It turns out we may all need psychoanalysis. From the Pope to new studies attesting to its effectiveness, psychoanalysis seems once again on the long march to medical and cultural respectability. It’s easy to see why—instead of cleansing our minds from torments, the era lasting from the late 20th century to the present day has begot crises personal and political. The cultures of self-fashioning and freedom which were meant to lead us to lives of authenticity and discovery have hypostasised into their shadow forms of self-doubt and despair. Psychoanalysis is at home in this context; the treatment is notoriously irregular and involved, deftly moving between the unprecedented sense of individuality we make for ourselves and the more timeless pathologies which afflict us.
As true as all the above is, it is also unmistakably trite. What the new narratives around psychoanalysis’ resurgent power miss is that what draws us anew to it is not its ability to potentially cure and succeed where other treatments have failed, but in its ability to make each one of us legible in analysis by giving us the attention we merit. This feature is what has made psychoanalysis so compelling for literary critics and theorists—andwhy, when the academic and medical edifices which enclose it are eventually destroyed, its practice can stand for a sort of creative freedom unavailable in our current society.
Psychoanalysis confers a psychic equality on everyone. Libidinal drives, slips of tongue, the importance of childhood sexual development, dreams—in one form or another we can always render our stories in light of these other stories. Conflict is normal. A life without conflict, internal displacement or suppression is, in psychoanalysis, a structural impossibility. Its utopian promise is that we could always talk about it. Psychoanalysis holds that no person, authoror text is free from pathology: we always fail or come up short. All that we share—and why we’re so intelligible to each other, and why we could always talk with each other, and why the other person will never cease to fascinate us, is because our failings are mismatched, but the ground we share remains the same. Through analysis we discover how every life can be as psychically insightful and complicated as the next.
There will never be a surplus of analysts for the conflicts we can possibly carry. This seems a terrifying prospect because in our collective imagination the analyst is a therapist, a medical worker that sets out to heal. What this just means is that our conditions are our natures; beyond easy resolution in the healing reach of any forthcoming political or economic resolution. Just as surely as an analyst today can reach back to a whole different stage of human history and pluck out a dream-narrative or libidinal conflict, so can we with those who could succeed us in a more just society. The need for analysis cannot disappear, but in altogether different conditions than those which prevail today it can be transformed from the talking cure into the talking life. By talking and investing ourselves in complicating, clarifying and comprehending—perhaps as we like doing to books—our psyches can be made bearable, without losing any of our limitless possibilities for pain or joy. This, I believe sometimes, is everything that is good about psychoanalysis.