Europe in Dark Times

Europe in Dark Times – Some Dynamics in Alterity and Prejudice

Jonathan Sklar, London


In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison

queues in Leningrad. One day somebody “identified” me. Beside me, in

the queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never

heard of me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us

all and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there): “Can you

describe this?” And I said: “Yes I can”. And then something like the

shadow of a smile crossed what had once been her face.

—Anna Akhmatova, 1 April 1957, Leningrad


How does one develop states of freedom in analysis and in the analyst from the tangles of unconsciousness that exist one’s unconscious mind, within the society that trained one, and from the unspoken depths of our European culture? Such complex matters can range from the need for the analysand to find new ways of expression both in relation to him- or herself and towards the other, as opposed to running along the old tramways laid down by personal histories caught up in and repeated by the transference dynamic, to in another order, the question of how best the analyst can develop his or her personal practice of psychoanalysis in a particular place, which may be antithetical to such a project. This unfortunately seems to becoming more prevalent, certainly in the National Health Service in the UK where psychodynamic therapy is virtually now wiped out, but right across Europe as well. A central part of this discussion must involve an examination of the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic training itself. They both contain their own unconscious tramways.

Yet the very theme of freedom and my associated word “tramways” leads my thoughts to the train lines, which led from so many countries to the death camps of Europe. European culture, like the human subject has never been free of aggression, stretching from medieval times through to the Enlightenment and culminating in the world wars fought on our soil in the twentieth century. This was Freud’s legacy, but it is also undoubtedly our own and has played its part in the evolution of psychoanalysis throughout Europe. Freud, living through the First World War, attempted to make sense of the mass slaughter of nationals, despite or due to cultural heritage, and also had to flee Nazi Vienna in 1938. His sisters did not escape and died in concentration camps. What would it have meant for the future development of psychoanalysis if the Nazis had killed the Father?

How can one think about trauma in the individual without thinking of it in generational terms, as well as in terms of the cultural heritage that formed the backdrop to the development of psychoanalysis from within the Austro-Hungarian Empire? One of my interests is the interface between personal and historical trauma, and in particular the interface with unconscious processes. What we can grasp of the innermost life of the patient and of the world he or she lives in, and by which he or she is so profoundly affected is also a part of a broader history entwining ontological history and specific cultures.

Europe has continuously struggled with the stranger coming from the East, ready to pollute and kill the western order. Each country in their particular forms declared themselves historically as a bulwark against the horde; France, with its back to the Atlantic against the Germanic tribes, the Goths and Visigoths and the Mongol horde beyond. Spain and Portugal similarly fearing the Caliphate expansion as the successful Moslem invasion created Al Andalus. Germany against the atheist Communists in Russia as well as the impoverished villages of Poland and the Eastern states riddled with shtetl Jews. The conflict can be seen through the opposite lens where the Roman legions spread the empire far to the east or the many crusades invading the Middle East. All along there is knowledge that cities are what are really civilized (civitas) and the wanderer is impure, dangerous and stupid. Strong boundaries are an essential component of nation states – developing the psychology of them and us and demonizing the other .The European Union despite considerable internal stresses has as its core value justice for all its citizens, enshrined in the European Court of Justice and the act of Human Rights. These are ethical and democratic structures beyond the boundary of each of its states that are a profound answer to the vicissitudes and particularities of the individual Nation States.

Now transcribe these states of prejudice in unconscious phantasy to the individual in his family as well as the analytic society desiring to accentuate particular forms of analytic theory and training. In addition the wish for widespread development of training where it is missing can neglect the analytic sense in an individual treatment in which hard won pieces of conscious knowledge act as a psychic pointillism as development is a valuable patchwork that slowly joins together in some way. I will now examine such psychoanalytic patchwork in the European region


One question today, which became central to my role as Vice President from 2008 to 2011 must be how to preserve the integrity and difference of the EPF in the increasingly complex world of psychoanalysis whilst in addition working together with our colleagues from the other regions and the IPA. This priority is in addition to present-day concerns about the very survival of psychoanalysis as a treatment form in the current climate of quick fixes and business solutions. Looking back in history psychoanalysis has invariably had an often unwelcomed status with Freud’s concern that it could be attacked and demoted if the scientific community as well as the (Nazi) State perceived it to be just a Jewish theory. Freud never let go of the worry that the eruption of the workings of unconscious life had a dialectic involving its return to a state of repression, especially if it became perceived as having a negative influence in society. This was in part, Freud’s concern with apostasy among some of his followers. Yet knowledge of the unconscious need not lead to its destruction in society, although programmes demanding quick changes in symptomatology due to external modeling, positivistic thinking (CBT) or through the impact of an early and fragile positive transference now abound. One happenstance for psychoanalysis is that the unconscious is readily available, as it were, to subsist underground as well as in the privacy of a dyadic relationship. It is difficult now to really destroy psychoanalysis. Its status is too present, especially delineated by how it is still regularly attacked, meaning that it is worth attacking because it exists.

In the third EPF Bulletin of 1973, Daniel Widlocher wrote, “differences between the societies make for interest, while the similarities due to the homogeneity of European culture make it possible to draw relevant comparisons”. Since that time, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-opening of Europe from west to east, things have become much more complex. Homogeneity no longer exists in this complexity. Without doubt, Europe has been the leading arena for the development of new analytic societies. Forms of organization and meeting in the EPF are part of something profound about negotiating difference. It is a way of breaking down a sense of a large monolithic organization into a more manageable and friendly resource whilst simultaneously enabling a realization that no single analytic training contains the truth of analysis. Learning the many ways of approaching the patient is a great antidote to the narcissism of small and large differences. Such regular meetings outside of societies are an essential resource for the future development of analysis in a growing and complex region. What we have been establishing with these approaches is a new form—not just about learning more about the complexities of psychoanalysis—but one that allows us to begin to listen contrapuntally, the expression coined by Edward Said, as a way of creatively negotiating and discriminating what can often be profoundly divergent ways of understanding both theory and practice. The barrier to recognition, often by ignorance or by ignoring that which we do not imagine of the other, becomes something to be faced, confronted, and argued against within a facilitating environment. Profound cultural differences can also be noticed and thought about.

In a similar way the baby growing up within the particular dyadic culture that the mother brings, her history of being mothered including her mother’s history of being mothered can be rigidly encased in a transgenerational unconscious system. Of course there can be a benign environment that nourishes development and appropriate separations. Yet even the mother unable to be other than an identificate of her own mother, might find, in conjunction with her baby a new dyadic culture in early formation. This may require the collapse of a previously internalised tough and unquestioned fixed regime to form what Balint called ‘a new beginning’.

To return to the larger register of European Psychoanalysis, in recent years, the EPF has welcomed the Belgrade Society, Polish Society, German Psychoanalytical Association (DPG), Dutch Psychoanalytical Group, and the British Psychoanalytical Association as IPA Component Societies. In addition, Study Groups attending the biannual Council of Presidents have been established in Romania, Croatia, South Africa, Portugal, Lithuania, and, in 2010, Lebanon, with two groups now in Moscow and Istanbul. This is a mixture of developing analysis in places where it did not exist, reviving old ones as well as evolving new societies with different theory and practice in places where analysis is already established.

Many European analytical societies have also emerged, whether sooner or later, from often profound historical traumas that for many of us remain part of our own lifetime. These are our psychosocial cultural tramways, which can exist in states of repression or, by reckoning with history allow the emergence of a new order. Language can have its own Orwellian tones… ‘Arbeit mach frei’ has meant it’s very opposite. Right wing politicians, such as Britain’s Cameron praise their concern for the poor, the health service and universities, whilst simultaneously cutting financial resources in order to apparently balance the budget, as being good for us. Yet the savings of ordinary citizens and hard won resources for health and knowledge are being destroyed. And now, post Cameron, his legacy, we are living in a Post-Brexit World, leaving the European project to one side just when the idea of all of Europe standing together is the intelligent solution to the consistent and murderous attacks on all of us.

During the last century many countries with repressive governments have now spawned generations of children who have had to grow up in paranoid atmospheres especially at home where there was a keeping silent, in order that children would not be able to be say anything ‘dangerous’ when outside in the street. Such protective social mechanisms can become what appears as an” ordinary sensible” paranoia .Yet in the analysis of candidates growing up in totalitarian regimes, Nazi, Stalinist, or South African the germ of the paranoia needs especial notice taken of it as it is ubiquitous, often silent and with an appearance of being just ordinary. The analysand needs to question not only their own history but that of the analyst- where has he come from, what has his imagined trauma been. But not by a question and answer, rather by an examination of what became known in South Africa as truth and reconciliation that searched out the traumatic landscapes.

Totalitarian regimes with deep controls embedded in social, political, and family life play their part in the unconscious dynamics of twenty-first-century cultural life and many analytic societies still bear such scars. War within some parts of Europe has only recently ended—for the time being. The European tradition has its history, its deadness, and the possibility of radical construction within an atmosphere of a capacity to criticize. To be able to tolerate the Other without allowing domination, at the same time as recognizing complexity, is our modern heritage. In psychoanalysis lies freedom, or at least the potential for freedom. This includes the development of attaining a more mature position that recognizes the vitality of mourning. Creative separation together with mourning is a necessary element in the development of the parent child relationship, the analyst patient relationship with unconscious communication enabling this to take place beyond and despite trauma. Where there has been substantial trauma and deprivation, the analytic situation is one that involves the possibility of new formations that require the bedrock of trust. This may lead to a sense of reparation that sometimes does need to come from the analyst as a humane and free other, who can not only think and understand outside the tramways, but can be alive outside them

The same will be true if a traumatised analytic society is able to struggle to mourn its specific historical confrontations between colleagues rather than surrendering to years of low murmurings of discontent. Attempts at mourning in larger Society include the erection of symbols, often statues in prominent or less obvious positions for remembrance. But again they can exist for glorification, political dissemination as well as standing ‘as if’ they represented an invitation to remember. Working together across the boundaries of Societies and countries is an eloquent and worthy model for such depth understandings. Given the traumas of European history and the often intolerant matrix of belief in psychoanalytic societies, this is also bound to touch upon questions of mourning and might also provide a space for its expression. If such difficult psychic processes, born of all our different but convergent histories of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, cannot be reflected in analytic thought and practice within our analytic societies, then where else? This was the central question that international psychoanalysis had to face about returning to Germany for the first time post the Second World War, in particular the 34th Congress in Hamburg in 1985. Again what value was psychoanalysis if the analytic community could not face such profound difficulties?

In June 2010, at one of the European Psychoanalytic Federation annual clinical meetings, I was involved in organizing a weekend seminar for recently qualified analysts that met in Warsaw. Twenty-eight colleagues from analytic societies all over Europe attended and presented clinical analytic material in small groups to a panel of training supervisors. The location was evocative. On the first evening many of the group enjoyed being in the beautiful old town square, which had been completely rebuilt in the post-war reconstruction. To many, the deception of being in the heart of the old city centre was unrealized, as it looked and felt so ancient and well kept. A quarter of the city had been the container for the Warsaw ghetto, which was totally razed during the 1943 Jewish uprising. The following year, most of the core central parts of the city were also razed during the Polish resistance partisans’ uprising against the Nazi occupation before the Red Army advanced into Warsaw. Eighty-five per cent of the city was demolished. The destroyed city was post war lovingly recreated by copying Canaletto’s famous views of the original city. We can read in this process a societal and cultural equivalent of how an individual’s trauma is atomized and detached from the possibility of understanding such that it can only be viewed from the outside. Unknowing of its history, the visitor delights in the perfectly reconstructed medieval environment.

Yet what is this disneyesque reconstruction, which hardly shows any link to its real past? The pleasure in the refixed centre points to the necessity to not remember, beguiled by the surface pleasures in sight. Outside the castle, in the centre of the old town, is a small photo showing nothing of the vast building, other than its forlorn gateway and its right-hand corner showing a tottering thin pile of bricks left by 1945. Nothing else was left standing with a sea of rubble everywhere- a horrid and eloquent metaphor of what had earlier happened where one now stood…time has moved on. This has a symmetry with the neurotic individual who must repress that which cannot be known because knowledge is too terrible, apparently to be made manifest.

Knowing the destruction means that what one gazes upon holds within its view that which was wiped out. It exists in the negative shadow of what we see before us. Absence is the trace of the destructive order as part of the European city patch over the place where originally a rent had appeared. Freud puts it in relation to psychosis, “the delusion is found applied like a patch over the place where originally a rent had appeared in the ego’s relation to the external world” (Freud 1924, p. 151). The city cannot bear to contemplate the tear in its own past and its population as well, unless courageous mental work is undertaken.

Such patches of architectural memory can be found all over Europe, the only partly recognized signs of a missing history in many important landscapes. It has not been easy to build the edifices that enable us to mourn our bloody European heritage and which provide an atmosphere to facilitate such mourning (Young 1993). Germany has had a long journey on this path: from the Mitscherlichs’ important book, The Inability to Mourn of 1967, which analysed the failure of the German people and society to acknowledge the crimes committed in the name of National Socialism, to the Berlin of today. Alexander Mitscherlich’s earlier book, Doctors of Infamy: The Story of the Nazi Medical Crimes, when first published in 1949, so inflamed much of society that large numbers of this edition were bought up by the German Medical Society in order to suppress it. This in itself, of course, has its own evocative history. Looking at the Berlin monuments, which exist to remind citizens of the totalitarian past, there are two, which strike me as being of particular interest, although perhaps only one of them is truly significant or effective in this context. The first is at Bebelplatz, the site at which, on 10th May 1933 the Nazis burnt 20,000 books, including Freud. It now contains a monument by Micha Ullman consisting of a small glass window set flat into the cobblestones that looks deep into the underground, into an empty library with rows of bare shelves. There is a line from Heine; ‘Where they burn books they ultimately burn people”. Evocative certainly, yet as one walks away from the site, it becomes invisible from any distance. The ordinary passer-by is not even aware that it is there. The event is certainly remembered but only if one is standing right on top of the spot. The dictum out of sight, out of mind comes to my mind. Either knowing of the existence of the place of the destruction or just coming across it can have a powerful effect. Yet it is a monument easy to ignore. The other monument is by Peter Eisenmann in Berlin, which commemorates the Holocaust, consists of 2,700 concrete slabs nearby the Brandenburg Gate. This is a public work that is not hidden away but daily in the sight of all who pass by in the very centre of the city. It points the way unequivocally to that which is known and needs to be seen. It is unavoidable and an essential part of the regeneration of national soul and spirit by the constant confrontation with destruction. The prose of Akhmatova at the start of this epilogue bears testament to daring to be able to describe that which is nearly too painful to bear being brought into the present in words. And yet it can be done.

We can relate this question of historical trauma and how it is registered in or refused by the mind to the analytic process. All crises, historical and personal, are at once endings and beginnings. In time, the existence of a crisis allows for the development of thoughts both of its origins as well as how it may end. There is always something unpredictable and potentially, even radically, unsettling about this. To take a metaphor, the apparently simple commencement of a Beethoven symphony can evoke an unconscious expectation, not just of its development, but how the composer will be able to dare to end what he has created. Great works often end in a dissonant way in relation to our milder, more humdrum expectations, exposing the listener to the shock of another, different resolution. Similarly, free association contains a potential for a radical edge that can move us away from the neat hedgerows of the narrative plot of known object relationships. Instead, it allows us to find ourselves in a dissonant landscape and not necessarily the one that we might have tried to creep towards. With understanding, free association can place us at such cardinal positions and we then have to try and understand where we are. These are different places from where we want to be, desire to be, or where society demands that we be. This is the reason why all totalitarian regimes in their control of society detest the possibility of thinking for oneself, separate from the group narrative.

Again, we can draw an analogy with the role of the analyst. Some analysands can act in a similar way to a dissonant in the ranks, breaking free from the dominant, known rhetoric of family life. Issues of dominance and passivity are a common facet of family life , spread around the various players. The analyst is unconsciously expected to play a double role, of quietly being part of that old regime whilst at the same time being in a separate mental place in order to notice and help create or accept a disturbance from the fixity that has hitherto ruled the family and their individual mental states.

This process is never easy. It would be wrong to view the end of an analysis or even the end of this article as offering a simple resolution as in “all’s well that ends well”. Psychoanalysis does not deliver cure but its instruments enable the possibility, if brave to examine the contents of Pandora’s box in order to find hope in knowledge.

So let me describe something from Pandora’s box- the problem we all have with the other, the problems around the concept of alterity. For this I want to go back to the arguments between Freud and Ferenczi in the early 1930’s-an interesting time in Europe coinciding as it did with the rise of Hitler and the domination in politics of totalitarian politics. Freud feared a rejection of core ideas of unconscious life and especially the base that he had established in the unconscious Oedipal phantasy. Ferenczi was a Freudian, not interested in moving away from Freud’s metapsychological position. Yet he was concerned with those many patients who had, in addition early infantile trauma that he felt required new technique to deal with pre-oedipal loss of basic trust and other concomitant issues.

Ferenczi’s Confusion of Tongues (1933) paper shows in a radical way the structure of abuse between the adult and the child. The paper describes the biphasic attack on the child, first in the guise of playfulness that excites the child, desirous of the attention of the grown up that grooms the way for a sexual assault that may end in sexual penetration. At this point the child is at best confused, at worse in pain and Ferenczi describes how the child can protect itself from the impact of the attack on trust as well as the attack on the body by a split in the ego…’that is not really happening to me, just to my body’. Or the child can intensively look at the pattern of the wallpaper or the curtains or something as if everything else in the room is separate. The child goes lost and missing as a deep defence to the pain of the onslaught.

However Ferenczi now brings out the other and arguably worse trauma, which is the adult repudiates what has just occurred, often telling the child it is ‘only their imagination’, or ‘look what you made me do-it’s your fault’, and ‘don’t tell anyone our secret and if you do, nobody will believe you’. This is an even more vicious assault on the mind of the child. Reality is attacked and the child is detached from anybody who may help and listen as they are told that they will definitely not be believed. Really, they are invited to understand, it is all an incident about nothing. This is an attack on thinking, on reality and invariably leaves the victim in a spin of being alone, hurt, confused and with an attack on basic trust.


All this deals with the subject of paedophilia in a way that, when read for the first time has a contemporary feel to the paper, despite it having been written in 1932. The paper helps to understand the psychology of splitting in the defence of the ego but at the price of the formation of an internal state of alienation that can form a carapace of character development, leading to great fear about the child, grown up having trust in the world and in relationships. Or there can be identification with the aggressor (A. Freud), which is the common history of paedophiles having been abused children themselves.


Now let us apply the same dynamic steps to understand alteric attacks in anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, racism and homophobia. For instance a group of colleagues are meeting together and suddenly one tells an anti-Semitic joke in the knowledge that one of the group is Jewish. Everyone but the Jew may laugh, and he feels disarmed at being, in the moment not part of the group unless signalling by laughter that he is part of the group. Perhaps he becomes cross at the nasty and crude stereotyping and after all being an adult he may well desire to speak up. And if he protests the anti-Semite can quickly repost that it was only a joke, nothing was meant by it and anyway the Jew is just over sensitive. Here we can see the second attack, like in paedophilia, where the evidence in front of the victim is dismissed as not being real .The attack continues to proceed with the idea that they are just too thin skinned. This has a further meaning that there is no anti-Semitic attack only that he (a Jew) just has a problem with humour. It is a double attack that, as with the child, spins the mind leaving the victim in a state of alienation from the group.


The same unconscious dynamic plays out in racist and homophobic attacks where the victim is insulted and the informed that they took a wrong and unintended meaning and that is their own doing. So that far from being the victim they are the architect of their own difficulty and because of this ‘they are not like us’ who can understand jokes and are adult enough to’ not misunderstand ‘what is being said. Extreme right wing Serbian fascists in a match between the two countries pelted a Black English footballer with bananas. When it was pointed out that the vicious meaning was that the black man was a monkey not a footballer there was incredulity that this could be thought, as it was only a piece of fun. The thinker of the thought was the true racist not those throwing bananas. Furthermore he had no sense of humour.

In this case the whole English team stood by their comrade and did not join in the abuse. He was not left alone, as the alteric attack desires and the true nature of the racists was revealed.

It is important to understand that the group has a profound importance on whether to join in the attack, stay quietly neutral as if it is nothing to do with them or critically that many stand up as well against the double attack. The racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia does not work in an atmosphere of rejection of the premises of the attack. Then the attackers come under scrutiny for the first time and cannot hide in the group, or cannot pervert the group to identifying with the attackers.

The murder of French journalists, for attacking Mohammed and behind that the killings of Jews caused an eruption of outrage. However the aftermath, allowed a sense of ‘us and them’ to percolate through the drama. Rather than understand that the attack was from a small cell of terrorists against French and Western Societies and its values, their attack succeeded in causing further splits between how Moslem French citizens were perceived as if they were all, or nearly all capable of killing us. Instead of the group process bringing the State together, it led to the fear of further anti Moslem sentiment to gather. Worse still was the possibility for some Israeli politicians to stir up anti-Semitism as a device to demand that all French Jews need to relocate quickly to the safety of the Jewish State of Israel. Here there is a further attack, this time on the State of France that apparently cannot guard the lives of its Jewish citizens. The twisted logic is that Israel is a safe place for Jews, which is clearly untrue since the inception of the State in 1948. So that Europe, being such a horrid place that has seen the Holocaust and the continuation of anti-Semitism ever since means that it does not deserve to have Jews living there anymore, according to Prime minister Netanyahu. This is another example of prejudice at its nasty play.


There is a common dynamic in society when the one who raises the problem of an anti-other such as racism and identifies discriminatory practices within a society or institution, is made to be the problem: “It is your fault, you are the one who is bad since you accuse the other of racism, anti-Semitism etc” (Auestad, 2015). I think this is a dynamic can be seen repeated time and time again, probably also to do with people’s identification with the group, the institution, the tradition. For people identified with the latter as a good object, the one who points to problems of discrimination within it is turned into the problem. This is Trumps attack dog upping his accusatory rhetoric to blame some group-Mexicans, Moslems, the poor, the pope all of whom can be contained and split off by building a wall of separateness, us and them, which is like an excretory process. We void shit and piss, getting rid of ‘the bad stuff’ as if we can deal with fellow human beings likewise and without guilt and compassion, as they become ‘nothing’. This was part of Hitler’s Final Solution whose processes were oiled by the victims being the untermenschen.



As Frank Kermode suggests in his famous essay The Sense of an Ending, “This is not, after all, quite the world of those who seek ‘the courage to be and strip reality of the protection of myth’” (Kermode 2000). It is always a continuing struggle for the analysand to find that state of being which is distinct from immersion in one’s primary narrative. Analysis can be an act of freedom against the chains of imposed and self-imposed narratives from family history and unconscious romance, but it also has to struggle against the passive expectation that something will be done by someone else, which often expresses itself as the desire for this to be the analyst’s function. One of the issues to emerge strongly from this paper is how central these issues of freedom and emancipation are to the analytic process. This is the reason for the explosion of analytic training subsequent to the tearing down of the Berlin wall, another earlier wall to separate people.

For me, the question that remains is how to foster the most painful forms of memory while keeping the spirit of free psychoanalytic enquiry alive. It was in the context of such concerns that in July 2005, Christopher Bollas and I formed “theothergroup” (TOG) in London. The group was an attempt to establish a new analytic forum, outside the analytic academy with certain key values that were thought to be essential to analysis but which we felt were vulnerable, and often in danger of rupture. It encompassed range of psychoanalytic viewpoints. The “other” in the group’s name alluded to Freud’s concept of the unconscious—which he termed “ein anderer Schauplatz” (Freud 1900, p. 48)—and to Ferenczi’s emphasis on the actual other. The founding members of the group shared Freud’s principle that the cornerstone of good analytic practice is for the analyst to listen to the analysand in a state of evenly suspended attentiveness which, if not, in Bion’s terms, a state wholly without memory or desire, nonetheless strives to be free of prejudice. The group re-affirmed Freud’s vision of the analysand’s right to freedom of thought and speech in the presence of the psychoanalyst commonly referred to as “free association”. We thought that particular ways of enabling thinking together in a group, utilizing contrapuntal listening to include all ideas without imposing a narrowing of theory that can quickly develop into frank prejudice, would be valuable as an analytic listening tool. Unsurprisingly the analytic society was greatly concerned with what they imagined that we, a private group of analytic colleagues were doing in London.

There are clinical positions, which have emerged over a long period of time within the changing context and historical evolution of the British Society, notably the legacy of the controversial discussions in the 1950s over the work of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, within the context of the independent or middle group that accepted parallel yet connected trainings and the gradual ascendance in the Society of one theory of interpretation. Of course, we are aware that differing theories are different forms of perception, each deserving appropriate understanding and respect. Nonetheless some positions impede the spirit of analytical neutrality and interfere with free association, and in doing so block the process of access to a wider range of analytic ideas. What might be called an ethics of listening applies both to psychoanalytic work with analysands as well as to colleagues, as we listen to both the conscious and unconscious. To acknowledge the many differing concepts of mind and relationship in psychoanalysis is a further application of the ethics of listening. My own recent work has been in the context of the EPF where there are not just many types and theories of analytic training and clinical practice, but also many languages spoken and heard. I see it as a crucible where the above ideas might be developed into a new European analytic dialogue, which, in its openness, would be truly in the spirit of Freud’s legacy. The capacity to speak together ethically is the best way of preventing authoritarianism in our analytic practice, in our analytic societies as well as in our future European history. A brief example is the problems around being able to listen to a colleague describing their own clinical work utilizing a theoretical frame that might differ considerably from one’s own. To only listen within a singular theoretical construction may well mean that the ideas, direction of the treatment, use or not of regression and having a historical-developmental understanding or not may profoundly impact on how one hears the other. This arguably is an ethical problem, as it requires a particular type of listening similar to how the analyst listens to the analysand, with evenly suspended attention without knowing where one is or is going. It may well require relinquishing a particular knowledge of how one unconsciously theorizes in order to be able to meet the other in the discourse. Of course it can be so much easier to invoke one’s own theoretical stance to attack the work of the other and to avoid having to think in a different way. Analytic societies have a habit of suspending thinking for a simpler political solution wrapped up as disdain for a differing analytic theory. Around such matters colleagues can become cruel to other members of a differing theoretical leaning and societies can split.


This is particularly important in our World today with the recent and continuing global financial crisis exposing the return of the repressed world of selfishness and the need to re-find an object to blame, be it the Taliban, Muslims, the religious right in America and always the ubiquitous Jew. As many European societies lurch more to the right, and human values seem to be polarized into a primitive dichotomy of “us and them”, the specter of totalitarianism returns to haunt us all. More than ever, an analytic thinking space is necessary as one form of resisting the lurch into domination both in society and in family life.

In his 2010 volume of poetry Human Chain, Seamus Heaney writes of the need to find an appropriate balance of contradictory positions:

“The need on the one hand for a truth telling that will be hard and retributive, and on the other hand, the need not to harden the mind to a point where it denies its own yearnings for sweetness and trust.”

We are back in a contrapuntal world, of words that need to be spoken and longings that must be recognized, a world that might be thought again in terms of Ferenczi’s “elasticity”, (which was his expression about tact) holding the tensions, as they differ from time to time, both in analysis and within society.

There is also a question here about how to end. The end is ever present in our living out of a life, for the individual and for society as well as in an individual analysis. Death is a certainty of the condition of being alive, even if for many it remains unknown to consciousness. This needs to be part of any analysis: the imagined death of the analyst, the analysand as well as the fusion of those two strands into the end of the treatment .We die and will be in the minds of those we leave behind. Similarly the end of an analysis leaves the dyad to both have in mind, from time to time, ‘remembrances of things past’.

The individual runs mythically from moment to moment, whilst our culture runs in grander aliquots from year to year, the century, or the pull of millennium. The IPA recognized its century as if the survival of psychoanalysis (and not its often longed for death) is contingent on the magic of one hundred years (not incompatible with the idea that psychoanalysis as a discipline, a mere hundred years old, is still a child or adolescent). Kermode contrasts big centuries of time with the insistent ticking of the clock that pulls us along our journey from birth to death. The commencing movement in the sound “tick” he describes as a humble genesis to the more guttural sound of “tock”, a type of feeble apocalypse, and the pause being the gap of life in between. The narrative structure is directed in a formulaic direction from then to now. Kermode then suggests that we might instead hear the sequence differently as tock-tick (Kermode 2000, p. 45). In this tiny metaphor, he breaks through to dissonance and invites us to view the well-ordered sequence as a potentially fractured noise. Of course, the life of an individual can be conceptualized in its forward-moving dynamic. Yet if we are to think about the structure of beginning and end and insert the tock first, the time interval, despite being the same, carries a very different resonance. It contains the dissonance, which is the stuff our patients bring us. The clock needs resetting, in its perceptions of the dominance of dissonant rhythms. The tick-tock is a human narrative to fill the void of time as the clock moves ever forward. Psychoanalysis has a freedom to mentally escape such shackles and to go backwards in time when necessary, in order to re-find the lost objects or history of the patient. This is the value too of après coup or Nachträglichkeit that allows the possibility of going back in time and unconsciously re-evaluating etchings on the mind. Re-finding lost objects is of course in itself another mythical quest, but one in which there can be a rebalancing of what can feel like the magical drive of destiny so that the individual may own more responsibility for his or her own causality. This means moving out of the groove of a slavish, unconscious drive to continue the life one has grown up with, including its perceptions, misperceptions and prejudices, as if our character and object relationships have been fixed by the contingencies of life as something concrete that cannot, must not, be altered. Beneath the phantasy that things are fixed for all time resides the fear of and then what? What is to be made of life in the empty space without the patch that seems to hold it all together? Again, this is a place where psychoanalytic dialogue can be formative, allowing the concrete patch to be prised away so that a new healing can begin. To be able to have the freedom to have an adventure, to be alive in one’s life, and to include being alive even as the long shadow descends into the dark.



This is a much-extended essay originally published as the epilogue in my book:

Landscapes of the Dark—history, trauma psychoanalysis Karnac 2011


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An essay derived from my recent book ‘LANDSCAPES of the DARK “ published by Karnac October 2011