Subject to Change: Jung, Gender and Subjectivity in Psychoanalysis (Book Review)

Author:  Young-Eisendrath, Polly
Publisher: New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Reviewed By: Howard Covitz, Summer 2005, pp. 74-77

"My overarching invitation to you is that you form a relationship with me: argue with me, mark down your thoughts (even in the margins), agree or disagree with me, but find yourself here while questioning my ideas." (p. 12)

Eating with the Enemy: Several years ago, spring was just coming to Philadelphia and I received a message from Barbara Silliman asking if I would keynote their annual meeting of the Jungian Society in Providence. I wrote back wondering whether she had not inadvertently, put forth this offer confusing me with my brother, Joel Covitz, a Jungian analyst in Boston who had trained with the Zurich group, while I had trained with Freudians in Philadelphia. I had, indeed, spent a short time in Zurich in 1969, couldn’t understand what Jung was writing about even when he wrote of mathematics (in which I had considerable training), benefited greatly from some short-term Jungian work with Rafael Lopez-Pedraza, and went home at peace with my decision on training in the neo-Freudian tradition. To make a long story short, I accepted Silliman’s offer, went to Providence in August 2003, spoke (“Touched by Jung”), and ate with my cordial hosts—distant cousins who treated me with kindly deference. And now Polly Young-Eisendrath (Y-E) asks that I build a relationship with her qua writer and reader?

Now that the whole field of Psychoanalysis has been attacked and devalued by various outside economic and cultural forces, it behooves us to function as a cooperative group, and to heal the stepfamily mentality that has hurt us badly. (p. 4)

When the Wolf is at the Door: I find it difficult to take in the radical cultural shifts in psychoanalysis that have occurred in the years that I’ve been training, then practicing and teaching. Can it be but 30 years ago that a training analyst in the Freudian medical group laughed off the thought that he might sell some supervision to me on a type of case in which he had expertise? And was it approximately the same year during which a neighbor refused to speak with me because we trained within different psychoanalytic churches? Can it be that even when my ex-training analyst died in 1986, Mahler and Anna Freud were still looked upon by him with a healthy degree of suspicion—were they really bona fide explorers of das unbewusste or merely pretenders? It was during that same era in my own institute when the Kardiner, Thompson, Horney and Saul types were thought of as pariahs of the Sullivanian Heresy or some such and that gay analysts still had to live in the shadows. For that matter, could it have been the psychoanalytic world that invented: don’t ask; don’t tell? I have met the enemy and the enemy is (in) me!

Suffice it to say that my interests in subjectivity encompass both the ways in which the human personality forms and functions as an apparent unity—what we call ‘self’—and how this illusion of singularity and unity always rests, and is rooted in, self-other functioning. (p. 5)

A Farewell to Arms: By the time Arnie Richards contacted me (perhaps it’s already been 8 years) to join the online faculty of the fledgling JAPA_NET, one could feel the changes—and not just because of the lawsuit and subsequent settlement with the IPA and the American Psychoanalytic brought by a handful of psychoanalytically trained psychologists. Something was different. Consider, for instance: Here I am a male, and, at least by training, a Freudian with the barest acquaintance with Buddhism writing a review of a very personal account of Polly Young-Eisendrath’s twenty-year “development as a person, woman, Jungian psychoanalyst, feminist, Buddhist and developmental psychologist” (p. 1). Furthermore, I am writing for Division 39’s quarterly, a predominantly Freudian and neo-Freudian journal, and, yet, I shall have found nothing worth mentioning by way of disagreement with this Jungian thinker. Oh! One can always nitpick but I walked away from Dr. Young-Eisendrath’s thinking enriched.

There has, indeed, been a radical sea change—a cultural paradigm shift—within the structure of the American world of psychoanalysis. On a personal note, again, the kind of exclusionary politics that may have dominated psychoanalysis from even before the split with Adler and Jung has been so lessened that I can recall but one situation over the past 3 years when a mean-spiritedness was aimed in my direction at a meeting. And that was by a psychoanalyst-psychologist who expressed scorn over my having trained as a lay psychoanalyst prior to becoming a Psychologist. If it were up to him, he opined, I would not be permitted membership in Section I. And let there be no question about it, by the meetings recounted in the Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Nunberg, 1962) in 1906-1908, one can feel palpable tensions mounting—Freud and Adler spitting at each other (ibid p. 226-237), Little Hans’ musicologist father, Max Graf, decrying the tendency for gratuitous pathographies of artists by non-artists, etc. (ibid p. 26ff and p. 259ff). Never mind the New York psychoanalytic civil war (Frosch, 1991), the Anna Freud v Melanie Klein 30 Years War or the uncountable instances of people who one might think should know better behaving unkindly to each other. Psalms: “Can a ram’s horn blow in the city and the nation not tremble?”

“My overarching invitation to you is that you form a relationship with me” (Y-E p. 12) In sundry ways, Subject to Change is in the tradition of Fred Pine’s classic integrative piece (1985): it is personal, without being confessional; situates itself in an integrative historical context, without being bibliographically heavy or slavishly bound by what came before (Freud or Jung); and differs from many while following the admonition of Ethics of the Fathers to “learn from every man.” As I read Polly Young-Eisendrath’s republishing of her thinking over the past 20 years—edited to preclude excessive repetition with an introduction thrown in for good measure—a question repeatedly came to mind: how did change occur in psychoanalytic culture that brought along at least a decrease in hostilities within this community? There is a related older question, predating even the 1961 IPA Conference, Curative Factors in Psychoanalysis (Segal et al., 1962), that focused on clinical changes, i.e., how does a patient (not us qua community, but a patient) get well? In this very brief review of a volume that I commend unreservedly and especially to Freudians suspicious of their Jungian kin, I shall limit myself to an attempt to extract from her writings certain idiosyncratic notions of health that may relate mutatis mutandis to the broader question of how we analysts stopped or may stop acting badly. I do this as an attempt to join in her conversation, as she requested, without any intention of fully reviewing it. The reader, if I may indulge some light-hearted cavalierness, should go have their own conversation with the author.

To begin, Young-Eisendrath is thankfully less shy than most of us who write in showing her cards on what constitutes health of the individual and even health of the community. I have long found it curious indeed that we who shepherd those on their treks through the underbrush of their minds—das unbewusste that makes inch by inch progress in living so difficult—rarely speak of health. I cannot imagine that we analysts are incapable of articulating a picture of health that is sufficiently broad so as not to fall prey to the folly of normative and statistical straightjacketing, but for some reason we do not do so. This volume, for me, is a fine example of the good use that may be made of this willingness to do what Freud (S.E. 1933a, p. 158) said we shouldn’t do, namely specify a Weltanschauung for psychoanalysis. For after all, our worldview does indeed define for us the notion of the good life for both the individual and for collectives. I shall choose but three such parameters of health that repeat themselves in Subject to Change’s twenty papers and, or so I claim, may well be connected to changes in the psychoanalytic culture that I have already noted. These changes are passed on, perhaps, by changes in the training analyses that are among the major tools for cultural transmission within our community.

I shall note these paradigmatic notions of health put forth in Subject to Change and discuss them briefly, as I again encourage others to join Dr. Young-Eisendrath in her requested conversation. I found it especially refreshing that the author was willing to emphasize the need for skepticism: “My own approach to understanding psychoanalytic work has always been open to not-knowing; it has been subject to change. I regard not-knowing as an active stance from which to engage our moment-to-moment experience; (p. 1) [and] there is no objective fact to be discovered outside of … an interpersonal context” (p. 2).

Sextus Empiricus, a doctor in the school of Asclepiades, had some 1800 years ago argued that in order to attain peace of mind (the title, by the way, of one of the very few analytic works that focuses on health [Liebman 1946]) or ataraxia, thinkers must first learn to suspend judgment. It is of note that in recent discussions of the scientific merits of psychoanalysis, falsifiability has become such a controversial topic. I wonder: When we interpret to our patients, whether in therapeutic analyses or training analyses, do we establish a model for such skepticism or do we pit our own conviction against the resistance of the patient? Young children do appreciate the firm hand of those who know or who, at least, claim to know. But what, I must wonder, precipitates from treatment by an analyst who knows? And what model of health is birthed from such treatments? One can but fascinate about such matters, though some recent work (e.g., Tessman 2003) on the training analytic relationship does examine the impact of the training analyst’s style on that of the candidate in later life.

Skepticism is related to intersubjectivity and plays a central role for Young-Eisendrath as well. In order to maintain an intersubjective stance in which the Other’s relationship to their own thoughts and models may be considered and betimes even embraced, one must be able to transcend a narcissistic position that views one’s views as incontrovertible, undeniable or unfalsifiable. Skepticism and intersubjectivity are interdependent. Young-Eisendrath, in her own way, works to balance the need for subjectivity and agency (particularly in Part 2, “Gender and Desire”) against the need for the intersubjective position. Consider the following: “One is not more independent but more mature in one’s dependence on others. (p. 59) [and] Objective empathy … is the ability to put oneself in another’s perspective or point of view. (p. 112) [Or, citing Zen Master, Dogen:] Self and other are ultimately interdependent; the self does not exist prior to, or outside of, the other; we have only the possibility of experiencing self or other through relationship” (p. 159).

I wonder: Is it possible to recast our understanding of the curative factors in psychoanalytic treatment? Perhaps, it is not solely where Unconscious was let there be Conscious or where Es-It-Id was let there be Ich-I-Ego! Instead, might not the treatment process be conceptualized as one in which two protagonists—one locked into relating unwittingly on the basis of their relational history and another equally locked into both relational history and theoretical specificity—come to slowly abandon their cherished and self-referenced positions and to work to value each others’ inner worlds and to accept each other as unique others, as subjects, each in their own right? And might this not parri passu alter a defensive structure that, in the most general terms, replaces relating with autoplastic changes, be they of the obsessional, hysteric or more obviously narcissistic variety. These thoughts became prominent components of my silent discussion with Young-Eisendrath.

In commenting on Subject to Change, I shall be satisfied in introducing one additional constituent part of health that she shares with and cites from Jung, Ogden and Stephen Mitchell and that may both impact our understanding of the treatment process and relate back to the earlier mentioned sanguine value of skepticism. Dr. Young-Eisendrath notes (p. 211 and also cited p. 64): “To move from painful enactments of complexes into the transcendent function [Jung’s expression] or dialogical space [Ogden’s expression] is, as I see it, the major work of a long term psychotherapy or analysis. Stephen Mitchell seems to agree when he writes, “the capacity to bear, hold and play with an interpretation, neither surrendering to it as powerful magic nor rejecting it as dangerous poison – [is] … a criterion of readiness to terminate.”

Indeed, this idea is not new and the author connects it even to ancient Buddhist thought. Feldman (1974), for instance, suggested that analysis provided a “psychoanalytic addition to human nature” that went beyond restoring someone to a previous stasis. Instead, he proposed that the ability to free associate within the realm of feelings was a novel creation of the psychoanalytic process. An impulse was no longer simply a forerunner of an action but now could be a jumping-off point for a series of associations to affects that might or might not bring one to either action or a conclusion. Hereby we see as well a connection to Young-Eisendrath’s emphasis on skepticism. The impulse, thought or feeling, in becoming a datum for further exploration (and pointedly not explanation), particularly within a relational context, is no longer locked into a narcissistic evaluation of correct or incorrect, or mine or yours, but opens up into the exploration that psychoanalysis, at its best, promotes.

The introduction into our analyses of skepticism, a balance between subjectivity and intersubjectivity, and the capacity to transcend the biological immediacy (intrinsic to instinctual behavior) that draws us to premature closure (explanation) rather than exploration of our rich inner lives might go a long way toward producing new generations of psychoanalysts who can work together without falling prey to the “step family mentality” that has politicized the relations between the heirs to Freud’s legacy.

It is odd, isn’t it, that we expend so much energy on infighting. After all, what our patients carry away from treatment, the analytic instrument or introject, is so much more than a cache of interpretations. Dr. Young-Eisendrath does indeed paint a picture of the sanguine existence, as she freely borrows from a spectrum of Jungian, Freudian, Ego-Psychological and Object Relations thinkers, as if there were no boundaries between Jungian and Freudian camps, and as if we all share in her/our being a “person, woman, Jungian Psychoanalyst, feminist, Buddhist and developmental psychologist.” I’ve much enjoyed conversing with her.


Feldman, H. (1974) A psychoanalytic addition to human nature. Psychoanalytic Review 61:133-139.
Frosch, J. (1991). The New York psychoanalytic civil war. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 39:1037-64.
Liebman, J.L. (1946). Peace of mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Nunberg, H. (1962). Minutes of the Vienna psychoanalytic society, vol. I. New York: International Universities Press.
Pine, F. (1985). Developmental theory and clinical process. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Segal, H. et al (1962). The curative factors in psychoanalysis. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 43:194-233.
Tessman, L.H. (2003). The analyst’s analyst within. New York: Analytic Press.

Reviewer Note

Howard Covitz is in private practice in Melrose Park and for many years was Director of the Institute for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies in Bryn Mawr. His Œdipal Paradigms in Collision was nominated for NAAP’s Gradiva Book of the Year Award in 1998. He is, in addition, a visiting associate professor of mathematics at Temple University.


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