What is psychoanalysis ?

In one of his later defi¬≠ni¬≠tions of psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis Freud writes : ¬ę Psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis may be said to have been born with the twen¬≠tieth cen¬≠tu¬≠ry ; for the publi¬≠ca¬≠tion in which it emer¬≠ged before the world as some¬≠thing new ‚Äď my Inter¬≠pre¬≠ta¬≠tion of Dreams ‚Äď bears the date ¬ę 1900 ¬Ľ. But, as may well be sup¬≠po¬≠sed, it did not drop from the skies rea¬≠dy-made. It had its star¬≠ting-point in older ideas, which it deve¬≠lo¬≠ped fur¬≠ther ; it sprang from ear¬≠lier sug¬≠ges¬≠tions, which it ela¬≠bo¬≠ra¬≠ted. ¬Ľ (A Short Account of Psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis, 1924)

While this still holds true, psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis has also been alte¬≠red, revi¬≠sed and even rein¬≠ven¬≠ted many times during its short his¬≠to¬≠ry, from Freud‚Äôs begin¬≠nings in the twen¬≠tieth cen¬≠tu¬≠ry to an ever grea¬≠ter diver¬≠si¬≠ty in the ear¬≠ly twen¬≠ty-first century. 

In 1988, Robert Wal¬≠ler¬≠stein, then Pre¬≠sident of the Inter¬≠na¬≠tio¬≠nal Psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠ti¬≠cal Asso¬≠cia¬≠tion, even¬≠tual¬≠ly ack¬≠now¬≠led¬≠ged the plu¬≠ra¬≠li¬≠ty of orien¬≠ta¬≠tions in contem¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠ry psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis (Wal¬≠ler¬≠stein, R. S. One psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis or many ? Inter¬≠na¬≠tio¬≠nal Jour¬≠nal of Psy¬≠cho-Ana¬≠ly¬≠sis, 69, 5‚Ää‚Äď‚Ää21.). Says Wal¬≠ler¬≠stein : ¬ę Psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis has deve¬≠lo¬≠ped a plu¬≠ra¬≠lism of theo¬≠re¬≠ti¬≠cal pers¬≠pec¬≠tives, in order pre¬≠fe¬≠ren¬≠tial¬≠ly to explain the essence of men¬≠tal deve¬≠lop¬≠ment and human psy¬≠cho¬≠lo¬≠gy, what I have concep¬≠tua¬≠li¬≠zed as our varie¬≠ty of sym¬≠bo¬≠lisms or meta¬≠phors desi¬≠gned to grasp and to give cohe¬≠rence to our own inter¬≠nal unk¬≠no¬≠wables, our past uncons¬≠ciouses. ¬Ľ (p.18)

Since this tur¬≠ning point, uncea¬≠sing efforts have been made to find a ¬ę com¬≠mon ground ¬Ľ beneath the mul¬≠ti¬≠pli¬≠ci¬≠ty of various approaches and prac¬≠tices of psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis. Many psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠tic authors still seem to see psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis‚Äļ plu¬≠ra¬≠li¬≠ty with a regret. To their mind, psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠tic theo¬≠ries should be reu¬≠ni¬≠ted into one big com¬≠mon theo¬≠ry, and prac¬≠tices should stan¬≠dar¬≠di¬≠zed to avoid any dif¬≠fe¬≠rences bet¬≠ween analysts.

In fact, these efforts do not only seem vain ‚Äď the idea of a ¬ę com¬≠mon ground ¬Ľ itself having spread out in almost as many com¬≠mon grounds as there were un-com¬≠mon orien¬≠ta¬≠tions ‚Äď but turn out to be implau¬≠sible, given the pro¬≠gres¬≠sive accep¬≠tance of the irre¬≠du¬≠cible sub¬≠jec¬≠ti¬≠vi¬≠ty in the dyna¬≠mics of trans¬≠fe¬≠rence and counter-transference.

There might be a dif¬≠ferent approach to this pro¬≠blem alto¬≠ge¬≠ther. Witt¬≠gen¬≠stein‚Äôs idea of ¬ę fami¬≠ly resem¬≠blance ¬Ľ should prove most use¬≠ful. Because in psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠tic lite¬≠ra¬≠ture as well as in cli¬≠ni¬≠cal dis¬≠cus¬≠sions with col¬≠leagues we do indeed ¬ę see a com¬≠pli¬≠ca¬≠ted net¬≠work of simi¬≠la¬≠ri¬≠ties over¬≠lap¬≠ping and criss-cros¬≠sing : some¬≠times ove¬≠rall simi¬≠la¬≠ri¬≠ties, some¬≠times simi¬≠la¬≠ri¬≠ties of detail ¬Ľ (Witt¬≠gen¬≠stein, Phi¬≠lo¬≠so¬≠phi¬≠cal Inves¬≠ti¬≠ga¬≠tions, ¬ß66). When we do not think about how to uni¬≠fy the psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠tic diver¬≠si¬≠ty but, like Witt¬≠gen¬≠stein, look at what we see, we too might think ¬ę of no bet¬≠ter expres¬≠sion to cha¬≠rac¬≠te¬≠rize these simi¬≠la¬≠ri¬≠ties than ‚ÄĻfami¬≠ly resem¬≠blances‚Äļ; for the various resem¬≠blances bet¬≠ween mem¬≠bers of a fami¬≠ly : build, fea¬≠tures, colour of eyes, gait, tem¬≠pe¬≠rament, etc. etc. over¬≠lap and criss-cross in the same way ¬Ľ (¬ß67).

Many dif¬≠ferent forms of psy¬≠cho¬≠ana¬≠ly¬≠sis attest not only to the brea¬≠king out of the com¬≠mon dog¬≠ma¬≠tism that some¬≠times threa¬≠te¬≠ned to rele¬≠gate ana¬≠ly¬≠sis to a self-suf¬≠fi¬≠cient and self-satis¬≠fied dis¬≠ci¬≠pline ‚Äď making it lose all contact to the scien¬≠ti¬≠fic and cli¬≠ni¬≠cal efforts rea¬≠li¬≠zed by neigh¬≠bour dis¬≠ci¬≠plines like psy¬≠cho¬≠lo¬≠gy, phi¬≠lo¬≠so¬≠phy, psy¬≠chia¬≠try, lin¬≠guis¬≠tics, socio¬≠lo¬≠gy, lite¬≠ra¬≠ry theo¬≠ry, etc.. The plu¬≠ra¬≠li¬≠ty and diver¬≠si¬≠ty also show the live¬≠li¬≠ness of contem¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠ry psychoanalysis.

¬ę In for¬≠mal logic, a contra¬≠dic¬≠tion is the signal of defeat, but in the evo¬≠lu¬≠tion of real know¬≠ledge it marks the first step in pro¬≠gress toward a vic¬≠to¬≠ry. This is one great rea¬≠son for the utmost tole¬≠ra¬≠tion of varie¬≠ty of opi¬≠nion. ¬Ľ (Alfred North Whi¬≠te¬≠head, The Atlan¬≠tic, Aug 1925)