09 June 2007

Psychanalyse pour une certaine liberté (Psychoanalysis for a certain freedom) by Susann Heenen Wolff.

By Bérengère Senarclens

This little book, teeming with ideas and questions, is a pleasure to read. Faced with the often violent problematizations of our discipline and the disarray we sometimes feel in the face of certain pathologies, it seems to me important for us to immerse ourselves in texts of this kind. Susanne Wolff asks herself how to think about freedom in psychoanalysis. The term freedom is understood here in the sense of the development of a certain subjective appropriation and a capacity for thinking which is quite the opposite of ‘succumbing to the effects of the unconscious’. Throughout her book the author makes us sense her passion for analytic theory and praxis and for the links between them. The guiding thread of this passion seems to be this research and struggle for a ‘certain’ freedom not only for the patient but also for the analyst.

The term freedom is in no way a synonym for casualness: SW stresses the necessity of a classical and rigorous analytic setting. She shows the importance of the asymmetry of the analyst/analysand relationship, due to the transference, allowing free association to occur. And this is not to be confused with a free ‘exchange’ or ‘interaction’.

SW reminds us skilfully that the Freudian vision, much more than a therapeutic procedure or a theory of subjectivity, is ‘an astonishingly complete and complex version of human existence’. Doing an analysis is thus ‘more than a project of cure’. The aim of the treatment might be described as leading the analysand to take responsibility for his own unconscious, which results from a sort of Kulturarbeit in each session. For the author, the choice of doing a psychoanalysis is ‘like an intellectual and human gamble’.

Susann Wolff proposes a voyage that leads the reader to the heart of Freud’s fundamental concepts, which have been partially abandoned by contemporary psychoanalysis. She thus refers us to the current relevance of the major subjects of the founder of psychoanalysis: the analytic treatment as an emancipating process; theories of thinking; the centrality of infantile sexuality for the subject’s destiny, as well as the question of the evolution of our culture and the Kulturarbeit (work of culture) with which we are inevitably confronted.

This book apprehends the questions (and often the discouragements) raised by current symptomatologies, narcissistic problems of identity and disturbances at the level of the constitution of the ego. It is these patients who touch us ‘where it hurts’ and struggle bitterly against that which they long for most.

The author questions classical Freudian metapsychology while recognizing its fundamental aspect and its irreplaceable role at the heart of our current practice as analysts. She examines several Freudian concepts, reworking them in her own way, at once justifying the importance of Freud’s works while integrating the major questions explored in the diverse post-Freudian currents. SW does not hesitate, however, to free herself from certain affirmations of contemporary psychoanalysis in order to return, step by step, and extremely clearly, to Freud’s psycho-sexual concepts, not only for the neurotic field but also with a view to understanding better what is involved in these narcissistic pathologies. ‘It is these concepts that enable us to articulate psychic functioning and sexual experience in the treatment, and which lead us to formulate constructions in the session linking narcissistic emptiness and object-relations on the basis of the subject’s psycho-sexual entity.’

The different chapters of this book each tackle in their own way the ‘liberating potential’ that Freudian psychoanalysis represents, i.e. the quest to be liberated from the very tenacious, central and formidable compulsion to repeat which blocks the patient and prevents him or her from risking new experiences.

The author thus goes through the basic Freudian concepts with a fine tooth-comb, even some that have been rather neglected in recent times owing to the emphasis placed on theories of trauma. She seeks to throw new light on their importance and usefulness for our daily practice, with borderline patients in particular.

Accordingly Susann Wolff devotes a chapter to the clinical phenomenon of a violent counter-transference, another to primal fantasies and their structuring value for unconscious organisation, and further chapters to penis-envy, the death drive, and something less common, fraternal rivalry. By rehabilitating, as it were, these aspects of metapsychology in contemporary praxis, she seeks constantly to make links between theory and practice. She does so with considerable honesty and authenticity, sharing with us her technical questions and difficulties.

She thus stresses unambiguously the often so painful or trying aspect of the counter-transference and evokes, following Winnicott, the feelings of hate that the analyst may feel towards his/her patient. Such hate is aroused by the fact that the patient systematically attacks attempts at interpretation, attempts to assign meaning, and all the links that the analyst tries to make, thereby struggling against any slight movement of freedom which might emerge in the psychoanalytic space.

SW justifiably makes the apology of a metapsychology that takes into account both drive-theory and object-relations theory, and demonstrates its value through in-depth clinical examples.

She also tries to understand social and cultural phenomena in the light of analytic concepts. Adopting this perspective, she reflects on the Jewish condition and dwells on Freud’s exploration of Jewish identity, including his own Jewish identity. She takes up his reflections on Moses and his relation to Judaism, concluding with a detailed examination of the problematic notion of identity.

If this book pleads for access to a greater degree of freedom for the analysand, it is clear that this openness is equally fundamental for the analyst. Is not analytic training, in the broad sense, a sort of obstacle course, the essence of which is to forge for oneself an analytic identity, a sort of spinal column that alone allows for the development of a freedom of functioning and creativity capable of facilitating in the patient’s treatment the development of an analytic process? The interest of this process is indeed to introduce something new. It is a work of transformation, of putting into words, within a setting that makes it possible. As SW clearly shows, it is the fruit of the analyst’s interpretative work (in the broad sense: analogical, metaphorical, constructive, etc.) and the patient’s psychic work. How the analyst finds his own style, his language, his way of listening to his patient’s unconscious is a sort of artistic creation in which respect of the rules of the game, ‘digestion’ of the metapsychological stakes, and creativity and freedom are combined and harmonized. The sense of ease and the space of freedom, i.e. the psychic space conferred by the acquisition of this identity, will allow us to feel free at the technical level, free to sense what will help this or that patient best at any given moment. The content will be rich and ‘workable’ to the extent that this container is solid.

The author shows clearly the links between the harmonious unfolding of this personal development and the fact of having at one’s disposal a coherent theory which holds water. Technique will flow from it. What is important, then, is to consider how each of us will ‘put together’ (as René Roussillon says in the Foreword) his own theoretical and clinical baggage depending on what he is, what he has gone through, on his drive functioning and the defences he has erected to cope with it. At the basis of this identity there is, in SW’s case, an abundance of encounters both with Freudian and post-Freudian texts, Anglo Saxon, French or others. It is clinical practice, the ‘day to day work’ with our patients which improves or hones this theoretical construction, but the process also operates of course in the other direction.

The author thus raises many questions. She displays a great mastery of metapsychological questions and the analytic literature from Freud to the present day. She is very didactic and has a pleasant style. We are sometimes somewhat submerged by the density of the references and the large spectrum of this ‘hurly-burly’. One sometimes wonders how one chapter, one line of questioning, will link up with the next; but she succeeds, each time, in establishing a coherent and highly stimulating common theme. I can only encourage the reader/analyst to immerse him/herself in this book and to allow the author’s words to resonate with his or her own questionings, feelings, and clinical situations. It is, to be sure, a theoretical work, but one that constantly returns us to the heart of our clinical practice and towards a theory of technique.

Bérengère de Senarclens (Swiss Society)

95 route de Florissant

Genève 1206

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