What is progress in psychoanalysis? One of the arguments most commonly used by advocates of psychoanalysis during the recent 'Freud wars' has been to reproach their adversaries for holding fast to an outmoded version of their discipline. Psychoanalysis, they say, no longer bears much resemblance to what its founder had envisaged, so that criticism focusing on the historical Freud is hopelessly off the mark. Who among psychoanalysts still believes in the preposterous 'penis envy', in the connection between masturbation and 'actual neurosis', in the founding father's grandiose phylogenetic speculations? Today's practitioners have long ago relegated these antiquities to the attic, in favour of more up-to-date concepts. Upholders of 'ego psychology' amend the doctrine to make it compatible with developmental psychology; 'object relations' theorists reject the solipsism of Freud's theory of drives in favour of a 'two-persons psychology'; partisans of a 'hermeneutic' reform of psychoanalysis no longer wish to be associated with Freud's scientistic positivism; adepts of Kohut's 'self psychology' blithely disregard the rules of analytic neutrality and abstinence in favour of an 'empathic understanding' of the patient; 'narrativists' no longer concern themselves with the 'historical truth' of what is said on the couch; Lacanians reformulate the theory in terms of language and the 'signifier'. The Freudian collar can't be attached to any of these, because they didn't wait for the Freud bashers before profoundly revising both their theory and their practice. (They are the true 'revisionists'!) Freud may be dead, as regularly announced in newspapers and magazines, but who can deny that psychoanalysis itself is alive and well, changing, adapting, expanding - i.e. progressing?
LRB 24 May 2001 | PDF Download