Questioning Identities: Philosophy in Psychoanalytic Practice

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Face-to-face with differences in the analytical relationship analysts frequently confront the limitations of their theories. In this new book Mary Lynne Ellis and Noreen O'Connor move to the heart of 21st century intertwining of psychoanalytical and philosophical critical reflections. They highlight how philosophical perspectives on language, embodiment, time, history, and conscious/unconscious experiences can contribute to clinical interpretations of gender, sexuality, race, age, culture, and class. Vital to Questioning Identities: Philosophy in Psychoanalytic Practice is its emphasis on clinical material, and on attentiveness to the uniqueness of individuals' articulations of their desires and identities.

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CH-01

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CHAPTER ONE

Passionate differences

Noreen O’Connor

“I am feeling numb, dragging through the grey days, it’s all worthless”.

“The pain is killing me, there is no let up”.

“I’m so lonely I could die”.

“People scare me—I know when women see me they want to murder me”.

“The only relief is the sight of blood”.

“I can’t stop, only the chocolate and cakes give me comfort,
I hide my fat body from the world”.

“Masturbation is agony, it leaves my body in pain for days”.

“John hates me”.

“Jane abused me”.

As analysts we listen to examples of suffering daily, attending to the nuances of past and present relationships. Are we listening for the clues to the repressed libido, the part-object relation of the paranoid schizoid position, or the repetition of the unconscious drives destabilizing the fiction of a unified ego?

Do these questions matter? In other words, how does our theory and training as analysts influence our practices? Would you, on hearing someone in emotional pain, advise that person to go and see a post-modernist; or a modernist for that matter? Modernism and post-modernism are terms which express differing Western cultural ethoses. Each is characterized by its position on history, truth, power, morality, the human subject, masculinity, and femininity. It is not that there is just one exclusive theory of modernism or post-modernism—different writers construct specific conceptual frameworks, which elaborate their understanding of the modern or the post-modern.

 

CH-02

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CHAPTER TWO

Who speaks? Who listens? Different voices and different sexualities

Mary Lynne Ellis

In this chapter I want to consider how as analysts we can respond sensitively to questions of sexuality and sexual identity that are raised for us by our patients. Psychoanalytic theories of homosexuality have been restricted to interpretations regarding the internal world where, for example, pre-Oedipal fixations or Oedipal conflicts are regarded as the “cause” of homosexuality. Such interpretations arise from a view of the truth of the individual’s world (the unconscious) as being located outside or beyond the wider social context. The individual subject of psychoanalysis is ahistorical and acultural. In excluding a recognition of cultural constructions of sexuality psychoanalytic theorizing contradicts itself: in claiming that sexual identity is only partial and fragmentary it nevertheless holds to a normative view of sexuality in which heterosexual identity is equated with maturity. Even though it is claimed that heterosexuality must itself be subject to analysis (in the same way as homosexuality), a secure heterosexual identity is still, paradoxically, what is required if the analysis is to be successful.

 

CH-03

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CHAPTER THREE

Is Melanie Klein the one who knows
who you really are?

Noreen O’Connor

Any social theory whether focussed on a group or an individual inevitably embodies value judgements. This is also true of different psychoanalytic theories, notwithstanding claims for truth based on the “explanation” of psychic “facts”. In this chapter I raise the question of the normative character of Kleinian psychoanalysis. Melanie Klein’s genius was to have charted the desolate hinterland of psychosis; going beyond discrete conceptions of the life and death instinct she explores the soma/psychic territory of anxieties, persecution, splitting, loss, disintegration, phantasy. By thematising psychotic states or “positions” Klein developed psychoanalytic technique such that it has seriously challenged psychiatry’s pretension to total “expertise” in this area and she also challenges the primacy of pharmacological treatments of psychosis. Her work also calls psychoanalysts from resting in a false sense of being at home in the world with our patients, that is, from the security of making facile transference interpretations, towards a greater sensitivity to the depth of phantasies and of the symbolisation of pain and suffering.

 

CH-04

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CHAPTER FOUR

The an-arche of psychoanalysis

Noreen O’Connor

In my analytic practice one of my principal concerns is that of allowing for plurality of expressions—the speech of individuals which is irreducible to a unified rationality. This is a concern to maintain differences and to reject the notion that there is one specific ideal of being a human being whether it be a Platonic philosopher or a Heideggerian poet shepherding Being. In this chapter I explore Kristeva’s claim that such a challenge to foundationalism is inherent to the psychoanalytic enterprise. I highlight how, despite her insistence on otherness, her theorizing of lesbian desire contains problematic contradictions which foreclose on the specificity and diversity of individuals’ sexualities. I consider the relevance of Levinas’s model of the face-to face relationship to analytic practices which are concerned with the uniqueness of each human being.

Understanding and the other

 

CH-05

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CHAPTER FIVE

Shifting the ego towards
a body subject

Mary Lynne Ellis

In this chapter I consider Freud’s notion of the ego in the light of other theories of subjectivity within the field of continental philosophy, namely those of Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. The work of most British-trained analysts, with the exception of those trained in the Lacanian or Jungian schools, continues to be underpinned by a notion of subjectivity in which the concept of the ego is central. In this view of subjectivity it is assumed that human beings live in a perpetual state of conflict between the id’s passionate drives and the regulating function of the ego. My aim here is to consider the limitations of this view of subjectivity in theory and practice. Although there have been a number of challenges to Freud’s theorising of the ego by, for example, the Object Relations schools these have tended to revolve around questions as to when, developmentally, the ego is formed and as to whether or not “ego strength” should be the goal of psychoanalysis. Such theorising does not extend to a more fundamental questioning as to the values informing this conceptualisation of subjectivity and how far the notion of the “ego” is crucial to the practice of psychoanalysis.

 

CH-06

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CHAPTER SIX

Subjects of perversion

Noreen O’Connor

Every interpretation in analytical work is informed by a particular conception of the “subject”. These conceptions often remain unexamined and unconscious on the part of analysts. I shall focus on the concept of perversion since it raises crucial questions regarding subjectivity and it has thus been the site of much debate among modernists and post-modernists. As I discussed in Chapter One, both modernists and post-modernists agree that individuals exist in different cultures and traditions and that they have specific histories. However, modernists believe that, although history and culture influence us, there are, nevertheless, universal, objective, standards of truth and goodness. If we achieve these we will live a healthy and happy life. Post-modernists disagree that any such universally foundationally rational rules or standards can be known outside of the specificity of the individual’s life, culture, and historicity. Both these strands are discernible within Freud’s theorising.

 

CH-07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

(Dis)continuous identities
and the time of the other

Mary Lynne Ellis

How individuals “live” time in all its dimensions is pivotal to the analyses of subjectivity of philosophers writing from phenomenological, existential, and deconstructive perspectives. Through my reflections on the theories of temporality presented by Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, and Levinas, I expand on some of the themes and questions posed by such theories.

I particularly focus on their differing positions in relation to the question of whether the subject has a continuous identity through time and also the subject’s relation to others’ time. In critically presenting their very different positions one of my aims is also to highlight the diverse assumptions operative in such theories. My interest is in how these theories are constructed and how particular theories might illuminate a particular patient’s variable and conscious and unconscious dilemmas in relation to time. I argue against the notion that there is one universal relation to time, whether as continuity or discontinuity, which must be achieved in order for the patient’s suffering to be alleviated.

 

CH-08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Images of sexualities; Language
and embodiment in art therapy

Mary Lynne Ellis

Introduction

My aim in this chapter is to generate further discussion as to how we can more sensitively address questions of sex and sexualities in art therapy. There is a surprising dearth of theorizing within art therapeutic literature in relation to these issues. This may arise from the strong strand of individualism in the art profession that appears to allow for sexual freedom; subsequently, it is supposed perhaps that there is nothing problematic to discuss. Alternatively, there may an assumption that psychoanalytic theory with its proliferation of discourses on sexuality can offer us all we require. This chapter challenges such assumptions.

Sexualities and sexual identities emerge in diverse ways and hold more or less importance at different times in individuals’ lives. They are not fixed and they may be the source of and constructed through a multiplicity of complex experiences within specific social contexts. Classical psychoanalytic theorizing, in contrast, continues to conceive of sexuality in terms of early developmental stages, claiming that heterosexuality is more “natural” or “healthy” than lesbian, gay or bisexual sexualities. In challenging this view I emphasize the importance in art therapy of attending to the unique meanings which are associated with sexuality for each individual. I reflect on how of the theorizing of modern European philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty can enable art therapists to be more alive to the diversity of languages of sexualities. Furthermore I argue that the medium of art in psychotherapy can offer a particularly valuable language for exploration of the theme of sex and sexualities in the art therapeutic relationship.

 

CH-09

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CHAPTER NINE

Homophobia is the patient

Mary Lynne Ellis

Introduction

The idea for this chapter arose one morning after seeing two patients consecutively. One was a young man of twenty-four who had had both heterosexual and gay relationships and who was now interested in having an intimate relationship with a man. However, he said, he “couldn’t cope” with what identifying as gay might mean culturally. The other was a middle-aged woman who was continuing to feel periodically very troubled about her son identifying as gay and was expressing concern about her homophobia. The idea that a twenty-four year old young man who is generally not at all conventional in his thinking and in his life style is still terrified that at some point he might have to “come out” as gay and become the target of possibly considerable hostility because of loving another man, felt particularly shocking to me on that day: the huge achievements regarding sexual equality simultaneously sharply highlight how far the constraints on taking up these rights are still operative in people’s day to day lives.

 

CH-10

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CHAPTER TEN

Listening differently in the face-to-face

Noreen O’Connor

Introduction

How does psychoanalysis as praxis stand within discourses of philosophers and psychologists? Currently debates about outcomes of psychotherapeutic, psychoanalytic, and behavioural methods of treating people compete with each other in their claims for the universal objectivity of their own particular research on their practices. Individuals who variously clamour for, or despair of, any other person responding to their psychic suffering may either retreat under the unforgiving weight of demons or they may reach out to whoever is at hand in their socio-cultural context. Debates proliferate on ways to address such individual/social dislocation: maybe the solution is location within religious institutions of, for example, the mosque, the temple, the church, the synagogue, with their concomitant ethically containing mores of family and community. This is a crucial issue because, at the very least, people have survived, loved, and created, within these religions which have existed for thousands of years. But what of the individuals who have lost their place within their beliefs, their society and themselves? When the sense of the past, the present, the future, is obliterated in the fusion of suffocating immobility: where people have no time of their lives or words to speak of it?

 

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