Review: Class and Psychoanalysis: Landscapes of Inequality, by Dr Joanna Ryan, Routledge, London & New York, 2017 ISBN 978-1-138- 88551-6
Joanna Ryan was my supervisor during the second half of my training at the Philadelphia Association and for some time after that, and I am one of the people she interviewed during the preparatory work that would culminate in this timely, authoritative and comprehensive (yet concise) work. I gained much from our middle-class/working-class creative coupling and hope she did, too. She manages to pack so much into less than two hundred pages that I feel somewhat inadequate to the task of reviewing it. However, Ryan makes it easy for any reviewer – and this book is a gift to trainees and teachers in this respect – in that she takes the time-honoured yet currently oft-neglected approach of saying what she’s going to say, saying it, and saying what she’s said. Further, each term introduced is accompanied by ‘defs and refs’, i.e.: Ryan defines her terms and cites references where required (a delight to any academic supervisor!). However, she does so in a manner which is both reasoned and clear, yet unambiguously left-leaning. Moreover this is not achieved by means of sacrificing complexity and subtlety to the demands of polemic. The writing is characterised by an authorial modesty where Ryan is careful to avoid tendentious arguments, careful at all times not to overstate her case and to refer closely to her sources. If, after reading this review, someone might feel that Ryan has omitted an important issue in relation to class and psychoanalysis, then it is very likely due to the limitations of the reviewer: I would urge them to read the book and then form an opinion.
In her introduction, in addition to sketching out the ‘landscape’ of the book, Ryan introduces a key theme that runs throughout the work, which is the assertion that, in order to survive as a relevant discourse and practice, psychoanalytic ‘theorising’ (‘theory’ itself being a term which is under question, as far as I’m concerned) needs to be opened up to incorporate ways of seeing and lessons learned from other disciplines, principally sociology yet also philosophy and literature: an open system as opposed to a sterile enclave. Along with this, consequently, would come an abandoning of the crass binaries that seem to be a chronic feature of Anglophone culture, including ‘inner’/’outer’, psyche/social, individual/ collective, clinical/political.