Psychoanalysis in a New Light

By Groarke, Steven | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Psychoanalysis in a New Light


Groarke, Steven, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Psychoanalysis in a New Light by Gunnar Karlsson Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2010; 209 pp; £19.99

Gunnar Karlsson has an idea that phenomenology might be of some use to psychoanalysis. He does not approach his topic by way of the seminal encounters between phenomenology and psychoanalysis. For instance, there is no mention of any of the following: Merleau-Ponty's (2010) Sorbonne lectures of 1949 to 1952; Abraham's (1995) papers dating from 1948 on rhythm, affect and intentionality; Henry's (1993) ontology of the 'psychical unconscious' and 'pre-intentional consciousness'; or Ricoeur's (1970) unrivalled attempt to reconcile demystification and restoration as opposing dispossessions of consciousness. To pass over this remarkable dialogue in silence seems like a missed opportunity. Furthermore, Karlsson makes it clear from the opening chapter of Psychoanalysis in a New Light that he is not interested in an eclectic hybrid of phenomenology and psychoanalysis. Sceptical of the attempts at synthesis along the lines of existential psychoanalysis (Sartre, 1943) or Dasein-analysis (Binswanger, 1975), Karlsson is ''anxious to keep the boundary between phenomenology and psychoanalysis clear'' (p. 18).

The anxiety of demarcation plays out in interesting ways here. While emphasizing the different preoccupations in the work of Husserl and Freud, at the same time Karlsson attempts to bring phenomenology to bear on the epistemological foundations of psychoanalysis. Although it is not set out explicitly in this way, the book divides roughly between a critique of scientific reason and a reformulation of the theory of primary and secondary processes. It may have afforded greater clarity had these two lines of inquiry been made more explicit.

Firstly, the critical import of Karlsson's argument rests on a phenomenological theory of knowledge. This, at least, is how he presents things in his comparative reading of psychoanalysis and neuroscience, and also in the final chapter on truth. Taken together, these chapters are effectively asking how we can have psychoanalytical knowledge. It is an ambitious question concerning types and degrees of evidence, the relationship between truth and objectivity, the 'intuition' [Anschauung] of essences and 'essential truths' [Wesenswahrheiten], and so on. The first chapter, which clears the way for the critical argument in subsequent chapters, is also supposed to serve as an introduction for readers who are unfamiliar with the philosophical literature. That the chapter might be helpful in this regard is unlikely. Simplification of the kind Karlsson goes in for tends to make things more difficult.

The question is whether or not readers are given enough in the way of background or context to follow the main arguments. The critical comments are aimed specifically at the likes of Solms and Turnbull, whose attempts at legitimating psychoanalytical knowledge from the standpoint of neuroscience Karlsson finds wanting. Irrespective of the merits of this criticism, the argument itself is presented to us on the basis of Husserl's examination of the origins and traditions of ideal objects, namely, his unpublished manuscript on geometry; in which case, it seems to me we are given far too little to go on. I think readers would be particularly hard pressed to trace Karlsson's idiosyncratic use of phenomenology back to Husserl's account of objectivity and ideality, that is, to his idea of history as ''the vital movement of the coexistence and the interweaving [des Miteinander und Ineinander] of original formations and sedimentations of meaning'' (Husserl, 1936, p. 371).

Husserl's account of the kinds of 'evidence' [Evidenz] available in experience is the cornerstone of his theory of knowledge, a theory which is discernible throughout his work. Readers unfamiliar with the work would obviously benefit from a preliminary orientation to Husserl's epistemology: from the Prolegomena to the Logical Investigations (1900-01) through Ideas I (1913) and the Cartesian Meditations (1931) to Experience and Judgement (1939). …

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