Monday, December 26, 2016

‘Freud Lives!’ by Slavoj Žižek

As pub­lished in Lon­don Review of Books, Vol. 28 No. 10 · 25 May 2006

In recent years, it’s often been said that psy­cho­ana­lys­is is dead. New advances in the brain sci­ences have finally put it where it belongs, along­side reli­gious con­fess­ors and dream-read­ers in the lum­ber-room of pre-sci­en­ti­fic obscur­ant­ist searches for hid­den mean­ing. As Todd Dufres­ne put it, no fig­ure in the his­tory of human thought was more wrong about all the fun­da­ment­als – with the excep­tion of Marx, some would add. The Black Book of Com­mun­ismwas fol­lowed last year by the Black Book of Psy­cho­ana­lys­is, which lis­ted all the the­or­et­ic­al mis­takes and instances of clin­ic­al fraud per­pet­rated by Freud and his fol­low­ers. In this way, at least, the pro­found solid­ar­ity of Marx­ism and psy­cho­ana­lys­is is now there for all to see.
A cen­tury ago, Freud included psy­cho­ana­lys­is as one of what he described as the three ‘nar­ciss­ist­ic ill­nesses’. First, Coper­ni­cus demon­strated that the Earth moves around the Sun, thereby depriving humans of their cent­ral place in the uni­verse. Then Dar­win demon­strated that we are the pro­duct of evol­u­tion, thereby depriving us of our priv­ileged place among liv­ing beings. Finally, by mak­ing clear the pre­dom­in­ant role of the uncon­scious in psych­ic pro­cesses, Freud showed that the ego is not mas­ter even in its own house. Today, sci­en­ti­fic break­throughs seem to bring fur­ther humi­li­ation: the mind is merely a machine for data-pro­cessing, our sense of freedom and autonomy merely a ‘user’s illu­sion’. In com­par­is­on, the con­clu­sions of psy­cho­ana­lys­is seem rather con­ser­vat­ive.
Is psy­cho­ana­lys­is out­dated? It cer­tainly appears to be. It is out­dated sci­en­tific­ally, in that the cog­nit­iv­ist-neuro­bi­o­lo­gist mod­el of the human mind has super­seded the Freu­di­an mod­el; it is out­dated in the psy­chi­at­ric clin­ic, where psy­cho­ana­lyt­ic treat­ment is los­ing ground to drug treat­ment and beha­vi­our­al ther­apy; and it is out­dated in soci­ety more broadly, where the notion of social norms which repress the individual’s sexu­al drives doesn’t hold up in the face of today’s hedon­ism. But we should not be too hasty. Per­haps we should instead insist that the time of psy­cho­ana­lys­is has only just arrived.

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