Academic journal article Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies

One: Small City on a Big Couch

Academic journal article Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies

One: Small City on a Big Couch

Article excerpt

My office in Guanajuato is always cool even on the warmest of days, thanks to the thick 200-year-old colonial walls that surround it. I am pulling a sweater around me when my new analysand comes in. I know her socially; she is familiar to me, but we are not intimates and have never spoken at length. I also know that she writes, but I have not read her work- yet. Although she has a rather striking beauty, her manner is classic provincial. Demure, reserved, composed. I wonder briefly if her writing is this contained, or if perhaps her words break away from such expected demeanor. As I pull my chair closer, she sits down politely on the edge of the couch looking unlikely to relax into it too quickly.

My analysand is a city, and she is poised on my hypothetical couch. In for analysis. An unusual case to say the least. How does one psychoanalyze a city, read her texts, study her language, and pay attention to her body? This will be a new endeavor, but here we are, four hours north of Mexico City, smack in the middle of this large country, together in my office. In the middle of the country and in the middle of our stories, which have apparently now overlapped. In this tiny place that seems to shelter so much otherness despite its tranquil appearance, will she reveal her complexities? Will she have something to say about her own subjectivity that goes beyond the rote patter of stereotypes assigned to provincial sites in Mexico? My city, my other, with whom I hope to forge a relationship of trust through this oddly embodied analytic process ...

While there is ample literature about how the world's megacities find themselves making sense of cultural difference in the multiple spaces of daily life, very little is said about how small cities - equally enmeshed in constant contact with the Other - are working out their own encounters with difference. How does the small city negotiate subjectivity? How is otherness made sense of and articulated? How to listen? Small City on a Big Couch interrogates the position of the small city, employing the theory of psychoanalyst/cultural theorist Julia Kristeva to ask if the small provincial city of Guanajuato, Mexico, can indeed speak back. Constructed as female and other within Mexican intellectual discourse, can this city articulate her own disruptive ways of understanding self and other amid constant contact with difference? Could she disturb the status quo? What might we learn from her efforts? Could we find some sort of model that would help us to confront others in such a way that neither of us loses our subjectivity or destroys the other in the process?

I approach the city from the psychoanalytic perspective. Or better said, I take on the role of psychoanalyst and adopt her as my analysand - fictionalized, but what better way to understand her than to engage her as a subject and see if she is up to the task of exerting full subjectivity back? To do so, I follow Kristeva's psychoanalytic theory, which is daunting in its complexity, depth, and volume. A Bulgarian native living in Paris, Kristeva centers her own self/other positions in much of her writing, which makes her work an appropriate frame for this analysis. This appeals to me, since, like Kristeva, I am both resident and foreigner where I live, and I too write in different genres and in different languages. And like the city, I am also writing my way to partial understandings of self and other in a context of ongoing contact with difference. The whole analytical process thus functions like a contact zone (Pratt, 1991) in which foreign theory, national theory, local settings, exotic settings, texts, genres, and bodies all encounter and attempt to make sense of one another.

While the process of analysis takes an unexpected shape, ultimately this book argues that small cities might just constitute the perfect site from which to reassert locality and a sense of self in this age of high-speed, fragmented globalization. …

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