Desire of the Analysts: Psychoanalysis and Cultural Criticism

By Camden, Vera J. | Intertexts, Spring-Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Desire of the Analysts: Psychoanalysis and Cultural Criticism


Camden, Vera J., Intertexts


Desire of the Analysts: Psychoanalysis and Cultural Criticism. Ed. Greg Forter and Paul Allen Miller. New York: SUNY P, 2008. 258 pp.

This collection takes up the uses of psychoanalysis for cultural studies in the new millennium. Its editors and contributors ask, "Where is psychoanalysis in contemporary thought?" At a time when the empirically based psychologies have long repudiated the "talking cure" to the extent that the unconscious is not visible or easily measured, and when, on the other hand, psychoanalysis has been associated in the humanities with a radical political and social agenda, disappointed hopes for change have led many to throw the baby of psychoanalysis out with the bathwater of a Utopian vision of transformation. The question now remains: "Whither psychoanalysis?" To answer this question (which is also a demand), the editors first acknowledge that the critique and curtailing of psychoanalytic thought in the cultural studies programs across the country in the last decade or so has been influenced by the works of Michel Foucault, his disciples, and the New Historicism. At the same time, they believe that the political, psychological, and moral dangers of embracing a knowing and cynical postmodernism that fosters hollow consumerism premised on modes of subjectivity that "neither 'express' interiority nor bear any relation to a lived past" are a real and present danger in contemporary life. "That the triumph of such a view has coincided with intellectuals' renewed suspicion of psychoanalysis should, we believe, give us pause" (8). The essays that constitute the present volume thus insist on the persistence of the desire of the analyst: for knowledge of self and other, and by those who long for interpretive insight into interior lives and social places. The volume thus poses for its readers twin questions: "Why do we continue to desire psychoanalysis, and what should its role be in the cultural criticism of the new millennium?"

This collection grew out of a conference organized around this question and thus reflects the varied but not necessarily interconnected papers offered in that setting. In an effort to provide some interconnections, the collection is divided into four sections grouped around the topics of psychoanalysis and the future of cultural criticism, collectivity, the author, and sexuality. The grouping does not, in my estimation, provide unity or coherence to the volume as a whole; nevertheless, each article emerges on its own terms as a strong contribution to the general field of psychoanalytic cultural criticism and critical theory. Henry Sussman's "Psychoanalysis, Religion, and Cultural Criticism at the Millennium" provides an anchoring perspective to the volume, addressing with particular urgency the mutually transformative desire of and for analysis modeled on the transference/countertransference clinical encounter. This analogy suggestively sets the stage for a like transformative intervention by the analyst in a cultural critique, while acknowledging that cultural studies provides the best interpretation and assessment of the ways that psychoanalysis operates historically and clinically in contemporary society. Sussman--and indeed many of the contributors--underscores the editors' organizing declaration that since psychoanalysis derived from lived human experience it stands to reason that "analysis is both the product of and answer to suffering" (15).

Thus it comes as something of a surprise that one of its editors, Greg Forter, in "F. Scott Fitzgerald, Psychobiography, and the Fin-de-Siecle Crisis in Masculinity," locks the subject of psychoanalysis into a stranglehold with his presuppositions about the limits of history and the origins of psychoanalysis in the modern moment: "Because the theory and techniques of psychoanalysis were developed by analyzing modern men and women, psychoanalysis may be a theory of modern subjectivity rather than of subjectivity as such, and its mode of inquiry may be best suited to analyzing the phenomena of modernity" (148).

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