We invite students, scholars, clinicians and the interested public to participate in a conference to examine core problems and perspectives in contemporary psychoanalysis and its potential future. Confirmed speakers include over thirty analysts, scholars and students from across the country!
Psychoanalysis was once a radically new scientific and cultural movement. Although today the public largely understands it as an antiquated therapeutic technique, Sigmund Freud believed that his “depth psychology” had the potential to help free both the individual and society from inhibitions and illusions. This once-revolutionary tradition is now fragmented and stagnant: torn apart by internal struggles, psychoanalysis preserves itself through insularity; meanwhile, our society’s unabated hostility to depth psychology’s most fundamental claims gradually presses it into conformity.
— Keynote lecture —
Should psychoanalysis be re-named soma-analysis: a speculation about the body? Is sex relevant to this speculation? Was it relevant for Freud? Psychoanalytic theory as testimony to the “work” imposed on psychic life by bodily life. Foucault as an inspiration for psychoanalytic theory; choreography as a model for psychoanalytic therapy.
— Saturday plenary —
What Kind of Science is Psychoanalysis?
Robert Galatzer-Levy, Irwin Z. Hoffman, Fred M. Levin and Frank Summers, Erika Schmidt (moderator)
Throughout his life, Freud defended psychoanalysis as a science of the mind on the model of the most rigorous and advanced sciences of his day. Over a century later, however, the scientific credentials of psychoanalysis are thrown into dispute. From the outside, powerful private interests press the analytic profession to justify its theory and practice by the standards of “evidence-based medicine;” from the inside, psychoanalytic politics splinter theory apart into distinct and sometimes-rival schools. In the face of this challenge, analysts call for unity by appealing to their colleagues’ latent or manifest wish to identify their profession with that of the behavioral and life sciences. Major voices propose to firmly integrate psychoanalysis and neuroscience: scientism as an antidote to sectarianism. But the standards of the natural sciences, namely verification and replicability, risk overlooking what is most distinctive and valuable about psychotherapy. How can one verify self-knowledge, or replicate autonomy? This panel brings together varied perspectives from within contemporary psychoanalysis to examine the vexed relation of psychoanalytic inquiry to the human and natural sciences.
— Sunday plenary —
Psychoanalysis on the Far Side of the 20th Century
Prudence Gourguechon, Katie Jenness, Thomas Svolos and Gary Walls, Jeremy Cohan (moderator)
Each generation inherits a new past. Today, psychoanalysis is fading fast. Classroom instructors savage it; the latest scientific psychologies reject it; analysts themselves struggle to attract new patients and trainees. Freud remains universally hailed as one of the defining minds of the 20th century, yet nobody knows exactly what this means. Since psychoanalysis defines who we have come to be, how are we to define it? A revolutionary science of mind; a new basis for critical thinking about history and society; a form of therapeutic practice; a new sexual morality; a general theory of human nature; a practice of self-understanding; a dominant medical paradigm; a hermeneutic key to culture; a tendentious, pseudo-scientific, and dangerous ideology. How can psychoanalysis make sense of its tangled history? What made psychoanalysis a powerful articulation of self and society? Was it bound to historical configurations that have since passed? How does psychoanalysis appear the self, society, science, and psychology of today? Can psychoanalytic ideas have comprehensive range and force in the new century? Why should they?
— Tracks and Sessions —
Our program is organized around the following topics:
- Sisyphean Tasks: Psychoanalysis and Social Reform
- Sexuality and the Body Politic
- The Mass Psychology of Capitalist Democracy
Sisyphean Tasks: Psychoanalysis and Social Reform
Psychoanalysis directed a searing gaze at key social institutions and their effect on the individual. Many analysts were leaders in trying to push for social reform, especially in the family and education, to create a more humane and liberated world. Now, the psychological profession, with some irony, has become itself one of our society’s major institutions, demanding critique. What shape do socializing institutions take today and how are they changing? Can psychoanalytic intervention make schools and communities healthier places? How do we research and reform—even revolutionize—our social relations? What kind of projects are possible or desirable?
The Health Industrial Complex
Mark J. Heyrman, Patrick M. Knight, Susan M. Scherer and Allan Scholom, Neal Spira (moderator)
We joke about the interminable length of psychoanalysis and the real difficulty of demonstrating tangible and quantifiable progress. But is this the reason that approaches to mental health that emphasize practical steps and chemical intervention have risen above the slow task of self-examination? This panel will be devoted to understanding how the mental health profession in the United States is organized, who it serves, and what practitioners ought to do in the face of demands from outside and within the profession to streamline and trivialize the healing profession. If we live, as Christopher Lasch once put it, in the “therapeutic society” what kind of therapy are we giving and getting?
Educational Experiments: Then and Now
Patty Bode, Phillip Henry, Amy Millikan and Bruce Thomas, Laura Gluckman (moderator)
Psychoanalysis was, as analyst Martin Bergmann puts it, “allied with other powerful Utopian movements that captured the imagination of the young on the eve of World War I—surrealism, socialism, progressive education, and the belief in an early sexual enlightenment of children.” As current “reform” efforts seem incapable of addressing the real problems—and even make things much worse—how do we recover another vision of education, that transmits the cultural achievements of the past, and develops the capacity for maturity and free decision-making in the young? This panel takes on the problem of the past and future of education by highlighting particular experiments—ideas, institutions, movements, systems—to understand and evaluate their form, their rise and their decline. We’ve asked each panelist to talk to us about a “case study” of their choice—its aims, the kind of children it did and did not reach, the effects it had, its breadth, how and why it ended, and its relevance for educational efforts today.
Consciousness and Society
Jeremy Cohan, Roberta Garner & Black Hawk Hancock, Julia Hahn and Gary Walls, Bernard Harcourt (moderator)
Psychology and sociology ask the same question—Why do people act as they do? Their more critical traditions both begin from the shared premise that human beings are less free than they know, and that this awareness is crucial for their future liberation. But what precisely is the relationship between perspectives that begin with the society and its tendencies and those that begin with the individual and her stymied desires? Freud admitted in his Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego that, insofar as the individual develops in a world of others—both within, and outside of the family—individual psychoanalysis is always already social. Many social analysts have reached toward psychoanalysis, often by marrying Marx and Freud, to understand how modern social structures of domination are reproduced rather than overcome. But is there really a problem with the rationalistic psychology assumed in most social research? What is so terrible about bracketing socio-historical conditions in psychological practice? Short presentations on previous attempts to think through this interrelation—in the Frankfurt School, Irving Goffman, Foucault, and political psychoanalysts—will help us think about how today to address: How deep does society go? What maintains the world as it is? Is consciousness possible?
Licit and Illicit Drugs: A Dialogue
Thomas Barrett, Robert Foltz and Jay Stevens, Ben Koditschek (moderator)
On the one hand, we have a “War on Drugs” that incarcerates millions. Decisions about proper and improper drug use are in the hands of the police. On the other hand, we have a rash of psychotropic medication, that has made the licit drug industry a determining social institution in child development. Why are some drugs illegal and some legal? What are the possibilities and problems of the variety of “chemicalization of youth” we witness? There is no pure pattern of development sans chemicals and human intervention – so how do we and should we modify our sensorium and mental state? Are we in control?
SEXUALITY AND THE BODY POLITIC
Classical psychoanalysis placed the suppression of sexuality at the center of psychic life—though many of its own practitioners have tried to soften, refute or repress this insight. In 1905, Freud wrote, “There is no more personal claim than that for sexual freedom, and at no point has civilization tried to exercise severer suppression than in the sphere of sexuality.” Since that time, new social movements such as feminism, gay rights and queer activism have fought hard to win social equality and recognition for the diverse forms of human sexuality. But while psychoanalytic inquiry has served as a point of reference and theoretical resource for some within these movements, for many others it remains a sexually conservative and antiquated means of discipline and control. In light of this checkered past, is some form of reconciliation possible between the politics of sexual liberation and psychoanalysis? How can reinvigorated psychoanalytic inquiry help understand, let alone face, the realities of sexual oppression today?
History and Freud’s Theory of Sexuality
Pablo Ben and Robert Galatzer-Levy, Ben Landau-Beispiel (moderator)
Psychoanalysis breaks with biologists who view the outcome of sexual development as being determined by nature, and stresses instead the contingency and instability of achieving “mature” sexuality through internalized discipline and control. Yet in arguing that sexuality has a history, Freud relied on a developmental story to explain what unified the diverse forms of sexuality: he subsumed oral, anal and genital urges—an infinite array of polymorphous perversity—under a single, a-historical concept. Many psychoanalysts since Freud have rejected the developmental story as a timeless fact of human development, while its critical insights remain buried under obfuscations and distortions. Can we return the historical moment to the theory of sexuality, to recapture its revolutionary potential? What would a historical reading of Freud’s Three Essays look like, identifying Freud’s place in history as well as our own? This discussion-based seminar will explore this question from the perspectives of contemporary social science research and critical theory. All participants should review the Three Essays in advance of the session.
Eros in Unlikely Places
Yasmin Nair and Stephen Haswell Todd, Trent Leipert (moderator)
Critics have famously accused psychoanalysis of finding sexuality where it doesn’t belong. This panel features two presentations that show how sexuality is at work in medicine, culture and the law—even where it’s unacknowledged. In “How to do the History of Autism?” Stephen Haswell Todd argues that Freud’s concept of autoeroticism, a cornerstone of his sexual theory, survives in an unlikely place: in the etymology of the term ‘autism.’ Autism’s many and varied determinations, some quite different from its modern sense, reveal a history of attempts to name and define a “relation-to-self” at the heart of both sexuality and inter-subjectivity. Yasmin Nair’s “Queers and Sex Offender Registries” questions the priorities of the mainstream gay rights movement—same-sex marriage, hate crime legislation, military service—when many queers are on sex offender registries for a range of acts that are deliberately criminalized according to notions of appropriate sex. How might we think about legal and social implications without simply calling for queers to be freed from any criminal persecution or arguing for yet another form of respectability?
Sexual Taboos and Law Today
Erik Brodnax, Bernard Harcourt, R. Dennis Shelby and David Thorstad, Greg Gabrellas (moderator)
Liberals talk about the toleration of sexual diversity as if this were a nearly accomplished fact, yet the psychic characters of many remain dominated by sexual taboos. While these taboos are registered in personal life as anxiety and disgust, they are also manifest publicly in politics and the law. The law sanctions the continued oppression of sexual offenders by enlisting psychological categories of difference and subordination. Prostitutes, homosexuals, transsexuals, pedophiles and zoosexuals populate the fearful dreams of the American mind, while skillful propagandists exploit this fear to control our politics; mob-like persecution and criminalization of same-sex desire and victims of HIV almost passes for normal in many parts of the world, sometimes sanitized as “public health.” What accounts for the persistence of these modern sexual taboos, even after the liberation movements of the 20th century? Are psychiatric categories, like ‘phobia,’ relevant to understanding the problem? What forms might sexual emancipation take today? This panel brings together analysts, scholars and activists to examine and debate these questions from the perspectives of anthropology, critical theory, psychoanalysis and jurisprudence.
THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF CAPITALIST DEMOCRACY
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described all history as a “gruesome dominion of nonsense and accident,” and regarded political democracy as only “the nonsense of the ‘greatest number.’” Perhaps he was right. Yet, throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Leftists had assumed that democracy made radical social transformation a near inevitability. The great majority, they thought, would surely pursue their own interest in social emancipation if allowed political participation in society. As the 20th century unfolded and this did not take place, there arose a psychoanalytic tradition that attempted to grapple with this failure. Wilhelm Reich, an exemplar of this tradition, wrote in 1933: “At the bottom of the failure to achieve a genuine social revolution lies the failure of the masses of the people: They reproduce the ideology and forms of life of political reaction in their own structures and thereby in every new generation.” While much has changed in the intervening 80 years, certain fundamentals remain the same: the people rule, but the politics of democracy evidence forms of mass irrationality, not the desire for emancipation. Can psychoanalysis, in the best tradition of the political Freudians, help us to better understand and potentially move beyond this situation?
Looking Backward / Looking Forward
Isaac D. Balbus, Chris Cutrone and Marilyn Nissim-Sabat, Ben Laundau-Beispiel (moderator)
I: In the 20th century, Leftists around the world attempted to bring about socialism, but failed. Revolutionary movements betrayed their own goals, and those who seemed to have the most to gain from the success of revolutionary politics sided with reaction. Marxist parties created police states, and workers followed the leadership of racist demagogues. The right to participate in elections was secured, but today socialism seems less possible than ever. The intention of this panel is to explore why the political enfranchisement of the working class has not led to socialism, and whether the insights of psychoanalysis are relevant to answering this question.
II: Following the panel, audience members will have the opportunity to participate in a small group discussion led by a panelist of their choosing. Discussions will focus on how those concerned with social emancipation today might overcome the failures of the past and move forward. Why do the politics of the Left fail to gain a mass following despite miserable social conditions? Could investigations into contemporary mass psychology be of any use in specifying and overcoming obstacles to a revived Left? Friendly debate on these questions is encouraged.
Marilyn Nissim-Sabat, Allan Scholom and Frank Summers, Ashleigh Campi (moderator)
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud posed the possibility that “under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization—possibly the whole of mankind—have become ‘neurotic.’” If a psychoanalyst believes this diagnosis to apply to our current form of society, this would seem to have significant implications for therapeutic practice. What is the relationship between critical politics and the practice of psychoanalysis? How can therapy serve an emancipatory function when it aims to help patients adapt to a reality that, by its very nature, may undermine the development of the autonomous individual envisioned by depth psychology? This roundtable discussion will explore these questions.