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Rendon, M. Ingram, D. (1988). The Language of Psychoanalysis. Am. J. Psychoanal., 48(1):3-5.

(1988). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 48(1):3-5


The Language of Psychoanalysis

Mario Rendon, M.D. and Douglas Ingram, M.D.

The publication of Horney's Final Lectures (Horney, 1987) strikes us again with the clarity and simplicity of her particular psychoanalytic language. But hers is only one of several languages that comprise the whole of psychoanalysis. All of Horney's major works have that unique imprint of style and outlook that makes her ideas accessible to almost everyone. Although Horney's language was once criticized as superficial, as a mere populist exposition of psychoanalysis (Pontalis, 1968), the need had also been identified from similar quarters for a “concrete psychology.” This new psychology, it was hoped, would abolish speculative metapsychologies and in their place would provide the language of raw human experience. “Dynamics” would be supplanted by “dramatics” (Politzer, 1964). But if that succeeded, would we lose something? Is psychoanalysis more scientific or “deep” if encoded in meta-psychological language? is there a scientific need for metapsychology? If so, what metapsychology?

Horney's psychoanalytic theory fulfills the desideratum of a concrete psychology more completely than any we know. This is so largely because its language remains rooted in everyday life. This highlights its kinship with the language of existential psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology and contrasts it with much of classical psychoanalysis, interpersonal psychoanalysis, self psychology and object relations. Horney's language, more than these, is experience-near.

Although science may hold the privilege of applying a name to the newly discovered, this is decidedly not the equivalent of entitling that name to serve as an entelechy with the powers of causality and explanation, as happens with reification. An unresolved oedipus complex may be shorthand for a certain life experience, but let's not take this term as the source of the behavior it seeks to represent. If our skepticism fails us and we fall into this kind of error, we find ourselves lost in Sartre's “harmless myth,” into the frank illusion of rightness.

When we name something, we are already separating it arbitrarily from its context. We thus give it “ontological status.”

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