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  1. Psychoanalytic Feminism
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Academics and most laypeople generally base their opinions of psychoanalysis on common sense. Common sense—as understood by Bachelard to mean our spontaneous conceptions—suggests that we are transparent to ourselves. As a result, we believe that we are capable of postulating on the human psyche on an equal footing with those who have spent their entire professional lives in daily contact with patients suffering from neuroses and psychoses.

Since psychoanalysis claims to shed light on human nature in a way common sense cannot, it inevitably vexes common sense which, for its part, assumes that it has an adequate and first-hand experience of human nature. Is this a natural presumption, as already pointed out by Montaigne? Yes, but not only that. Our relationship to psychic suffering also has a bearing. Talking cures deal with linguistic manifestations of anxiety and inward pain. To those suffering, the causes of their pain are so hidden to them that their only option for relief is to repress them or project them onto an external cause.

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Yet the suffering endures. No matter how intensely the subject denies it and escapes into thoughts and activities that serve as painkillers, he can never get away from the fact that something is eating away at him in the background even as a shadow threatens to engulf the well-being on the surface. Montesquieu claimed to have successfully overcome suffering by reading.

Other activities can also serve as painkillers. The intellectual activity and socialization the university experience affords are cultural fixes for keeping suffering at bay as much as possible.

Psychoanalytic Feminism

Yet the very object of our intellectual activity can sometimes undermine the pleasure or the numbing quality that activity can offer. For instance, objects of study such as wars, slavery, or genocides bear witness to equally painful realities. Contact with people whose pain engulfs you in its dark light is even harder to bear, particularly since their anxiety can awaken anxiety that might be sleeping within you.

When the relationship we have with a person burdens instead of enhances the way we think about ourselves, we tend to distance ourselves from that person or place a protective barrier between that person and ourselves. Psychoanalysis puts people who work with it—above all therapists—in a difficult situation. Whereas the exercise of thought has a natural tendency to push pain away, the realities psychoanalysis deals with threaten to make pain resurface. That being the case, it is not surprising that readers of psychoanalytic works are more attuned to theories than to the human factors on which those theories are based.

Philosophers have many good reasons for investing so much in the exercise of thought. However, one such reason is the anesthesia thought provides less radical, of course, than the ataraxia the stoics sought, but easier to attain. Moreover, the study of philosophy deals primarily with learning how to read texts, to understand them, to respond to them, and to write essays and dissertations.

Therefore, as several philosophers have lamented, the reality of the text itself tends to overshadow the realities it describes.

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This forms a protective cozy bubble around those who read and study psychoanalytic literature. However, it would be unfair to blame misunderstandings about psychoanalytic works solely on readers. Their authors are also to blame. The fact that they feel the need to compensate for the many hours they spend listening to patients by wielding the discourse themselves is to be expected.

Seminars and theoretical works are their outlet for doing so. Obviously, the desire for mutual enlightenment also plays a role, but so does the desire for prestige and power. As a result, discourses often flaunt theoretical mastery. Love of knowledge and emulation or rivalry among psychoanalysts are not the only forces that fuel their theoretical ambitions. Psychoanalysis is a profession that demands a strong personal commitment, and some analysts believe it is well suited to reinterpreting knowledge from the human and social sciences since it focuses on aspects of the human condition those sciences find it difficult to deal with.

Freud was struggling to make sense of his clinical cases. In his work, the tension he experienced throughout his life is palpable. On the one hand, he had a desire for mastery and was highly ambitious he saw himself as a conquistador. On the other hand, he acknowledged not having the knowledge he coveted and that his own dreams knew more about him than he did.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

This accounts for the alternation in his practice between patient listening and spot-on interpretations, writings attesting to his tireless curiosity, tenacity, and clinical sense, and others in which he gives free reign to his theoretical ambitions, which makes for tedious reading but which keep critics busy. Like any other doctor or therapist, Freud had to protect himself from the suffering and anxiety of his patients. His gift for intellectual activity, to which he devoted so much effort, afforded him the analgesic effects such activity produces, particularly when put to theoretical use.

In Civilization and its Discontents [Das Unbehagen in der Kultur] , Freud undertakes an analysis of the human condition. An old man outlining his anthropological vision comes to mind. Surprisingly, Freud makes no mention of a fourth source of suffering, which is the one he faced daily in his decades-long practice of psychoanalysis, namely that free-floating anxiety, the sources of which, to use the archeological metaphor Freud was so fond of, can only be excavated at the cost of patience, and which he goes on to explain too simplistically as the conflict between our drives and the requirements of civilization.

In this work, Freud also looks at defense mechanisms against pain. He could have used this work to explain how his own intellectual activity protected him from suffering—his own as well as that of his patients. However, it is not easy to admit using a defense against pain, for the mere act of admission weakens the defense. Now that the inevitable and profound misunderstanding due to the gap between clinical and textual realities has, I hope, been elucidated although not settled, which would be impossible , I will return to the rivalry.

We see an activity as a rival when it has similar aims as our own, but instead of lending credence to ours, challenges its pertinence.

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Philosophy and psychoanalysis both seek truth, specifically the truth about our very being and the way we lead our lives. However, they are in complete disagreement about both the nature of that truth and ways of reaching it. Their disagreement—indeed, their incompatibility—concerns two concepts: control, and completeness. The Western philosophical tradition considers such thought the highest human faculty.

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Plato sees this kind of thinking as the means for discovering—or rather rediscovering—a truth that tends toward the contemplation of the divine. Aristotle also sees thought as leading to contemplation. Although Descartes may have diverged from this position, which might be called religious, he also sees methodical thinking as the highest activity.

Philosophy can thus be taught.

It develops concepts and dispenses knowledge that benefits people in the form of lectures or philosophical texts. Truth is revealed in the form of statements conceived by the highest part of our soul in much the same way as it conceives geometric truths. Truth is a source of wisdom because, once engaged by our will, we acquire self-mastery and control over desires and can thus attain the highest good by ourselves. Stoicism also teaches truths that conform to the logos, or reason. Reaching them is the way to free ourselves from vain desires and our dependency on others.

Although stoicism has a slightly different religious framework from Platonism, both seek transcendence of the human condition. Their ideal is to live like a god. The talking cure, by contrast, does not pursue the sovereign good.

A Guide to Psychoanalytic Criticism - A Research Guide for Students

Psychoanalysis acknowledges that life is stronger than thought. The truth of what we are is in our life, itself bound up with other lives.

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Conscious thought may well experience life and itself as independent, but the reality is that our life did not originate in conscious thought. Instead, our life emerged through vital physical, neurological, psychic, and relational processes that predate and thus elude thought, but on which thought is heavily dependent.

Thought is one of these vital processes, just as the brain as Damasio pointed out is part of the body and performs the complex task of maintaining our psychic and physical integrity. Thought can therefore only grasp part of the truth of what we are. Thought must let go of the desire for completeness that drives Western philosophy and thus forego the pleasure that a sense or an illusion of completeness brings. Whenever something of our true essence manifests itself in a language our conscious can hear at least partially , it is not surprising that this language, which conveys a piece of our truth, is different from the language we use to express logical statements about the knowledge we control, whose certainty should be seen by all.

Nonetheless, the talking cure requires high-level thinking. How can the type of mental work the patient undertakes be described? This mental activity reveals his way of being or not being and desiring, and bears testimony to an economy of desire that predates will and came into being without it and that will is thus helpless to change. However, over the course of sessions, as the patient works to tame this psychic activity and to speak to the analyst, this economy of desire can be remolded into one that connects with the world of human coexistence and makes space not only for itself but for others too.

Contrary to what Freud suggests, it is not the insight itself that brings about this change. Rather, it is the change that enables this insight to emerge.

Wisdom Won from Illness

More importantly, due to the absence of that need, it lends itself to being listened to by another. Patients expose themselves to the risk of saying something of their truth that the analyst can hear but which they do not. Given this context, the patient can express himself in a way that is not possible in other human relations and thus serves as an aid and a recourse. The patient expresses his mode of being—which is inseparable from his mode of relating—through whatever stories, associations, and remarks come to mind.

At the same time, he experiences and enacts his mode of being through his relationship with the therapist.