From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties psychoanalysis was a rising academic discipline in terms of feminist theory, especially within feminist literary theory and feminist film theory. However, the nineties have witnessed a much heavier criticism of sexual difference theory and its inability to account for other differences such as sexualities, race and class. As postructuralism and theories of the textual subject have come under heavier fire for their universal and a-historical tendencies, so psychoanalysis as a textual methodology has been discarded in favour of other approaches that examine the mediation and circulation of those textual subjects within culture. The irony, perhaps, of contemporary psychoanalytic study within the academic institution is that as a textual methodology it cannot account for the experiential and empirical components of the subject. That is to say, it excludes the very life stories, or experiential narratives, which as case histories constructed the origins of Freud’s thinking. These empirical case studies were then the practice which informed and historicised Freud’s theory. After all, it is the experiential practice of psychoanalysis, as a raw material base, that only later becomes reflexively and symbolically narrated as the theory. The fact that Freud seemed to oscillate in his work between an empirical, experiential emphasis and a more theoretical bias is evidence of a productive and fertile contradiction. However, the development of psychoanalysis since Freud has evolved in rather polarised directions that can be seen to privilege either the theoretical Freud or the more empirical founding father. In Britain, for example, object relations and inter-subjective psychoanalysis have clinically developed Freud’s work under the auspices of the medical establishment. This clinical and developmental work is framed within a positivist, philosophical tradition, reflecting Freud’s earlier ambitions for psychoanalysis to be established as a ‘science’. Theoretically, psychoanalysis has been eschewed by the social sciences in the academy for its unquantifiable methodology, and it is the Lacanian Freud, emphasising intra-psychic structures and a narcissistic ego, that has been successful in British Universities, framed within the textual and postructuralist approaches of feminist and literary studies. In France, Lacanian theory has dominated theory and practice, whereas in the U.S.A. there is a similar division to Britain between Lacanian theory and more inter-subjective approaches – except that in America, inter-subjective psychoanalysis, especially the work of Nancy Chodorow and Jessica Benjamin, have had far more credence within academic schools of feminism.
Crossroads in psychoanalysis
The privileging of postructuralist psychoanalysis within academic schools of literary and cultural studies has historically meant that the relevance of practice to theory has been largely ignored and seen as irrelevant. And as textual representation and the textually constructed reader or spectator has become the sole object of study for psychoanalytically inspired literary or film studies, then the category of experience (conscious or unconscious) for the real reader or spectator has been effectively obscured.
This paper will begin by arguing for the need to connect contemporary practice to theory, particularly within a British context. Examining the tension in Freud’s own work between the ‘realist’ and the ‘narcissistic’ ego, the latter part of this paper will explore how intra-psychic and inter-subjective psychoanalysis, together, can re-address the textual bias in contemporary academic study, allowing and exploring a more bodily and experiential basis to the transference and the subject. My conceptualisation of a more bodily imaginary will also be mapped onto contemporary debates which utilise psychoanalysis within cultural studies.
What is going to be the future of psychoanalysis in the academy? In terms of clinical practice in Britain the landscape of psychoanalysis is certainly changing, with the more traditional and established psychoanalytic institutions, such as the British Institute, having to compete with the continuing growth of analytic psychotherapy trainings. These trainings are cheaper, less intensive and arguably serve the needs of a modern population in the sense that very few clients, let alone analysts in training, can afford the time or the money for four or five times a week analysis. This is not to say that such intensive and in-depth analysis is not beneficial, even preferable. Nevertheless therapy is at the moment becoming less popular. In many areas, particularly in parts of London and New York, there is an apparent shortage of clients which heralds something of a new situation for therapists. There are various reasons for this decline in the desirability of therapy. It is certainly less trendy than it used to be to go to therapy – the Woody Allen image of the seventies is definitely passÃ©. But also many new therapies flooding the market are more fashionable. Stress counselling is currently much sought after, and the range of holistic and bodily therapies that have arrived on the therapy scene chime readily with the recent vogue of making yourself feel better by looking after your body. Going to the gym, a weekly step class or a relaxing massage are all very appealing substitutes for the challenging and often very painful visit to your therapist. This might sound glib, but the practice of therapy is reaching quite a crisis point: the image of therapy is one of being increasingly outdated and out of step with modern contemporary living.
Whoever said therapy was comfortable, or even that it makes you feel better? As one of my training therapists recently said, an offer of a cup of tea, or a chat with a close friend can make you feel better, but that is not what therapy is about. Therapy is about examining and understanding the conflict between our conscious and unconscious life, not so we will instantly resolve such a conflict, but because therapy can help us lead our lives more productively. Therapy can enable us to love and labour more effectively, but if this long and quite arduous process is to be achieved then it has to be realistically situated in relation to the rest of our everyday lives. At the moment most people are not choosing to spend four or five hours a week on their analyst’s couch. Twice weekly therapy is becoming far more the acceptable trend in the newer psychotherapy trainings. However, analytical psychotherapy is increasingly under threat from other therapies. Clinical psychologists, frighteningly organised in their ability to market a therapeutic approach in accordance with the economic principles of our modern health service, are taking over the major role of offering psychological services on the N.H.S.
At the same time, universities are doing booming business in counselling courses, producing a huge quantity of quickly trained practitioners who are flooding the private therapeutic market and also making substantial inroads into working within the NHS, replacing the more expensive and highly trained psychologists and therapists. It seems clear from these developments that although clinical psychotherapy and psychoanalysis will continue to occupy a fairly marginal role within the health service, a squeezing of the public sector and private market is moving these therapies increasingly into the university sector. Most psychotherapy trainings now have an equivalent M.A. at a corresponding academic institution, and more and more universities are setting up their own clinical trainings, providing academic and clinical qualifications simultaneously within a postgraduate programme. Clinical psychoanalysis seems set, then, to expand and grow within a university setting. We might even anticipate a future where all psychotherapy training will be structurally built in to university programmes. Higher education and universities are now big business and the institutionalisation of psychotherapy within such organisations would undoubtedly bring profits. However, the consequences for the practice of psychotherapy are perhaps mixed. On the one hand, the clinical trainings would benefit from the connection to a theoretical arena, where potential interdisciplinary links with academic psychoanalysis in the humanities and the social sciences would provide an exciting coming together of theory and practice. On the other, the kind of administrative and monetary structuring that universities would inevitably bring to bear threaten to destroy the individuality and autonomy, the very difference between groups, which has historically been psychoanalysis’s greatest Achilles heel (therapists always fight), but also the source of much of its creativity and strength. However, psychoanalysis also needs to modernise and become more abreast of the times. Both professionally and intellectually, there is much to be gained from a more involved relationship between clinical psychoanalysis and the academic world.
Freud’s conflict between practice and theory
Indeed, the consequence of a greater dialogue between clinical psychoanalysis and academic disciplines of the social sciences and the humanities promises a cross-fertilisation of practice and theory which is long overdue. Which brings me to the central subject of this article: the future of psychoanalysis in the academy. As I pointed out in my introduction, the academic concern with psychoanalysis can no longer be separated from its clinical practice. Freud’s own conflict between his medical training and his more cultural, intellectual passions, perhaps reflects the tension between theory and practice that has surrounded the tradition of psychoanalysis in Britain. The poverty of Freud’s life as a medical student, and the poverty of his immediate family, is not often discussed. Freud’s early aversion to medicine as a profession and his love of more theoretical, artistic pursuits was, it seems, in contradiction to his meagre circumstances. The necessity of Freud’s chosen career as a doctor is recorded in his diary:
By that time I had already passed all my medical examinations; but I took no interest in anything to do with medicine till the teacher whom I so deeply respected warned me that in view of my restricted material circumstances I could not possibly take up a theoretical career. (Jones, 1953: 22)
Freud’s long struggle in establishing himself materially and professionally can be seen to contrast his more artistic, theoretical interests. And, of course, both of these threads run through his psychoanalytic work: his methodological approach as an empirical scientist and his more theoretical and imaginative creativeness that always went beyond the confines of a scientific medical framework. Freud’s desire to see psychoanalysis embraced as a science was not simply a wish to see it established and recognised professionally. His belief in psychoanalysis was linked to an established tradition of Enlightenment, rationalist philosophy: the division and supremacy of the mind over the body. The fact that Freud’s unconscious radically undermines this rational mind/body distinction, however much Freud seems at times to want to keep it in place, is evidence of a fertile contradiction in his work. But this productive contradiction in Freud’s thinking between experience or ideas, the reality bearing ego or the more narcissistic pleasure seeking id, has historically become ossified into the rather opposing perspectives of clinical practice or academic theory.
Between the realist and the narcissistic ego
Freud’s body of work is, therefore, not consistent. He can be seen to have developed two theories of the ego, one realist and one narcissistic. The realist ego has commonly been taken as the more conservative, rational account, feeding into a scientific, positivist developmental schema largely developed as institutional ‘medical’ practice in Britain and America. The other narcissistic account of the ego can be seen to inform Lacanian postructuralism as well as the current (psychoanalytically informed) discourses pertaining to literary, film and cultural studies.
Freud’s realist ego, discussed in ‘The Ego and the Id’, is compared to the rider of a horse. The reality bound ego masters and controls the unconscious id, in much the same way as a rider harnesses a horse:
In its relation to the id, the ego is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces. (Freud, 1923)
Thus the ego’s battle to master and steer the unconscious id, transforming its radical will, is a masterful action of taming the more animalistic, irrational, and wild aspects of the psyche. The realist ego modifies the irrational id in terms of the conventions and norms of rational society. Unifying and organising the chaotic unconscious, this rational ego is identified with superior mental functions which modify and mediate the unstable, pleasure seeking, bodily id. The ego in this scenario is identified as the self which is naturally given or innately acquired. This ego primarily mediates between the opposing forces of the psychic id and social reality. The ego’s role as mediator or arbitrator between the social and the psyche is responsible for the compromise of civilised society and also produces the more mental, cultural sublimations commonly associated with ‘high culture’.
Freud’s narcissistic ego, expounded in his papers ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’ and ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, can be seen in distinction to the realist ego and forms the basis of Lacanian psychoanalysis. If the realist ego is seen as innate and biological, the narcissistic ego is the result of a more social and cultural intervention. In this account Freud conceptualises the ego as a primarily narcissistic one, where the ego takes itself as its own libidinal object. In the realist model, Freud posits the ego-instincts and sexual instincts as separate. However, with Freud’s narcissistic ego there is no clear distinction between internal relations (with the psyche) and external relations (with the world), and this more mixed relation causes problems for the realist ego which rationally distinguishes between ego and id.
The narcissistic ego then makes a distinction between narcissism and auto-eroticism. ‘There must be something new added to auto-eroticism – a new psychical action – in order to bring about narcissism’ (Freud, 1914: 76-77). Identification takes on an increased importance in this account. Those identifications that are fluid and polymorphous and libidinal are internalised to gradually make up the ego. The narcissistic ego, unlike the realist ego, is not, then, neurologically and biologically present from the start. Instead of the two separate components of the ego and the id fighting it out, with the innate reality bearing ego vanquishing the pleasure bound id, the narcissistic ego is fluid and is constructed through the id’s pleasure seeking identifications with the outside world. The narcissistic ego does not, therefore, separate the internal world, where the ego takes itself as its own libidinal object, from the external world of reality bearing objects. Reality is not privileged as a relation for the narcissistic ego. If the realist ego finds it’s base in the experience, affects and sensations of the biological body, then the narcissistic ego is constructed in terms of its pleasure seeking identifications with others and is libidinally invested and dependant on those others for its survival.
This dependence is illustrated by Freud with the two examples of being in love and illness. In ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, Freud describes how falling in love is a projection of the narcissistic self onto another: the self is literally given away and ascribed in an idealised way to the other person (Freud, 1917). If love is mutual, then the love received can be introjected or internally taken in, so the identification with the other person is absorbed to become part of the internal world. If love is not reciprocated, then mourning ensues, as the resulting grief means the ego has to disinvest itself of unreciprocated libidinal investments. Gradually, the ego starts to replace it’s libidinal reserves by means of a narcissistic re-cathexis with the subject’s own body, to the point that the narcissistic ego is able to take itself, it’s body, as an object. Eventually, when the ego has reinvested itself enough, it can then find other external objects as substitute for the original loss.
In illness the narcissistic ego replaces the external object with the pain of it’s own body. The narcissistic ego therefore implies not the unified whole ego of the realist account, but an ego which is primarily alienated and split from itself. This split ego, where the subject takes itself as both subject and object, forms the basis of Lacan’s narcissistic imaginary. What Lacan does with his conceptualisation of the mirror stage is to develop Freud’s narcissistic ego into a linguistic theory of the subject which radically displaces the Cartesian, enlightenment, humanist trajectory. Freud’s famous Oedipal complex becomes in Lacan’s work, not something which is biologically or literally given, but a structural and linguistic explanation of the social construction of identity and sexual difference.
Lacan’s work is important here as it forms the basis of the psychoanalytically informed postructuralist debates on sexual difference and subjectivity that have been taken up within literary, film and cultural studies. Here, Freud’s narcissistic ego explains, through the processes of unconscious identification, how the subject is culturally constructed through relationships with other people. This ego, unlike the unified realistic ego, is alienated, built on desire and loss, thus giving special importance to the construction of the self through fantasy and psychic life. Such an unconscious world of fantasy and desire not only displaces the rational ego of the western philosophical tradition; it also enables us to understand the postmodern flux of late capitalist society, where politics and consumerism are most obviously underpinned by fantasy and desire.
Freud’s realist ego has developed mainly within institutional practise. In Britain, this reality bearing ego can be traced through the object relation schools of Klein and Winnicott, in particular. It is therefore easy to see a crude division between Freud’s two accounts of the ego, with the reality based ego informing the empirical realms of clinical practice, and the narcissistic split ego forming an important base to the postructuralist theories of language and representation. But Freud’s body of work is not coherent in terms of a reality bearing ego or a narcissistic one. That these two accounts are contradictory is not disputed, nor that they have been taken to bolster two very different theoretical, political and philosophical accounts of subjectivity. Certainly these two accounts of the ego have travelled across boundaries of theory and practice. For example, object relations theory has been incorporated into feminist theory, and at times into theories of the postmodern. At the same time clinical practice in Britain is not wholly under the sway of the British object relations school, as the increasing influence of training organisations like the Lacanian Cfar, or the phenomenological Philadelphia Association, shows. Nevertheless, the political consequences of dividing Freud’s work into either a developmental, empirical model or a theoretical postructuralist one have been serious. With the former, the reality bearing ego has been used to determine a literal Oedipal complex, whose white male heterosexual hegemony has pathologised marginal groups of sex, race, gender and class. In the latter postructuralist account, the negation of the real external event and the location of the subject within a purely narcissistic internal world, or an idealised symbolic one, refuses the material and bodily experiences that are inescapable within clinical practice.
The bodily ego and unconscious experience
Freud’s reality bearing ego has perhaps been taken up most literally by ego psychologists in the States, such as Heinz Hartmann and Erik Erikson. Here the ego is seen as external or autonomous to the unconscious, a legislating of normative social roles. Prominent object relation theorists in Britain have also subscribed to this position. The institutionalised homophobia of much clinical practice points to the success and the danger of reading Freud’s ego in such an explicitly realist way. However, if we look again at Freud’s reality bearing ego and his description of it’s mastery over the id in ‘The Ego and the Id’ (1923) we can see that the relationship between the ego and the id is much less divided than the example of the horseman might depict. Freud clearly defines the ego as ‘first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself a projection of a surface.’ In other words, the ego is a mental projection of the surface of the body. The ego is not simply a kind of consciousness based on biological and bodily affects; it also contains unconscious bodily affects or experiences. Freud states:
Internal perceptions yield sensations of processes arising in the most diverse and certainly also in the deepest strata of the mental apparatus. Very little is known about these sensations and feelings; those belonging to the pleasure-unpleasure series may still be regarded as the best examples of them. They are more primordial, more elementary, than perceptions arising externally and they can come about even when consciousness is clouded. (Freud, 1923)
As Andre Green explains, this seems to connect rather than conflate external and internal perceptions: ‘What Freud underlines in this new formulation is the more primitive, more elementary character of this type of sensation, and hence their deep bodily location (Green, 1986: 185). Emphasis on a primary experiential and bodily unconscious displaces the rather rigid contrast between a reality bearing ego and a pleasure driven id, in favour of a model which clearly conflates internal and external worlds. Instead of the ego controlling the affectual body, it can be seen to subjectively experience this body in a variety of ways. The affectual body is not then some biological phenomena, external to the psyche, but our sensual and unconscious experiences. For Green, Freud’s work suggests ‘there are several modes of existence in the unconscious, which enables us to speak of an unconscious modality of affect’ (Green, 1986: 186). The unconscious does not have to be understood simply in terms of unconscious ideas, it can also contain unconscious feelings. Freud, however, found it hard to compare unconscious ideas with feelings because the very concept of unconscious feelings seemed such a contradiction in terms. He thought that unconscious ideas reached consciousness through a pre-consciousness system where the unconscious ‘thing’ became connected with word-presentations and language. But with unconscious feelings the distinction between conscious and pre-conscious drops out and ‘feelings are either conscious or unconscious’ (Freud, 1923). How, then, can we talk about unconscious feelings, when they cannot be defined as a structure within the psyche? Freud’s thinking here seems to fit the Lacanian interpretation that the unconscious can only be known through language. But in a paper entitled ‘Unconscious Emotions’, Freud also acknowledges the presence of unconscious affects or feelings:
Strictly speaking, then, and although no fault can be found with the linguistic usage, there are no unconscious affects as there are unconscious ideas. But there may very well be in the system unconscious affective structures which, like others, become conscious. (Freud, 1915: 178)
And again in ‘The Ego and The Id’, directly after his analogy of the rider and a horse, Freud states that differentiation between ego and id is not just brought about through the pre-conscious/perception to conscious system. The ego, for Freud, is also rooted in the body: ‘A person’s own body and above all its surface, is a place from which both external and internal perceptions spring’ (Freud, 1923: 26). As primarily a bodily ego, the ego is derived from bodily sensations, arising from the surface of the body. The ego springs from the body as well as being a representative of the mind. It can be seen as ‘a mental projection of the surface of the body, besides, as we have seen above, representing the superficies of the mental apparatus’ (Freud, 1923: 26).
If we now compare this more unconscious bodily ego with Freud’s narcissistic one, we find again that the old opposition been a realist experiential ego and a more internal narcissistic one breaks down. This bodily ego re-writes the normative script of a rational ego repressing the bodily id, but it also displaces internal concepts of narcissistic identification and mental representation onto a more external (object) relation with the body. In other words, deconstructing the division between Freud’s so-called realist ego and his narcissistic one also means dissolving the opposition between the practice of developmental psychoanalysis and the postructuralist theories of language and mental representation.
The bodily transference
This split between theory and practice becomes mirrored in many other binaries such as mind/body, language/experience, theory/history, epistemology/ontology, and so on. Lacanian psychoanalysis has been seen to deconstruct the old positivist readings of Freud that hark back to the classic enlightenment split between the mind and the body. However, this emphasis on Lacanian theory and linguistic concepts of mental representation has culminated in a refusal of bodily affects within the object relation, and the subsequent negation of the real, thus collapsing the subject back into internal, mental concepts of the psyche, in which connections to the real of the body and to history remain largely absent. It is important to note here that I am not talking about Lacan in terms of clinical practice. Within such practice the relation to the body and the historical world literally exists within the transference. Historically, however, within the academic institution, Lacanian theory as postructuralist discourse is understood in purely linguistic and textual terms, remaining largely untrammelled by questions of how the body is lived and experienced within culture.
The question of the body, and the bodily ego, dissolves any rigid distinction between Freud’s narcissistic and realist ego, and this dissolution between an intra-psychic model (which is internal) and an inter-subjective one (the relation to an other) is perhaps also demonstrated in Freud’s understanding of the analytic transference. Although I don’t think Freud makes a strict division between narcissistic fantasy and inter-subjective love, the classical Freudian model has been developed in distinction to an object relations approach. As clinical practitioners know very well, the understanding of the transference affects both the technique and the different theoretical models adhered to. For example, someone employing a classical Freudian approach would understand the transference as a resistance to the analysis, the patient’s resistance to knowing their unconscious. The patient then transfers past Oedipal loves onto the analyst, and in repeating them refuses to acknowledge their loss:
We must be prepared to find, therefore, that the patient yields to the compulsion to repeat, which now replaces the impulse to remember. (Freud, 1911-1913: 9)
The Freudian technique then sees the transference as an obstacle to the analysis, and the setting up of the analyst by the patient as all powerful mother or father is something the analyst must resist, always concentrating on the unconscious meanings and the loss that is obscured by the analysand’s intense desire and need. A simple example of this intense desire might be seen in ‘women who love too much’. But this longing for love that cannot be had, or left, has a more narcissistic face. Melancholia is not just a yearning for a lost love, it is the refusal to give it up. Separation becomes too unbearable and will not be born, and the ultimate end of such narcissistic melancholia is a self-destructive collapse into the death-drive. The melancholia for the lost father in Sylvia Plath’s poems is perhaps one of our most vivid literary examples of this loving, where the inability to give up the father ends in a suicidal pact with the deathly mother.
Object relations psychoanalysis understands the transference as constituting the repeat of habitual types of object relating which the patient brings into a relationship with the analyst. This transference involves the inner object world, but also all the love and hate, the defences and the ambivalence, that go to make up the way we relate to objects. So, whereas for the Freudian the transference is always unreal, based on some past relationship, for the object relations analyst the transference might contain primitive aspects of narcissistic loving, but it is also made up of the ordinary conflicts of inner and outer relating that we bring to other relationships in our everyday life. In the object relations model, however, the clinician actively interprets the transference, containing the patient’s feelings and mediating them (i.e. working through issues of separation with the analyst) in ways that may not have been achieved previously. For the Freudian, the transference would not be so actively encouraged or interpreted, because the analyst’s position as a parent is a false one. From this point of view, one’s task in analysis is to continually interpret the resistance, working through to the unconscious material lying behind the transference that can eventually be remembered.
It is Lacan who makes the case for the Freudian transference most clearly, warning of the dangers if the analyst takes up the position of mother and father. To do so roots the patient in an instinctual, imaginary and all powerful relationship, where jouissance rules, and there is no encouragement for the patient to grow up, accept castration, and enter the symbolic world of language where desire is acknowledged as already lost. But surely psychoanalysis and the transference involves this primitive narcissistic love for the first object? One of the central aims of therapy is to discover how this loss can be remembered and acknowledged. Nevertheless, as Betty Joseph has recently pointed out, ‘the analyst has a particular and deep responsibility; that the analytic situation evokes the patient’s love, which is the unavoidable consequences of the treatment; and, therefore, the whole responsibility for handling the situation must lie with the analyst’ (Joseph, 1997: 56). As Joseph emphasises, the transference must be explored and not avoided as a burden. This means, I would suggest, that the transference includes not only the intra-psychic and primitive love that Freud describes, but also all the other aspects of inter-subjective loving that make up the complex range of object relating. The transference, therefore, includes the unrealistic narcissistic love that Freud sees as a resistance, as well as the entire history of how our past fantasy objects have related to real experiences: their mediation or non-mediation.
It seems, then, that most psychoanalysts agree with each other that therapy must refuse to collude with the patient’s fantasies of the analyst as being the all-powerful parent/mother and seek to explore a more inter-subjective form of relating. Where psychoanalysts disagree, in terms of technique, is whether the therapist should resist or explore the transference. I suggest that therapy needs to do both, and that is why the intra-psychic forms of relating depicted by Freud and the more object relational approach outlined by, say, Winnicott, are both necessary, and indeed, interrelated. In analysis the therapist needs to resist and explore the patient’s transference, enabling a connection between imaginary and symbolic forms that mediates and narrates the bodily roots of psychic identity. Another way of looking at this is to say that mediating primitive narcissistic desire within an inter-subjective therapeutic relationship cannot be achieved by simply resisting, analysing, or deconstructing the transference. The bodily transference needs creative space in terms of the other in order to represent new and more mediated representations. But whether these creative representations are accessed through simply resisting the transference and treating it as unreal is debatable. In this Freudian scene the unconscious is accessed in terms of the relentless analysis of meaning that lies beneath love. Luce Irigaray, however, disagrees, arguing that ‘if the energy is sustained in the transference as (an artificial) relationship between analyst and analysand, then transference can never be resolved’ (Irigaray, 1993: 155). For Irigaray, then, the Freudian deconstruction of the transference in terms of linguistic meaning results in an interminable analysis. She describes, as an alternative, a creative painting in the analytic session, where interpretations do not deconstruct; instead they help the client to paint and represent their perceptions. This representation is not language in a linguistic sense, but a kind of imaginal narrative that can nevertheless imaginatively mediate bodily desires.
Connecting intra-psychic and inter-subjective approaches
The issue of symbolic mediation thus becomes a crucial one, for what Irigaray is suggesting is that mediation of narcissistic love does not occur solely through the transference onto a third analytic and symbolic plane of meaning and language. Instead, mediation occurs within the imaginary relationship between analyst and analysand, and the symbolic is arrived at immanently as a transformation of the imaginary, rather than its repression and refusal as an artificial or unreal relationship. The transference can be seen to involve a fluid focus on the ways a patient’s bodily fantasy life interrelates with real experiences, and this includes the analytical relationship. Intra-psychic and inter-subjective come together and cannot be separated into distinctive psychoanalytic approaches. Jessica Benjamin has recently explored the occurrence of symbolic space in the early inter-subjective maternal dyad, and in Like Subjects, Love Objects she foregrounds the doubleness of inter-subjectivity and the intra-psychic (Benjamin, 1995). In so doing, Benjamin brings together an object relations focus on the external object with the more narcissistic models of fantasy operating in postructuralist discourse. Although Benjamin connects Freud’s narcissistic and realist ego, she refuses to follow the Lacanian explanation of how desire interacts with the socio-symbolic. Instead, she returns to Winnicott’s view, where the psyche relates both to the other as an object of projection and identification and to the other as an autonomous and outside subject. In this scenario the self regards the other as part of the self and also as ‘an equivalent and different centre of existence’ (Benjamin, 1995: 6). As Benjamin asks, how can we distinguish between identificatory and object love if ‘in object love we desire what we might have once wished to be (like) but recognise that we cannot be?’ (Benjamin, 1995: 8). Benjamin’s focus on multiple identification as the basis for object love and indeed all sexual relations has the advantage over the Lacanian position, because it means sexuality and identity can be understood as arising in a non-pathological way from cross-sexed identification. Here, gender is not fixed, and is instituted not by the phallus, but through the multiple and fluid identifications of the pre-Oedipal period.
The best way to describe Benjamin’s notion of early symbolic space in relation to the mother is to give an example of the necessary, but painful, separations between mother and baby that must take place in order to provide both mother and child with healthy autonomy. As Winnicott tells us, the baby must be allowed to move from relating to the maternal object in fantasy to the use of the maternal object where she can be destroyed in fantasy in order to survive as an outside and external other. The mother must survive the child’s destructive fantasies and murderous hatred. So, when the mother takes leave of the small child, whether it is to go back to work or just to fulfil her own symbolic desires in terms of the world, then a power struggle develops between them. It is important that the mother survives her baby’s rage without collapsing or withdrawing, so that the baby learns not just to play with omnipotent fantasy, but also so it can begin to emotionally identify with the mother’s position, ‘an identification that includes the ability to reflexively articulate the difference’ (Benjamin, 1995: 93). Shared mourning when mother and child ‘miss each other’ is a symbolic identification and differentiation where the child can understand that the mother needs her space, just as the child needs hers or his. The symbolic, then, is not necessarily some external force of paternal law that breaks up the dyad, but an internal and inter-subjective development of identifications between child and mother which is dependant on the mother’s desire and interaction with the outside world.
Benjamin’s inter-subjective model also provides a new way of understanding how death can be mediated between women. Luce Irigaray has provided a powerful critique of the Freudian death-drive. Because this death-drive is based on a mastery or repression of the mother’s body, then it cannot provide a way for the girl to separate, allowing her to play at being and not being like her mother. However, the unavailability of an alternative to the phallic centred account of sublimation of desire and death through repression and language has led to a privileging of phallocentric psychoanalysis with in the academy. This has been particularly true in literary studies and film studies, where the roots in Lacanian postructuralist thinking are the deepest, and the stakes of establishing an account that sublimates desire in terms of language and the text are arguably the highest. However, Jessica Benjamin’s emphasis on the aggressive destruction of the omnipotent mother in fantasy, which enables a more symbolically mediated identification with her in the external world, allows an understanding of how aggression between people can be mediated and changed, but also of how sameness and difference can be symbolically negotiated between women. If the Freudian, intra-psychic model of the death-drive can only understand separation from the mother in terms of a mastery where death becomes projected onto the body of the woman, then Benjamin’s more inter-subjective approach leads us to see how the woman can acknowledge her furious death wishes towards her mother in fantasy, but also symbolically identify with her (as a figure in the external world) in an empathic way.
I now want to link this debate on the possible connections between intra-psychic and inter-subjective psychoanalysis to my own conceptualisation of the bodily imaginary. In my discussion so far, I have emphasised the need, particularly in Britain, for a greater connection between clinical practice and academic debate. Tracing the split between practice and theory back to a discussion of Freud’s work, this debate has also considered how an emphasis on the bodily ego and a more experiential transference can add a much needed counterbalance to the mental and symbolic functioning of phallic centred psychoanalysis. Jessica Benjamin’s work is a clear example of how notions of intra-psychic fantasy and symbolic desire can be incorporated within an inter-subjective approach that also includes an experiential narrative of object love and identification. The success of Benjamin’s approach is that she analyses a fluid relationship between the experiential body and the symbolic, refusing the more rigid opposition of the Oedipal and pre-Oedipal split.
The bodily imaginary
Following the ideas of Luce Irigaray and the Winnicottian analyst Christopher Bollas, I have argued for a similar connection between the real and the symbolic through my notion of a bodily imaginary, which is constantly reread and remembered within the analytic session through storytelling. Active reading and remembering of myth through the bodily imaginary is the practice of psychoanalysis, but it is also the work of popular and cultural memory, and the re-reading of dead traditions in terms of living history. Such a popular practice of re-memory can also be found in the writing and reading of literature, in the production and consumption of film and in the ethnographies of cultural history.¹
In Lacan’s thinking the imaginary is a mental structure, opposed to a linguistic symbolic and divided along with the symbolic from the bodily real. The bodily imaginary, however, is fluidly connected with both the real and the symbolic, and rather than being accessed through linguistic metaphor, is represented through the image. This more imaginal and bodily imaginary can also be thought of in terms of an inter-subjective transference, where the relation between fantasy and real experience is constantly played out. Here, an archaeology of the past can be constructed, but this is always open to reinterpretation and re-imagination through the imaginal bodily transference that communicates between analyst and analysand. As Stephen Frosh suggests:
the meaning of the patient’s unconscious productions can never be stable, because they are enunciated within the changing context of a specific relationship with the analyst; the unconscious thus becomes a site for communication, an ‘inter-subjective’ process, with all the comings and goings that that implies. (Frosh, 1998: 26)
This bodily imaginary and inter-subjective transference is not just allocated to the psychoanalytic patient, but is a transferential dynamic employed by readers of literature and spectators of film. Active reading of the bodily imaginary negotiates the space between language and experience: the historical re-memory at stake between the text, and the real reader or spectator. This act of transference is a projection of the image and of the imaginary in a re-reading of myth that makes up a more culturally situated unconscious (Campbell, 1999).
In literary studies, postructuralist theory has constructed Lacanian psychoanalysis as a textual methodology, where the literary text is privileged as a site of meaning. Postructuralism has sought to overturn the old humanist transcendental subject with its privileging of authorship and high culture, but in doing so it has neglected the experiential components of the production and consumption of texts; how they circulate in terms of everyday life. The dominant narrative model employed in terms of psychoanalytic literary studies has been an Oedipal model of the return of the repressed, but as both Peter Brooks and myself have argued, this does not address the transferential space between rhetoric and reference, which is also the inter-subjective space between text and reader (Brooks, 1994). However, the bodily imaginary, as an inter-subjective transference (between fantasy and reality and between the real and the symbolic), can present a different, not necessarily Oedipal model of narrative and history. The inter-subjective transference between reader and text is the hermeneutic and dialogic re-reading or re-interpretation of the text that brings the primary experiential stories of the ‘real’ reader into communication with the secondary narrative order of the text. Of course, the extent to which a text can be remembered and reinterpreted is dependent on historical contingencies of the production of the text and its consumption. Just like the analytic encounter, the production of new meaning is highly dependent on the historical moment of analyst/text and analysand/reader, and will never be true in quite the same way again. And as Stephen Frosh suggests, analysis is full of dead end interpretations as well as productive ones (Frosh, 1998: 27).
From text to audience: issues in psychoanalytic methodology
Lacanian textual methodology, developed from postructuralism, has been, if anything, more absolute in feminist film theory, with this theory being criticised increasingly for ignoring the ‘real’ audience. Jacqui Stacey’s work has moved the feminist film debate away from purely textual methodologies to a focus on audiences. At the same time, her use of qualitative research in interviewing women spectators about film problematises a straightforward empirical approach by focusing on memory. Engaging with ethnographic audience research, according to Stacey, involves an attention to memory as ‘audiences always “retell” their viewing experiences to researchers retrospectively’ (Stacy, 1995: 109). Stacey’s work raises interesting questions about the relationship of psychoanalysis to ethnography and cultural studies. Fore-grounding important historical issues in feminist scholarship, namely the ethics and power of the researcher over the researched, Stacey argues against the role of the feminist researcher as an analyst. This is because, for her, the use of psychoanalysis imposes ‘the greatest degree of power difference between the two parties’ (Stacey, 1995: 114). I would argue that this is certainly true of an analytic setting where the analyst sets him or herself up to interpret from an Oedipally symbolic, all-knowing position, the latent and unconscious meaning of the patient’s psyche. But a lot of contemporary psychotherapy mediates this extreme power relation through a more inter-subjective approach of the bodily imaginary, where the analyst and the patient are engaged together in a more mutual communication, which enables the patient to actively re-read his or her history, imaginatively creating new narratives. In this scenario, the emphasis is not on the analyst holding true interpretation or meaning, but on the active narrative journey of the patient or client, who re-members and re-creates her own imaginary and real worlds within a new symbolic language. In relation to Stacey’s work, maybe this emphasis on an inter-subjective transference and the bodily imaginary can help feminist research utilise psychoanalysis within ethnographic audience research; not as an all powerful analyst that deconstructs the viewer’s psyche, but as a more mutual and active reader in the retelling and recreating of the audience’s experiences.
Constance Penley’s recent work on fandom, psychoanalysis and popular culture highlights an approach which can perhaps link ethnography and psychoanalysis together in a more inter-subjective way, where power, instead of being totally located in the researcher/analyst, becomes relocated in the active re-readings that fans make of cultural texts (Penley, 1992). Penley investigates a quite radical Star Trek fan community called ‘Slash’ fans, who produce and circulate stories featuring a romantic and sexual relationship between Captain Kirk and his first officer Spock. The fan magazines produced are called ‘zines’, and the art work, as Penley suggests, is both romantic and sexually explicit. Penley describes the fan culture of these Kirk/Spock zines as almost 100% female. The Kirk/Spock fans write, edit and publish hundreds of stories and poems in the zines and produce a lot of artwork. Most of the zines are elaborately produced and designed, making up cottage industries. Some of the questions Penley asks are: What are the reasons for these fans writing about their erotic fantasies across the bodies of two men and why these two men? What was the sexual orientation of the fans, what was their relation to gay politics and were they writing renovated romances or female pornography? Why were female media stars like Cagney and Lacey never ‘slashed’ and what position did these fans occupy in relation to feminism? Finally Penley considers her own role, 1) as a potential fan, 2) a voyeur of the subculture, or 3) as a feminist critic. Penley discovers she is all three.
One of the most important things she notes is that the key issues for her of the generic nature of the fan stories as romance or pornography, the question of sexual orientation of the fans, and the role of the fan activity in the fans daily lives, were all issues raised and verbally/critically discussed by the fans themselves. The majority of female fans in these slash communities are heterosexual, although they do contain some lesbian women. Penley describes these fans as keeping Kirk and Spock mainly heterosexual although they engage in homosexual acts. Although there is a more recent willingness to allow them to be gay, Penley explores why it is important for the fans that Kirk and Spock remain heterosexual. She decides that keeping Kirk and Spock heterosexual allows the female fans more fluidity in terms of identification and desire. The fans can fantasise about being Kirk and Spock and about having them sexually. Penley uses psychoanalysis to account for this bisexuality in the slash fan communities, and she chooses a Freudian/Lacanian model over an object relations one, because of all the numerous and multiple positions of desire and identification that are at stake in the fans reading and writing of stories. For Penley, an object relations model of female subjectivity is reductive because it understands fantasy as a regression to a pre-Oedipal stage, whereas the Freudian and Lacanian account of fantasy allows ‘multiple (if contradictory) subject positions’ and it also addresses ‘the relation of desire to law, that is, to the subject of the symbolic as well as the imaginary’.
Although Penley is actually explicitly referencing Laplanche and Pontalis’s ideas of fantasy, rather than those of Lacan or Freud, the overall emphasis of these thinkers is that sexual identity begins in fantasy, after it has been detached from a natural or biological object. As I have argued elsewhere, the problem with a Lacanian paradigm is its evacuation of the bodily and experiential relation to the mother (Campbell, 1998). The Lacanian imaginary and symbolic focus exclusively on mental representation and thinking, and are therefore identified exclusively with phallic and textual representation. In other words, the privileging of phallic fantasy over the relation to the maternal body in the Freudian and Lacanian account ignores the significance, present within object relations psychoanalysis (as well as Irigaray’s work), of an experiential, more bodily imaginary. Ien Ang (1985) has described the emotional realism that fans seek and engage in when watching the soap opera Dallas. Ang suggests that Dallas fans do not care whether the programme is empirically true to upper class Texans, but they do view Dallas as emotionally true to the viewers’ personal lives. Fans, then, depend on emotional realism and a strong sense of identification with the characters. Fiction blends with experience as these fans draw on their own experiences as a means of rereading the narrative.
The bodily imaginary and cultural methodologies
I want to suggest that the experiential rereading of narratives carried out by fans of Star Trek or Dallas can be understood as a practice of the bodily imaginary, where the experiential life stories of the fans constantly re-read and remember the textual narrative. Penley privileges a Freudian and Lacanian framework over an object relations account because she sees the latter as ignoring the dimension of symbolic law and concerning itself solely with a pre-oedipal account. In her view, it is only this postructuralist account of desire and law that can offer the multiple positions of desire and law integral to bisexuality. However, in my reading of the bodily imaginary, these multiple positions of fantasy, identification and symbolic law exist, but they are not mediated by the symbolic phallus. For the bodily imaginary becomes a symbolic one when it has become socially and institutionally reproduced. In other words, the imaginary becomes symbolic when it has been made law. Of course, this symbolic is reproduced historically, but it is not immutable. The notion that the symbolic is a universally fixed phallic one is too pessimistic, giving ultimate power to the globalising reach of a masculine, Western imaginary, and denying the possibilities and the histories of other more marginal stories and identities in both their imaginary and symbolic forms.
The bodily imaginary, therefore, historicises the Oedipal heritage of psychoanalysis by its practice of popular memory, remembering traditional narratives in terms of contemporary history. Rather than the textual spectator or reader, the bodily imaginary elaborates a psychology of the real reader and the ethnographic audience through its active reading and storytelling in relation to cultural texts. The bodily imaginary involves a deeper connection between practice and theory and tracks an interdisciplinary fertilisation between differing schools of psychoanalytic thinking. In so doing, it promises to move the academic centre of psychoanalysis away from purely textual approaches of representation towards an inclusion of disciplines that include the category of ‘experience’. Cultural studies in Britain has always critiqued the way ‘high’ theories such as postructuralism evacuate the experiential stories of everyday life in their textual focus on deconstructing dominant systems of representation; the concept of the bodily imaginary is therefore a useful one in trying to think through the relations between experience and the text. If academic psychoanalysis insists on privileging phallic account of mental and textual accounts of representation and thinking, then the fairly entrenched position, in Britain anyway, between theory and practice, language and experience, and object relations theory versus Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, will remain.
As I have suggested elsewhere, this split between psychoanalytic theory and practice is also a division between psychoanalysis and history, one that serves to depoliticise the discipline (Campbell, 1998). If all the politics remain inside textual theories of representation where the ‘real’ is only fantasy, then what hope is there for a more radical and politicised practice? One of the most important aspects of conceptualising a more bodily imaginary is how we can rethink the relation between the real, imaginary and symbolic, not as idealised or abject forms, but as immanent and fluid processes where the body is not split off from fantasy, but creatively re-imagined and re-memorised to produce new and different mediations and narratives. Constance Penley’s work on fandom remains one of the most interesting studies to date on psychoanalysis and cultural studies, because it is addressing the issue of how texts circulate within culture: the space between theory and practice and between the text and the consumption and production of the reader. Fans, as Penley demonstrates, don’t just read, they actively reread through multiple bodily imaginaries: imaginaries that mediate experience and immanently create different symbolics. Fandom reflects the practice of psychoanalysis in its active reading and re-memorising of cultural myths and texts. Maybe the key to a more psychoanalytically inflected cultural studies lies with this act of popular and cultural memory?
1. See my Arguing with the Phallus (Campbell, 1999).
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