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The Power of Feelings

The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture

Nancy J. Chodorow
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Power of Feelings
    Book Description:

    In the middle of the twentieth century, leading cultural critics and visionaries-Erik Erikson, Lionel Trilling, Herbert Marcuse, and many others-turned to psychoanalysis as a measure of human personal and cultural fulfillment. Now, as we enter a new millennium, Nancy J. Chodorow, well known as a feminist theorist and psychoanalyst, takes her place in this line of eminent thinkers and revitalizes their project. Psychoanalysis, she claims, offers in its clinical goals and its vision of possibility insight into the nature of subjectivity and the quality of good relations with others. It continues centuries of reflection and imagination about the good life.In this pathbreaking book, Chodorow draws upon her broad knowledge and background in social theory, her feminism, and her experience as a psychoanalyst. In extensively elaborated chapters on psychoanalytic theory, she argues that a psychoanalysis that takes as its starting point the immediacy of unconscious fantasy and feeling found in the clinical encounter can illuminate our understanding of individual subjectivity and potentially transform all sociocultural thought. Creating a dialogue between feminism, anthropology, and psychoanalysis, she holds that feminism, anthropology, and other cultural theories require that psychoanalysts take seriously how cultural meanings help to constitute psychic life. At the same time, psychoanalysis demonstrates that contemporary theories of meaning cannot neglect the unconscious realm, which has just as much power as culture does to create meaning for the individual. Chodorow acknowledges postmodern accounts of the decentering and fragmentation of individuality but argues that psychoanalysis gives us an account of subjectivity that incorporates forms of wholeness and depth of experience, without which we cannot have a meaningful life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14802-2
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-VIII)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is a contribution to our understanding of individual subjectivity. It is an argument for the existence of an irreducible realm of psychological life in which we create unconscious personal meaning in the experiential immediacy of the present. Psychoanalytic understandings that begin from clinical concepts—unconscious fantasy, transference, projection, and introjection, all of which assume that affects or emotions help to constitute internal pictures and stories and shape psychic reality—best describe this realm. Psychoanalysis is first and foremost a theory about the creation of personal meaning in the clinical encounter. This encounter illuminates the power of feelings, the...


    • 1 Creating Personal Meaning: Transference, Projection, Introjection, Fantasy
      (pp. 13-33)

      Psychoanalysis is a theory about how we create personal meaning, our unconscious psychic reality, through what I am calling the power of feelings. “Feelings” here encompass feeling-based stories or proto-stories—unconscious fantasies—that constitute our unconscious inner life and motivate our attempts to change that inner life to reduce anxiety and other uncomfortable or frightening affects or to put such uncomfortable affects outside the self. Several psychoanalytic terms, descriptions of emotionally laden psychodynamic processes that themselves overlap or can be translated one into the other, most clearly describe for us this creation of personal meaning. They include transference and, incorporated...

    • 2 The Anxieties of Uncertainty: Reflections on the Role of the Past in Psychoanalytic Thinking
      (pp. 34-66)

      In psychoanalysis as else where, structural thinking is on the wane. In our contemporary view of transference, the analytic encounter is mutually constructed and contingent rather than intrapsychically orchestrated by one person. This clinical emphasis on the contingency and ambiguity of emergent personal meaning makes things messier and more indeterminate than accounts that tie clinical observation or interpretation to putative developmental determinants. Traditionally, amidst ever-shifting clinical communications, we could rely on one or another theory of the childhood past and its determinative effects on the psyche throughout life, but our contemporary focus on the here and now has moved us...


    • 3 Gender as a Personal and Cultural Construction
      (pp. 69-91)

      The view of psychoanalysis that i have been developing, arguing that each of us creates personal emotional meaning throughout life, has implications for both feminist and psychoanalytic understandings of gendered subjectivity and gender identity. Individual psychological meaning combines with cultural meaning to create the experience of meaning in those cultural categories that are important or resonant for us. In Part 2, I argue that an individual, personal creation and a projective emotional and fantasy animation of cultural categories create the meaning of gender and gender identity for any individual. Each person’s sense of gender is an individual creation, and there...

    • 4 Theoretical Gender and Clinical Gender
      (pp. 92-126)

      Just as psychoanalysis implicitly and explicitly challenges widespread assumptions within feminist theory, so feminism has challenged widespread tendencies within psychoanalytic thinking about gender. In this chapter, I respond to and elaborate on the feminist challenge as I reflect on some epistemological and methodological problems in psychoanalytic thinking about gender. I suggest, first, that psychoanalytic thinking about gender (and, inseparably within psychoanalysis, sexuality) tends to collapse individuality and difference into universality and similarity, while in the process turning clinical observations of the fluctuating personal emotional meanings of gender into fixed developmental tasks. Second, I claim that psychoanalytic thinking tends to be...


    • 5 Selves and Emotions as Personal and Cultural Constructions
      (pp. 129-171)

      In this book i claim that psychoanalysis is first and foremost an account and a theory of personal meaning. I explore the implications of such a view for psychoanalysis and for those who think about cultural meaning. Social and cultural thinkers from a variety of fields have tended to assume that cultural meanings are the primary determiners or shapers of experience and the self. Some take a more constructionist approach and claim that people create meaning by drawing on available webs of cultural meaning, but even these theorists seem to assume that whatever meanings are invented or created in this...

    • 6 The Psyche in the Field
      (pp. 172-218)

      Recent anthropology has argued forcefully against a holistic view of culture as a seamless web of complementary, mutually reinforcing significations and has taken issue with Durkheim-derived views that culture, language, and social structure exist in a timeless way before, during, after, and apart from individual lives. Instead, culture is seen as historically evolving, local, and contested, and cultural patterns, discourses, and narratives are seen to depend on how any cultural actor’s age, gender, race, class, sexuality, generation, kinship position, and so forth, create intersecting, positionally based perspectives and understandings. But this reconsideration nonetheless retains many traditional anthropological assumptions. Even though...

    • 7 Coda on Culture: Preliminary Thoughts on Culture in the Consulting Room
      (pp. 219-236)

      The anthropological thinking i have been describing goes well beyond putting cultures on the couch, imposing psychological universals out of cultural context, or generalizing about “external reality.” Anthropologists who study the psyche in the field may need to inform themselves continually about contemporary psychoanalytic theory and clinical understanding, in order both to understand their ethnographic findings and experience and to give their writing appropriate theoretical elaboration, but they have learned their psychoanalytic lessons well. Reciprocally, psychoanalysts should not ignore anthropological theories, findings, and epistemological reflections, which have profound implications for a clinical understanding of culture in the consulting room. Culture...


    • 8 Psychoanalytic Visions of Subjectivity
      (pp. 239-274)

      I have called this bookthe power of feelings, but i do not mean feelings in the sense of emanations of raw affect. The feelings that concern psychoanalysis are always feelings enmeshed within stories. A particular feeling condenses and expresses an unconscious fantasy about self, body, other, other’s body, or self and other. Unconscious fantasy projectively endows the world with personal meaning, filtering the world through an emotionally laden story, and it affects and shapes the introjective construction of an inner object world. Through the power of feelings, unconscious fantasy recasts the subject—emotions and stories about different aspects of...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 275-296)
    (pp. 297-318)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 319-328)