Love Trump’s Hate

In my initial reflections on the election result, I said that I felt ashamed. I was not the only one — anecdotally, that word showed up a lot in people’s gut reaction. In some ways, it’s a strange thing to say, especially when we look closely at the phrasing. I didn’t notice anyone saying that they were “ashamed to be an American” or “ashamed to be part of a country that could elect a man like that.” They were just “ashamed,” full stop.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, the presence of shame indicates that enjoyment has taken place. And oh, how we loved to hate Trump! And how we loved to perform that hate! It gave us every kind of political satisfaction. He was at once a horrible danger to the republic, meaning we were righteous and even brave for denouncing him, and a clown, so that linking regularly to his hate speech functioned as a kind of joke. It’s like we were all living in an episode of Family Guy, where racist and misogynist rhetoric is flying around and the audience is expected to laugh at it (i.e., to enjoy it on some level) while maintaining the plausible deniability of disapproval. Can you imagine? In this day and age? Best of all, we could indulge this hate more and more, because it was what would guarantee us victory. We wanted, needed him to go further — no matter how much it coarsened an already appalling public discourse, no matter how much it risked legitimating the very sentiments we hoped would delegitimate him.

After the initial shock, a similar cycle seems to be starting up. There are important differences, of course, now that it appears that he will actually assume office — though we get to continue writing our Electoral College fan fiction, hoping that the hated and antiquated institution will somehow save us. Now we point and laugh at his ignorance of what the presidency even entails, at his utter lack of planning for winning, etc. All of his transparently incompetent cabinet picks and advisors serve an analogous function — they show how he is simultaneously a horrible threat and that he’s an incompetent who can’t achieve anything. His promise to deport millions of people is at once the definitive proof that he’s a racist who means what he says and a logistical nightmare he can’t possibly carry out.

In a weird way, it’s as though the way we deal with him hasn’t fundamentally changed. And I bet we will one day look back at this reaction, at the ease with which we were able to fall into the familiar pattern of Trumpertainment, with shame.

Why Psychoanalysis?

When both scientism and the so-called “post-critical” movement are ascendent, what can possibly be the purchase of psychoanalysis?  Alenka Zupancic is going to tell us!  Join InterCcECT Tuesday 14 June for a reading group on her very short book “Why Psychoanalysis: Three Interventions.”  We’ll meet in the garden at Handlebar at the luxuriantly summery hour of 3pm.  Drop a note to interccect at gmail for the readings.

InterCcECT miniseminar on Eve Sedgwick

Eve Sedgwick’s profoundly supple thought surprisingly instigates both queer theory as we know it and that riposte to queer reading now called “post-critique.”  Her arc was dynamic, capacious, unpredictable, and we have only barely begun trace it.

InterCcECT is delighted to host a mini-seminar on Sedgwick’s work, led by Professor Zach Samalin.  Readings span the poles of her career and include “Epistemology of the Closet: Axiomatic”; “The Weather in Proust”; and “Melanie Klein and the Difference Affect Makes.”  Materials available by request: interccect at gmail

Join us Wednesday, 27 January, 5pm, at the Newberry Library (basement seminar room).  Red Line: Chicago.


Check back soon for the announcement of our February session with Daniel Zamora.

Also on our calendar:

12 Jan Jason Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life

22 Jan Pete Coviello, The Wild Not Less Than the Good: Thoreau, Sex, Biopower

25 Jan Adam Kotsko @ UIC School of Architecture

28-29 Jan Beauty & Form

Identity, PTSD, and Trigger Warnings

I am in the middle of a research project right now on the history of psychoanalytic psychological testing. I am taking a broadly historical perspective on the evolution of theories of psychoanalysis and the ways in which our theories of development and psychopathology are mediated by the psychologist’s absorption in the sociocultural milieu. One of my guiding ideas is that individuals who are designated as mentally ill often reveal the dark underside of culture, as they are essentially the casualties of our sociocultural system. After all, built into the very definition of mental disorders in the DSM-5 is the requirement that the ‘mental disorder’ prevents the individuals from adequately functioning according to the standards of the day.

This has led to me try to begin thinking about the current times. A couple of things have jumped out at me in my research. First, I have been trying to come to terms with the emerging trend over the last years for people to be described as “empty”. Now, this idea has always puzzled me. How can a self be empty? What does it mean when individuals seek out psychological treatment citing emptiness as a major symptom? Does emptiness convey a desperate hunger? Does it suggest that the subject hates what s/he sees and thus reports feeling empty, i.e. is emptiness defensive? Does emptiness adequately capture the person’s internal experience? There are many cultural critics who have attempted to address this idea. Philip Cushman has written a cultural history of psychotherapy in the US and has noted the economic underpinnings of emptiness and the ways in which people turn to consumer capitalism to ‘fill up’ this void. Others such as Christopher Lasch decried the terrible narcissism of the 1970’s with its purported obsession with inner discovery. This afternoon I have been reading Lunbeck’s latest text The Americanization of Narcissism, and she casts a critical eye towards to these jeremiad condemnations of the modern American subject. She rightly points out that every younger generation is condemned by the older generation as being spoiled, hedonistic, self-absorbed, etc.

So, I began to think more about what is the current diagnosis of my generation (as someone who is 28). Well, enter the new Atlantic article on the coddling of the American mind ( I assume many of you read it. In it we encounter a long-winded somewhat whining criticism of the current university student in the United States. I want to address some of the issues laid out in the article.

On a broader cultural level, the trigger warning issue suggests to me that our generation’s is trying to address issues of validation, shame, and aggression. Part of the notion of trigger warning is that Person A exposes Person B to phenomena C that ‘triggers’ unpleasant reaction D in Person B. One of the problematic aspects underlying the concept is that Person B’s unpleasant reaction D is wholly created by Person A exposing Person B to phenomena C. It is as if you push a button in Person B then it is your fault for whatever reaction it generates. It strips Person B of agency, decision, or reflection, rendering Person B a machine that is simply activated whenever the controls are adjusted in a certain way. What is fascinating to me is that it is based upon a PTSD-based notion of subjectivity. In other words, a person’s sense of self is organized around certain traumatic events that s/he need to be utterly shielded from stimuli that threaten to fragment the integrity of the self.

Implicit in this notion is a prescription for moralistic behavior (i.e. since we all carry around unresolved issues that can easily be set-off if the individual is exposed to unfavorable circumstances then you should tread lightly). It leads to deep anxiety and undue guilt in Person A, as if Person A is wholly responsible (and thus guilty) for whatever reaction Person B experiences. I hear this type of discourse at my work in a psychiatric hospital. Generally, we hear about how some patient has triggered another patient. The person who has been triggered (traumatized?) then attempts to exert a level of control over others by warning people about this vulnerability. It is based on the notion that someone should never be triggered, as if the person’s vulnerability is everyone else’s responsibility. I think what I am trying to say is that the agency and responsibility of the subject is being undermined with the PTSD-model of subjectivity.

At the same time, I think there are reasons to be critical of the Atlantic article. For instance, the notion that our generation is being coddled (intellectually) while we are being destroyed financially through the overpricing of advanced education seems suspect to me. Furthermore, I think many politically active students have pointed out the particular examples highlighted in the article are skewed in a certain direction. The article generally portrays students as excessively irrational and hypersensitive. The recent racial issues on campuses from Missouri to Yale highlighted these issues. In some examples, the media depicts the students as needlessly sensitive or alternatively as being subjected to intense discrimination. Also, the idea of prescribing to students ‘cognitive behavior therapy’ to make them more rational seems woefully naïve and stupid, almost like thought policing college freshmen. College is about being offended and learning from one another. I am not currently in a university, having graduated two years ago with my doctorate in psychology. I am curious what others thought (both students and professors) about this article. I am personally trying to understand what is going on psychologically and sociologically with the ways in which identity is being expressed and shaped in our current cultural moment. I would also appreciate any suggested readings people have.

Conference Presentation at APA’s Division of Psychoanalysis (39)

I’ll be in New York at the end of April presenting at Division 39’s annual spring conference. This year the topic of the conference is Conflict and the dates are April 23-27. I’ll be chairing a panel on April 25th entitled: Childhood Sexual Abuse and Conflicts: The Traumatic Sequelae. I’ll be presenting an individual paper as well that I’ve entitled Pathological Caretaking: Changing Object Relations for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Here’s the abstract.

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) warps the individual’s sense of self and object relations. Adult survivors of CSA internalize a sense of badness and guilt that makes their very existence seem criminal (Ferenczi, 1933), contributing to their belief that they deserve punishment and mistreatment. These internalizations inhibit their ability to form healthy and satisfying relationships. They are severely anxious about attachment and are often counterdependent due to their mistrust of others. They often initiate relationships in which they assume a pathological caretaking role, excessively devoted to partners who can be needy, immature, narcissistic and sadistic. These relationships allow them to disavow their dependency needs and yet still have them vicariously met by taking care of a needy other. In this paper, I will analyze these relational patterns that I have termed pathological caretaking, in which the survivor empties himself of desire (Ehrenberg, 1992), choosing to elevate the needs of the other. Also, I will focus on the ways in which these childhood traumas lead to personality-fragmentation (Ferenczi, 1933) and to the erasure of the true self and the creation of a false self (Winnicott, 1960). Furthermore, I will highlight from my own clinical work how I have used a Lacanian (Lacan 2006) focus on desire to destabilize the fixed relational patterns that render these individuals vulnerable to future victimization.

CHANGE: Social-Psychoanalytic Perspectives Conference Announcement

The Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society (APCS) is hosting its 2013 Annual Conference at Rutgers University Continuing Education Center, New Brunswick, NJ from November 1-2, 2013.

This conference takes up the issue of change from a social-psychoanalytic perspective: change in our bodies, our minds, our ways of being, our forms of communication, our social structures, and our values.

We seek proposals that investigate what psychoanalysis—in both its theoretical and applied forms—can offer for a better understanding of the meanings, process, and effects of change. Please think broadly about these issues from your own discipline, and consider proposing interdisciplinary conversations that discuss these issues across disciplines, or that invite commentary from a different discipline. Consider, for example, the following:

Continue reading “CHANGE: Social-Psychoanalytic Perspectives Conference Announcement”

On Being a Psychologist

As a psychologist/psychotherapist, I have always found it fascinating the ways in which strangers react whenever I inform them that I’m a psychologist. To avoid awkwardness, I know many psychologists lie about their profession to total strangers. It is interesting to note the ways in which strangers respond to my disclosure. I also think it opens up a window into the ways in which Americans thinks about psychotherapy.

One of the major responses I hear from people is “well, we’re all a little crazy, right?” Cue the nervous laughter. In these moments, the stranger is often dreading some sort of mini psychological evaluation and attempting to avoid my (fantasized) all-seeing eye by demanding that I give him/her a clean bill of health. Here I am being placed in the position of the subject supposed to know. Continue reading “On Being a Psychologist”

Notes on the death drive

Yesterday in the DAAD seminar led by Eric Santner that I’ve been participating in, we talked about Triebe und Triebschicksale and Jenseits des Lustprinzips. Prof. Santner emphasized the fact that the concept of “drive” is more the name of a problem than a solution and the fact that the concept of “death drive” seems particularly problematic and confusing — even down to the name itself. As we turned to the (bizarre!) sections of the text that deal with speculative cellular biology, I shared that I had found it somehow funny that Freud pictured the first living being coming into existence and experiencing it as a huge imposition: “This sucks! I want to go back to being primordial soup!” But once you start down that road, it seems as though there’s no reason not to push the point further. Perhaps consistent matter resented its condition and wanted to go back to being indeterminate quarks, for instance. Then Prof. Santner had a brilliant and hilarious insight: the idea that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” could be put forward not as an occasion of wonder, but as a complaint.

It seems that more than death (because after all, the inorganic matter to which the living being wants to return is precisely not “dead”), what’s at stake in the death drive is a kind of persistent refusal, an inert “no” that must constantly be overcome. Zizek of course puts this refusal forward as the only possible ground of political change, and it seems that there is justification in Freud’s text insofar as he associates the death drive with the Wiederholungszwang or repetition compulsion that pushes neurotic patients to relive the painful experience that has (mis)shaped them — but it’s all in order ultimately to refuse that particular vicious cycle and shape themselves differently.

I wonder if we can make a connection to the Heideggerian being-toward-death here. What drives Heidegger to investigate the phenomenon of death, at least in my reading, is not so much that death is the “end” and therefore “completion” of a human life, but rather that death as such is a potentiality that always necessarily remains potential, that can never be actualized. After all, once “my” death occurs, “I” no longer exist. The problem with a human life in progress, from Heidegger’s ontological perspective, isn’t so much that it’s “not over yet” as that it contains potentiality, which is a distinct mode of being that the classical ontological categories have a particularly hard time grappling with. Being-toward-death is his way of articulating and grasping that potentiality so as to get a complete grasp of Dasein’s peculiar mode of being (as actuality and potentiality). Just as with Freud’s death drive, the emphasis on death as such may be partially misleading or distracting, but there’s a moment of truth insofar as “death” names a radical negativity in human life. For both Freud and Heidegger, then, it would be this negativity that gives us access to the potentiality to do something other than our automatic daily routines of neurosis or everydayness.

The Subject-Supposed-to-be-Awkward and Group Dynamics

(Note this is an updated post that I wrote years ago on my personal blog. I’ve expanded the original post and it is worth the re-read.)

In Seminar XI, Lacan argued that whenever the subject who is supposed to know (SSK) exists then so will transference. The typical neurotic patient will grant the analyst his trust, and thus allow him to assume this position of knowledge. Furthermore, as soon as the analyst is the positioned as the SSK, “he is also supposed to set in search of unconscious desire” (Four Fundamental Concepts, p. 235). The patient comes into analysis assuming that the analyst has some sort of understanding of his symptoms. Of course, this is untrue. Psychoanalysts are not mediums and have no special intuitive capacities. This belief of the patient is the very thing that often motivates him to enter analysis. The patient interprets the analyst’s interventions as information from the SSK, sometimes granting the analyst omniscient powers.

I’ve been thinking more about Lacan and the way we sometimes attribute certain characteristics to different people (e.g the analyst as the SSK). In social groups, especially group therapy, it is very common that a scapegoat emerges. Generally, this person sticks out in the group as being different and thus worthy of hate. The group tends to project their hatred onto this individual and treats this contaminated group member as a “leper” who must be kept at a distance. Inevitably, the group turns against this one person and alienates the person from the group. Scapegoating is a universal phenomena and it can take many forms. Continue reading “The Subject-Supposed-to-be-Awkward and Group Dynamics”

The Repression of Sexuality in Contemporary American Psychoanalysis

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading Conci’s biography of Harry Stack Sullivan entitled Sullivan Revisited – Life and Work: Harry Stack Sullivan’s Relevance for Contemporary Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. It’s a wonderful work that contextualizes the radical innovation of Sullivan’s contribution to interpersonal psychoanalysis. Sullivan is the grandfather of contemporary American psychoanalysis and Stephen Mitchell recognized his work as foundational to the contemporary movement. Sullivan began his work at Washington DC’s storied St. Elizabeths Hospital. He then went on to work at Sheppard Pratt Hospital, outside of Baltimore. While at Pratt, he began a therapeutic wing for young male psychotics who recently had psychotic breakdowns. He collaborated and influenced Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s work at Chestnut Lodge, a hospital located in the DC suburbs (in Rockville, MD).

What was interesting about Conci’s story about Sullivan’s theoretical and therapeutic innovations was the ways in which he re-worked psychoanalytic theory. Although he relied heavily on Freud’s notion of transference (which he re-named) and had an appreciation of unconscious processes, Sullivan was innovative in stressing the social nature of human beings. Sullivan (like many other early dissenters such as Fromm, Thompson, Fromm-Reichmann, etc) argued that Freud had overemphasized the sexual in human nature. Sullivan also collaborated with many social scientists, believing that the cultural and political background greatly informs the ways in which society understands mental illness.

Although I greatly appreciate Sullivan’s contribution to the theory and treatment of schizophrenia (along with the other notables in the interpersonalist tradition such as Fromm-Reichmann and Searles), I was astounded to find how quickly these psychoanalysts dropped sexuality from their theory. Continue reading “The Repression of Sexuality in Contemporary American Psychoanalysis”