Kohut, Loewald, and the Postmoderns: A Comparative Study of Self and Relationship (Book Review)
Back in the 1940’s, at the City College of New York, my favorite psychology professor, Gardner Murphy stressed repeatedly the importance of “the reciprocal interplay” and the “figure-ground relationship” in both the intrapsychic and interpersonal realms. Murphy’s brilliant bio-social mindset which taught enrichment through diversity was preeminently post-modern.
He followed another giant, Albert Einstein, who, as early as 1912, articulated that the observer is inseparable from the observed. Einstein was also an unquestionable post-modernist.
And so was Sigmund Freud at the turn of the last century. At least he started that way in promoting free association to loosen and unravel the repressions of the Victorian Era.
With its challenge to objective knowledge and truth, with its focus on different perspectives, and with finding alternative meaning to entrenched ideas, postmodernism has been rearing its head throughout the 20th century. Now, like a bubble bursting, the limitless interaction on the Internet has brought forth a massive global interdependence with an interpenetration of ideas and commerce. As is increasingly evident, “inter” has become the key preposition to the postmodern era.
This is the background and contemporary context for postmodern psychoanalysis and the blossoming of intersubjectivity. In her impressive and scholarly new book, Judith Guss Teicholz declares (p. 173) “one might even conclude that expression of the analyst’s unique and disjunctive subjectivity has become a new guiding principle in discussions of postmodern psychoanalytic technique”. While intersubjectivity has not entirely entered the mainstream of clinical practice, it is certainly rocking the boat, arousing both enthusiasm and anxiety-induced resistance. For example, at the conservative American Psychoanalytic Association national meeting, the plenary session is entitled “Have We Lost Our Mind?” obviously referring to new trends in the field.
Teicholz postulated two partial revolutions overthrowing the classical Freudian enterprise, the first by Heinz Kohut and Hans Loewald, and the second, now in progress, led by the current generation of five young theorists whose influential work were specially selected for this volume.
The unfolding narrative in the book suggests an intergenerational family lineage analogy. After “Grandfather” Freud made his initial venture into postmodernism, it seems that the grandeur of his discoveries propelled him into becoming a rule-bound authoritarian proscribing objective interpretive truth. His austere triad of neutrality, abstinence and anonymity gradually began to be seen as a defensive artificial veneer obscuring the authentic personal layers to which the patients invariably react.
After several decades of learning the procedural manual, his two venturesome rebellious “sons” Kohut and Loewald began to see the limitations of the classical method and acknowledged the significant role of the real person within the professional, beyond what was considered counter-transference.
Now the group of revolutionary “grandchildren” is trying to topple Kohut and Loewald whose work is seen as too limited and unidirectional. These young bold theorists are promoting more spontaneous intersubjective expression between analyst and patient. Their motto seems to be “True change only through true exchange”, an indirect reference to a notion I learned when I studied General Systems Theory.
Teicholz’s book provides us with an ideological feast. Every page is abounding with citations, not only from Kohut and Loewald, but also from the new young theorists- Lewis Aron, Jessica Benjamin, Irwin Z. Hoffman, Stephen A. Mitchell and Owen Renik. She also quotes from scores of other contributors to the field. Her list of references cover 21 pages, a rich sumptuous serving of innovative thinking.
My family lineage imagery points to the age-old process of identifying with and differentiating from ones forebears. Loewald tried to do both, preserving the classical mold while acknowledging the deep impact of human subjectivities. Kohut went on a totally new track, focusing on coherence and continuity of the self within a self-selfobject matrix. Both made explicit what was always implicit---that the ubiquitous subjectivity of the analyst is a significant determinant of the patient’s behavior. Why this was denied, ignored or repressed for half a century, I believe, may be a consequence of the initial grandiosity of psychoanalysis as the savior of mankind
Teicholz demonstrates a subtle and sophisticated grasp of the entire corpus of Loewalds’ and Kohuts’ work, how it evolved and how it played out each with the other. Her understanding of the permutations of their ideas is profound, and she clearly described how they were “stepping stones” to the postmodern thinking now beginning to penetrate the field.
What is also so captivating about the book is her vivid portrayal of how the various theorists bounce off each other, with converging and diverging ideas. She shows an unusual facility to appreciate each writer’s evolving thoughts as they contributed to the historical twists and turns in our profession. Whether what is happening is a “paradigmatic shift” or “sea change” or the inevitable uncovering of what was latent all along, is a debatable issue. Thus, this book can be an excellent required reading text in graduate schools or training institutes on the subject of “Contemporary Trends in Psychoanalysis”. It is also well organized as an action-reaction sequel.
For this reviewer, the most interesting part of the book is the extraordinary tour through the current terrain of egalitarian intersubjectivity as developed by the chosen five writers.
In general, most analysts are just getting their feet wet with this innovative way of working. They feel it is more onerous or burdensome to develop shared meanings within a two transference-counter-transference interplay. Certainly the approach has seductive appeal. Working in this manner suggests that we are no longer in a “lonely” profession.
In her book, Teicholz traces a pivotal turning point in psychoanalysis to 1960 when Loewald wrote his often quoted paper “on the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis”. This seminal paper diminished the role of insight and elevated the human relationship as the key ingredient of change. This trend toward allowing the analyst’s personal emotions into the foreground of the treatment continues unabated to this day. Back in 1983, Hoffman wrote about the patient as interpreter of the analyst’s experience, and now going further, Aron and others are recommending that the patient be invited to interpret the analyst’s subjectivity.
Teicholz has performed a masterful job interweaving the creative thinking of the various theorists. Furthermore, she has frequently sprinkled her own ideas throughout the book, thus adding more flavor to the reading, She is clearly in favor of the intersubjective approach and its uses and differentiates the moderate from the more radical attitudes. All of her chosen quintet of postmoderns is considered moderates since they also emphasize their struggle for balance, complementarity and integration. All recognize the need for ritual and spontaneity (the title of Hoffman’s new book) as a dialectical process.
To forestall any harmful acting out or any “free for all” implications of unbounded intersubjectivity, the new writers are concerned with maintaining a responsible, disciplined analytic frame, though they are not always articulate about it. Now the emphasis is on the shared co-construction of meaning, since neither participant, analyst or patient is privy to the observational truth about the other. There is a consensual recognition that logical positivism so endemic in the Modern Age epitomizing the authority of reason is very limited and deficient in psychoanalytic work.
Teicholz has written a book about many other books as well as hundreds of articles, but this is not an ordinary literature review or history chronicle. Even if it were, it would be a worthwhile reading experience. This book is unquestionably a profound study of unfolding patterns and trends. It is right on the cutting edge of new theory and practice. I would highly recommend this book to all those interested in the exciting transformations now going on in the field.
While I have reservations about postmodernism- the throwing out of the traditional baby with the bathwater, especially in regard to fundamental morality, my only regret about the book is the scarcity of clinical material as well as any discussions regarding differential diagnosis. I am finally reminded of a rather remote article written in 1968 by Fritz Riemann entitled “The Personality Structure of the Analyst and Its Influence on the Course of Treatment”. He postulates that even the most well-analyzed analysts have personalities broadly classified as compulsive, hysterical, depressive or schizoid, and that each type follows a characteristic pattern in the supposedly “objective” technique of psychoanalysis. He goes on to state that patients fall into the same categories. His conclusion is that some of the combinations work and some don’t. I hope that the future of intersubjectivity will evolve with more diagnostic precision. I am sorry Teicholz didn’t include and discuss Riemann’s paper. In 1969, I guess it was probably too threatening to put it out on the table. But not now.
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