Insult and Identity
Sometimes I feel tempted to subscribe to a reading of the history of psychoanalysis, and the formation and subsequent uptake (I avoid the word development) of its main concepts as originating in Freud’s radicalism and the unwavering openness of his enquiry; followed by a gradual hardening and loss of this spirit by those psychoanalytic theorists who claimed to be building on and ‘developing’ Freud’s ideas based on their clinical observations. There was a genuine conservative backlash by Freud’s contemporaries as well as the second generation of analysts where prejudice, common sense and a sharp division between what is ‘healthy’ and what is ‘pathological’ were gradually resurrected to lend psychoanalysis an air of respectability.
Klein and her disciples followed with ambitions of providing a total theory of mind, and the schools inspired by Lacan confined the complicated maze of subjectivity to closed structures and a fixed truth about the types of desire that govern and determine the so-called ‘subject positions’. These two schools gave us two utterly different versions of what is to be regarded as properly psychoanalytic. The former seemed to call for the painstaking building of insight that will eventually enable the analyst/ patient couple to colonise the area designated as the unconscious. The latter celebrated the quirky and eccentric aspects of the analysand’s unconscious, which could never be fully captured or understood, and regarded the quest for such knowledge as a symptom par excellence. As well Klein and Lacan, there are Jung, Winnicott and the myriad of object-relations psychologists–all easy to read as spoilers of the psychoanalytic promise–who produced solidified and fixed theories of the development or formation of subjectivity/identity. They rendered sexuality and aggression–two major psychoanalytic bugbears–more knowable, less socially conditioned, sometimes represented as entirely ahistorical, or left untheorized as they turned their attention to child-rearing. They all produced excessively normative accounts of development, of little use to those who live on the sexual margins.