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Number 10: Spring 2015


Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz

In preparation for this special issue of Sitegeist featuring outstanding theory papers from the Site’s training group, I found myself reading French psychoanalyst Laurence Kahn’s latest book, Le psychanalyste apathique et le patient postmoderne (2014) – hopefully one of my forthcoming translation projects. In her book, Kahn discusses the consequences of a psychoanalytic model that dispenses with its metapsychological foundations in favour of what she refers to as ‘a hermeneutical simplification’ (17). Among other things, she foregrounds how, embedded in a critique of analytic ‘neutrality’ in the name of a more ‘humane’ and egalitarian approach, is a misleading challenging of the fundamental asymmetry of the analytic situation. 

Neutrality (Indifferenz), coldness (Gefühlskälte): such is the stance advocated by Freud (1912, 1915) in the creation of ‘a counterpart to the ‘fundamental rule of psycho-analysis’ which is laid down for the patient’. Having suspended all conscious purposive representations, the analyst, Freud continues, ‘must turn his own unconscious like a receptive organ towards the transmitting unconscious of the patient’ (1912: 115). It is thus a distinct form of receptivity that analytic neutrality strives to foster, one that pertains to a kind of self-imposed frustration, to the analyst’s ‘refusements’ to use Laplanche’s vocabulary, paving the way for a ‘hollowing out’ of transference, a hosting of the ‘fundamental anthropological situation’, at the crossroads between the singular and the universal. 

In her compelling demonstration, Kahn refers to a text by Theodor Adorno entitled Revised Psychoanalysis, a lecture originally presented in English at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Society in 1946. Interestingly, the original English text was never published because Adorno objected to the changes imposed on his lecture in the editing process. In his view, ‘the entire text was disfigured beyond recognition, the basic intention could not be discerned’ (2004: xiv). Adorno later approved the German translation of the text – Die revidierte Psychoanalyse – which was published in Psyche in 1952 and featured in Adorno’s Gesammelte Schriften in 1972. The German text was translated into French in 2007 (all references are made to the French text). The ‘basic intention’ of Revised Psychoanalysis is a radical one, in keeping with the model of radikale Psychoanalyse Adorno is defending against what he denounces as Neo-Freudian revisionism. It is Freud’s coldness that Adorno significantly stands up for in his critique of the pseudo-radicalism of the Neo-Freudian school (mainly Karen Horney and Erich Fromm). Exposing the Neo-Freudian attempt to ‘sociologise’ psychoanalysis as a co-opting process at the service of ‘industrialised mass culture’, Adorno celebrates Freud’s ‘intransigent pessimism’, his refusal to evacuate ‘the dark side of the individual and society’ and ‘bestow the radiance of humanity’ upon ‘the unamendable malignance of human nature’ (39) for, as Adorno would have it, it is only by looking at the catastrophe that there can be hope. ‘Freud’s coldness’, adds Adorno, ‘which rejects all forms of fictional immediacy between practitioner and patient (…), does more honour to the idea of humanity, through its exclusion of any simulacrum of humanity, than comforting words and human warmth supplied upon demand’ (41).