysis without Descartes

Robert D. Stolowrow, Donna M. Orange and George E. Atwood

Dear Sirs,

Freud's ‘discovery’ of the unconscious has been characterised as a second Copernican revolution in that it radically undermined the epistemological status of the self-conscious subject, which had been the centrepiece of Descartes's philosophy and of Enlightenment thought in general. From a Freudian perspective, Descartes's self-conscious cogito was exposed as a grandiose illusion; consciousness was shown to be a mere pawn of vast unconscious forces of which the subject was completely unaware. Nevertheless, the Freudian unconscious remained deeply saturated with the very Cartesianism to which it posed a challenge (Cavell, 1993). Descartes's philosophy had bifurcated the subjective world into outer and inner regions, reified and absolutised the resulting separation between the two, and pictured the mind as an objective entity that takes its place among other objects, a ‘thinking thing’ that has an inside containing contents and that looks out on an external world from which it is essentially estranged. We have argued that the Freudian unconscious and its contents are but a sealed-off, underground chamber within the Cartesian isolated mind (Stolorow, Orange & Atwood, 2001b).

In attempting to refute our portrayal of Freudian theory, Goretti (2001) marshals evidence that Freud acknowledged the structuring function of the ‘object’ and recognised the impact of the analyst's personality on the course of analytic treatment; she even declares that it is Freud who should properly be decreed the originator of the intersubjective perspective in psychoanalysis. Leaving aside the obligatory ritual of tracing every idea appearing in psychoanalytic discourse back to Freud, this evidence, however valid it may be, completely misses our point. We have never claimed that Freud always viewed the mind in isolation.

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