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Betan, E.J. (2003). Bringing the Plague: Toward a Postmodern Psychoanalysis. Edited by Susan Fairfield, Lynne Layton, and Carolyn Stack. New York: Other Press, 2002, 399 pp. $50.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 51(3):1054-1060.
(2003). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51(3):1054-1060
Bringing the Plague: Toward a Postmodern Psychoanalysis. Edited by Susan Fairfield, Lynne Layton, and Carolyn Stack. New York: Other Press, 2002, 399 pp. $50.00.
Review by: Ephi J. Betan
The editors of this volume begin with an anecdote: in 1909, Freud responded to Jung's enthusiasm about introducing psychoanalysis in America, saying, “Little do they know we are bringing the plague.” Postmodernism, they suggest, may be the second plague. It is a curious metaphor attributed to Freud and borrowed by the current editors to refer to a self-described revolution. Plague conjures up destruction (locusts), disease (bubonic plague), nuisance or suffering (“to be plagued with worry”). The editors note they chose this phrase to capture “a backlash, hostile responses” coming from psychoanalysts outside of postmodern, relational theoretical circles. I venture to say the use of this metaphor is multidetermined and also reflects struggles within, not only without, the postmodern psychoanalytic movement. Just as some believe that the first session contains the story of an analysis, perhaps the title speaks to the pulls and sways of the text and its authors. Indeed, as I proceeded to the last of the series of articles (some new, some previously published) by key players in the postmodern psychoanalytic movement, I became ever more convinced that the title encapsulated the authors' struggles with their allegiance to postmodern perspectives. The use of a metaphor of destruction to describe a movement that is expanding how we think about psychoanalytic theory and practice speaks to an ambivalence that occurs when passion and aggression emerge in tandem. Aggression, in its nonpejorative sense, exists in any effort toward change and growth. These authors are committed to psychoanalysis and committed also to pushing the discipline further. It is a delicate task to preserve a rich discipline while bringing into relief its tensions, contradictions, and extremes.
To the credit of the authors, this volume poses many complex questions and engages a spectrum of postmodern and psychoanalytic topics: philosophy, sociopolitics, truth, objectivity, meaning, normality/abnormality, health/pathology, sex, sexuality, perversion, self-mutilation, gender, race, ethnicity, trauma, self, pluralism, subjectivity, and intersubjectivity. The list is incomplete, for these are only the ideas I can capture in a word. This is a dense and sophisticated text with more ideas than I could do justice to in this review.
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