Freud’s ideas about the mind, evolution, and culture were revolutionary. Psychoanalytic theory was brought into service to treat mental illness because it was developed in a medical context. But the methods of psychoanalytic investigation, especially ‘free association’ and dream analysis, were most suited for learning about the mind, not ‘fixing’ the mind. The theory involved thinking objectively and scientifically about normal and pathological subjective experiences such as ‘feeling anxious’ and ‘feeling depressed’. Psychoanalytic ‘therapy’ involves largely telling a patient “this is how your mind works” and “this is why it works this way”.
There I was, walking along the streets of Buenos Aires in the early 1950s, when I ran into Alexander, an old childhood friend of mine. I had not seen him for many a long year. We had first met in primary school, and had spent some years together in high school. Later, I learned that, like me, he had gone on to study medicine, but in a different medical school.
Faced with the difficulties and setbacks that he was encountering in his psychoanalytical work, Freud, by then (1937) in his twilight years, felt the need to theorize the “underlying bedrock” of the “repudiation of femininity” in both sexes. This new pitfall, a Scylla following on from the Charybdis of the death drive, was, in my view, one way of reintroducing the sexual dimension and of giving back to the sex drive the diabolical quality that he had taken away from it – thereby attributing to it the same kind of disruptive potentiality as the death drive. It is this enigma that I have chosen to explore in my book.
Psychotherapy and politics
As Britain nervily approaches an unpredictable general election, it’s hard not to identify with a certain troubled soul from one of our greatest dramas and reflect that “something is rotten in the state of” our politics.