Spotlight on Psychoanalytic Psychology, V. 28 No. 4

For the Spotlight of Volume 28, Issue Number 4 of Psychoanalytic Psychology, I have chosen to comment on Julia E. Davies’s paper entitled, “Cultural dimensions of intersubjectivity: Negotiating ‘sameness’ and ‘otherness’ in the analytic relationship.”

The quotes that are found in the title of Davies’s paper around the words sameness and otherness suggest awareness on her part that the presented words are suffering from a lack of relevance or misuse and are in need of new meaning.  Such a reading raises questions once again about the place of culture within contemporary psychoanalysis and also the place of psychoanalysis within our larger culture. We might wish that psychoanalysis had succeeded in transforming a disparate human race into a collective we (cf., Sherover-Marcuse, 1986) in which the irony found in quotes might simply be retrospective fun, but as Davies’s article makes clear, it hasn’t.  Davies’s paper in addition to the others found in this issue of Psychoanalytic Psychology show that otherness continues to be a problem in a world in which alienation persists.

Davies’s paper has found a home in a journal issue that could have been a special issue on otherness. That it is not a special issue suggests that discussing identity and culture is now taken for granted in contemporary psychoanalysis. The specialness of the issue warrants comment.  A quick look at the table of contents shows that the paper is listed under a subject heading of Diversity with two other papers on gender and class respectively. Preceding the Diversity group are three papers ranging from a focus on combat to school and the home under a heading entitled Violence. Violence is indeed the issue that frames the need to speak and bear witness in regard to otherness. Davies’s clinical focus reminds me of Layton’s (2010) observation that difficulty-accepting difference is not due to an encounter with difference per se, but is the result of prior trauma leading to a tendency to read difference or otherness through anxiety as opposed to curiosity. 

Davies’s paper may be considered an illustration of an awareness of the clinician’s difficulty of safely bringing into consciousness what is disavowed by the patient. She writes that the analyst must be willing to be open to unarticulated aspects of his or her own experience however imperfect or painful. Her focus is the divergent class, racial, or cultural backgrounds that add to the challenge of articulation. This is altogether important, for as Davies writes, minorities are the new majority in North America.

Her paper focuses on a case presentation in which her own membership in a multicultural family played a role. While in session, Davies spontaneously recites a verse in Spanish thereby disclosing her own multicultural knowledge which she could have left invisible in a treatment of a man whose poor Spanish parents immigrated to the United States a year before he was born. This patient possessed an identity that had crystallized on being unknown and unknowable due to shame and isolation experienced when he encountered the dominant culture in school, and his parents were not able to give him any guidance.

Through an unformulated sense of connection that culminated in the disclosure, an awareness of the patient’s psychology was articulated in a way that led to connectivity. Importantly Davies argues that it was not knowledge of Spanish that made the difference. She maintains that what is essential is the need to make contact in itself, as this very need creates conditions for a connecting bridge to emerge. To me this sounds like a sort of psychic pragmatism. In support of such pragmatism, Davies further states that had it not been this, another bridge allowing connection would have had to be found and the clinician willing to find it. Central to her thesis is the concept that coming to know a person requires finding him or her in some authentically felt way within our own selves. In this case that means feeling something that the patient has yet to be able to consciously contain and use productively.

While our engagement within psychoanalysis of narratives that privilege difference, enactment, and understanding may indeed be familiar, Davies’s paper makes good use those quotes. To that end, Davies’s paper and the current issue as a whole may be taken as a suggestion that we have reached a place where it is in fact ordinary to wrap our psychoanalytic minds around multicultural diversity with a desire to hear what has gone unheard.

References

Layton, L. (2010).  Resistance to resistance.  In:  A. Harris & S. Botticelli (Eds), First Do No Harm: The Paradoxical Encounters of Psychoanalysis, Warmaking, and Resistance. New York, NY: Routledge, pp.359 – 376.

Sherover-Marcuse, E. (1986).  Emancipation and consciousness:  Dogmatic and dialectical perspectives in the early Marx. New York, NY:  Basil Blackwell.