In an opinion piece published in Le Monde in response to an article by Elisabeth Roudinesco, which appeared on 9thof February 2019, psychoanalysts and academics Sophie Marret-Maleval and Aurélie Pfauwadel argue that the “so-called decline” of psychoanalysis is a “diagnostic error”.
If you are a young psychoanalyst or undergoing training in psychoanalysis, reading Elisabeth Roudinesco’s article“Psychoanalysts have contributed to their own decline“, which appeared in Le Mondeon 9 February 2019, must produce in you a strange effect! Faced with the alleged observation of the agony of the Freudian discipline, how can we fail to oppose to it the extraordinary state of vitality that we know psychoanalysis to be in? Every year, psychoanalytic congresses bring together 2,500 to 3,000 people at the Palais des Congrèsin Paris. What human science taught in the University could boast of bringing together so many delegates?
Yes, the psychoanalysis of today is not that of yesterday and, indeed, it does not occupy the same place on the chessboard of practices and knowledge as it did in the years 1960-1970. Its paths of renewal are numerous. While Mme.Roudinesco rushes to sound the death knell, we would like to present some of these exciting new paths being opened up by Lacanian psychoanalysis.
It is above all as a practice of listening to the subjectivity that cannot be compared to any other, that psychoanalysis continues to attract suffering subjects. Even if sometimes these subjects have no particular predisposition for psychoanalysis, and sometimes even arrive with prejudices against it, they have no doubts about it once they experience the difference in the way their own singular suffering and the speech that expresses it is received. This is how many people today discover or rediscover psychoanalysis, beyond popular misconceptions.
A knowledge that is alive
Moreover, to present as an objective fact the assertion that “clients are scarce: psychoanalysis attracts fewer and fewer patients,” legitimately leads one to ask what kind of data this statement relies on. Likewise, this presumed decline in the appeal of psychoanalytic treatment is set against “the appeal of its history”, as taught at the university, “as if Freudian culture had become a museum piece at the expense of its clinical practice.”
Yet, it is rather psychoanalysis as a living knowledge that students come in search of at University, whether at Montpellier or Rennes II, or more particularly at the Department of Psychoanalysis at the University Paris-VIII – which Mme.Roudinesco does not even mention, though she claims to make an exhaustive survey of the state of French psychoanalysis.
Students come from all over the world to do a masters or PhD and study classical or contemporary psychoanalytic theory. And if they are interested in the history of the psychoanalytic movement, it is not as a dusty archive knowledge, nor as the forgotten folklore of a sunken Atlantis, but rather as the sedimented knowledge of a tradition that interrogates and critiques itself.
Psychoanalysis has entered the resistance
Moreover, we cannot ignore the vitality of the publishing house Navarin, or the psychoanalytic clinical collections published by the Presses Universitaires de Rennes, the publications of our colleague
s at Presses Universitaires de France, or at Seuil, or Hermann, or the Éditions du Cerf, or again at Editions Michèle, etc. Some journals, such as La Cause du désir, have a circulation of 2800 copies and 1800 subscribers. Especially the digital age has opened up a variety of editorial media.
Let us acknowledge that Mme.Roudinesco fairly accurately exposes the alarming situation of psychiatry in France and also of psychology at the University, where the scientist ideology carried by the cognitive sciences has taken over. But where she makes an unfortunate diagnostic error is when she states that “at the heart of this process, psychoanalysis has entered an endless period of decline.” Psychoanalysis is absolutely not “at the heart of this process”, but on the contrary constitutes its outside, its point of abutment and of opposition.
At a time when the belief in science and the requirement of capitalism to make a profit dominate, in hospitals as well as at university, let’s put it frankly: psychoanalysis has entered the resistance! And we can bet that it is precisely because of its eccentric status that psychoanalysis can develop the forms of its reinvention. When this “public opinion”, to which Roudinesco refers, can take no more of the muzzling of subjective suffering by the pharmacological forallor by the proliferation of protocols and standard responses, then this “public opinion” turns around and will turn again to forms of social bonds that allow for the subject and respect the right to his singular enunciation, of which psychoanalysis is one.
A psychoanalysis present in the debates
For our part, we have strongly opposed the undue instrumentalization of psychoanalysis against homosexual marriage at the time of the debates that divided France. We have not “deserted the field of public battles”, as the numerous forums for political comment and reflection on the current social discontent in France and Europe, and the numerous study days on the new symptoms of our times (‘addiction’, ‘burn-out’, ‘stress’, etc.), or on autism, have made abundantly clear.
Yes, “psychoanalysts” are plural, and, in the name of psychoanalysis, we can observe a diversity of discourses and processes, but Mme.Roudinesco seems to take an evil pleasure in the systematic denial of all that current psychoanalysts can produce that is subtle or positive. Preferring to chew on chaff than good grains, she makes psychoanalysis an out-of-date and “has-been”discourse, while deriding some attempts at “modernization” that have emerged from gender studies and post-colonial studies. Despite pretending to survey the field from a higher vantage, she fully participates in what she purports to denounce: heaping opprobrium and suspicion on psychoanalysis.
Sophie Marret-Maleval(Psychoanalyst, Professor and Director of the Department of Psychoanalysis, Paris 8 Saint-Denis University) and Aurélie Pfauwadel(Psychoanalyst, Associate Professor, Department of Psychoanalysis, Paris 8 Saint-Denis University).