Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Apathetic Psychoanalyst and the Postmodern Patient 1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Apathetic Psychoanalyst and the Postmodern Patient 1

Article excerpt

The apathetic psychoanalyst and the postmodern patient 1 by Laurence Kahn L'Olivier, Paris, 2014, col. 'Penser/réver', 173 pp. ?18

The apathetic psychoanalyst and the postmodern patient is a work which is much discussed in France. The reasons for this are the intensity and rigour of its argument, its polemical courage, and the breadth of its erudition. The title of the book is a play on words. What is an apathetic psychoanalyst? He or she is a psychoanalyst who has not yielded to the well-meaning trend for empathy. And what is empathy? The author considers that it is a theoretico-practical misunderstanding associating, ultimately, the most varied psychoanalytical currents admitted to the heart of an IPA that is now open: narrativism, intersubjectivism, constructivism should be mentioned here. Laurence Kahn is not comparing, or is not simply comparing, two definitions of empathy, her own, derived from Freud, and another, which is faulty, but rather two epistemological stances which are at the origin of this theoretico-practical misunderstanding: the first treats empathy as an enigma, an 'analysable' object, a stumbling block; the other sees empathy as if it were something obvious and promotes it as something good in itself. We can see Freud's own position in the first stance; and in the second, the modern view, that which Laurence Kahn is denouncing. Because effectively Laurence Kahn is questioning the attacks on a Freudian stance said to be outdated. For moral as much as epistemological reasons, which cannot be separated, the 'empathetic' psychoanalyst must clear his/her mind of the 'positivism' and the 'authoritarianism' of so-called 'classical' analyst, when the latter still believes in the reality of the 'objects' which it treats (drives, repression, the ego and so on), and when it justifies, through these objects, an attitude of aloofness on the part of the analyst-observer towards his patient. And what is the postmodern patient? It is someone who no longer believes in anything, above all, not in the 'great narratives', those of science and ideology, like those of religion, from which our civilization benefited right up until the last generation before us. He or she suffers from serious problems of identity. 'Postmodern' is a word we owe to a French philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard, author of The postmodern condition (Lyotard, 1979) - a book, precisely, which declared the end of the 'great narratives'.

Thus Laurence Kahn's book is at the forefront of a fight. And this fight evokes, at least in form, the famous 'return to Freud' sought by Lacan in the 1960s. In form only, because at root, this 'return to Freud', according to Laurence Kahn, is diametrically different from Lacan's 'return to Freud'. Lacan had tried, against the supposed pretensions of 'Ego psychology', to understand the intractable aspects of 'psychic conflict' from the viewpoint of the thorny question of its address: the Other. In an irony of history and without saying so explicitly, Laurence Kahn, like Jacques Lacan but in a very different way, finds reasons, on the side of 'French philosophy' which inspired all the currents of thought that would be generated from thereon by the politically correct theme of empathy, to reject empathy. And by 'French philosophy', she is referring essentially to Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida (pp. 104-114). For 'French philosophy', like all philosophy, cannot avoid contradictions and polemics: it is thus against Ricoeur (pp. 84-89) and Foucault revisited by Rorty (pp. 98-99, pp. 101-103). It is a matter of rehabilitating, beyond affect - which is always already semantic and thus misleading - the Freudian 'quota of affect', that which divides the subject before he even comes into being, a 'differend' between his determinate emergence (beginning with the cry of the infans), and his indeterminate address (the close relative who is or is not there), which is thus compelled or called upon, not without violence, to refer to something (for example, a pain) and to acquire meaning (for example, hunger). …

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