Psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitism and the Miser

By Frosh, Stephen | New Formations, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitism and the Miser

Frosh, Stephen, New Formations

Abstract In some recent writing that draws on Lacanian ideas about the structure of psychoanalysL·, Shvoj Zizek opposes the common cultural visum of the analyst as confessor or priest. In this view, psychoanalysL· L· born out of the capitatist spirit of 'thrift', of hoarding and spending only with reluctance. Instead of the religious imagery of confession and forgiveness, or indeed a fantasy that psychoanalysL· might represent a 'cure by love', Zizek alights on an anti-semitic trope that starkly pronounces on psychoanalysL· as a mode of economic exchange. Miserliness L· the core ofthL· trope. Zizek writes (in The Parallax View), 'The link between psychoanalysL· and capitatism L· perhaps best exemplified by one of iL· great literary figures of the nineteenth-century novel, thejew^ moneylender, a shadowy figure to whom all the big figures of society come to borrow money, pleading with him and telling him all their dirty secrets and passions. '

This essay takes seriously the idea that, in centring on a miserly exchange mediated by money, psychoanalysis reveals the structuring power of the social order over encounters that are fantasised to be based on love or care. However, it ash why the trope has to be so explicitly anti-semitic in its formulation. It is argued that what breaks through in this and some other passages where Zizek overly exuberantly evokes anti-semitism is a continuing failure of psychoanalysis to deal with its own Jewish' investments.

Keywords psychoanalysis, Zizek, Jews, anti-semitism, money, miser


It is an old quip that books on psychoanalysis might be catalogued by publishers under the title 'Jewish studies', and it is certainly the case that whilst the numerical domination of the psychoanalytic movement by Jews may have shifted significantly - and may never, since the very early years, have been as great as is often imagined - the symbolic resonance of psychoanalysis as in some ways 'Jewish' has never let up. This chapter takes this resonance seriously and places it in contact with discussions of psychoanalysis and money, specifically in relation to an intriguing reading of psychoanalysis as being based on the model of 'miserly exchange'. The general argument is diat psychoanalysis retains its association with Jewishness and that this has resulted in a legacy of unworked- through anti-Semitism, which is precipitated under various circumstances, including when considerations of money come to the fore. It may even be that the juxtaposition of the 'Jewish science' with the deep-rooted anti-semitic imagery of the money-grabbing Jew is a particularly potent reminder of just how much work remains to be done if psychoanalysis is to come to terms with its own conditions of emergence and its own unresolved anti-Jewish complexes.

The 'Jewish heritage' of psychoanalysis has been deeply mined, particularly in work on Freud, which has convincingly shown the extent to which his 'Jewish identity' was an active force in the construction of his psychoanalytic thinking.1 To cut a very long story short, it is no accident that his closing words to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society on the occasion of its dissolution echoed a passage in Moses and Monotheism that explicitly invoked psychoanalysis as a continuation of Jewish tradition. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Titus,' he said, 'Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked for permission to open a school at Yavneh for the study of Torah. We are going to do the same. We are, after all, used to persecution by our history, tradition and some of us by personal experience'.2 Here, the identification between psychoanalysis and Jewish thought is absolutely explicit, as is the link between the psychoanalytic movement and the Jews, and the focus on die pursuit of knowledge as a distinctive Jewish concern. It is as if Jewish history has translated directly into psychoanalytic history, the latter being die continuation of the former. …

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