Psychoanalysis and Politics

WWS-Politburo black

Freud’s views on society and politics have often been described as “pessimistic”—according to psychoanalysis, the human psyche is fundamentally anti-social in many ways, and a large role is assigned to hatred, aggression and guilt-feelings in social life. At the same time, psychoanalysis has been seen by some as holding out the possibility of greater individual self-understanding, creativity and autonomy. Can one have an autonomous society without autonomous individuals? Can we understand and combat social authority without understanding the effects of child-rearing practices and smaller social units like the family? What impact do the “non-rational” and unconscious motivations have on political phenomena? What kinds of mental suffering are caused by modern social arrangements? If Freud didn’t directly attack bourgeois patriarchy, did he at least provide some tools for describing it? (And what can we say has changed since Freud’s time?) What about the post-Freudians who altered and developed psychoanalytic theory?

Without reducing everything to biology, or resorting to a facile social constructivism, psychoanalysis invites us to look at another reality, obscure, fragmented and complex, with a tremendous influence: the psyche. The goal of this reading group is to be undogmatic and critical, to raise questions and upset assumptions, both those of conservatives and “radicals,” feminists and non-feminists. The proposed readings are:

Sigmund Freud – Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego
Wilhelm Reich – “The Development of the Character-Analytic Technique”
Melanie Klein – “Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms”
Jacques Lacan – “The Signification of the Phallus”
D. W. Winnicott – “The Concept of the False Self,” “The Mother’s Contribution to Society”
Jean Laplanche – “Aggressiveness and Sadomasochism”
Nancy Chodorow – “Conclusions on Post-Oedipal Gender Personality”
Julia Kristeva – “Psychoanalysis—A Counterdepressant”
Cornelius Castoriadis – “Psychoanalysis and Politics”

First session meets April 2nd to discuss Chapters 1-4 of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, text online here:

We’ll meet every other Wednesday at 7 pm.
Starting April 2nd!