PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE TRUTH FAIRY
J. Michael Russell
“’What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.
Pilate was in advance of his time.” John Austin. 
“And I certainly should have known that this third person who appears in every life and literature, this ghost of a third person who never existed, has no significance and must be denied. He is one of the pretexts of nature who is always intent on diverting men’s attention from her deepest mysteries.” Maria Ranier Rilke.
“Insight does not reveal a hidden, past reality; it is a reorganization of the meaning of present experience, a present reorientation toward both future and past. Let us…refer to [this] as the “meaning-reorganization” view in contrast to the “hidden reality” view.” Herbert Fingarette[i].
Why am I so stubborn? I am grateful for having been invited to contribute to a philosophy symposium on “Scientism: Is Science the Standard?” I take scientism to be an (arguably) over-zealous commitment to various attitudes fairly common to science. I think I was invited partly because I am a philosopher who is also a practitioner and enthusiast of psychoanalysis. I am probably over-zealous about that.
I want to figure out why I am so stubborn. “Psychoanalysis is dead,” as was recently pointed out by Todd Dufresne in the Los Angeles Times.  Popper convinced many that it is unverifiable (read “nonsense”). Grünbaum has argued that it is verifiable, poorly argued, and probably false. Masson has shown Freud to be a coward; Cioffi nearly calls Freud a liar, Crews bashes what is left, and, most recently, Defresne’s book Killing Freud treats the death of psychoanalysis as an accomplished fact. Why defend a corpse?
Why cling to a sinking—or sunken—ship? Dufresne puts this about as well as he puts anything else. He says that at the end of the 21st century everyone knew the psychoanalytic century was over. “Well, almost everyone knew. You can always count on intellectuals to keep a candle burning for whatever idea they’ve invested long years, enormous sums of money and, perhaps above all, limitless ego promoting.” 
He is right. This is why I am so stubborn. But there’s more to it.
Dufresne also says, “Freud is truly in a class of his own. Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically wrong about nearly every important thing he had to say.” This is not so! Freud is in eminently good company. Thales, Aristotle, Descartes—there are really quite a few thinkers whose conclusions are arguably wrong yet whose vision has enriched our own. Of course there are reasons why psychoanalysis is more readily evaluated within the norms of science, but I suspect that better means of assessment can be found within the humanities.
Still, Dufresne is largely right. I’m burning a candle for psychoanalysis because I have a great deal of time, money, and ego invested in it. I’m just not about to give up the ship. But there is more to this than my stubborn ego. Or, rather, there’s something else, of a different sort, that I’m being stubborn about. Another part is: why have I, personally, been so uninterested in the critical literature? To be honest, when I’ve tried to read the very numerous analysis-bashers, my (stubborn) feeling has been that they, as a group, just aren’t talking about me and what I do, nor about what I understand psychoanalysts, as a group, to be up to. For one thing, rather like studies in the humanities, I just don’t think it very pertinent to press hard on whether the (very diverse) theories in psychoanalysis are “true” or whether the methodology “works.” For my taste, these analysis folks are just plain interesting and the critics—sorry to say—are a bore. I do think psychoanalytic theories are” useful”, but in a very different way from what interests the scientistic of the scientists, and even different from practicalities of a Pragmatist. They are useful because they can enlarge ones sense of who one is. They are useful because of how, in light of this or that psychoanalytic perspective, things—one’s grasp of oneself—seems to “tally up.” Grünbaum speaks disparagingly of the “tally argument” which is, roughly, Freud’s sense that his theories are supported by how they can get things—facets of the patient’s life—to seem to fall into place, tally up, make sense. I’m with Freud on this. But the point I want to press just now is that this business of who I am is nowhere near as much about “the truth” as Grünbaum, or you, might suppose.
Here’s what’s odd. There is a great deal of very good philosophical scholarship that is extremely critical of psychoanalysis, and a large number of well-credentialed psychologists who are virtually contemptuous of psychoanalysis. I’ve heard—most intellectuals have heard—plenty of proclamations of death from both these groups, and scads of other critics. Then I go to a psychoanalytic conference. These things are very well attended by people who are obviously very bright. Most of us—I’ll include myself —are aware that psychoanalysis is dismissed in many high-level corners by very smart people. What is odd is that all that criticism doesn’t seem to even give us pause. In spite of the abundant tombstones and epitaphs, such pro-analysis conferences are well attended, and mostly by smart people. That is odd. We intellectual deadbeats (because we’re beating a dead horse) don’t seem even phased by the criticism! Minimally, the critics and the analysts just aren’t “on the same page.” They think we’re on a sinking ship; we think we are sailing merrily along. They think we’re deceased. We think we’re cutting edge. They think we’ve muddled up the truth. Deep down, we don’t really think we’re muddled at all. They believe in the truth fairy. We don’t.
Truth is overrated. The point is more modest than the motto, pertaining to certain forms of having or seeking self-awareness, specifically of the sort promoted by psychoanalysis and insight-oriented psychotherapy. I think seeking and getting the sort of “insight” fostered by psychoanalysis is intrinsically worthwhile. I think life is better for it. Since I have distanced myself from a quest for truth, I will prefer the vocabulary of “perspectives” that enhance “self-awareness.” The usually interchangeable term “self-knowledge” raises more of the “truth” issue than I’ll want here. Knowledge and truth, of course, are famously related. But when it comes to broadened perspectives of self-awareness, does “science set the standard”? Standard for what? For truth? If science is characterized by a commitment to objectivity, replication of evidence, verification, something like the correspondence of statements to facts, then, I suppose, it sets the standard. Were Freud’s patient’s seduced or not? Science sets the standard. Do people who have had psychoanalysis bite their nails less than those who have not? Science sets the standard. But, at the risk of hoisting my Kierkegaardian colors prematurely, being a human subject isn’t quite like being a set of facts. Kierkegaard’s irritating slogan here is: truth is subjectivity. The self is an achievement, not a discovery. So the idea that I was supposed to discover the truth about myself is miscast. So too, the idea that the tools for the creation of a sense of meaning by employing tools that are “true” is, well, not entirely true. In matters of enhancing our lives with a quest for meaningful self-awareness, truth is overrated. So, I want to deflate the degree to which we ought to take science as setting the standard for a certain variety of self-awareness; I advocate that we lighten up on the whether the general stock of psychoanalytic theories are true. Freud is at least worth the break we’d give to Aristotle. Maybe truth is for people who lack enough imagination to appreciate an Aristotle or a Freud.
Psychoanalysis isn’t true and it doesn’t work. Science does not set the standard for creating a meaningful sense of self, because this is a sort of meaningfulness that has little to do with verifiability, replicability, objectivity, or even pragmatic consequences. I am not going to find out the truth about who I am. Psychoanalysis is not going to give me the truth about myself. This is because (1) I’m not done yet, and (2) what meaning I create along the way is not and never will be settled, and (3) along the way the perspectives I take will or won’t help to get things to fall into place for me, but they won’t be very much about truth, and they will stand in need of my putting them to work.
And psychoanalysis doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it doesn’t do anything to you. The grammar of causation, of making something happen, is misplaced. Therapy doesn’t “produce” change any more than invitations to a wedding produce attendance; some invitations are more inviting than others, more effectively inviting, but the bottom line is that it’s up to the individual to accept, and this is not a matter of causation. An analogy of a Wittgensteinian cast: Imagine you were examining a tool box in which there were such items as pliers, a hammer, a chisel, various sorts of screw-drivers, and also things like a level, a pencil, and a mirror. Let’s make this a fancy small mirror on a bent shaft, originally a dentist’s implement. So you say, “I understand tools like pliers and chisels and a screw-driver: using them actually makes a difference by bending and shaping and turning. But why call the mirror one of your tools? It doesn’t really do anything.” Of course the answer is that the mirror is extremely useful, since while it indeed does not “do” anything, it allows us to see things we otherwise wouldn’t see, putting us in a better position to decide what we may or may not go on to do. You don’t hammer things with a mirror; you see things differently. Therapy is like that.
Psychoanalysis isn’t “true” and it wasn’t supposed to be true; it was supposed to be provocative; it was supposed to promote your having a fresh look at yourself. Freud’s ideas, and the ideas of subsequent psychoanalysts, promote a dialogue resulting in a co-created narrative, a story, a set of tales, a rough working model, stimulating continued efforts at self-understanding. A central point of this dialogue is to unsettle static self-perceptions and make way for alternative perspectives. This is about stimulating creativity and imagination, not about verifying a hypothesis. Freud’s idea about our all having an oedipal conflict was a good idea because it’s so outrageous. Lacan’s idea that we ought to get back to that good old fashion Freudian oedipal stuff is a good idea because it’s so hackneyed that it’s ripe for being usefully outrageous again.
The best therapy doesn’t try to be therapy. (Rather a Zen point here.) Therapy would be better not called therapy, because it doesn’t change anything. We sometimes do change in and after therapy, but therapy doesn’t change us. We are in a position to see things differently, and we might be able to feel differently just for having worked so hard along the way. Seeing things differently may put us in a position to do things differently, and then we may or may not do things differently, and may or may not make peace with how we’ve done things all along. Nobody gets “fixed.” The capacity for continued self-delusion is incurable. One can at least hope to have improved one’s sense of humor. Getting through therapy is rather like getting a degree in the humanities— you are not exactly sure what you got, but you are convinced you got something, and, with luck, you’re glad you did it. There is also a second Zen-like paradox here. Putting aside the idea that therapy isn’t therapy at all, therapy is often best when we’re not trying to get fixed. This is a rather interesting difference between the concept of psychotherapy and the concept of psychoanalysis: psychotherapy has an agenda of trying to rectify something, usually a kind of suffering. Psychoanalysis aspires to not having an agenda at all. That is why Wilfred Bion advises the analyst to go into every session “without memory or desire.” Admittedly, few of us would undergo the costs and hardship of analysis or psychotherapy if it were not in the hope of alleviating suffering, and none of us, I think, would get much out of an analysis unless we were willing to focus on features of our lives that hurt. But what particularly interests me is that there are some of us who would rather take the long shot of fixing--or maybe not fixing-- our sense of suffering, wanting even more than change, to achieve a certain grasp of that suffering cast in terms of its having meaning. Not everyone will understand this point. it. It connects with my having connected psychotherapy and analysis with the concept of faith. Some do, and some do not, share the faith that a certain variety of self-awareness is profoundly important, quite apart from whether it is unequivocally “true” and even apart from whether one is “changed” as an outcome.
What is psychoanalysis? A candle for Freud. I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I need to explain what I think counts for psychoanalysis. I take psychoanalysis to be a collection of techniques and a collection of theories which proudly proclaim their heritage from Freud. These theories and techniques highlight trying to understand human experience as meaningful in light of the belief that there is something about oneself that needs to be better understood, and that this has to do with one’s own thoughts and feelings treated as if one might be self-deceived about them. For shorthand, psychoanalysis works with the concept of an unconscious. There are several other key vocabularies as well. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is something of a mix: some combination of acquiring insight and the process of attempting to acquire it hopefully alleviates suffering. I’m not sure which is more important. To put this in less causal and medical terms, the journey puts one in a better position for doing things differently. The more immediate point is this: for something to count as psychoanalysis, as I see it, there must be a proud proclamation of Freudian heritage. This stands in contrast to the kind of condescending hand-washing one so often hears: “Freud was okay for getting things started, but we’ve come a long way since then.” Of course we’ve come a long way since then, but this attitude is sufficient for denying membership: one who speaks this way is no analyst. But the other side to this—which Freud himself would not at all like—is that there is tremendous latitude in what techniques and theories psychoanalysts, properly so-called, one may use or leave alone. When we go into a Post Office and see a picture of George Washington, we recognize this to be an affirmative proclamation of heritage. Most of us don’t know and don’t much care about Washington’s specific deeds, save for a few stories about a cherry tree, crossing the Potomac, Valley Forge, and being “Father of our country.” The point of the picture in the post office is to boast, “We hail from this.” Psychoanalysis is all about being proud to hail from Freud, and those who distance themselves from this heritage aren’t psychoanalysts. Adler and Jung aren’t psychoanalysts because they distance themselves from Freud. Fritz Perls isn’t a psychoanalyst because he distances himself from Freud. This isn’t so much a matter of what you theorize or what techniques you follow; it’s more like a political affirmation. Presumably the theories and techniques should have some recognizable lineage, but my proposal is that there is a very great deal of latitude in what can get by as “psychoanalysis” provided the declaration of identity is cheerfully provided. A bit later I shall present some of the very diverse forms of psychoanalysis which count as such because of their willingness to proudly proclaim their Freudian roots. One need not accept the whole liturgy; one only need burn an occasional candle.
Sometimes I feel as if I’ve gone to a sporting event and am interested in the game, but am distracted by some who are making fun of the mascot. Of course, Freud is more than a mascot.
But Freud himself was “scientistic.” How can we save psychoanalysis from scientism given that Freud, notoriously, was scientistic? We all know he suffered from physics-envy. Contrary to a very large portion of what I have said so far, Freud was continually advocating the scientific status of his theories and his practice, and regardless of how regularly he managed to defy prospects for verification (Popper’s point), he makes all sorts of claims which are causal in nature, many of which are subject to hard research (Grünbaum’s point). How far can dissent go before the supposed loyalty proves empty? He would be aghast at efforts to separate him from science, science überales. There is, however, another massive side to Freud’s work, viz. his devotion to finding meaning. We can see this more clearly when we are reminded of the fact that Freud studied with Franz Brentano. Brentano, you will recall, is famous for developing the thesis of intentionality. This is the thesis, or theory, that what is common to any and all mental events or mental states, whether beliefs or fears, thoughts or feelings, is that these always have an “object” which they are about, and what thoughts and fears are about is what the subject means or intends or has in mind. What matters least here is whether the intended object, in truth, really exists. Brentano was all about meaning. In the “church” of seeing things as meaningful –things others do not see as meaningful—Freud is the high priest. Arguably, no one comes close to rivaling psychoanalysis for seeing meaning everywhere. Freud never should have said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Sometimes at a party someone learns that I am a psychoanalyst and they tease me with, “I suppose you’re going to find some hidden meaning in everything I say.” I assure such persons that I only do so when paid a great deal of money, and that this is what people pay money to get! (They also say, “I’ll bet you see right through me,” but generally I am not able to do this even when I’m paid.) Throughout his career the unquestionable attitude running through Freud’s work is that he was out to tell us the truth. But there is an undercurrent: never mind the truth: this is about meaning. This is wonderfully captured in the famous shift from the seduction hypothesis (neurotics in fact were seduced) to the fantasy hypothesis (the meaning of the neurosis can be found in the fantasy of seduction).
The problem is, there are two sorts of psychoanalysts, two “Freuds”, and two sorts of people who respond to Freud. There’s the official Freud. He’s as scientistic as they come. He is also rigid, dogmatic, in search of the truth, prepared to change his mind, but, for all that, eager to dispense his grasp of the truth at any point along the way. He thinks he’s doing science. Deep down, he’s a Cartesian bent on revealing the truth about what really goes on in the mind. He knows what you are really all about, and is just waiting for the right time to tell you. His followers, and also his detractors, also tend to be rigid. He presents ideas as if they were truths, his followers persist in defending these truths, and his critics argue that the claims are not true after all. He sets himself up for rebuttal, he gets it, and he had it coming. The Official Freud group shows up as theorist, clinician, patient or critic: What these people have in common is that they believe in the Truth Fairy.
Then there’s the unofficial Freud, a hang-loose closet humanist who, in time, might have gone on to Existentialism. He sometimes feeds his patients. He lets his dogs come into the session. He confesses that he never has understood women. He thinks you and he are working together, and there’s no telling what the two of you are going to come up with, but it’s worth taking a long time to get there, mixing together a fairly constant frame and an occasional outrageous interpretation. He doesn’t believe in the Truth Fairy. He does believe in creating meaning, but he mistakenly thinks of this as discovery rather than invention. His followers are forging ahead in a kind of creativity he modeled and are not particularly fazed by the critics who are engaged in a different sort of concerns.
My effort to save Freud from his own scientism turns on the proposal that we think of his work as a methodology and a cluster of ideas in the service of finding meaning rather than an impartial search for truth. However, he believed that his theories about meaning were, in fact, true. So I need to force this in a different direction. Secondly, then, I propose that meaning is created, not found. Third, when we are trying to “make sense” out of our lives, our “selves,” then, with or without the help of another, the self is created, not discovered. When it’s put this way, we are never going to “discover the truth” about ourselves, never going to “find” ourselves: we may, however, create something of this sort. Think of this as a portrait of Freud as a closet Existentialist. If the proudly proclaimed Freudian heritage I call psychoanalysis is about the collaborative creation of meaning for a perpetually unfinished “self” it will start to be pretty plain why this is no place to look for objectivity or replication or verification or any of the mainstays of scientism.
A magical mystery tour of psychoanalysis. Let’s take a very (very!) quick walk through a diverse sample of ideas and thinkers all of which can claim to pay homage to Freud. Each represents a theoretical map with which analyst and patient co-construct a narrative, or a collection of narratives. There’s no end to diversity in psychoanalysis. It would not be difficult to distinguish dozens (maybe hundreds) of distinctly differing (if overlapping) theories which I think should count as psychoanalytic. These are large maps which promote the construction of narratives, promote forms of self-awareness—mini-meaning maps—and a sorts of working models for thinking about one’s life and struggles, whether or not they quite get at “the truth.” .
First, take the earlier mainstream classical Freudian psychoanalysis. Many different perspectives and clusters of theoretical terms are embraced within this first group. In the briefest and most simplistic way I will just remind you of these fairly well-known ideas. There’s the “adaptive” perspective: neurosis is the result of childhood seduction. According to the “dynamic” perspective neurosis is the result of conflict within, possibly more fantasy than real. From a “topographical” point of view our dreams and our symptoms come from the dynamic conflict between what is conscious and what is kept unconscious; we should aspire to make the unconscious conscious. With the “economic” perspective: we are to be understood as something like a hydraulic system of drives which get stuck and can be redirected. From a “genetic” point of view we develop predominantly in “psychosexual” stages – oral, anal, phallic, latent, genital, and should aspire to develop further where we’ve gotten stuck. A late arrival in classical analysis is the “structural” perspective. We are born a seething cauldron of drives --one big “it” or id of affect-- somehow evolving a “structure” called an “ego” which manages to adjudicate the collision between impulse and reality. Eventually we add in a structure” called a “super-ego,” this being an internalized fantasy of the expectations of parental figures, internalized so as to keep us out of trouble. Running through all of these clusters of terminology is the “Oedipal Complex”: we unconsciously, dynamically, developmentally, etc., long for one of our parents while identifying with and competing with the other.
You’ve heard all this before. It’s classical psychoanalysis. It’s not the only psychoanalytic game in town.
Very much overlapping classical psychoanalysis is what is often called ego psychology, with Anna Freud as a key contributor. Here the emphasis is very decidedly on the structural model, and the key focus is much more on analyzing defenses rather than on interpreting unconscious inclinations. Analysis of defenses makes way for integration of Id into ego, and for reducing the severity of the super-ego. I count ego psychology as a second main variety of psychoanalysis.
A third major psychoanalytic orientation comes from the work of Melanie Klein, strikingly in opposition to much in Anna Freud, yet every bit as ready to proclaim herself a follower of Sigmund Freud. Klein’s ideas will be particularly relevant for what I shall say further on, and I shall say right now that I am very fond of her ideas. Klein maintains that infants are born with something like what Freud described as that “cauldron” of affect, and she thinks that from birth we defend against this “flood” by “splitting” the good from the bad, projecting the bad feelings, getting rid of them, and “introjecting” the good feelings. She calls this earliest organization the “paranoid/schizoid position.” In what will surely seem to most to be the epitome of speculative gibberish, she proposes that infants—barely newborns—have “phantasies” (her special spelling) of “scooping out and devouring” the good contents of Mother’s breast, and, in exchange, dumping into Mother one’s own hateful affective contents. Hence there is an extraordinarily early sort of foundation for something like a two party (rather than triangular) “Oedipal” guilt, for which the baby become toddler become adult will seek to make reparation. Along the way, the “paranoid/schizoid position” gives way to (or see-saws with) what she calls the “depressive position,” in which baby starts to grasp that he (or she) has been loving and hating one and the same object (Mother, the breast). We go through life moving back and forth between the first of these two styles, where the emotional world is split into good and bad, black and white, and the second style, grey, integrative but highlighting the fear that we will be harmed by and may have harmed someone both hated and loved. (Whew!) A Kleinian analyst might propose an interpretation suggesting that the analysand fears proving damaging to the analyst.
Another segment of psychoanalytic tradition is in a large and diverse set of thinkers lumped under the heading of “Object Relations.” I’ll sketch just one of these, D.W. Winnicott contrasts with Klein, in that what the Mother is “really” like isn’t very important to Klein’s speculations about the infant’s phantasies; Winnicott is a bit more interested in what it was “really” like. But the heart of it goes like this. What would be optimal would be if the infant, at birth, were allowed the maximum amount of omnipotence, so that whatever was wanted (and, Winnicott seems to think, imagined) was instantly provided by Mother. Want a breast—get a breast! No need to start baby off with the “reality” of schedules or deprivation: reality will have plenty of time to make itself known. Mother needn’t try to be disappointing; it’s going to happen. What makes for healthy development is if baby’s disillusionment is gradual and manageable. If mother is just “good enough” baby will be able, over time, to individuate in a healthy way. But this can easily be derailed. Baby can learn that Mother is so anxious—maybe about being a perfect mother!—that the better bargain is to tune out herself (himself) and just learn how to settle down Mother. Enter what Winnicott calls “the false self.” Here we have a foundation for a whole host of traits, years later, the upshot of which is to be out of touch with oneself. Further on down the developmental road, Winnicott tells us, comes the use of “transitional objects”—that favorite baby blanket—which allow baby something important to hang onto during times when Mom sometimes gets away. Interpretations offered by a Winnicott fan might highlight a patient’s being more attuned to the anxieties of the other person than to their own.
Another contributor to the “Object Relations” psychoanalysts is Margaret Mahler, who proposes a host of phases and sub-phases describing the process of baby’s separating and individuating from Mother. A period of “symbiosis” is one of these phases, during which time there hopefully is a sort of “attunement” between mother and baby that sets a healthy stage for subsequent emotional separation. Then, among the various sub-phases of separation, there supposedly is, for instance, a period of rapprochement in which the increasingly autonomous toddler wants a bit of “emotional refueling” which harkens back to the good old days of symbiotic connection. If you (my reader or listener) are anticipating the sort of “psychoanalytic thinking” I’m setting the stage to discuss, perhaps you are already anticipating how a psychoanalytic practitioner might come to think of the (adult) analysand as needing something like this sort of connection within the therapy.
Somewhat reminiscent of Winnicott’s portrait of the tolerable disillusionment in the child’s separation from mother, the Self-Psychology of Heinz Kohut focuses on the evolution of narcissistic needs in children and on how developmental arrests can show up in forms of transference. Kohut introduces the vocabulary of the “grandiose self” in describing the narcissistic person who seems nearly oblivious to others, and the “idealizing parental imago” as a label for a tendency to put someone else on a pedestal as a stand-in for ones own narcissistic needs. Kohut does for narcissism what Freud did for the oedipal portrait of sexuality, making it the focus of clinical work and less the target of judgmentalness. Kohutian psychoanalysts might highlight interpretations of the disappointment the analysand might feel over the shortcomings of the therapists.
In France and in South America the approach of Jacque Lacan is popular. Lacan advocates a return to much of the early Freudian emphasis on repressed sexuality, and his ideas have won considerable favor among psychoanalysts in the French Feminists group. Here one key idea is that there is something about the acquisition of language which is alienating and intrusive and – as they see it—phallic.
How many interpretations can dance on the head of an analysand? So there’s a sample of some major groups of psychoanalytic theorists. I said that to count as psychoanalysis one had to proudly proclaim that one’s theory and technique hailed from Freud. The above theorists all pass that test, yet are very strikingly diverse. Each of these psychoanalytic stances makes a positive fuss over Freud, and then they take off in extremely divergent directions. (One reason I say that to be psychoanalytic you’ve got to boast of fondness for Freud is because I’m not too sure just what else these groups do have in common!) It’s not quite “Pledge allegiance to Sigmund and then anything goes,” but it is surely a far cry from a united body of doctrine.
That’s for theory. Psychoanalytic technique across schools would get more convergence, but certainly not consensus. Members of all these groups would generally also be advocates of such mainstays of technique as preferring long term work with frequent meetings, a fairly consistent “frame” in terms of setting, schedule, some concern for the anonymity of the analyst (“blank screen”), some concern for refraining from gratifying one’s client’s wishes, interest in the “transference,” some semblance of “free association,” and intervention by interpretation. Even so, there are lots of ways of paying respects to Freud technique-wise, not the least of which is to depart from it, but knowingly and with reason. Freud famously departed from his own recommendations on technique. More than a few analysts have prefaced some maneuver with, “This probably isn’t very analytic of me, but….” And even if there were rough agreement about technique basics, there are enormous differences between analysts with respect to such fundamentals as the pros and cons of self-disclosure, gratification vs. abstinence, advice-giving, praise, or the timing and nature of interpretations. On this last—making interpretations—there’s everything from “don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes” to “why not fire into the bushes and see if you hit something.”
Regarding technique in relation to the “countertransference” of the analyst, we’ll find everything from “get analyzed and get rid of it” to “it’s the golden route to seeking an understanding of the other.” Of the two extremes, constructive use of the countertransference is much more in vogue than the model of pure and objective neutrality. Indeed there, in a nutshell, is much of the whole thrust of this paper as to why the scientistic and the analysts are from utterly different galaxies with an utterly different take on the Truth Fairy. Fans of “objectivity” will assume that countertransference (where my issues meddle with your issues) will bring the whole analytic encounter to a halt; others (count me here) think the transference tango is a mighty fine dance.
In sum, there are quite a lot of ways to think of oneself as a fan of Freud’s and a lot of reasons for casting Freud, positively, as significant background without putting him in the tyrannical foreground. Earlier I held up a candle for Freud. No need for an alter.
So analyze that! One consequence of these snapshots of variations on analysis is to completely undermine the complaint that a patient would come to different “insights” with different analysts. But of course!
Secondly, these reflections undermine the complaint that analysis lacks a consistent methodology, hence objectivity. Right about the method, wrong about the goal.
Third, there’s the complaint that the analyst influences the patient. Answer: that’s how it goes when people talk.
Fourth, there’s the complaint that the biases of the analyst influence the conclusions of the patient. Answer, see three, above. This is just about as surprising as the fact that what I’ve been reading lately figures into what I have to say to you this afternoon.
Fifth, there’s the global complaint: what you are doing in this psychoanalysis thing lacks rigor, objectivity, repeatability, verifiability, testability …. (stutter)! You don’t know where you are going or how you are going to get there or how to tell whether you made it there.
Psychoanalysis is a happening, a two-person, one-time-only gig.
Faces in the clouds, seasoning in the soup, and telling stories. Let’s take the worst case. You know how we might look at clouds and imagine we see all sorts of things there—dragons, faces of people, mountains, forests. In truth, there’s nothing there—just clouds. So suppose psychoanalysis is no more than this. We imagine we see things not really there. Maybe you feel better after cloud watching. Maybe you are glad you did it. But really, it was all about clouds. Well, how bad is that? Do you rather like being the sort of person who can “see” these faces in the clouds? I certainly would much prefer this for myself. For one thing, it’s just pleasant to daydream like this. For another, it’s good exercise for the imagination. For another, it’s a break from the usual routine, and, not surprisingly, one may feel better afterwards, and be glad for the time thus spent. And who’s to say there’s nothing to learn from these moments. Learning how we think about faces in clouds is also, I would say, learning about ourselves, about what is on our minds, what we hope for, what we fear. So you do it just because it’s also a nice way to spend an afternoon, and it turns out to maybe have been good for something. Cloud-watching can be done in pairs. You and I can construct a story together. Every afternoon is a brand new gig.
Now let’s take another metaphor. Suppose we are invited into the kitchen of a master chef, who has prepared some vegetable soup. We taste it, and try to identify the seasonings used. You spot the curry, I’ve got a good nose for sage, and someone else thinks it needs more pepper. All these ingredients are in the soup—we just differ in what we notice.
Take three. You think you’ve got a problem that someone has suggested might be addressed in therapy. You come to me. I tell you I do analysis, and in my opinion that mean’s I’m not exactly trying to fix your problem, but that I am willing to join with you in trying to understand it. We meet often and regularly over a long period of time. You do most of the talking; I mostly listen. You tell your story, and I try to let you know I’m listening. Maybe I try to summarize what I’m hearing, maybe I try steering the plot in a different direction. Sometimes my interventions add life to your efforts, and sometimes they fall flat. Sometimes you talk directly about your problem, other times you seem to be more catching me up on the latest news about this or that aspect of your current life. Some days are pretty filled with emotion; some days are pretty dull. Some days seem mostly reminiscing—maybe about childhood. Some days are more about you and me and how much you have come to value our time together or how much you wonder whether we are getting anywhere at all. That’s another story. Bit by bit, you start putting together a large and rough-hewn story –or maybe a cluster of stories-- about your life, your problems, what you think you are all about. These constructs, rough drafts, stories, narratives, are a collaborative effort. Together, you and I weave a story. The narratives I like the most are the ones where we think we’re seeing patterns, making connections, seeing common threads and themes to your “problem,” your history, your daily events apart from our sessions, and what it’s like for each of us to be with the other. Some of these stories don’t hang together, some do. Some seem to have little or no “truth,” others seem more or less to be good-enough accounts. This sort of thing may go on for a very long time. Some day you start wondering aloud whether you want to continue with our habit, and sooner or later you decide to come no more. But you proclaim that you’ve gotten something of value from it all, and you thank me for it. Years later you may still say this was very valuable for you, and that you got a great deal, though you can’t exactly say just what it was that you got. You might recap the few themes from some of the stories that you can recall. It’s rather like getting a college degree: you aren’t too sure what you got, but you’re pretty sure you are glad you got it, and might even boast of having “had some therapy” rather as one might take pride in having graduated from college.
So: is psychoanalysis like making up a story about fictions, is it a case where different people would notice different things, is it like co-constructing a set of stories with no basis in truth, or stories that blend fact and fiction?
There’s something about monads. I suppose I’m holding for what might be called a sort of Nietzschian “perspectivalism,” which, in untenable extreme, would be a thesis that there is no “truth” but just perspectives. This is untenable because, at least within the visual metaphor, a perspective is going to be a perspective on something, and, I’m willing to say, something “real.” One can also imagine an overly robust fan of Wittgenstein declaring that everything comes down to “language games,” and the rejoinder is, no, there really is a world. I’m also reminded of Anaxagoras, who held that any given thing had within it, at least some very tiniest bit—he called it a “seed”—of everything else. So the carrot you had at lunch had at least a wee, wee bit of Socrates’ sandals. All things have within them the seeds of all things. I rather like this idea because it goes well with my sense that there’s “a little bit of truth” in nearly every imaginable interpretation. This has practical implications for my work as an analyst, because it helps me conceptualize my hunch that even when an interpretation is pretty far off the mark—doesn’t fit very well—it may well make a fine contribution to the overall narrative (set of stories) my client and I co-construct.
Another philosopher with a bit of the “perspectivalist” cast--a bit of the “seeds of all things are in all things”—is Leibniz. You will recall that Leibniz held that there were an infinite number of substances, which he called “Monads” each of which could be considered a substance because it could be conceived of as if apart from anything else. Unlike Spinoza, who thought you couldn’t think of any one thing without implicit reference to the whole cosmos, Leibniz thought you could build the whole cosmos into the conception of any one thing which you –thereby—conceived of in isolation. So a monad is the universe seen from within a complete understanding of any one thing, anything you like. Each is a closed system: “monads are windowless.” Leibniz did want some monadic coordination—a.k.a. “reality”—to his metaphysics, so he postulates God as a sort of super-monad that keeps the autonomous monads coordinated. What goes on in the monad designated as “you” needs to be more or less in step with what goes on in the monad designated as “me.” But the bottom line is: the story of the universe can be told from countless points of view. I have a simple point to make here. It is sometimes complained about psychoanalysis that you, the patient, are going to come away thinking about yourself in a way that reflects the theoretical bias of your analyst. The answer to this is: of course! You and I are going to spin a story together. A different analytic couple would spin a different story. If we collaborate on a story about faces in the clouds, what you and I come up with will differ from what you and someone else would come up with. If I spot the curry in the soup and another chef would spot the oregano, then you and I are likely to call it that vegetable-curry soup, and you and the other chef might have called it the oregano-vegetable soup. This does not detract from the ontological status of the soup.
Klein again. Do I really believe that little babies have fantasies of destroying their mother’s breast! I am sticking up for more than a sort of liberal perspective on perspectives. I am very far away from the Truth Fairy even if I think there’s “a grain of truth” in nearly every room of the many mansions of therapy. This becomes clear when I consider my openness to the more outlandish of psychoanalytic theories. Melanie Klein fits this bill nicely. Babies become adults going through life trying to make up for destroying mommy’s insides, sucking out all the good stuff, dumping in the bad! Come on! “So, you are a grown-up and I am a grown-up and I am going to tell you that when you think about quitting analysis it’s because you are afraid you are killing me, that you’ve always thought that if you got close to anyone you would destroy them. I am going to go to a conference on scientism today and talk about ‘does science set the standard?’ and stand up in front of all those bright people and tell them that life isn’t just about truth, that truth doesn’t really matter, and that what really matters is that you and I can sit here and say these kinds of things and feel like we are really getting somewhere today.” Of course I don’t try to tell you everything that might go through my mind. Maybe I’ll just say, “I wonder if you’re worried about hurting my feelings.”
What we are doing here is spinning a yarn, telling a tale. I’ll think it’s a good tale, maybe, if you cry. What do I care if babies really think such things!
The self is a synthesis. I get a lot of this from Kierkegaard. He says:
A human being is a spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two.
I am aware that these lines of Kierkegaard’s have not always been thought exactly transparent. But what I get is that the self is an achievement, not a discovery, and also that it’s always a draft, a work in progress, so that we must despair of revealing the truth about it. This is my Lazarus for Freud.
Let me put it another way. We go through life trying to get our acts together by telling a story. The official story, my version of me, tries to link up how I look at what I’ve done and what I claim I want to be. The self is an ongoing effort to creatively synthesize what I have been and what I aim at. Some stories pull things together better than others and may be “closer to the truth.” In psychoanalysis, these tend to be collaborative efforts.
How to do things with words. There are things that are pretty much matters of fact. There, science sets the standard. There are things which, you might say, are a matter of words. Marriage and promises are closer to that side. But much of life falls between the cracks of fact vs. “mere words” and even faces in the clouds. Years ago I wrote a paper on “Psychoanalytic Admissions as Retro-active Quasi-Performative Speech Acts.” I don’t know why the title never caught on. But the idea of a quasi-performative is a where there are facts and then there’s what’s imposed on the facts, that takes on official status. The finding of a jury is an example. So is the declaration “You’re out!” uttered by an umpire in baseball. I want to put proclamations of personal identity and meaning in something of the same league. These are cases having truth value, which don’t come down to matters of truth. Some things, I suppose, are merely matters of words. Then there’s human life and meaning and personal identity. There we have a mix of reality and decision. So, thinking back to the theme of this symposium, does science set the standard? Not in baseball.
[i] I want to dedicate this paper to Professor Herbert Fingarette. He certainly will not side with everything I say here, but in addition to the specific distinction between “hidden reality” and “meaning reorganization,” he has modeled for me the effort to integrate diverse intellectual traditions into discussions of things that matter.
 John Austin, (YEAR) “Truth.” Philosophical Papers, p. 85.
 Rilke, Rainer Maria, The Notes of Malte Laurids Brigge, in Kaufmann, Walter (1956), Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, Meridian, pp. 114-5.
 Fingarette, Herbert, (1963), The Self in Transformation, Basic Books, p. 20.
 Dufresne, Todd (2004), “Psychoanalysis Is Dead….So How Does That Make You Feel?”, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2004.
 Cioffi, Frank (1998), Freud and The Question of Pseudoscience, Chicago: Open Court.
 Crews, Fredrick (1995). The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute, New York: New York Review.
 Dufresne, Todd 2003, Killing Freud: Twentieth Century Culture and the Death of Psychoanalysis, London: Continuum.
 Dufresne (2004 op.cit.)
 Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1958), The Philosophical Investigations, New York, Macmillan, paragraph 14.
 Luper, Steven (1999), Existing: An Introduction to Existential Thought, p. 87, from Sören Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death.