Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis

Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis

Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis

Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis


Although there have been many attempts to apply the ideas of psychoanalysis to political thought, this book is the first to identify the political project inherent in the fundamental tenets of psychoanalysis. And this political project, Todd McGowan contends, provides an avenue for emancipatory politics after the failure of Marxism in the twentieth century.

Where others seeking the political import of psychoanalysis have looked to Freud's early work on sexuality, McGowan focuses on Freud's discovery of the death drive and Jacques Lacan's elaboration of this concept. He argues that the self-destruction occurring as a result of the death drive is the foundational act of emancipation around which we should construct our political philosophy. Psychoanalysis offers the possibility for thinking about emancipation not as an act of overcoming loss but as the embrace of loss. It is only through the embrace of loss, McGowan suggests, that we find the path to enjoyment, and enjoyment is the determinative factor in all political struggles-and only in a political project that embraces the centrality of loss will we find a viable alternative to global capitalism.


The Politics of a Nonpolitical Theory

Psychoanalysis begins with individual subjects and their suffering. By allowing subjects to speak freely in the analytic session and by offering an interpretative intervention in this speech, psychoanalysis aims to reduce the impairment that their psychic disorder creates in their lives. In contrast to Marxism, which also attempts to ameliorate human suffering, psychoanalysis has no explicit political program designed to lessen the misery that Freud and his descendants find in their patients. There is no revolt of the patients that would correspond to the revolt of the proletariat. When Freud makes political pronouncements, they tend to be negative ones, expressing his skepticism about plans for social betterment. But it is my contention that a viable political project does inhere within psychoanalytic theory and that this project provides an avenue for emancipatory politics after the end of Marxism in the twentieth century. There are points at which this psychoanalytic politics remains proximate to Marxism, but it represents a genuine alternative that has the virtue of explaining the latter’s failures. The task of this book will be to lay out the contours of this political project, one that has never been fully developed despite numerous attempts at bringing psychoanalytic thinking to bear on politics.

Unlike most previous formulations of a psychoanalytic politics, what follows will take as its point of departure not the early Freud of the sexual drive but the later Freud of the death drive (and its development in the thought of Jacques Lacan and his followers). I will conspicuously ignore all psychoanalytic thinking that deviates from Freud and from his specific . . .

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