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Emery, E.S. (2015). Locations and Dislocations: Psychoanalysis in France. Psychoanal. Rev., 102(5):609-613.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Review, 102(5):609-613

Locations and Dislocations: Psychoanalysis in France

Edward Sieveking Emery, Ph.D.

André Green noted in the 1980s that psychoanalysis is characterized more by divergence than by comprising a shared or unified field coherently woven together into a common fabric. The French style of thinking, in contrast to the American, tends toward the conceptual and the analogical, its contemporary philosophical texts often having a literary quality in which expression shapes thought. This trend also can be found in some aspects of French psychoanalytic thinking that are located within a culture of ideas, less bound to medicine than American psychoanalysis.

It was Freud's view that where psychoanalysis meets the greatest resistance is precisely the site of its potential greatest influence. As testament to the accuracy of this thesis, psychoanalysis did not find any organized receptivity in France—a most civilized culture, in Freud's sense—until 1926, despite enthusiastic initial adoption of Freud by the Surrealists, an adoption that Freud did not welcome or embrace. While there was in France a robust tradition of introspective self-inquiry—think here of Michael de Montaigne and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—narrative self-exploration was predicated on a belief in the centrality of consciousness that viewed unconscious states as failure or as problematic, not as an agency.

Things become interesting in psychoanalysis in France beginning in the 1950s. A reconstituted Paris Psychoanalytic Society was quickly the site of feuds and disputes, shifting alliances and lines of fracture between Sacha Nacht, Daniel Lagache, and Jacques Lacan, with Princess Marie Bonaparte further fueling tensions based on a deep mistrust of Lacan. In this environment divorce—the first of several—was inevitable and only further fueled by Lacan's advocacy for the “short session” (séances courtes), some lasting no more than a few minutes.

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