Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Toolbox of the Analyst's Trade: Interpretation Revisited *

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Toolbox of the Analyst's Trade: Interpretation Revisited *

Article excerpt


The invitation to reflect upon the form and the use of the tools of psychoanalysis in our time (to reflect, in fact, upon the psychoanalyst's profession) is a challenge that may be summed up by the following question: which are the tools that we, as psychoanalysts, use? What is our 'tool box' composed of? Furthermore, this question - such as we are formulating it today - enables us to go one step further and to test out a counterpoint between the mode of thinking of that toolbox in the present day and over 100 years ago.

Of course, this counterpoint is not merely intended to be an exercise in historical comparison. Rather, it takes as its starting point a historical ascertainment: the procedural tools of psychoanalysis, as with any human construction, are conditioned and affected by the hegemonic codes of each epoch. And in this respect, when we think and rethink our tools as psychoanalysts, it proves necessary to question both the epochal variation of which we are part, and its consequences.

Freudian theory was one of the most revolutionary events for early 20th century culture. More than 100 years after its early formulation and against the backdrop of a series of vertiginous changes in the social institutions along with powerful technological developments with high impact on subjectivity, a re-examination of these variations and their effects upon the analyst's task seems less a minor sociological concern and more a necessary condition for the practice of the profession.

Within this context, the current review, in various forums, of the classical texts of psychoanalysis may be understood as a healthy exercise geared around this issue. A ready example may be found in the discussions on modes of conceiving the analytic setting yesterday and today. Although perhaps formulated more tentatively, questions surrounding the validity of theoretical concepts central to our discipline also form part of these debates. Along these same lines, developments in reproductive physiology as a result of advances in technology in this area, new and heterogeneous familial configurations, the decline of the hegemony of the paternal function and other variations in subjectivity give rise to new lines of questioning. For example, in relation to the validity of the Oedipus complex in its classical configuration, the place of repression as principal defence mechanism, or the Freudian determinism in what could be called the 'archaeological' model of the cure.

Our question for consideration now duly introduced, I would like to introduce two further concepts that I shall explore in this presentation. Firstly, the notion of the 'tool'. In any of the editions of the dictionary of the Real Academia Espan~ ola - at least the most up-to-date ones - the word 'tool' is associated with: (1) an instrument usually made of iron or steel, with which craftsmen work; (2) a set of such instruments. Both meanings associate the tool with a simple, manual component, the purpose of which is to make something, such as a craft object. And yet we may supplement this definition with another, one that focuses upon the characteristics of the tool (the objectivity of the object) but also upon its use (the subjectivity of its use). In the case of the psychoanalytic profession, there is no equivalent to the carpenter's hammer or the surgeon's scalpel. However, it is possible to identify a set of resources (visible or otherwise) the psychoanalyst counts upon in his or her toolbox.

Secondly, the notion of 'device' which, as a matter of fact, appears frequently in the psychoanalytic literature of the last decade. Without seeking to undertake an exhaustive analysis of the literature on this concept, it is worth considering a tentative definition. Michel Foucault asked the question of what constitutes a device, constructing a genealogical response in the microphysics of power. For the French philosopher, a device is a network of relationships between heterogeneous elements (discourse, institutions, languages, ideologies, aesthetics, etc. …

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