Difference and Disavowal: The Trauma of Eros (Book Review)

Author:  Bass, Alan
Publisher:  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000
Reviewed By:  Louis Rothschild, Summer 2004, pp. 69-70

Instincts remain relational phenomena. Postmodern science appears to convey a new insight. Taken out of any particular context, these two sentences serve as intriguing stimuli. As I ponder them as decontextualized slogans, I find it quite possible to imagine that they might have originated out of recent writing concerning postmodern approaches to relational psychoanalysis (e.g.; Fairfield, Layton, and Stack, 2002). Therefore, it becomes all the more intriguing to consider the fact that these words belong to none other than Hans Loewald. To further intrigue, these words are pieces of quoted passages found in a text by an analyst concerned with maintaining the “classical” frame of psychoanalysis. It may aid understanding to note that the author of the book under review is that analyst who has also translated four books by Jacques Derrida: the classical frame encounters French theory. Such an encounter presents its own frame: the land of Nietzsche’s eternal return, of difference.

Such a space beckons this reviewer to play. However, I am tethered or shall I say tempted to be tempered by the fact that this work has already been reviewed elsewhere and rather harshly at that (Goldberg, 2003a). Further, this other review led to a brief debate between the author (Bass, 2003) and the reviewer (Goldberg, 2003b) in JAPA. In short, Goldberg finds that the work under review suffers from an overly selective literature review and parochialism. Responding, Bass notes that the central thesis of his work is not mentioned in Goldberg’s review and Bass questions Goldberg’s overall tone as a reviewer. In turn, Goldberg refers Bass to the dictionary and other scholars to find the meaning of key terms. Difference no longer feels so playful.

As the title of Bass’s work suggests, the engagement of difference can be traumatic and an understanding of difference is a key for meta-theory as well as practice. In this regard it is worth noting that much of what Goldberg commented on reveals a careful reading of Bass’s work. In the spirit of engaging difference, and so as not to be boringly redundant, what follows is a review that utilizes in part Goldberg’s review as a frame to engage Bass’ text—albeit from a different point of view.

However, first, a look to what is central to this reviewer regarding the book itself. The Preface of the book speaks to the use of deconstruction to engage the contradictions within Freudian theory in hopes of renewing it from within. Specifically, Bass is concerned with a general theory of fetishism and finds that Freud began to propose one at the end of his life. Bass notes that his own thoughts on the problem first culminated in a 1991 paper on fetishism and oscillation published in American Imago, and that the ideas for this book began to form in a 1997 paper published in Psychoanalytic Quarterly on the problem of concreteness. Central to these articles and the book under review is a focus on a rethinking of repression as central in favor of a focus on disavowal and splitting. Bass notes that others have also grappled with the problem of concrete and resistant patients, and adds that what is novel regarding his approach is a revision of theory based on defenses against differentiation that addresses both sides of the therapeutic dyad in order to open the “closed system” of the concrete patient by working through enactments within analyst and patient.

If only for his careful reading of Freud, and his ability to communicate what he has found, the book is worth a read. Consider the following sentence found in italics on p. 30: “Perceived castration is a fantasy.” Simple and relatively obvious, yet the quote is not a common observation and it affords a scaffold to support a rich discussion of sexual difference. I will quote again to illustrate how moving from Freud to Loewald, Bass illustrates his general theory (his treatment of Loewald is in my opinion equally excellent.). My hope in quoting is that the reader may decide if what is found here prompts one to pick up the book itself:

the fetishist attempts to substitute a static, finished thing for the sexual difference that overwhelms him or her. The opposition castrated—not-castrated dominates consciousness. In more general terms, the concrete patient substitutes an “objective” perception of the analyst for the dynamic reality of the analyst’s interpretive function. (p. 102)

In regards to his use of passages of Freud, I’m not alone in praising. Goldberg does as well. Yet, Goldberg writes of being mildly annoyed in addition to being pleasantly surprised when Bass’ text affords freshness in rereading Freud. In Bass’s reply to Goldberg he notes that such annoyance is confusing. I imagine that the annoyance may be due to the other difficulties Goldberg has with the text.

Goldberg’s central point is that Bass has failed to make explicit his registration of other’s work on disavowal, and that others have already solved the problem Bass seeks to solve. Goldberg further notes that there exist a multitude of answers to the problem Bass seeks to solve. Goldberg then notes that this is a problem of psychoanalysis: that most analysts are content to read only in their area of allegiance where there is certainty, thereby avoiding multiple points of view. In this respect, this reviewer is reminded of the Greek poet Archilochus who wrote of the fox who utilizes many viewpoints while the hedgehog uses only one. Archilochus certainly wrote long before there was psychoanalysis, and the problem of the fox and hedgehog is not unique to psychoanalysis. Some scientists have noted (e.g., Gould, 2003; Moscovici, 1993) that researchers often wear either the face of the fox or the hedgehog. Moscovici adds that when a researcher is using varied facts and methods to aid description, the fox is to be found. When the researcher is engaged in the task of explaining results, like the hedgehog, what contradicts and clashes is rejected. What is at issue in regards to this review is Goldberg’s claim that Bass is guilty of being a hedgehog who devalues the fox.

In that Bass is wedded to his “commitment to maintenance of the “classical” frame of analysis” (p. 270), he may be considered to be a hedgehog. Yet, it strikes me that there is significant variance within that niche. Variance that quite possibly conjures the multiplicity of the fox. For example, his chapter on the part object is a journey through Abraham, Klein, and Winnicott. Further, the next chapter entitled “Analysis of Surface, Analysis of Defense” contends with the work of Paul Gray and Betty Joseph, as extended respectively by Fred Busch and Michael Feldman. Although similar, Freudian ego psychologists are not Kleinians. If that does not afford sufficient evidence of a fox lurking in Bass’s text, consider a footnote (#20, p. 144), in which Bass writes in reference to Cartesianism within Freud’s theory that there is a large literature on the subject. Here Bass may be guilty of showing the fox face in regard to description while sporting the hedgehog while engaged in explanation. However, this reviewer is not certain that this in itself constitutes a foul.

For his own part, Bass states that elements of his theory have been anticipated by other analysts, and goes on to say that the book itself is not an ultimate work for it does not integrate all the thinkers he would have liked to include. He is aware of the limitations of his discussion, and jokes that, “The ideal book for the ideal reader with the ideal insomnia would have been impossible” (p. ix).

The work is not a primer by any means. I would recommend this book to any practicing therapist who has already encountered psychoanalytic metapsychology and desires more. Moments of the text convey Bass’s role as a supervising analyst, and the book would also certainly be interesting to anyone undergoing a training analysis or supervising one for those albeit brief textual moments. Goldberg contends that the text would be of interest to students of Derrida. In this I also agree. I will confess, however, that although I have read Deleuze and Foucault (Gasp!), I have not to date read Derrida. So, how can I agree? The answer is found in one of two quotes resting on a page before the Introduction to the work under review. One is from Derrida’s work, Glas. I found the quote challenging and difficult if not outright confusing when I first opened Bass’s book. That itself provides my overall criterion for this review. Upon finishing the work and looking back to write this review, the quote was understood. Bass does his job well. To that end, the book might also be especially recommended to students of psychoanalysis who are not students of Derrida, but interested in his work.


Bass, A. (2003). Difference and disavowal. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51, 1105-1107.
Fairfield, S., Layton, L., and Stack, C. (2002). Bringing the Plague: Toward a postmodern psychoanalysis. New York: Other Press.
Goldberg, A. (2003a). Review of: Difference and disavowal: The trauma of Eros. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51, 678-681.
Goldberg, A. (2003b). Arnold Goldberg replies. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 51, 1107.
Gould, S. J. (2003). The hedgehog, the fox, and the Magister’s Pox: Mending the gap between science and the humanities. New York: Harmony Books.
Moscovici, S. (1993). The invention of society. W.D. Halls, trans. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.

Reviewer Note

Louis Rothschild, a member of the local chapter, Rhode Island Association for Psychoanalytic Psychologies, is in independent practice in Providence, RI.


© APA Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis). All rights reserved. Readers therefore must apply the same principles of fair use to the works in this electronic archive that they would to a published, printed archive. These works may be read online, downloaded for personal or educational use, or the URL of a document (from this server) included in another electronic document. No other distribution or mirroring of the texts is allowed. The texts themselves may not be published commercially (in print or electronic form), edited, or otherwise altered without the permission of the Division of Psychoanalysis. All other interest and rights in the works, including but not limited to the right to grant or deny permission for further reproduction of the works, the right to use material from the works in subsequent works, and the right to redistribute the works by electronic means, are retained by the Division of Psychoanalysis. Direct inquiries to Henry Seiden, Publications Committee chair.