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In his rich and erudite paper offering psychoanalytic understanding to the origins of authoritarianism, published in this issue of the journal, Leonardo Rodriguez writes that “the ego ideal is a function detached from the ego while retaining its narcissistic investment; it is an ideal for the ego, that which the ego wants to be.” He describes the internal process expounded by Freud which can too-easily invest itself in a primitive narcissistic union with an anti-social, authoritarian cause or political leader, a process reinforced by the sadism of the superego with its tyrannical hold on the human subject.
The five papers in this issue offer psychoanalytic insights into the uses and abuses of superego function in the areas of socio-political discourse, clinical practice and the creative arts, challenging our capacity to hold a reflective space in the face of ideas which may confront our own dearly-held convictions.
The thought-provoking opening paper by Elisabeth Hanscombe, essentially an “opinion piece”, courageously tackles the question of the psychotherapist as published writer and the implications for the therapeutic frame. Citing Muriel Dimen’s view that regulatory anxiety can undermine clinical thought, we are asked to consider “how (do) we reconcile our writing persona with our therapeutic wish to offer a degree of neutrality, in our need to provide a safe space for our patients.” Readers are encouraged to respond with their own thoughts: correspondence in the form of letters-to the-editor is welcome, or a contribution of a paper on this subject.
The two papers by Rodriguez and Paul Coombe, both dealing with the connection between the individual and the socio-political, were originally presented at psychoanalytic events.
Leonardo Rodriguez writes that “I have circumscribed my question on the origins and function of authoritarianism to my own life experiences and my professional psychoanalytic experiences and would formulate it as this: what in the human subject, that is the subject of the unconscious, has an inclination to authoritarianism? Is this inclination universal, or does it affect only a proportion of human beings?” Referencing Freud that the initial helplessness of the human “is the primal source of all moral motives” Rodriguez outlines how this connection bears fruit in terms of superego development with the implication that the roots of authoritarianism lie within us all and the societies we construct.
Paul Coombe, in a very interesting and prescient paper, sets out to explore the unconscious interconnection between our fragile socio-political climate with the current social discourse privileging personal esteem, wealth and power, citing in this regard responsibility to the other in relation to the status of the refugee. Coombe’s interest is in examining this “de-civilising process” (see paper) through a group analytic lens and introduces us to the mid -20th century sociologist and social historian, Norbert Elias, who argued for civilising processes of ever-increasing “chains of interdependency” (figurations) between the socio-cultural and individual matrices, highlighting a grievous shortening of these chains during times of “de-civilisation.” Regarding this interconnectedness and the breakdown of psycho-social constraints Coombe quotes Lyn Layton: “When public institutions abandon their responsibility towards the citizenry … there is a pressure to create ever more individualistic identities that repudiate the vulnerable and needy parts of the self”.
Eva Balint, drawing on the 2019 PPAA conference theme of changing identities, describes with humour and gentle irony her recent Alice-in Wonderland venture into the unknown territory of training in Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy. There is a fine balance between the super-ego injunctions the writer levels at herself — around age, feared corrosion of psychoanalytic psychotherapy principles, the “trainee’s” inimitable fear of failure — and the feeling of joy described in the leap into the unknown; in the sheer enjoyment of new learning and new meeting. The paper gives a clear outline of DIT, an area of psychoanalytic practice pioneered by Alessandra Lemma and Peter Fonagy and gaining in popularity — a methodology described by Balint with a dispassionate sense of enquiry.
Ruchi Bhalla’s eloquent essay provides an in-depth view into “the complex internal world”of Humbert Humbert, the seductively malevolent protagonist in Nabokov’s masterpiece: the novel “Lolita”. Bhalla, a forensic psychiatrist, provides a nuanced literary analysis through a psychoanalytic lens, drawing on Freud’s Oedipus theory and Mervin Glasser’s “Core Complex” theory of sexual perversion. A connection is suggested, in relation to paedophilia, between aberrant sexual development and compromised superego functioning.
Lis Hanscombe’s review of Nicola Redhouse’s “Unlike the Heart — A Memoir of Brain” and Mind captures the lively curiosity of the writer, the daughter of a psychotherapist, who uses her personal experience with an accompanying exploration of psychoanalytic theory, initially to help her gain an understanding of her struggles with post-natal depression.
This is a beautiful review: a psychotherapist, herself a published author, writing in appreciation of a book she describes as beautiful and luminous.
Appreciative thanks to our contributors and to all who have helped with this issue.
Judi Blumenfeld Hoadley
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