Psychoanalysis and Politics: Exclusion and the Politics of Representation

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Thinking psychoanalytically about the nature of social exclusion involves a self-questioning on the part of the interpreter. While we may all have some experiences of having been subject to stereotyping, silencing, discrimination and exclusion, it is also the case that, as social beings, we all, to some extent, participate in upholding these practices, often unconsciously.The book poses the question of how psychoanalysis can be used to think about the invisible and subtle processes of power over symbolic representation, in the context of stereotyping and dehumanization: What forces govern the state of affairs that determine who is an 'I' and who is an 'it' in the public sphere?Thinking in terms of 'containment', a communication which is denied a social space for expression can be said to be actively stripped of meaning. Through its original contribution of attending to, and interpreting material that so far had seemed meaningless, psychoanalysis demonstrates a capacity to reinstall meaning where none was before - but how are such acts performed on a social level?When common responsibility is displaced onto a suitable class or group and its representatives, the end point is reached when the individual is objectified and the social aspects of the process are no longer recognized. His or her position becomes an illegitimate one from which to speak - the person's subjectivity is excluded. The book poses the question of how we can conceive of the 'how' and the 'why' of this phenomenon and of possible counter-actions.

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PART I: THEORETICAL REFLECTIONS

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In The dread of sameness: social hatred and Freud’s “narcissism of minor differences”, Karl Figlio argues that antipathy is more rooted in sameness than in difference. Consciously, is the argument, we exclude others who are different from us, while unconsciously, it is sameness that we hate, and we avoid the experience of sameness by creating delusional differences. Thus our problem is not that of managing difference, but rather one of managing the unease which inheres in human society. The common sense of hating difference, states the author, is easier to believe than a hatred of sameness, as it reinforces a defence against self-examination. Such self-examination might reveal a hated similarity, pointing to a more fundamental hatred, of the similarity that is, in the limit, oneself. Figlio refers to Murer’s (2010) characterisation of the Dayton Accords as having consolidated the belief in the hatred of ethnic difference as the basis for narratives of identity. It replaced seventeen recognised national minorities with three identities inflamed by nationalist rhetoric: Serb, Croat, and Muslim, acting as ego ideals; identity-erosion thus becomes a rift between ego and ego ideal, a loss that sparks violence. While being left with oneself, it is argued, whether as an individual or as a group, is a hateful state of affairs, being left with an other very similar to oneself is nearly as hateful, but the latter situation is one that offers a way out, namely the creation of an other by means of a projective attack. An example of the disjunction between conscious perception of difference and the unconscious phantasy of sameness that provokes hatred, is that of the difference between male and female. In reference to Freud’s notion of a taboo as a defence against a wish, Figlio adds that the horror of castration opposes a wish to be castrated. Alongside the son’s Oedipal wish to have mother to himself as a partner, there is the wish to be mother, and to be at the origination of himself. Castration horror, in this sense, acts as a defence, while the difference is in fact reassuring to the male, since it makes the threat appear to emanate from an external object, rather than as a wish from inside. The drive to be the same is a characteristic of narcissism; as the ego comes into being there is a tension between the ego being an object for itself and being replaced by an external object; here, external reality is a source of contamination. The ambivalence which in a mature form refers to loving and hating the same object, refers, at an earlier level, to the anxiety of annihilation in assimilating to, and differentiating from, an object. Figlio links this with a paranoid-schizoid mode of thought, where the replica other threatens the ego with extinction, and the depressive mode, in which the ego gives itself over to protect the other. With reference to Mitchell’s (2003) work on the ambivalence constituted by the sameness between siblings, he emphasises how the presence of a sibling is both a comforting reassurance and at the same time “the thief of one’s being”. Girard (1988) goes further than Mitchell in claiming that violence inheres in sameness, managed by choosing and expelling or sacrificing a group member as its representative. This scapegoat is both internal and external to the society, both desecrated and sacralised, and the process is ritualised, so as to form the basis of religion. Crucially, the projection aims to dispel, not just the sameness, but the wish for sameness. Thus projection does not expel something already present in the self and unwanted, but rather creates the conviction of unwanted parts of the self in the very process of projection. Underlying the projection is the wish to have the qualities of, to be the same as, the other. In Yugoslavia, political disintegration produced nationalist sentiments as a secondary consequence, creating communities of fear (Allen, 1996). The Serbian attempt to cleanse the nation of Muslims and Catholics by rape, the author argues, exemplifies how the phantasy of contamination by the object is a projection that conceals the wish to contaminate the object. Terror and excitement are confused and intermingle: the excitement of polluting and thereby destroying the object coexists with the excitement of dwelling in the object by inseminating it. The excited phantasy of polluting the woman is aimed at destroying her in hatred, and thus to re-establish a difference, while at the same time wanting to identify with her. Thus the attack enacts the collapse of identity into narcissism, sought as well as dreaded, revealing how a conscious aim, of defending against an aggressive object, is “normal” in the sense of well anchored in reality, while simultaneously supporting an illusory world of a regressive pull into a pre-objectal world.

 

PART II: QUESTIONING CASES OF EXCLUSION

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Martyn Housden’s article, True believer: racism and one Nazi ideologist, investigates the convictions of an official in the Third Reich. The true believer in question is Helmut Nicolai, who studied state, law, and economics and completed a doctoral thesis before entering the civil service. His early essays on economics were ripe with anti-Semitism. In a study written in 1933 and dedicated to Adolf Hitler, he advocated a racial definition of German citizenship which partly anticipated the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. During 1934–1935, Nicolai was thrown out of the Party following a bitter professional fight and, eventually, banned from publishing for the life of the Third Reich. The process of expulsion involved an extreme personal attack and accusations of homosexuality. Banned from working in state and industry by the occupying Allies, he refused to distance himself from his earlier convictions, continuing to author doctrines of inheritance and race. The article poses the wider question of what weight to assign to personal, subjective motivation from the point of view of historiography. To functionalist historians like Martin Broszat (1966, 1981) and Hans Mom-msen, (1976, 1991), racism was not important in its own right, but only as a tool to bind together National Socialism’s heterogeneous body of support. The author argues that functionalist approaches fail to explain why racial imagery here became acceptable as a propaganda device, why some people chose knowingly to put themselves in positions where they had to compete over specifically racial policies; and they leave open the possibility that racism, for some people, was not just something to be pursued for other reasons, such as material expediency, but rather a matter of principle. As against Zygmunt Bauman’s (1989) famous critique of bureaucracy and modernity which de-emphasises anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, Housden argues that this interpretation underestimates intrinsic human capacities for reflection and exercise of moral imagination. The persecution of the Jews involved more than careerism and a commitment to being a disinterested state official. Without a shared spirit and ideological conviction, Hitler’s officials could barely have carried out their horrible jobs day in and day out. Housden makes use of Erich Fromm’s psychoanalysis, which emphasises the importance of Man’s choosing, reasoning, problem-solving capacity, and how having to solve problems on our own responsibility can leave us lonely and entail considerable stress, so that people may fear their essential human freedom and try to escape it. Helmut Nico-lai’s unshakable attachment to doctrines of inheritance was an attempt to address the pressing problems of the 1920s in the economy and state. Rather than reasoning freely, he rooted himself in the anti-Semitism and pseudo-science of the day. His economic and his legal texts stressed what he thought of as the traditional German virtue of constancy. About the personal side to Nicolai’s commitment to race and inheritance, we are told that his book Der Stammbaum Christi (1950a) is dedicated to his mother, whose maiden name was Mannel. He wrote extensively about his mother’s family lineage, showing that it contained distinguished civil servants. Rejected by the Prussian army but taken up by the civil service, Nicolai saw himself as inheriting the privilege that went with the Mannel family, which marked him out as something special and successful. By contrast, Nicolai’s memoirs tell us very little about his father, an officer in the Prussian army who died when he was eighteen, and whose career he failed to follow. He later disparaged traditional Prussian virtues like obedience and militarism. Thus, to point to a paradox the author leaves unexplained, one might state that Nicolai did and did not believe firmly in heredity, in so far as he blotted out his father and his father’s line, dwelling solely on that of his mother. Combating his fear of aloneness intellectually, professionally, and personally, it is concluded, a doctrine of inheritance and racism bolstered Nicolai’s self-certainty in a number of ways, which is why, when he died in December 1955, he had not recanted his beliefs.

 

PART III: THE EXCLUSION OF PSYCHOANALYSIS: LIMITS AND EXTENSIONS

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In Psychoanalysis behind iron curtains, Ferenc Erős argues that to understand the vicissitudes of psychoanalysis “behind the iron curtain”, we must go back to the beginnings of a history of the relationship between psychoanalysis, politics, and ideology. For a long time, the iron curtain between “East” and “West” separated the most important historical centres of psychoanalysis: Budapest from Vienna, as well as Berlin from Berlin. The term “iron curtain” should also be understood more widely than pertaining only to the cold war; impenetrable barriers have several times been erected between psychoanalysis and other disciplines, academic studies, theoretical currents, and therapeutic practices. Thus, following Young-Bruehl and Schwartz (2008), it is argued that the history of psychoanalysis can be understood as a trauma history, a repetitive pattern of splits and distortions; it is a discipline fragmented into several histories rather than one history. When Wilhelm Reich declared in 1929 that “Psychoanalysis has a future only in socialism”, psychoanalysis had already disappeared from the scientific and cultural scenes of the Soviet Union. His naïveté was representative of a whole generation of psychoanalysts and other intellectuals; Stalin’s total victory over Trotsky in the late twenties dealt a final blow to the earlier tolerant, even supportive attitude of the Soviet authorities. The belief that psychoanalysis had a future in National Socialism was adapted a few years later by a few non-Jewish members of the German Psychoanalytic Society, and by Ernest Jones and other IPA leaders. Following the exclusion of Jewish members from the German association, its sad remnants were merged into the so-called Göring Institute a few years later. The exile of most psychoanalysts after Hitler’s victory in 1933 signified the end of classic Central European analysis. Founded by Sándor Ferenczi in 1913 and maintaining the tradition he started, the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Association managed to survive the Nazi period and the Holocaust, though within a few years the cultural and political climate changed dramatically. Psychoanalysis was subjected to harsh attacks where its alleged support for imperialism was linked with accusations about “Freudianism as a Jewish science”. The postwar left intelligentsia, psychoanalysts included, tended to deny or conceal their Jewish roots, and practice continuous self-criticism to remove the remaining traces of bourgeois ideology. Just before the ban on all non-governmental organisations and private associations in 1949, the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Association announced its own dissolution, though “underground analyses” were performed by some, such as Imre Hermann, who even trained a few candidates. Lilly Hajdu-Gimes, who had suspended her psychoanalytic activity, became the director of the central psychiatric hospital in Budapest. Eager to conform to the ideological expectations, emphasising Pavlov’s significance and denouncing Freud, she also initiated important modernising reforms within mental health. Forced to retire from her hospital position after her son Miklós Gimes was arrested and later executed, she resumed her psychoanalytic praxis, and started reorganising the group of psychoanalysts. After repeated failures to get an exit permit, she committed suicide in 1960. Lukács was also forced to practice self-criticism; literature was a pretext in the famous Lukács debate; its hidden agenda concerned the splits within the party leadership in the transitions to socialism. In the brief revolutionary government led by Imre Nagy in 1956, Lukács became minister of culture, a position which lasted only a few days. In contrast to Imre Nagy, Miklós Gimes, and many others, he survived the post-revolutionary retaliations and purges, and continued to exert a decisive influence on Hungarian culture and philosophy. Lukács opposed psychoanalysis throughout most of his life, the critique of “psychologism” being one of the leitmotifs in History and Class Consciousness (1923), but this work was also an important source of the critical theory of the Frankfurt school and the idea that psychoanalysis may explain why the revolutionary movements after the First World War had failed; why the masses rather than changing the existing relations of production, became followers of extreme right-wing movements and parties. Ferenczi had served as doctor in the Hungarian Army from 1914 to 1918, and at the end of the war the Austro-Hungarian authorities accepted psychoanalysis as a legitimate treatment for serious war neurosis (Erős, 2010b). This was the main topic of the fifth international psychoanalytic congress, held in Budapest in late September 1918, of which Freud wrote to Abraham: “It is to be expected that Budapest will now become the headquarters of our movement” (Freud, 1918, p. 382). Petitions by students to introduce psychoanalysis into the regular medical training were repeatedly turned down on the grounds that “It propagates immorality and pornography, and most of the students who signed the petition were women” (Erős, 2009). In fact, it is argued, only less than half of the petitioners were women, though another objection may have been more decisive; more than seventy percent of those who signed the petition were Jewish. Shortly afterwards, in 1920, the Hungarian national assembly introduced a law which limited the number of Jewish students allowed to study at universities, the first anti-Jewish law in Central Europe (Kovacs, 1994). Ferenczi was proud to become the “world’s first professor of psychoanalysis”, but it was a position which lasted only a few weeks. After the defeat of the first Hungarian communist regime on 1 August 1919, he was among the, mostly Jewish, professors immediately fired from their positions. A year later he was also excluded from the Medical Association. “After the unbearable ‘Red terror’, which lay heavy on one’s spirit like a nightmare, we now have the White one,” he wrote to Freud on 28 August, and continued that he would “take this trauma as an occasion to abandon certain prejudices brought along from the nursery and to come to terms with the bitter truth of being, as a Jew, really without a country” (Ferenczi, 1919c). When the “iron curtain” came down in August 1919, Erős concludes, psychoanalysis fell victim to marginalisation, persecution, and exclusion.

 

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