What did you learn about psychoanalysis?


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Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 29, 2021
In response to:

"Establishing within American psychoanalysis the position of infancy as well as the importance of the mother was a new enterprise in the 1980s, and the arguments in The Bonds of Love (1988) reflected, in part, a decade of immersion in research on infancy (and motherhood). The discovery of the interpersonally active infant—more than a bundle of disorganized drives declared unsuitable for psychoanalytic understanding by orthodox analysts of the time—constituted a kind of revolution in psychoanalytic thought. Infant capacities for social engagement and differentiation far outstripped the kinds of primitive ego actions Freud attributed to earliest life, for example, hostility to the impingement of the outside world. In particular the studies of early communication confirmed the idea of primary intersubjectivity, a position first developed by Trevarthen (1977, 1980) and then taken up with some differences by Daniel Stern (1985)." Pp.5

In short, when we incorporate the ideas that have been expanded by queer theory, what is left of
identificatory love?
Identificatory love, I think, still gives powerful meaning to the idea that being recognized in one’s loving desire to be like the other is as crucial as being safely attached to the source of goodness. Rejection of that need for recognition can be withering and crippling. When what was traditionally the paternal figure, the exciting separation figure, is unavailable, disdainful, shaming, belittling, rivalrous—whether because frightened of his own erotic feeling for the child (boy or girl)or envious of the baby’s gratifications with mother—this rejection intensifies the split between being mom’s baby and dad’s son/daughter." Pp.11

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 29, 2021
In response to:

"My idea of intersubjectivity, based on a dialectic of recognition and destruction, thus grew out of this unlikely resonance between Hegel and Winnicott. As I have clarified elsewhere (Benjamin, 1999), this idea of recognition does not exactly coincide with what Mitchell calls an “authentic interpersonal encounter,” although it may encompass it. There is an important distinction in my mind between the interpersonal and the intersubjective. As Mitchell says, there is no necessary contradiction between the interpersonal and the intrapsychic, they can be seen as two dimensions of the same process by which mind interacts with the outside." Pp.293

"To begin with, my essay (Benjamin, 1995) on the subject of “Recognition and Destruction” postulates that recognition is sustained only through survival of destruction; hence, destruction does essentially constitute recognition. Postulating the possibility of overcoming or surviving destruction in the analytic situation would not logically make it unessential or nonconstitutive, anymore than the species’ perpetuation of life makes death unessential or nonconstitutive of life. The necessity of struggling to survive destruction, overcome omnipotence, and reestablish recognition after breakdown is ongoing and essentially defining of recognition." Pp.298

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 29, 2021
In response to:

"For if it is the case that destructiveness can turn into recognition, then it follows that recognition can leave destructiveness behind. Is this true? Further, is the dyadic relationship assumed by recognition, given the qualification that the process of recognition now constitutes “the third,” itself based on a disavowal of other forms of triangulation? And is there a way to think of triangulation apart from oedipalization? Does the dyadic
model for recognition, moreover, help us to understand the particular convergences of straight, bisexual, and gay desire that invariably refer
desire outside the dyad in which it only apparently occurs?" Pp.274

"The turn to the preoedipal has been, of course, to rethink desire in relation to the maternal, but such a turn engages us, unwittingly, in the resurrection of the dyad: not the phallus, but the maternal, for the two options available are “dad” and “mom.” But are there other kinds of descriptions that might complicate what happens at the level of desire and, indeed, at the level of gender and kinship? Benjamin (1998a) asks these questions, and her critique of the Lacanian feminist insistence on the primacy of the phallus is, in large part, a critique of both its presumptive heterosexuality and the mutually exclusive logic through which gender is thought." Pp.276

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 22, 2021
In response to:

"In a way, notes make an end run around anxiety. And anxiety shows up a lot around sex. You may not agree with Bronski’s (in press a) assertion that “everyone likes . . . slasher films where sex and anxiety are bound together and released in the spattering of red fluid,” but
hundreds of millions of box-office dollars can’t be all wrong. As Sallie Tisdale, a Buddhist whose Talk Dirty to Me (1994) made Newsweek
headlines several years ago, wrote, “the merging of two into one in orgasm, this blending of identity, combines bliss and anxiety in a
strange stew” (p. 281). Anxiety, Harry Stack Sullivan is said to have said, is like a blow on the head—it stops you from thinking." Pp.826

"In Chasseguet-Smirgel’s (1985) view, perversion degrades psycheand culture alike. Out of de Sade’s texts, she distilled a definition:The pervert wishes to obliterate the distinctions on which psychic structures and social orders depend. The pervert makes a double erosion, of the difference between the sexes and of that between the generations. Chasseguet-Smirgel pointed out that sex, in the Sadean texts, takes place not within the heterosexual adult couple but all over the place—between males and females, between males, between females, between adults and children. Disorder is created, and, as borders are violated, pollution prevails." Pp.830

"Perversion and that inadequately specific term normality construct each other. Perversion is necessary in more ways than Stoller (1975) imagined. How do you know what’s normal unless you know what’s not, unless you have a boundary? How do you know what’s not normal unless you know what is? In the discourse of psychosexuality, perversion and heteronormality constitute each other’s limits. Perversion marks the boundary across which you become an outlaw. Normality marks off the territory that, if stayed inside, keeps you safe from shame, disgust, and anxiety." Pp.838

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 15, 2021
In response to:

"So, how do I propose naming that motivation, more foundational even than the hegemonic one already described? It is humankind’s capacity for ill will, even in most dastardly forms—genocide, slavery and all the modern-day “isms.” Each of these, after all, has had its rationale and rationalizations and other complex psychological mechanisms to make their formulation, perpetration, and repetitions possible and persistent." Pp.653

"Hollander’s two cases are chock full of good examples of how to understand and work with patients’ psychodynamics in the sociopolitical spaces in which we and they live. In the case of “L,” Hollander astutely engages L to analyze that she, an upper-middle-class White woman, uses her
nanny, a working-class Latina, as a repository for “L’s dissociated and denigrated emotional states of
vulnerability” . That is a convincing formulation. In addition, might it be considered and named as such that “L” envied the nanny who was teaching L’s daughter Spanish, a skill L did not have? I think envy is important to bring out as explicitly as possible as a part of the treatment because we often conspire not to recognize assets in those of a different class, caste, race, or ethnicity because
we think of them as being of lesser value." Pp.654

November 15, 2021
In response to:

What an interesting history. The simultaneously held views of rejectors and sympathizers - the admonishment of Freud, the rejection of his Semetic origins, the reverance and perverse utilization of childhood trauma - highlight such a powerful proclivity for cognitive dissonance in psychological science. I was really struck by the ways in which the debate over Holocaust PTSD was both informed by and reproduced anti-Semetic rhetoric based in stereotypes of greediness, deceit, laziness, neurosis, hypochondria, and weakness. On the one hand, survivors of trauma have to be robust in order to have survived their situations, and on the other, they must have been weak to be unable to recover afterward. 

"According to the inherited doctrine, individuals with a previously normal constitution were by definition robust and should recover rapidly from stress; if mental problems continued, there were only two possible explanations. Either there must be a somatic, physiological explanation, or the individual must have been emotionally unstable before." (93)

"The only property they had, as it were, was their labor power. Hence the need to prove the 25 percent or more diminishment of the ability to be self-supporting – in whatever new land had become their refuge." (94)

"whatever survivors had experienced in hiding or in the camps was something that someone with a previously healthy disposition should have been able to recover from. Anybody having trouble after- ward must have been troubled before." (94)

Capitalism strikes again...

"perhaps they were, like lazy workers or malingering soldiers had been imagined before them, best understood as “pension- neurotics” (Rentenneurotiker) – that was the literal term used, whether they were producing their (suddenly financially convenient) symptoms consciously or unconsciously." (95)

"“Many of our contemporaries now like to reproach the Jews for the fact that so many of them are entitled to compensation. After all, back then it was obviously due to their self-interested profit- seeking that these mercenary Semites pushed their way so eagerly into the concentration camps!”23" (97)

The victim can't win.

"The sufferings are [in the rejecting doctors’ assessments] caused by constitutional factors, caused by fate...caused-by-anything-you-want, just not caused by the inferno, just not caused by hell. As far as is possible, the human- and soul- murdering inferno of German history should be denied.12" (95)

Just not caused by hell.

""Can one really expect of every person who becomes a victim of racial insanity that he gets over it with equanimity?" Kolle asked rhetorically.59" (104)

"And why was it that some survivors - maybe as many as three-quarters, all told – seemed to be able to build up some kind of post-camp life, sometimes even a quite successful one, and showed no particular signs of debilitat- ing psychological damage, while others were completely crumpled?" (105)

So much of this also echoed (produced?) rape culture and victim blaming, as well as the idea of being afraid to participate in dialogue or criticism out for fear of being called out or "canceled." 

"Schäffer also liked to complain that no one was willing to break the taboo against criticizing the reparations project for fear of being accused of antisemitism.17 But the taboo was, inevitably, broken all the time, as invoking the idea of taboo was precisely what facilitated the talk. Chancellor Adenauer himself was said to have remarked in a high-level meeting: “The Jews cheat us anyway.”18" (96)

"Even those who were politically or religiously persecuted at least had the opportunity and choice to change their views and adapt to the regime, he noted." (104)

3 major philosophical issues emerged:

"what a postfascist government owes the victims of its predecessor (morally, legally); whether reparations in principle were a just concept, but the demands of “world Jewry” were unreasonable and excessive; and whether a few bad apples could be construed as standing in for a group as a whole" (97)

Oh the anti-Semetism...

"To only feel morally indignant is to miss just how much the idea that Jews were a problem was part of the commonsense texture of public discussion in the aftermath of a mass-murderous dictatorship. Moreover, the blatancy of the hypoc- risy around money is noteworthy. This was also a climate, after all, in which there were not just pensions available for concentration camp guards as well as their widows, but also entire organizations of gen- tiles dedicated to clamoring that they had been “victims of denazifica- tion” (“Entnazifizierungsgeschädigte”) and/or “victims of reparations” (“Restitutionsgeschädigte” – this included people who were distressed that Jews whose property had been lost to “Aryanization” had come back to reclaim it).29" (98)

""hypochondriacal attidues"..."hysterical faulty attitude"...congenital or endogical..."anxiety neurosis."..."congenital idiocy"...The whole dynamic driving most neuroses, Kretschmer commented, had nothing to do with past experiences, but rather with future hopes (for money) or with a "hypchondriacal" inability to master one's present." (100)

What came first, the hypochondriac Jew or the hypochondriac Jew? Inability to master one's present...so one can master the present enough to survive genocide but failure to move on from the atrocities of race based war constitutes a failure to master one's future-present. Interesting. Reminiscent of Woo-Anon spirituality and 'therapy' speak - if you're hurt, it's because you're choosing to be hurt, if you have trauma, it's your responsbility to fix yourself and move on, to understand the perpetrator, to sympathize, to soften your heart, pully yourself up by your bootstraps. No one can make you feel anything you don't want to feel, right?

Freud freud freudfgkh...

"invoking Freud for support on the idea that meuroses were a "flight into illness" and that there was such a thing as a "gain from illness"...Sometimes the slap was explicit - and it is important to note here that the Nazies had continually both denigrated Freud in anti-Semitic terms and simultaneously appropriated many of his ideas as their own." (101)

Whether "conscious" or "unsconscious"? (102) Where trauma lives or is produced or becomes somehow dictates its claim to reality. "Placing the origin of all neurosis in childhood....neurosis ataches itself in a purely external and almost accidental way to the adult trauma...the cause of neurosis lay altogether anterior to any persecution." (102)

"not only in the primitive Freudian view" (102) Do we like Freud or not? Is Freud a genius for helping us denigrate his entire ethnicity or are his theories meager starting crumbs for Nazi doctors?

"These paradoxes in the name of Freud and psychoanalysis are still perpetrated by reputable professors in Germany. I speak in anger, because I believe that many of my colleagues, with their obssessive tendencies, unconsciously identify with the aggressor." (103)

Psychoanalyst as would-be analysand, or, Psychoanalysts discover the magic of reflexivity:

"In this unprecedented situation, the kind of emotional distance toward the patient that rejecters demanded, Eissler said, was not true objectivity. The incapacity to feel one’s way into the novelty and gro- tesquerie of what the Nazis had done demonstrated, in Eissler’s view, a “defect” of objectivity. “I am here arguing that an adequate reaction when one is listening [to descriptions of the camp experiences] is to have the reaction: ‘this is unbearable.’ ” (107)

"As Eissler concluded with deadpan fury in 1963: “It remains a mystery how such a profound malfunction of the ability to identify can emerge among educated intellectuals.” It was the rejecters, he said, who had an “emotional conflict” when they were conducting evaluations. The idea that a psyche, a soul, is not autonomous and impervious, that it can in fact be damaged, indeed damaged forever, by external experi- ences: this realization, Eissler proposed, must awaken strong fears.69 In short, Eissler began to theorize the issue of bias within counter- transference – what the evaluators were bringing to their encounters with survivors.70 Critical self-reflexiveness, in his view, was essential to objectivity. But he was also unapologetically insisting that traumatic events could in fact cause lasting damage to the mind; there need not be measurable damage to the body." (107-8)

Can't we just have trauma without playing the "who had it worse" game...?

"...initially the battle over reparations for survivors had forced advocates for survivors to articulate an early case for the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and the utter noncomparability of racial persecutions and concentration and death camp experiences with the experiences of soldiers or even of civilians during wartime." (113)

"the rise of a passionate antiwar move- ment to bring not just soldiers’ but also survivors’ traumas into Ameri- cans’ public consciousness and into official medical nomenclature and professional policy. In this particular crucial strategic instance – and no matter how problematic the impulse to compare would also remain – the new emphasis on comparison and not just uniqueness provided an exceptional opportunity for an advance in moral, medical, and legal thinking.85" (113)

"One great problem with the ascent of PTSD, however, and inevitably, was that it relativized and blurred the differences between victims and perpetrators..." (113)

"the effect was an "amoralization" of trauma" (113)

On torture: "had as its main purpose “the breakdown of the individual” – the deliberate destruction of his or her identity. The point was both “to neutralize an active opponent of the regime and, second, to release this former active opponent in his or her broken down condition as a deterrent and warning to others who might be in opposition to the rulers.”93 Torture, moreover, as Becker observed, put victims into unbearable double binds: “Either one betrays one’s political convictions and comrades or one’s wish to survive and thereby one’s self and one’s family. However one chooses, one chooses wrongly. The technique of forcing a person into an existentially crucial choice among unacceptable options is the surest way to drive someone insane ... Nobody survives torture as a hero.”94" (114-15)

Nobody survives torture as a hero.

"Torture and disappearances were not "speakable"..."A division in social reality was generated."" (115)

"In addition to the “amoralization,” another related problem with PTSD identified by Becker – here building on Keilson – is how the concept, even as it officially recognized external triggers of internal suffering, actually decontextualized the suffering by focusing on and measuring the level of ensuing pathology inside the individual rather than continuing to attend to the burdens of the experiences and envi- ronment. In short, it made what had been – and in many cases still was – a sociopolitical issue into a personal issue, and a medicalized one at that." (117)

"that trauma work had indeed become a busi- ness, but that it also needed to be understood as a long-unfoldingpostcolonial process." (122)


In sum: the creation of PTSD had been, at once, a triumphant outcome of the battles over post-Holocaust trauma as they were fought through in the specific historical context of post-Holocaust resentment and antisemitic animus against survivors and, because it had mixed perpetrators together with victims and depoliticized the experiences of both, it was – as Becker expressly observed – already “a regression from the achievements and devel- opments in the wake of the Holocaust.”116 The imperative to find more sensitive ways to conceptualize the continual imbrication of intrapsychic dynamics with sociopolitical contexts – and to seek bet- ter means to provide at least some amount of care and healing in the midst of ongoingly catastrophic situations – remained." (122)

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 15, 2021
In response to:

"Overlooking the role of the Holocaust’saftermath in the history of PTSD means that we have also missed just how multifaceted indeed contradictory –would be the invocations and uses of the psychoanalytic tradition within the convoluted transnational interactions
among psychiatrists which eventually shaped the specific form which the diagnostic category of PTSD was to take." Pp.91

"Ultimately it took Vietnam to bring the Holo caustfully into focus.  As manifestly different as the cases of soldiers and survivors
were, the incontrovertible fact is that the growing public discussion surrounding Vietnam veterans and the pressure of antiwar groups helped
greatly to push PT SDinto the DSM , with absolutely crucial positive results for shifting the mainstream of medical opinion internationally." Pp.110

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
November 15, 2021
In response to:

"Denying Germany its status as a civilized nation rests on a claim that the persecution of Jews and other minorities, the camps and the Holocaust were aberrations from the values of Western civilization. Recent analyses, particularly Agamben’s work, present a systematic attempt to refute this exceptionalist perspective, casting Germany as a significant moment rather than a deviation of
Western civilization." Pp. 180

"The war generation internalized the fear of a take-over as a psychic structure, extending it even to include literature and language more generally. It hence began to become all-pervasive and to operate indiscriminately at a more subliminal level. In some of its aspects, the parental generation displaced this fear onto the generation of postwar children". Pp.182

"Most cultures share a tendency to silence traumatic histories. Traumatic amnesia seems to become inscribed as cultural practice. Yet, trauma can never be completely silenced since its effects continue to operate unconsciously. Suggesting that the silence intended to cover up a traumatic event or history only leads to its unconscious transmission, Abraham speaks of a haunting that spans
generations. He calls for a kind of psychoanalytic ‘cult of ancestors’ (as defined by Rand) that allows the dead to rest and the living to gain freedom from their ghostly hauntings." Pp.186

Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
October 31, 2021
In response to:

1- “Clad in Mourning: Violence, Subjugation and the Struggle of the Soul,”

“My considerations are rooted in my ethnographic work in Morocco, and in the insistent questions raised by my interlocutors to me, as well as in the

predicaments of their lives. I read Fanon side by side with a parallel reflection on destruction, trauma, and the possibility of ethical-political struggle in a contemporary Islamic tradition, in the context of a renewed problematization of the concept of jihad al-nafs, “the struggle of the soul” (but also struggle at such), in relation to the experience of oppression, violence, pain, melancholy, and what Fanon calls the “annihilation of being.” Pp.26

“Spiritual slaughter”, Sheikh Yassine explains, is caused by the injustice of

a tyranny that concentrates all wealth and power in the hands of the few, in a

situation in which it becomes both self-evident and justified that only some have

access to humanity. The slaughter, or tadbih, destroys the possibility of imagining

the future, as well as of relating to the past. It freezes time, and reduces life to a

flat surface without exits. The only “exits”, under the rule of “soul murder”, are

suicide and self-immolation, if one has the strength and courage to pursue them.

But these are flights, says Sheikh Yassine, and constitute a religious transgression,

a ma`siyya.” Pp.31

2- Observing the Other: Reflections on Anthropological Fieldwork: 

“In this paper, I shall attempt to develop a psychoanalytic hypothesis concerning the psychological nature of fieldwork for the anthropologist who possesses, in the ethnographer EvansPritchard’s words (1962), the capacity “to abandon himself without reserve,” “to think and feel alternately as a savage and as a European” and for whom the native society is “in the anthropologist himself and not merely in his notebooks.” Pp.614

“Malinowski’s intense feelings for his mother while in the field-one manifestation of the regression induced by his isolation in a totally alien setting-are recorded regularly throughout the first section of the Diary: “Dream of settling permanently in the South Seas; how will all this strike me when I’m back in Poland? I think-of Mother. Self-reproach” (p. 22). Recurrently, Malinowski‘s romantic memories turn to his mother: “I still think about and am in love with T.-It is the magic of her body that fills me, and the poetry of her presence-all my associations lead in her direction. Moreover, I have moments of general dejection. . . At last I begin to feel a deep strong longing for Mother in my innermost being (pp.27-28). “Occasionally strong yearning for Mother-really if I could keep in communication with Mother I would not mind anything and my low spirits would have no foundation” (p. 41). Significantly, there is only one incidental mention of his father in the Diary and it is of more than passing interest that, subsequent to his fieldwork, Malinowski published a series of essays disputing the universality of the Oedipus complex.” Pp.618


Tarek Moustafa Mohamed's picture
October 25, 2021
In response to:

"How then does a Third World academic feminist address the twinned disciplines of feminism and psychoanalysis? In the follow-
ing, I consider the possibility of a political use of psychoanalysis in a Third World feminist context-specifically that of India-and
the necessary revisions that this appropriation would expect of these two disciplines. In attempting to grapple with these issues, I found it necessary to address the structural factors within Freud's theory that make it difficult for a nonmale, non-European person to speak as an analyst; however, woman as such, who is the occasion for this piece, does not emerge clearly as a subject". Pp.176

"The first Indian Freudian was Girindrashekar Bose (1887-1953), the only non-Western analyst of note who claimed a place for his work as dealing with the constitution of subjectivity similar to that of his European counterparts. For instance, in aletter to Freud dated 11.4.29, Bose16 suggested revisions to the theory of castration anxiety as a primary determinant of genderidentity on the basis of observed differences between his Indian and European patients. This is significant insofar as he visualized psychoanalysis as a theory that copes with difference rather than ghettoizing it into ethnopsychology. The Indian analysts who follow him, however, do not take this view, and are more readily to be categorized as, if not scientists, ethnopsychologists." Pp.183

"The critique of the exclusion of the non-Judeo-Christian man from secondary processes should not lead us to assert the universality of mental processes but should ideally open up the psychogenetic definition of culture (as monotheism) itself. The question then turns on (1) the location of psychoanalytic theory; (2) its assumption of a particular identity apropos the analyst; and (3) the subsequent need to designate its limits as a master discourse". Pp.203