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Haber, D., Psy.D., M.F.T. (2019). Intimate Strangers: Albert Camus and Absurdity in Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Self. Cxt., 14(4):349-366.

(2019). Psychoanalysis, Self, and Context, 14(4):349-366

Original Article

Intimate Strangers: Albert Camus and Absurdity in Psychoanalysis

Darren Haber, Psy.D., M.F.T.

This article employs Albert Camus’ concept of “absurdity” in illuminating dyadic processes that can become alienating to analysts, leading to an uncanny estrangement from patients, processes, or even theories. By use of theoretical comparisons and two case examples, I show how Camus’ lyrical metaphors of facing of vast unknowns help humanize and articulate challenging analytic uncertainties. Such unknowns can appear to undermine analysts’ own strivings, including hopes of helping patients, or being seen by patients (and mentors) as “good enough.” Camus’ poetic descriptions of our encounter with mortal finitude dovetail with Stolorow’s descriptions of traumatic anxiety, which can arise for either participant, impacting the intersubjective system. Camus’ use of prison metaphors parallels Brandchaft’s descriptions of subjective imprisonment to enslaving thought-systems, as both champion liberation from such Cartesianized systems—even as enslaving enmeshments recur in a process devoted to emancipation. Camus helps conceptualize such intersubjective paradoxes, as Brandchaft’s insistence on the commitment to free patients’ distinctive perspectives parallels Camus’ discussions of passion, freedom, and rebellious individuation. Finally, I look at Camus’ being a “little caregiver” in childhood, like many analysts as well, as described by Atwood (2015). Participants’ repetitive trauma may be provoked within the process, even by the relationship’s asymmetry, in absurd contrast to participants’ initial hopes. Thus crises can illuminate averted trauma-states, as both participants endure the surrender of an idealized relationality. Dyads must somehow navigate the absurd tension between the repetitive agonies of unspeakable trauma or grief, coexisting with analysis’ more open possibilities. Camus’ (1942/1983) insistence on “giving the void its colors,” in facing absurd finitude, inspires clinical creativity and passionate engagement, in striving to co-create the safe relational home patients have long been denied.

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