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Why Psychoanalysis?

Why Psychoanalysis?

Elisabeth Roudinesco
Translated by Rachel Bowlby
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  • Book Info
    Why Psychoanalysis?
    Book Description:

    Why do some people still choose psychoanalysis-Freud's so-called talking cure-when numerous medications are available that treat the symptoms of psychic distress so much faster? Elisabeth Roudinesco tackles this difficult question, exploring what she sees as a "depressive society": an epidemic of distress addressed only by an increasing reliance on prescription drugs.

    Far from contesting the efficacy of new medications like Prozac, Zoloft, and Viagra in alleviating the symptoms of any number of mental or nervous conditions, Roudinesco argues that the use of such drugs fails to solve patients' real problems. In the man who takes Viagra without ever wondering why he is suffering from impotence and the woman who is given antidepressants to deal with the loss of a loved one, Roudinesco sees a society obsessed with efficiency and desperate for the quick fix.

    She argues that "the talking cure" and pharmacology represent not just different approaches to psychiatry, but different worldviews. The rush to treat symptoms is itself symptomatic of an antiseptic and depressive culture in which thought is reduced to the firing of neurons and desire is just a chemical secretion. In contrast, psychoanalysis testifies to human freedom and the power of language.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51842-0
    Subjects: Psychology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translator’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
    Rachel Bowlby
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. PART I The Depressive Society

    • CHAPTER 1 The Defeat of the Subject
      (pp. 3-9)

      Nowadays, psychical suffering manifests itself in the form of depression. Depressive people, affected body and soul by this strange syndrome mixing sadness and apathy, the quest for identity, and the cult of oneself, no longer believe in the validity of any therapy. And yet, before rejecting all treatments, they seek desperately to conquer the emptiness of their desire. They thus move from psychoanalysis to psychopharmacology, and from psychotherapy to homeopathic medicine, without taking the time to reflect on the origin of their unhappiness. And indeed they no longer have the time for anything, even as the time of life and...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Medications of the Mind
      (pp. 10-19)

      Since 1950 chemical substances—or psychotropic drugs—have changed the landscape of madness. They have emptied the mental hospitals and replaced straitjackets and shock treatments with the soft wrapping of medication.¹ Although they do not cure any mental or nervous illnesses, they have revolutionized representations of the psyche by fabricating new human beings, smooth and moodless, exhausted by avoiding passions, ashamed of not conforming to the ideal offered to them.

      Prescribed as much by general practitioners as by specialists in psychopathology, psychotropic drugs have the effect of normalizing behaviors and suppressing the most painful symptoms of psychical suffering without seeking...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Soul Is Not a Thing
      (pp. 20-28)

      In this situation, it will come as no surprise that psychoanalysis is always being attacked by a technicist discourse constantly invoking its supposed experimental ineffectiveness. But what sort of ineffectiveness is this? Should we believe Jacques Chirac when he stresses: “I have observed the effects of psychoanalysis, and I am not convinced in principle, to the point that I wonder whether all this doesn’t really have much more to do with chemistry than psychology”? Or should we rather believe Georges Perec when he describes his positive experience of analysis, or else Françoise Giroud when she asserts: “An analysis is hard,...

    • CHAPTER 4 Behavior-Modification Man
      (pp. 29-38)

      Depressive society, written into the movement of economic globalization that is transforming people into objects, no longer wants to hear talk of guilt, or of personal meaning, or of conscience, or of desire, or of unconscious. The more it imprisons itself in narcissistic logic, the more it is running away from the idea of subjectivity. So depressive society is only interested in the individual for the purpose of calculating his or her successes and only interested in the suffering subject for the purpose of regarding him or her as a victim. And if depressive society is always seeking to put...

  6. PART II The Great Quarrel Over the Unconscious

    • CHAPTER 5 Frankenstein’s Brain
      (pp. 41-55)

      In December 1980, in a famous lecture, “The Brain and Thought,” Georges Canguilhem reaffirmed the hostility he had expressed toward psychology in 1956, accusing it of relying on biology and physiology to maintain that thinking is only the effect of a secretion from the brain.¹ In this lecture, psychology is no longer designated just as “a philosophy without rigor,” an “ethics that makes no demands,” and a “medicine with no control”;² it is assimilated to sheer barbarism.

      Without using the word cognitivism, which was to appear in 1981, Canguilhem makes a ferocious attack on the belief that animates the cognitive...

    • CHAPTER 6 The “Equinox Letter”
      (pp. 56-61)

      The Freudian unconscious rests on a paradox: the subject is free but has lost the mastery of his or her interiority, is no longer “master in his own house,” in the well-known formula.¹ Freud disengages the subject from the different kinds of alienation to which it is tied by the other conceptions of psychology. In the same way, he constructs a theory of sexuality very different from all those that were advanced by scientists at the end of the nineteenth century.²

      This novelty can be discovered through a reading of the famous “equinox letter,” written on September 21, 1897, in...

    • CHAPTER 7 Freud Is Dead in America
      (pp. 62-85)

      In the years following World War II, at a time when psychoanalysis was enjoying great success in the United States and a revival in France and developing fast in Latin America, it went on being attacked. The pansexualism argument fell into disuse in parallel with transformations to the family and the emancipation of women. But with the success of psychotropic drugs and the medical advances achieved, it was becoming possible to challenge the status of the Freudian unconscious.

      As a result, a new cerebral mythology established itself with the aim of demonstrating that psychoanalysis was not a science but a...

    • CHAPTER 8 A French Scientism
      (pp. 86-92)

      In France, scientistic hostility toward psychoanalysis never took on the appearance of such a furious conflict. For the first half of the century, attacks essentially polarized over Freudian “pansexualism,” always assimilated to a “Teutonic” decadence. The enemies of the new doctrine deliberately treated it as “Kraut science” and judged it incapable of conveying the subtlety of the Latin or Cartesian genius. Faced with this situation, a number of pioneers tried to “Frenchify” psychoanalysis. This was particularly true of Edouard Pichon, the only one to give some coherence to this illusory project. As opposed to chauvinism, the surrealists—led by André...

  7. PART III The Future of Psychoanalysis

    • CHAPTER 9 Science and Psychoanalysis
      (pp. 95-108)

      Scientists have always considered psychoanalysis to be a hermeneutics. Far from constructing a model of human behavior, Freudian doctrine, if you believe them, is no more than a literary system for interpreting affects and desires. So the right thing to do would be either to exclude it from the field of science along with other disciplines not based on experimentation or to rethink the organization of all these domains (anthropology, sociology, history, linguistics, etc.) in terms of a “cognitive science,” the only one able to get them admitted into the category of “real science.” This scientistic approach assumes that there...

    • CHAPTER 10 Tragic Man
      (pp. 109-122)

      Psychoanalysis acquires its specific status through its metapsychological ambition. This is what makes it possible to oppose tragic man, real crucible of modern consciousness, to behavior-modification man, feeble scientistic creature invented by the supporters of the brain-as-machine. Against the nameless monster fabricated by a megalomanic scientist, psychoanalysis sets the destiny of Victor Frankenstein, meaning the trajectory of a subject shot through with his dreams and utopias but limited in his murderous passions by the sanction of the law.

      The structure of this tragic man can be found in Oedipus and Hamlet. Just as Sophocles’ king endures his destiny like a...

    • CHAPTER 11 Universality, Difference, Exclusion
      (pp. 123-128)

      While the models elaborated by psychoanalysis develop according to the society in which they unfold, they are also out of sync with them. In most countries where psychoanalysis has taken root and in spite of the progress linked to emancipation movements, women, for instance, are still victims of inequalities, treated as inferior, and underrepresented in the highest spheres of political power, particularly in France. What is more, contraception and abortion rights are often ridiculed by moral and religious traditionalists. But in countries where psychoanalysis has not taken root, the situation is worse since women (like homosexuals, for that matter) are...

    • CHAPTER 12 Critique of Psychoanalytic Institutions
      (pp. 129-144)

      Invented by Enlightenment Jews who were heirs to the Haskalah,¹ psychoanalysis aspired from the outset to become a great liberation movement. Its founders, meeting weekly at the Wednesday Psychoanalytic Society, thought that the exploration of the unconscious ought to enable humanity to calm its sufferings. Psychoanalysis was a revolution in personal meaning; ultimately its first vocation was to change mankind by showing [in Arthur Rimbaud’s phrase] that “I is another.” This was why, very early on, it wanted to equip itself with an institution capable of translating its conception of the world into a politics.

      This was further related to...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 145-172)
  9. Index
    (pp. 173-182)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)