Way Beyond Freud: Postmodern Psychoanalysis Observed (Book Review)

Author:  Reppen, Joseph, Tucker, Jane, and Schulman, Martin
Publisher: London: Open Gate Press, 2004
Reviewed By: Louis Rothschild, Summer 2005, pp. 66-67

It is feasible that a line of thought might move from beyond to way beyond over a period of nineteen years. Joseph Reppen and some of his colleagues claim to have done this by their choice of a title. The volume under review, Way Beyond Freud: Postmodern Psychoanalysis Observed calls to attention Reppen’s 1985 Beyond Freud: A Study of Modern Psychoanalytic Theorists. That somewhere way beyond the modern we encounter the postmodern is the implication of the play between these titles. That Freud’s positing of an unconscious that disrupts a Cartesian cogito may itself be understood as a move beyond the modern sets the bar of moving beyond quite high. Not to mention moving way beyond. This brings to mind Foucault’s claim that Freud was that of a discursive thinker in that what has followed his work was anticipated in his work. Foucault’s comment provides a conservative challenge to claims of stepping beyond and way beyond.

Given that Joseph Reppen is the editor of the division’s journal and that co-editors Jane Tucker and Martin Schulman serve on that editorial board should well be an indication that they are up to such a challenge. In that regard it is a pleasure to note that the thirteen papers collected in this volume all merit not only the attention of the members of the division, but also the attention of anyone whose concern is contemporary psychoanalysis, for in this reviewer’s opinion they succeed in clearing the bar that they have set out for themselves.

In their introduction, the editors note that if anything appears to bind so-called postmodernists it is a stance that is situated or contextualized as opposed to a trans-situational reductionism that may be taken as objective. Clinically, an individual patient is understood to share in a co-construction (cf., Fiscalini, 2004 for a view of co-construction that is not explicitly tethered to postmodernism) as opposed to existing as an isolated individual who may be objectively understood. The editors further note that the papers found herein are as varied as are definitions of postmodernism. The contributors range from friend to foe of what is conjured by a postmodern psychoanalysis and in that the subtitle of the volume does not mislead. The papers do indeed observe and also engage.

There is a rich variety found herein, and while the limited scope of this review gives greater play to some papers over others, that in itself is in no way a reflection on the merit of any one paper. Interestingly, the summaries that follow should make it clear to the reader that most every aspect of the field is engaged by this collection. Donald Spence’s dream of a sensitive index of psychoanalytic themes similar to that found in the field of art history finds an interesting complement in historian Raul Roazen’s reminder that history does matter. Doris Silverman uses attachment data to critique the concept of symbiosis. Robert Bornstein argues that postmodern science offers an opportunity to reconnect psychoanalysis to mainstream psychology. In line with such thinking, William Meissner addresses the unity/multiplicity debate concerning the self with reference to William James and Walter Mischel. Kimberlyn Leary examines similarities and differences between the given moment of the analytic hour and Sherry Turkle’s analysis of the manner in which online computer use has come to impact one’s sense of self. The given moment is also addressed in Arnold Rachman’s use of Ferenczi’s trauma work to differentiate between judicious and conspicuous self-disclosure in the analytic hour. David Pincus makes uses a selection from The Velveteen Rabbit in conjunction with analysis of advances in brain science to remind the reader that constructions are born of attachments in interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. The relationship between the neuronal and interpersonal is also found in Michael Miller’s use of Dynamic Systems Theory.

Peter Shabad uses the phenomena of self-conscious individuals who are searching for a world greater than them in order to problematize a view in which everything is relegated to the subjective. In this regard, Shabad maintains that postmodernism may withhold a therapeutic holding environment in its embrace of a radical perspectivism. Concern regarding perspectivism and relativism and the relationship between these points of view and postmodernism is a major theme found in these collected papers.

In addition to Shabad’s contribution, M. Guy Thompson focuses on the perversion of Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s thought within contemporary postmodernists who typically reject experience as an artifact of a modernist conception of selfhood. It is striking that in Thompson’s argument that experience does matter, he illustrates the manner in which for Nietzsche and Heidegger the sense of belonging or feeling held is an illusion as there is no ultimate foundation for our values or behavior. The challenge to face this fact and accept the responsibility of making a meaningful life is from my reading of Thompson the center of authenticity. It is here that Thompson finds postmodernism perverse for it celebrates a notion that authenticity is a construction that may lead to a celebration of an inauthentic engagement.

Frank Summers addresses psychoanalysis from an epistemological perspective, and is in accord with Thompson’s support of hermeneutics. At issue is Summers engagement with a hermeneutic science that proposes that meaning allows one to find a way out of the dichotomy of objectivism and relativism. Summers devotes extensive attention to the work of one of Heidegger’s students, Gadamer to address the difference between hermeneutics and relativism. The argument is actually quite simple: different aspects of anything can be highlighted at any moment, and each aspect may be considered valid. Further, Summers follows Kohut’s conception of empathy as vicarious introspection as the manner in which one comes to understand how another may be highlighting a different aspect of whatever is being considered at a given moment.

The final paper in this volume, by Barnaby Barratt considers psychoanalysis to be congruent with postmodernism in a manner that fits squarely with Summers’s Thompson’s concern regarding experience, and Shabad’s concern with healing. Yet, unlike Barratt, Summers, Thompson, and Shabad each view postmodernism as dangerous. It is this divergence that makes the book most interesting and prompts we to recommend it without hesitation. What I particularly like about the illumination of this divergence found within, is that it is clear that postmodernism is not a unified theory. It may be that for some who promote postmodernism as a stance in which anything goes, inauthentic engagement is considered a goal. None of the contributors to the present volume share that view. Furthermore, when a central figure of what is oft referred to as postmodern thought such as Foucault (Martin, Gutman, Hutton, 1988) asks: How can we be “hermeneuts” of ourselves, it might well behoove us to notice that for such a thinker like the thinkers assembled in the volume under review: experience matters, and we need not place hermeneutics in opposition with a postmodern world view.

References

Fiscalini, J. (2004). Coparticipant psychoanalysis: Toward a new theory of clinical inquiry. New York: Columbia University Press.
Martin, L. H., Gutman, H., Hutton, P. H. (Eds). (1988). Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Reviewer Note

Louis Rothschild is in independent practice in Providence, RI and is chair of the Division Membership Committee.

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