Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Can Medieval Studies [or Anyone] Still Learn Anything From Freud?

As some may [or may not] know, Philip Rieff died recently, just after publishing his massive tome, Sacred Order/Social Order, Volume I: My Life Among the Deathworks, in which he wrote one of my favorite recent lines: "True barbarism has never existed before. We are witnesses to the first true barbarians." My Life Among the Deathworks is a cranky, pessimistic work that aims to show that modernity is "morally ruinous, death-affirming rather than life-affirming, and represent[s] an unprecedented attempt to create a culture completely devoid of any concept of the sacred." I kind of agree with him.

As is well known, Rieff made his early scholarly reputation on Freud, and since I recently discovered the work of Jonathan Lear [a scholar of classical antiquity, a trained psychoanalyst, a member of the Univ. of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, and very devoted to the important relevance of Freud to the development of the individual, past and present] via Nancy Partner, Rieff's recent obituaries got me thinking, again, about this debate we're always having over Freud's relevance. In a piece that the Chronicle of Higher Education ran last November on Rieff's forthcoming three-volume "epic" scholarly work, the death of Freud was assumed as obvious and not arguable. In that article, it was stated that, "today Freud — and, for that matter, the entire mode of grand social theorizing in the key of Marx, Weber, and Freud — has fallen from favor. In fact, there is no longer much of a niche for large-scale theory in sociology. The field is almost purely devoted to narrower, more technical questions about, say, the effects of welfare reform in Cincinnati, or how social networks operate within a particular software firm." This is a pretty bald overstatement [in fact, my own recent readings in social and political theory demonstrate that these thinkers have not at all lost their relevance], but . . . there you have it. Plus, I am sure everyone who reads this blog is already familiar with Lee Patterson's article in Speculum, "Chaucer's Pardoner on the Couch: Psyche and Clio in Medieval Literary Studies" (76.3, 2001), where Patterson argued that, essentially, in contemporary thought, Freud's "explanatory" model of human psychology is pretty much no longer considered accurate, and furthermore, even if it were accurate, it would be ahistorical to apply it to medieval persons [literary or otherwise], and furthermore furthermore, if you want to psychoanalyze, say, characters in medieval fiction, you can do so with recourse to other medieval texts, like theological ones, that are more pertinent to "the times." And I'm sure we're all familiar with the work of Frederick Crews, who has written,

I pause to wonder at the curious eagerness of some people to glorify Freud as the discoverer of vague general truths about human deviousness. It is hard to dispute any of these statements about "humans," but it is also hard to see why they couldn't be credited as easily to Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, or Nietzsche--if not indeed to Jesus or Saint Paul--as to Freud. Was it really Freud who first disclosed such commonplaces? Or, rather, has the vast cultural sway of Freud's system caused us to lose focus on his more specific, highly idiosyncratic, assertions, to presume that a number of them must have been scientifically corroborated by now, and to transform him retrospectively into the very personification of "human" complexity and depth?

These comments were partly in reponse to a very public debate that Crews has had for a while now with Jonathan Lear, and if interested, some might want to read Lear's essay in New Republic, "A Counterblast in the War on Freud: The Shrink Is In," which I link here, and in which Lear writes, in defense of Freud,

In the development of the human self-image from Sophocles to Freud, there has been a shift in the locus of hidden meaning from a divine to the all-too-human realm. At first, it might look as though the recognition of a dark strain running through the human soul might threaten the viability of democratic culture. Certainly, the twentieth-century critiques of Enlightenment optimism, with the corresponding emphasis on human irrationality, also question or even pour scorn on the democratic ideal. It is in this context that Freud comes across as a much more ambiguous figure than he is normally taken to be. In one way, he is the advocate of the unconscious; in another, he is himself filled with Enlightenment optimism that the problems posed by the unconscious can be solved; in yet another, he is wary of the dark side of the human soul and pessimistic about doing much to alleviate psychological pain. He is Tiresias and Oedipus and Sophocles rolled into one.

. . . . Critics of psychoanalysis complain that it is a luxury of the few. But, from the current perspective, no thinker has made creativity and imagination more democratically available than Freud. This is one of the truly important consequences of locating the unconscious inside the psyche. Creativity is no longer the exclusive preserve of the divinely inspired, or the few great poets. From a psychoanalytic point of view, everyone is poetic; everyone dreams in metaphor and generates symbolic meaning in the process of living. Even in their prose, people have unwittingly been speaking poetry all along.

Well, how should we, in medieval studies, tackle this Freud-problem? Personally, I find much in the work of Nancy Partner, and in her favorite philosophers/theorists [George Devereaux, Jonathan Lear, Marshall Edelson, and of course, Freud], to offer much in the way of contesting the ideas that a) Freud is no longer relevant [and perhaps even, harmful], and b) psychoanalytic theory is somehow "ahistorical" when applied to medieval studies. I know that there are some who read this blog who will say this whole argument is "moot," but frankly, it never is. The idea of the usefulness of the psychoanalytic model [mainly developed by Freud] to understanding human nature [both in literary texts, which are the stuff of the human unconscious anyway, and in reality] will always have to be defended, again and again. As Partner writes in her essay "The Hidden Self: Psychoanalysis and the Textual Unconscious" (in Writing Medieval History, ed. Nancy Partner; London, 2005; pp. 42-64),

. . . there lingers a common and unexamined assumption that "having" a self, or evincing the existence of the mental and emotional organization specified as selfhood, the self we feel as our own identity, necessarily involves adopting one assertive style of individuality, even the set of values and goals we associate with the individualism which grounds western liberal modernity. [p. 44]

But, as Partner also argues, we need to acknowledge

medieval men and women as [being] essentially like ourselves, of the same species at the same moment of development in evolutionary time, personalities formed at a deep level through the same developmental processes, as minds with the same emotional/rational structure confronting the world, however distractingly different their language, ideals, and fervent beliefs. [p. 45]


The discipline of psychoanalysis, with its coherent structure of explanatory concepts, is our intellectual instrument for recognizing the human psyche over historical time and across cultures. . . . Analytic theory offers historians the interpretive techniques and vocabulary for moving from manifest to latent levels of meaning without demanding implicit acceptance of an ideology or divinity. [pp. 46, 47]

Nancy Partner also recently drew my attention to the recent book by David Gary Shaw, Necessary Conjunctions: The Social Self in Medieval England (Palgrave, 2005), which she believes is the best book ever written on medieval English identity. In that book, Shaw defines the self as a "highly localized site of awareness," and further, because in the pre-Cartesian Middle Ages people believed, following Bonaventure, that the soul "has an inclination toward the body," therefore, "we must pay attention to the body's language to fully understand the medieval self" (p. 12). Even more important, in my mind, is this passage from Shaw's book:

History's weight on us is constant and immense, and it is composed mainly of language and custom. We do not originate these, but we enter into them as into a house, well furnished both with goods and routines. . . . It should be stressed, however, that the self is not constructed solely by its environment, but also by the interpretive action that means not only suffering the world but also coming to understand it and your place within it. There is room here for a self to innovate and try to transform that place by thought or action. The particular way a self or groups of selves do so is the actual subject of history. [p. 13]

This accords well with the Freud-inflected thought of Lear who, in Love and Its Place in Nature: A Philosophical Interpretation of Freudian Psychoanalysis (New York, 1990), writes that,

. . . . as Freud comes to appreciate that the individual is a psychological achievement, he becomes increasingly interested in the conditions under which this achievement occurs. The individual, he realizes, cannot be understood other than as a response to certain forces that permeate the social world into which he is born. And the individual is a manifestation and embodiment of the very same forces to which his existence is a response. . . . Unless we see love [as Freud defined it, the libido or "life force] not merely as located in the human being but as permeating the world in which he lives, we cannot understand the psychic structure which constitutes the individual. [pp. 156-57]

And I would further argue that all of this Freud/Partner/Shaw/Lear discourse also accords well with recent discoveries in cognitive science, which may be another route by which Freud is [heroically?] recuperated? In their book Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (New York, 1999), George Lakoff and Mark Johnson tell us that "the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment," thought itself is "mostly unconscious," and because the mind "is not merely embodied, but embodied in such a way that our conceptual systems draw largely upon the commonalities of our bodies and of the environments we live in," therefore, "much of a person's conceptual system is either universal or widepsread across languages and cultures" [which is not to say historical contingency or conceptual relativity do not exist, because they do, but still . . . .]" (pp. 4, 3, 6). It strikes me that cognitive science thereby also aids us in thinking, anew, about "humansim."

Well, this post has gone on a bit, hasn't it? But I think the subject is timely and also apropos to much of the scholarship of Prof. Cohen and some of the readers of his blog. It also pertains to an article I am currently laboring over, which I will share in Part II of this post: "Yes, Anglo-Saxons Were Apartheid-Style Racists, But Did They Have Feelings?"


Richard said...

I find Freud a fascinatinh figure but must admit to being unpersuaded by this. In particular, the passage you have quoted from Crews is a rather generous one; his central argument isn't so much that Freud codified truths found in Dostoevsky and Shakespeare (which is effectively a backhanded compliment) but that many of Freud's theories have simply been falsified. That is a altogether more damaging accusation.

Anonymous said...

Can Medieval Studies [or Anyone] Still Learn Anything From Freud?

I think yes.

That said, we should be careful not to mean "psychoanalysis" or "psychoanalytic thought" when we use Freud's name. In other words, I would contend that the real learning to be done is from the psychoanalytic tradition, not from Freud per se.

There is thus value in "forgetting Freud." Or suspending him (from school). There are obvious reasons why Freud gets all the (media) attention, but less obvious ones why literary academics tend narrowly to focus on Freud and Lacan. There is no good reason not to read Greenson, Sperling, Reich, Bergler, Bion, usw.

The terrain of psychoanalysis is far far too complex to be either supported or dismissed without rich qualification.

Claims about the falsification of "Freud's theories" are beside the point. Try to falsify May's Power & Innocence or Lachmann's Transforming Aggression or Wurmser's Power of the Inner Judge, to take three books at hand. I'm not even sure what the eff that would mean: falsify them.

Karl Steel said...

Greenson, Sperling, Reich, Bergler, Bion, usw

usw? United Steel Workers?

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Emile B. that there might be good reasons for "suspending" Freud "from school," and for spending more time than we usually do reading within the more broad "psychoanalytic tradition." As is typical in literary studies [but also in historical studies, and in theory more generally], a very few intellectual figures hold immense sway and we are probably remiss to only talk about Freud and Lacan without also thinking & talking about all of the ways in which other thinkers & practitioners in the field of psychoanalysis have corrected, revised, and enlarged their initial lines of thought. Some will say there isn't enough time to do that, but if you think the discipline of psychoanalysis is important to, say, your literary-historical work, then you really have to go further than just Freud, or just Lacan, or just Deleuze.

That said, the larger issue I was trying to raise is whether or not we still have to defend the utility of psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic thought more generally--as something we can apply to understanding ourselves, but also literary/historical characters/actors. I have to confess that, for a long while now, almost all of my work has concerned itself with historiographical, aesthetic, and ethico-philosophical questions, and therefore, almost all of my reading and thinking has revolved around writers in those disciplines, and only very recently did I start thinking about psychoanalysis and medieval studies--mainly because, for the purposes of a certain book Introduction, I ended up reading some articles & books by Michael Uebel, Nancy Partner, Louise Fradenburg, Lee Patterson, Paul Strohm, and JJC and all of this led me to considering how I might integrate certain strains of psychoanalytic thought into my already-long-developing project on aesthetics and ethics [but also to some ideas I have been trying to develop regarding affective thinking & the humanities]. So, for me, this is kind of a confession that I am relatively untrained in psychoanalytic thought, but am more and more convinced of its importance.

As to Crews's comment that he wonders about the eagerness of some to glorify Freud "as the discoverer of vague general truths about human deviousness" that could just as easily be credited to Shakespeare or St. Paul, well . . . are there every any really *new* ideas, or just particular new ways to inflect old ones? It just seems like an illogical thing to say--we could just as easily say that Shakespeare didn't say anything Sophocles and St. Paul hadn't said already, and so on and so forth. Who spoke of the unconscious before Freud, and if they did, *how* did they speak of it, and how does Freud's particular language & thought give the idea of the unconscious a more conrete, more-available-to-be-examined shape? Obviously, Freud did not invent the unconscious, as some people mistakenly aver, but he did cognize it in such a manner that we could reflect upon it more thoroughly? Does this make sense? [Hell if I know.]

Anonymous said...

und so weiter...probably only Reich, among those metnioned, would not be repelled by an association with the United Steel Workers.

Which raises the question of elitism among the psychoanalytic thinkers. Again, we shuld be critical of this aspect of the project, but also bear in mind the work of Marie Lange, Joel Kovel, and Paul Wachtel, among others, before we too hastily judge psychoanalysis disengaged from the social/political. Also, Danto's Freud's Free Clinics should be required reading before one makes the poltical inertness argument.

Eileen Joy said...

Richard--perhaps you could expand a bit on how Freud's ideas have been "falsified"? I myself can think of all sorts of areas in Freud's writings that have been "debunked" in one way or another, and I have my own problems with things like his idea of the primal horde and penis envy and things like that, while at the same time, I think other of his writings, especially as regards the development of the individual, the libido, "culture," etc. are still very compelling. Also, the term "falsified" rings of the scientific, or at the very least, the empirical-logical. So, what in Freud has been 100% convincingly "falsified"? Crews, I know, has spent a lot of time debunking the idea of "recovered memory" and therefore, if I am remembering correctly, views Freud's ideas on repression with some serious skepticism. Feminists, of course, have rightly called "penis envy" [at least as a "universal"] into question. But what else?

Also, just another thought, thinking back to debates earlier in the summer [or was it still Spring?], psychoanalytic thought strikes me, in some regards, even more ethical than ethical philosophy, because it has as its ultimate goal the betterment of the individual, or the better meantal health/well-being of the individual, personal happiness, etc. And I see literary studies, and art more generally, as essential to psychoanalytic thought [as did Freud, I believe] because literature is one of the chief products of the creative activity of the mind, and, as Marshall Edelson puts it,

"Between stimulus and response, between event and behavior, falls the act of the mind. It is the creation of the symbol, the 'poem of the act of the mind' that is the object of study in psychoanalysis" (Psychoanalysis: A Theory In Crisis; Chicago, 1988; p. 20).

Eileen Joy said...

Thank you, Emile B., for all the handy references. Danto is not A.C. Danto, is it? Also, as regards the elitism among psychoanalytic thinkers, does this have to do with their patients, or their lack of patients [haha]?

Anonymous said...

Actually it's Art Danto's daughter, Elizabeth, who is, get this, a professor of social work at Columbia.

On the issue of psychoanalysis's supposed falsification, see the rather weighty theoretical appendices to the new PDM, where you'll find good summaries of the empirical evidence that supports psychoanalysis as a treatment modality.

As for theories (as opposed to practice) being falsified, Freud himself hoped that his theories would be tested. He was keenly aware they wouldn't all hold up. It's worth taking the "big picture" view here, and when one does that, some of the most central "Freudian" notions hold up, indeed, they are emprically supported with the evidence provided by new technologies (e.g., fMRI and PET). Example: transference. See Allan Schore, Cozolino, and Siegel's new book on this.

Anonymous said...


Programming Development Manager?
Party-Directed Mediation?
Point Distribution Model?
Product Data Management?
Precedence Diagram Method?

Nope, it's this bad boy right here.

Half of its 800+ pages are state-of-the-art type essays. It kept me busy on the bus for weeks, before I dropped it in a huge puddle.

I bought me another copy.

Karl Steel said...


I like that you've used "bad boy" to refer to a book twice on this blog. At least. So far.

I'm finding this all very instructive. But a quick Q: isn't it a bit expected that the PDM would provide empirical evidence for psychoanalysis? If I were a doubter, which I'm not, entirely, I'd need more than that to be convinced.

Someday I'll share the story of how I fired my one and only shrink because I found her advice insufficiently attentive to my socio-political situation. While I may have been right on the money, I think I just engaged in transference: I had just dumped someone for the same reason, and the shrink reminded me of my ex. Er. So I guess I just told the story.

So thanks EB for the bib. Of making books there is no end.

Richard said...

"Also, the term "falsified" rings of the scientific, or at the very least, the empirical-logical."

Freud claimed to be a scientist, so yes, those are precisely the criteria he should be judged against. No apology for that; these theories have been used practically to treat people and should be held to account accordingly. Clearly, application to literary studies is a different matter but even so I do wish the humanities would pay more attention to this; for myself I find coming across Freud citations in literary criticism deeply disturbing, given that the refusal of psychology departments to countenance teaching him.

"Richard--perhaps you could expand a bit on how Freud's ideas have been "falsified"?"

Bear in mind that I was referring to Crews, upon which this is perhaps a better Crews quote:

"Of course, there are a number of points on which Freud was quite original; and those are the ones that deserve to be scrutinized if you are seriously interested in his "contribution." There are, e.g., the death instinct, the inherent penis envy and masochism of women, the universal Oedipus complex, the latency period, the vaginal orgasm, the primal crime committed by the primal horde, and the phylogenetic inheritance of memory traces from that event. All of these ideas are now embarrassments. Consequently, Freudians fall back on the banal commonplaces about the deep, dark soul--ideas whose genealogy goes back at least to Mesmer and in some cases to Plato. What needs to be emphasized, in any case, is that the same daffy method that led Freud to psychoanalyze our first non-simian ancestors also underlay his "clinical discoveries," none of which were actually inferred from inductive experience. The man was simply a wild speculator whose habit was to invent after-the-fact "evidence" for whatever pet idea he harbored at the moment. The evidence was always a perfect match for the theory--a sure tip-off to scientific fraudulence."

It seems to me that the issues are fourfold. Firstly, the lack of evidence that could substantiate much of Freud's theories (the unconscious, the death instinct) and the fact that they are not verifiable or falsifiable (See Poppeer article below). Secondly, that in some cases the evidence does seem to disprove Freud (repression does exist as a neural mechanism but doesn't seem to work at all in the way Freud suggested; as I understand it the same applies to both neurosis and hysteria) and thirdly that alternatives that can be substantiated have displaced Freud on a number of fronts, most obviously that neuroscience has mapped out many brain functions in detail, without suggesting any correlation with id, ego or superego (I am simply going to politely disagree with Emile on that). More generally, other forms of psychoanalysis and especially pharmacological treatments have proven reliably effective in treating mental illness in a manner that cannot be said of Freudian or Jungian analysis. Finally, Freud's evidence was often shaky in the first place and demonstrated without controls (most obviously, the experimenter, the psychoanalyst is in a direct position to influence the course of the experiment).

"It just seems like an illogical thing to say--we could just as easily say that Shakespeare didn't say anything Sophocles and St. Paul hadn't said already, and so on and so forth."

Actually, I think this is the only possible basis Freud can be rehabilitated on, as with Harold Bloom's description of him as a cultural mythologist, whose role was to codify central romantic concepts. Bloom's is the only convincing defence of Freud I have come across.

"Claims about the falsification of "Freud's theories" are beside the point."

I'm afraid I have to say that is a somewhat fatuous comment. In some cases, as with repression, we know that there is a poor probability that is has any truth to it. In other cases, his theories are simply not susceptible to either verification or falsification. That might conceivably place him in the same category as Nietzsche or Heidegger but even so, I find it difficult to erase the fact that Freud was not a philsopher, he was a scientist and should accordingly have been held to considerably more rigorous standards (as with Popper's original condemnation of Freud; http://nsmserver2.fullerton.edu/departments/chemistry/evolution_creation/web/Popper.htm)

Anonymous said...

Further Bib:

Menaker, E. (1999). Separating the wheat from the chaff. In R. M. Prince (Ed.), The death of psychoanalysis (pp. 43-53). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Sachs, D. In fairness to Freud. In J. Neu (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Freud (pp. 309-338). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sacks, O. (1998). The other road: Freud as neurologist. In M. S. Roth (Ed.), Freud: Conflict and culture (pp. 211-234). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Schore, A. N. (1997). A century after Freud’s project—is a rapprochement between psychoanalysis and neurobiology at hand? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45, 1-34.

Solms, M. (2004). Is the brain more real than the mind? In A. Casement (Ed.), Who owns psychoanalysis? (pp. 323-342). London: Karnac.

Wallerstein, R. S. (1988). One psychoanalysis or many? International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 69, 5-21.

A squib on attachment I wrote last year. The references at the end are a decent start for addressing narrow-minded critics who believe they’re actually saying something important when they mimic criticisms of Freud. (Where are these Damned Freudians they speak of anyway?)

There are probably good reasons why Crews and knockoffs don’t go after the major developments of psychoanalysis post 1950—either they simply don’t know them very well or at all or they willfully ignore them in order to make straw men out of concepts like “female masochism” and the “death instinct.” Hell, not even Fenichel bought the death instinct. And virtually no theorists bought female masochism, and if they were attracted to it early in their careers, they massively reformulated it later (e.g., Menaker).


Self and Other in Attunement: The Neuroscience of Attachment Theory

I. Neuroscience & Psychoanalysis: On Attachment

This essay will examine, from the perspective of the neuroscience of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, concepts of self and other, and, above all, how self and other interrelate. Three key psychoanalytically-oriented theorists (Cozolino, 2002; Schore, 2003a, b; Stern, 1985; 2005) have been the most articulate spokesmen for building upon the theory of attachment (Bowlby, 1969, 1988) with the insights offered by recent neurobiological findings. Together, these theorists have expanded the theoretical and clinical conceptions of self and other, and, in the process, have strived to add to the psychoanalytic insights of self psychology (Kohut, 1971, 1977) and object relations theory (e. g., Kernberg, 1980). While space militates against a full treatment of specific developments in self psychology and object relations theory, this essay will examine the theory that is taken, by the three aforementioned theorists and others (e.g., Siegel, 1999; Wilson & Thomas, 2004), to be the foundation upon which neuropsychoanalysis is built—namely, attachment theory. After outlining a conceptualization of self and other from the point of view of the neurobiology of attachment, this essay will examine how self and other are theorized as relating to one another, in the context of ways in which psychotherapy informed by such ideas might approach the problem of shame. Since shame is the primary social emotion (though it is usually almost invisible) (Scheff, 1988), it will provide a rich illustration of the necessity for an attuned relationship between self and other.

In several essays and volumes, Schore (1994; 2003a, b) has suggested that the time is right for a rapprochement between psychoanalysis, the study of the unconscious mind, and the biological sciences (see Schore, 1997). Developmental psychoanalysis is currently generating a complex model of the early ontogeny of the biological substrate of the human unconscious (Shore, 2002), one that can potentially bridge the relational and intrapsychic realms of the unconscious mind. What is at stake here conceptually speaking is nothing less than a set of theories about how the self as both a psychological and social entity interacts with other selves. Below, we will have occasion to look at what neuropsychobiology means when it speaks of a “self,” but for now the important idea is how recent work on “neurodevelopment” is imagined to be critically important within psychoanalytic approaches to development. As Watt (2000) has put it, “in many ways, this is the great frontier in neuroscience where all our [i.e., psychoanalysts’] theories will be subject to the most acid of acid tests. And many of them I suspect will be found wanting. . . .Clearly, affective processes, and specifically the vicissitudes of attachment, are primary drivers in neural development (the very milieu in which development takes place, without which the system cannot develop)” (p. 191).

As Watt (2000) rightly suggests, it is precisely in the area of affective processes, the very media exchanged by selves in psychoemotional communication with the aim of forming attachments, such as that between caregiver and child, that the clearest articulations of human development will be found. Bowlby, in Attachment (1969), applied then-current biology to a psychoanalytic understanding of infant-mother bonding, and in so doing launched an effort to produce a natural science of developmental psychology. His work focused on one of the major questions of science, specifically, how and why do certain early ontogenetic events have such an inordinate effect on everything that follows? Bowlby’s scientifically informed curiosity about this question of the developing self envisioned the center stage of human infancy, on which is played the first act of the human drama, to be a context in which a mother and her infant experience connections and disconnections of their vital emotional communications. Because these communications are occurring in the period of the brain growth spurt that continues through the second year of life (Dobbing & Sands, 1983), attachment transactions mediate “the social construction of the human brain” (Eisenberg, 1995), specifically, the social emotional brain that supports the unique operations of “the right mind.” Attachment is thus inextricably linked to developmental neuroscience (Schore, 1994; 2003a, b). Stern (2000) wrote, “Today it seems incredible that until Bowlby no one placed attachment at the center of human development” (p. xiii). Schore (2003a, b) has suggested that the great advances in our knowledge of early development have been the engine that has transformed contemporary psychoanalysis, which according to Cooper (1987) is “anchored in its scientific base in developmental psychology and in the biology of attachment and affects” (p. 83).

II. Attachment and the Formation of the Socioemotional Self: Neurobiological Definitions of Self & Other and their Interaction

A neurobiological conceptualization of attachment holds that it is an inborn system in the brain that evolves in ways that influence and organize motivational, emotional, and memory processes with respect to significant caregiving figures (Bowlby, 1969). At the level of the mind, attachment establishes an interpersonal relationship that helps the immature brain use the mature functions of the caregiver’s brain to organize its own processes. The momentary alignment or synchrony of processes is dependent upon caregivers’ sensitivity to the child’s signals and allows the mind of the child both to regulate itself in the moment and to develop regulatory capacities that can be used in the future (Schore, 2003a, b). The sensitivity to signals and attunement between child and caregiver, or between patient and therapist, involves the intermittent alignment of states of mind. As two individuals’ states are brought into alignment, a form of mental state resonance, or what Schore (2003a, b) calls “empathic attunement,” can occur, in which each person’s state both influences and is influenced by that of the other. The formation of the self, a concept that we will define momentarily, is thus interactional and mutual, dependent as it is upon the interanimating presence of the other.

Importantly, there are moments in which people also need to “back off” and stop the alignment; an attuned other thus knows when to withdraw and curtail the synchronizing process of attunement. Intimate relationships involve this spiral of attuned communication, in which there are alternating moments of engaged alignment and distanced autonomy. At the core of such attunement is the capacity to read the signals, often nonverbal, that indicate the need for engagement or disengagement (Trevarthen, 1993). Essentially, states of mind involve aspects of brain activity, and their fundamental components are the flow of energy (e.g., the stimulation of hormones in the infant by a smiling mother) and information (e.g., the smile itself decoded as soothing). For the nonverbal infant, this intimate, collaborative communication is without words. Of course, this need for nonverbal attunement persists over the lifespan. Within adult relationships of all sorts, words can, and usually do, come to dominate the form of information being shared, and this can lead to a different form of representational resonance. Such a verbal exchange may feel quite empty if it is devoid of the more primary aspects of each person’s internal states (Stern, 1985). In this way, infant attachment studies remind us of the crucial importance of nonverbal communication in all forms of human, self-other, relationships (Siegel, 1999).

From the beginnings of human life, then, contact with an empathic caregiver “tranquilizes the nervous system,” bathing it in the hormones that stimulate the growth of neuronal networks and synaptic connectivity, which provide the basic circuitry for regulating emotion in the orbitofrontal (right) regions of the brain (Schore, 1994, p. 244). Attachment transactions mediate the socioemotional construction of the human brain (Schore, 2003a, b). The more the caregiver tunes her activity level to the infant during periods of social engagement, the more she allows him/her to recover quietly in periods of disengagement, and the more she contingently responds to his/her signals for reengagement, the more synchronized their interaction becomes. Synchrony thus develops as a consequence of each partner’s learning the rhythmic structure of the other and modifying his or her behavior to fit that structure (Schore, 2003a, b). This theorization of the self is clearly dependent upon a model of co-construction, where the simultaneous separateness and interdependence of self and other play a major role through the way affect-laden information is communicated.

Emotion, as Johnson & Sims (2000) nicely phrase it, “is the music of the attachment dance” (p. 173). Attachment is thus more than overt behavior; it is internal, built into the nervous system as a result of the infant’s experience of his or her transactions with the caregiver (Schore, 2003a, b). It is not surprising, then, that some psychotherapies, such as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) view emotion as a powerful ally in the change process since it directs individuals’ attention to their own needs and desires, and also, when expressed, communicates to others (Greenberg & Johnson, 1986; 1988). When relationships become threatening or traumatic in nature, emotional signals—what the neurobiology of attachment understands as right-brain-to-right-brain communication—become distorted and often make empathic responsiveness in the dyad of self and other more difficult. EFT, usually practiced as couples therapy, thus strives to provide a secure base upon which partners can turn to one another for comfort and assist each other with the regulation of emotional distress (Johnson & Sims, 2000).

An affectively based psychotherapy, like EFT, also recognizes that behavior, arousal, and subjective awareness are all simultaneously organized in the interactive process. Ekman and colleague’s (1983) work on emotion affirms the significance of this interactive conceptualization of some of the essential dimensions of the self, for example, how facial expression is associated with a particular physiological pattern, and matching the expression of the partner creates in the onlooker a similar physiological state. Neuroscientific findings draw upon this psychological view of emotional organization in the attempt to determine the early origins of the primitive mind and the processes by which the dynamic unconscious (the right brain being dominant for unconscious processes) self-organizes and continues to evolve over the course of the lifespan. Early affect-laden experiences with the primary caregiver indelibly influence internal psychic structural systems—as neuroscience shows, during a critical period of neurobiological maturation during the first two years of the developing limbic system (Schore a, b). The emergence of a socioemotional self is thus dependent upon the development and maturation of affects, the key event in infancy, and a major developmental achievement is the attainment of the essential adaptive capacity for self-regulating affect (Beebe & Lachmann, 2002).

This capacity is critical to the operation of a self system that is both stable and adaptable. Sroufe (1989) concluded that the core of the self lies in patterns of affect regulation, and that this regulatory capacity is responsible for maintaining continuity despite changes in development and context. Confirming Schore’s (1994) earlier proposal for a central role of the right orbitofrontal areas in essential self-functions, current neuroimaging studies now demonstrate that the processing of the self occurs within the right prefrontal cortices (Keenan, Wheeler, Gallup, & Pascual-Leone, 2000), and that the self-concept is represented in right frontal areas (Craik et al., 1999).

Thus, from the perspective of attachment neurobiology, the self is a potentially resilient, fundamentally social, and ideally stable structure, whose concept and processing reside in the front part of the right brain. More specifically in terms of the centrality of affect, the self, understood in terms of resiliency and stability, depends heavily upon the maturation and organization of its orbitofrontal system, which acts as the organism’s recovery mechanism, efficiently monitoring and autoregulating the duration, frequency, and intensity of not only positive but also negative affect states. This mood regulating function, in turn, enables the individual to recover from disruptions of state and to integrate a sense of self across transitions of state, thereby allowing for a continuity of experience.

With a sense of self, neurobiologically speaking, tied to the other, from the time of infant-caregiver interaction forward, it is easy to see how traumatic experience, which I would call the shock of a radical Other (e.g., threat of death), can disrupt one’s sense of self. Heaton (1988, pp. 5-6) put it well:

The Other is not a simple presence of a self to a self; it is not contained in a relation which starts from a distance and ends in a bringing together. The Other is radical only if the desire for it is not the possibility of anticipating it as the desirable or of thinking it out beforehand but if it comes aimlessly as an absolute alterity, like death.

Absolute alterity, radical otherness, that which is exterior to the self and designated with a capital “O,” is clearly in a different register of experience than the caregiver, small “o,” (m)other, but the point is simply that, as far as the self’s vitality and well-being is concerned, otherness is preeminently determinant. A clear instance of a self disrupted by Otherness is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where that otherness (threat of death to oneself or the death of an intimate) produces a mental state of re-experiencing trauma, withdrawal or avoidance, and hyperarousal of the nervous system (e.g., hypervigilance and startle response) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The focus in PTSD treatment is now, as we might expect given increasing evidence for the neurobiological underpinning of attachment theory, on restructuring an empathically attuned relationship that can serve as a healing or, what psychoanalysis sometimes refers to as, a holding environment (Wilson & Thomas, 2004).

III. The Ontogenetic Origin of Shame & Implications of a Neurobiological Understanding of the Self for Therapy

Psychological well-being, as this essay has argued, depends upon the capacity of the caregiver to modulate the infant’s affective states; or we might state it more generally as psychosocial well-being depends upon self-other attunement. Spitz (1965) described a type of “psychotoxic” maternal care, manifest in an overdose of affective stimulation, that is dispensed and then withdrawn by the narcissistic mother who is concerned more with her own emotional needs than her infant’s. This type of inconsistent attunement is held by psychoanalysis (e.g., Kohut, 1977) to induce shame in the infant. Shame, in other words, is a precise example of how repeated early failures of attunement create “a belief that one’s affective needs are somehow unacceptable” (Basch, 1985, p. 35). The inner experience of the affect of shame becomes associated with an inner expectation of a painful, self-disorganizing internal state that cannot be regulated, and therefore is consciously avoided or “bypassed” (Lewis, 1971). The phenomenology of the moment of shame has been well described (e.g., Nathanson, 1987; Tangney, 2003), and this ubiquitous primary social emotion in which one is visible and not ready to be visible (Erikson, 1950) operates subtly even in the healthiest of human interactions (Kaufman, 1974). Yet this misattuned relational interaction between self and other triggers gaze aversion, a response of hiding the face “to escape from being seen and from the one who sees” (Wright, 1991, p. 30), and a state of withdrawal (Lichtenberg, 1989). Shame throws a “flooding light” on the self (Lynd, 1958), which culminates in wishes such as sinking into the ground (Erikson, 1950).

The ontogenetic origin of shame involves an appraisal process in which a discrepancy exists between the memory of the caregiver in an ideal, attuned, positive affective state and the perception of the reality of a misattuned mother in a negative affective state (Schore, 2003b). Though the developmental origin of the negative evaluation of the self that produces shame arises from the interpersonal failure of expectation, shame later occurs when certain intrapersonal self-expectations (goals) are not fulfilled. From a sociological view (Scheff, 1988), shame is generated by the virtually constant monitoring of the self in relation to others, with shame being triggered often by a threat of abandonment or rejection by a significant other (Nathanson, 1988). Shame is, then, an instance of attachment gone wrong, and thus it dramatizes well how a breakdown in self-other relationality can have intrapsychic, affective consequences.

This leads to some speculations concerning “earned secure attachment”: that is, how does psychotherapeutic interaction with those manifesting attachment impairment, or what Schore (2003a, b) calls “empathy disorders,” function to produce a secure attachment relationship? As we have seen, in order to foster secure attachment, the promotion of affect regulation is crucial (Beebe & Lachmann, 2002). An effective therapeutic relationship parallels the parental characteristics of the psychobiologically attuned intuitive caregiver of a securely attached child (Cozolino, 2002; Schore, 2003a). Crucial here is the therapeutic alliance, which depends upon the therapist being experienced as in a state of vitalizing attunement with clients. In order to accomplish this, the clinician functions as an interactive affect regulator of the patients’ dysregulated state; in short, the analyst “listens” with the right brain directly to the analysand’s right brain (Cozolino, 2002). The empathic, or psychobiologically attuned, therapist:
1) consciously attends to the patient’s verbalizations in order to objectively diagnose and rationalize the patient’s dysregulating symptomatology; and
2) listens and interacts at an almost co-experienced subjective level, where socioemotional information is processed at levels beneath awareness.
The attuned, intuitive clinician learns the nonverbal moment-to-moment rhythmic structures of the patient’s internal states, and is relatively flexibly and fluidly modifying his/her own behavior to synchronize with that structure. The clinician can directly engage and therefore regulate the clients’ ineffective right processes with his/her own right brain: this constitutes a neuroscientific description of the interactive process supporting a corrective emotional experience. It also marks a return to what Freud (1917) once described as “evenly hovering attention.”

An affectively focused therapeutic experience may literally alter the orbitofrontal system: the patient’s modulated right brain can now transmit to the left brain for processing (Schore, 2003a, b). The temporal sequence here is right brain then left brain; eventually linguistic symbols can be developed to represent the meaning of a painful and avoided experience such as shame. Meaning is thus dyadically created and fostered, and the implications for therapy are thus profound where two people or a group of people can co-create the meanings that will, through empathy, deconstruct shame.


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Anonymous said...

Karl, you raised the question:

isn't it a bit expected that the PDM would provide empirical evidence for psychoanalysis?

Good question: the essays, it turns out, are actually quite frank about what the studies (and they meta-analyze all extant studies) document as the mutative factors in the therapeutic process. It turns out that more important than the type of treatment per se are therapeutic process variables, e.g., the therapeutic relationship.

And we're back to the issue of transference, which you yourself raise, and which I have tried to underscore as the preeminent dimension of the emerging neuropsychoanalysis and the core of the most effective & efficacious treatment modalities (e.g., Emotionally-Focused Therapy & Mentalization-Based Treatment).

Anonymous said...

On a somewhat personal note, I have to thank Emile B. for his "squib" on the neuroscience of attachment theory, as I am the mother of an adopted older child who has a fairly severe attachment disorder--trying to find good therapists for this has been excruciatingly difficult. Emile B. likely did not know when posting this how helpful it would be to someone like me vis-a-vis a "real world" attachment disorder situation, so thanks. But the "squib" also really helped me in other ways, too, mainly relative, again, to how I have been trying to develop a line of thinking on reinventing the humanities as the site, not of the cultivation of the supposedly rational, phenomenological intellect, but of the embodied (and largely unconscious) emotional intellect and of a certain enchanted-emotional orientation toward the world. For the most part, I have been reading in cognitive science, and was delighted to see this in E.B.'s piece, quoting Watt:

"Clearly, affective processes, and specifically the vicissitudes of attachment, are primary drivers in neural development (the very milieu in which development takes place, without which the system cannot develop)."

I am also struck by the conclusion:

"Meaning is thus dyadically created and fostered, and the implications for therapy are thus profound where two people or a group of people can co-create the meanings that will, through empathy, deconstruct shame."

The importance of transference and the self-other relationship, as E.B. has shown, would appear to be critically important to the process of the development of empathy within the human brain--empathy, I have always suspected, has to have, as E.B.'s lingua franca puts it, an "ontogenetic" basis, and it would appear that neuroscience is going to show us that is the case. I find this very exciting, indeed. I also believe that there are larger political implications for the kind of transference E.B. writes about here so eloquently.

I will also share here an excerpt from a short set of comments I gave recently on the subject of the humanities and emotional orientation:

Eros, Love, Regard, and the Humanities

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether love, in our present moment, might not represent the ultimate taboo subject for critical thought. After all, we've exhausted sex and sexuality to the point where it's almost not even sexy, and to what end? So we can "queer" ourselves endlessly through what Elizabeth Grosz has called the "divergent resonances" and "flows" of bodies without contours flowing into other bodies in order to enact what Jeffrey Cohen has called, following Grosz, the open-ended "becomings" of "the plural autonomy of desire"?[1] If some of us sense the image of utopia in that description, I wouldn't disregard it. I actually believe that queer theory is our best bet right now for imparting to our intellectual studies what Cohen has called "a process of wonder" and for providing a space for utopian thinking in the academy, and I myself am queer, but I've really had it with sex and sexuality, by which I mean, as a subject for critical reflection. But don't misinterpret me, either. While sex currently bores me to death, partly because it's been exposed to death, what I can't seem to get over is eros, of which sex is just one powerful symptom. I can't get over passion. I can't get over desire. I can't get over love, and the more I think about some of the conversations we have been having about humanism, the humanities, and the supposed post-human future, the more I find myself drawn to the question of how it is that love might be crucially related to how we are going to refashion a future humanities where, if cognitive science is right, the mind is always embodied and reason is not dispassionate, but largely imaginative and emotionally engaged.[2] I want to see if we can think a little bit about how our task, as humanities teachers and scholars, might now be, not the cultivation of the supposedly rational, phenomenological intellect, but of the embodied (and largely unconscious) emotional intellect. How, moreover, might we conceptualize this task as also having to do with understanding the individual, in the words of Jonathan Lear (explaining Freud), as someone who

"cannot be understood other than as a response to certain forces that permeate the social world into which he is born. . . . [and who] is a manifestation and embodiment of the very same forces to which his existence is a response. The individual . . . cannot be understood in isolation."[3]

The individual, in other words, cannot be understood apart from what Freud would have said is the "erotic relation between a person and the world in which he lives." Further, "a person is erotically bound to the world. That is a condition of there being a world for him: that is, it is a condition of his sanity," and love "is not just a feeling or discharge of energy, but an emotional orientation to the world."[4] How, finally, might the new end of the humanities be the training of this emotional orientation, which I think is also connected to what the political theorist Jane Bennett has called the experience of enchantment, without which, an ethical life is not possible?[5]

. . . . I want to look briefly at how Jonathan Lear examines, through Freud, the psychoanalytic significance of Plato's Symposium. Lear is mainly interested, not in the various stock speeches that are made by Aristophanes, Socrates, and the others on the nature of love, but in Alcibiades' drunken disruption of the dialogue, his frustration toward Socrates' refusal to sleep with him, and his jealous and bitchy struggle with Socrates over the sexual possession of Agathon, at which point many of the party guests leave, indicating, in Lear's mind, that the Symposium "is . . . as much concerned with the symposium's undoing as it is with rendering an account of the symposium itself."[6] For Lear, it is important that we not see Alcibiades' supposedly farcical intrusion as an indirect confirmation of the Socratic account of the erotic, in which love of a particular beautiful body moves "to a love of all beautiful bodies, from a love of bodies to a love of souls, from that to a love of laws and then on to a love of wisdom."[7] According to Lear, Alcibiades can be seen "as acting out a refutation of Socrates' theory of love," in which theory

"[t]he beautiful will not appear . . . in the guise of a face or hands or anything else that belongs to the body. It will not appear . . . as one idea or one kind of knowledge. It is not anywhere in another thing, as in an animal, or in earth, or in heaven, or in anything else, but itself by itself with itself, it is always one in form . . . ."[8]

In this scenario, "one comes to see human flesh . . . as a pollution," a "great nonsense of mortality," and "[f]rom a divine perspective beauty is not immanent: 'it is not in another thing, as in animal, or in earth'." [9] For Lear, this conception of the divine encapsulates what he believes is the tragedy of the Symposium, where to follow Socrates' account of love is to "become disdainful of one's own mortal nature, treating it as not part of one's true self," and this is what also "accounts for Socrates' indifference" to Alcibiades "erotic suffering":

"Socrates has made the journey, he has become as divine as humanly possible, and though he remains in the human realm, he is no longer part of it. He looks on the humanity of the human world with the indifference of the gods. Alcibiades is, of course, as human as they come. He is trapped in the human erotic . . . .

. . . . insofar as Alcibiades is trapped in the human-erotic, he can, from Socrates' perspective, go fuck himself. It does not matter to Socrates what the consequences are. From the vantage of Athenian culture, this encounter between Alcibiades and Socrates must be judged a failure of inestimable cost. Nothing less is at stake than the future of one of [the] world's great civilizations. And yet, from a divine point of view, human politics is by and large a distraction. It just does not matter which particular form the distraction takes."[10]

But it matters a great deal, actually, to Lear, a psychoanalyst as well as a philosopher of classical antiquity, "which particular form the distraction takes," and our aim should be "not to leave the human realm behind, but to get deeper into it--its smells, feels, textures, and the imaginary meanings we give to them," for "it is this particular [embodied] subjectivity with which we are pregnant: and it is from this that we give birth in beauty."[11]

Lear's thinking here, heavily indebted to Freud's idea, again, that the individual "cannot be understood other than as a response to certain forces that permeate the social world," also accords well with the insight of cognitive science that, in the words of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, "[r]eason is not disembodied, as the [Western] tradition has largely held, but arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experience," and further, "reason is not, in any way, a transcendent feature of the universe or of disembodied mind. Instead, it is shaped crucially by the peculiarities of our human bodies, by the remarkable details of the neural structure of our brains, and by the specifics of our everyday functioning in the world."[12] The peculiarity of the human body is exactly what Alcibiades cannot get around in his struggle with Socrates by whom he feels "completely possessed," and while Alcibiades is clearly locked in a repetitive and neurotic "acting out" against Socrates, which does not allow him to grow or expand as a person, Socrates' indifference to him further impedes his ability to individuate. In Freudian terms, Socrates essentially refuses to confront Alcibiades' transference, which, in Lear's words, is "in essence a form of political engagement."[13] As is well known, what I would call Alcibiades' bad education had disastrous consequences: he vandalized the statues of the temple of Hermes by breaking off their genitals, profaned the Eleusinian mysteries, and ultimately decamped to Sparta where he betrayed Athens' military secrets. The undoing of Alcibiades through Socrates' indifference becomes the undoing of Athens itself, and the fault is not in Alcibiades' inability to ascend to a higher plane of awareness--to get beyond the particular body of Socrates to an idea of a higher virtue, for that, after all, is only human--but in Socrates' unwillingness to descend to Alcibiades, in other words, to love him, not sexually, but as person in need of a certain affectionate regard, a regard, moreover, grounded in an attachment to the human world and its well-being. How to cultivate this attachment is, I believe, essential to the role of the humanities in what Bill Readings has called the "post-historical” university," where the university, having lost "its privileged status as the model of [an ideal] society," becomes "one site among others where the question of being-together is raised, raised with an urgency that proceeds from the absence of the institutional forms (such as the nation-state), which have historically served to mask that question."[14]

The cultivation, through a humanities education, of an attachment, through love, to the human world and its well-being, and the reformulation of the university as "one site among others where the question of being-together is raised," is, I believe, a matter of great political urgency and is in no way simply academic, at least, not for me. I am in agreement with Jane Bennett that what she calls enchantment, or an "energetic love of the world," is absolutely essential to "the cultivation of an ethic of generosity toward others."[15] Postmodern thought has bequeathed to us a world that often seems to bear what Max Weber called "the imprint of meaninglessness," and according to Bennett, it can often be "too hard to love a disenchanted world."[16] At the same time, as Nietzsche's Zarathustra teaches us, "As long as there have been men, man has felt too little joy: that alone . . . is our original sin. And learning better to feel joy, we best unlearn how to do harm to others and to contrive harm." [17] And I would argue that, in addition to an erotic relation to, and energetic love of, the world, that unlearning how to do harm to others is also related to regard, by which I mean a particular kind of wakeful attention to particular, embodied others, and which can be located in sorrow as well as in joy. By way of illustration, I want to conclude with a singular, arresting moment in the always already enchanted world of Malory's Arthur, when Balyn, "the knight with two swords," kills another knight, Launceor, occasioning Launceor's lover, an unnamed woman, to fall into a "sorrow out of measure" and to exclaim to Balyn that he has killed "two bodyes . . . in one herte, and two hertes in one body, and two soules," after which she kills herself with her lover's sword. But the moment that has always struck me is what Malory tells us happens afterward: Balyn is so struck with wonder at the woman's will to self-destruction over her love for the dead knight, and so ashamed of himself for causing that self-destruction, that, as Malory writes, "for sorow he myght no lenger beholde them, but turned hys horse and loked toward a fayre foreste."[18]

It is only for a moment that Balyn turns away, and the sight of his brother riding out of the forest toward him quickly breaks the scene, but I consider it to be one of the most important moments in the entire Morte d'Arthur. In that singular instance of both being struck with wonder at the power of eros and also turning away from it, and also from the sight of two particular loving-destroying bodies, Balyn reveals his capacity for empathy while also refusing a fuller engagement with an erotic attachment to the human world in favor of the "fayre foreste," which, in Malory's world at least, is the classic route of escape, as well as the image of an incorruptible beauty, because it is not really a beautiful forest, but an idea of one, seen at a distance. But what if Balyn were to turn back again, and really look, once more, at the woman's body pierced by her lover's sword? It is to this question of looking again, with passionate attachment to the human world, and with regard for the person, that the humanities, I really believe, should direct itself.


1. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 44.

2. See George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1999), pp. 3-4.

3. Jonathan Lear, Love and Its Place in Nature: A Philosophical Interpretation of Freudian Psychoanalysis (New York: Farar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), pp. 156-57.

4. Lear, Love and Its Place in Nature, pp. 155, 153.

5. See Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

6. Jonathan Lear, “Eros and Unknowing: The Psychoanalytic Significance of Plato’s Symposium,” in Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 148.

7. Lear, “Eros and Unknowing,” p. 163.

8. Plato, Symposium, trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989); qtd. in Lear, “Eros and Unknowing, p. 163.

9. Lear, “Eros and Unknowing,” p. 163.

10. Lear, “Eros and Unknowing,” p. 164.

11. Lear, “Eros and Knowing,” p. 166.

12. Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, p. 4.

13. Lear, “Eros and Unknowing,” p. 152.

14. Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 20.

15. Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life, p. 10.

16. Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life, pp. 8, 12.

17. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin, 1976).

18. Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur

Anonymous said...

I grok your meditation, Professor Joy.

This passage especially:

The cultivation, through a humanities education, of an attachment, through love, to the human world and its well-being, and the reformulation of the university as "one site among others where the question of being-together is raised," is, I believe, a matter of great political urgency and is in no way simply academic...

You probably already are, but you should pursue this line; I could see it for a journal like Academic Questions or somesuch.

A few recommendations (in alpha order), if I may:

Luhmann, N. (1986). Love as passion: The codification of intimacy. Trans. J. Gaines & D. L. Jones. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Sober, E., & Wilson, D. S. (1998). Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Unger, R. M. (1984). Passion: An essay on personality. New York: Free Press.

And, of course, we must go back to:

Scheler, M. (1954). The nature of sympathy. Trans. P. Heath & W. Stark. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

If you want to go forward where the likes of Crews and Nokes dare not tread:

Gilbert, P. (2005). Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy. London: Routledge.

Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, E., & Target, M. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of the self. New York: Other Press.

And: Schore and Beebe & Lachmann (see my references).

Eileen Joy said...

Our apologies to Prof. Nokes, who may not even be reading this thread, but still . . . .

In his last post, E.B. referred to "Crews and Nokes," by which he meant "Crews and Richard" [i.e. the "Richard" who has been contributing to this discussion thread, not to be confused with Prof. Nokes, whose first name also happens to be Richard]. This was entirely MY fault, and not E.B.'s.

Anonymous said...

It's not all your fault, Eileen.

At any rate, it would appear the question of Freud's utility is settled. Or perhaps richard is busy reading something beyond Bloom, and he'll get back to us?

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps Richard is understanably appalled by our bibliographic effluvia?

Karl Steel said...

Finally had an hour, at my stoop sale, to print out and read the two long posts here. I’ve a few brief comments on each.

I found your evocation of Balyn in your last paragraphs beautiful. I might begin to take a different approach to it, though. While it might seem that Balyn’s turning away ‘for sorow’ shows him unwilling to look, it strikes me that this gesture simulates unwillingness to try to represent a power of apprehension that Balyn cannot possess. He acts as if he is refusing, but what he refuses he could never have had: the sorrow of the other, especially the sorrow we cause, cannot be ours. I think about this episode in this way only because I was reading, in someone else’s paper, some of The Body in Pain, where “pain enters into our midst as something that cannot be denied and something that cannot be confirmed….To have pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain is to have doubt” (13). Witnessing pain does not dispel that doubt.

Nevertheless, there’s another approach to this problem, and, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll cite a bit of my dissertation:

Dives and Pauper’s approach to cruelty towards animals apparently, but only apparently, intervenes on behalf of animals: “Men schuldyn han rewþe on beste & bryd & nout harmyn hem withoutyn cause & takyn reward (be heedful of the fact) þat þei ben Godis creaturis.” This sentiment decries only abuse “withoutyn cause”: “And þerfor he þo þat (whoever) for cruelte & vanite hefdyn (butchers) bestis & tormentyn beste or foul mor þan is spedful to manys lyunge, þei synnyn in cas wol greuously.” The fundamental human/animal relationship remains intact, for in censoring only excessive cruelty towards animals, Dives and Pauper assumes that some animal suffering is necessary to human existence; it also confers upon humans the right to determine both how much suffering is “spedful” and when animals should die.

Yet to recognize that humans inflict animal suffering that can be deemed excessive requires a standard by which that suffering can be measured. It is this measuring that begins to erode the absolute separation of human from animal, since, in a prescientific episteme, the only way for humans to develop such a standard is to correlate animal suffering with their own. Such an analogy between human and animal suffering creates a relationship of empathy and indeed of identification at precisely the point—both discursively and in terms of actual violence—at which humans and animals should diverge most sharply [this is a reference to my argument that the human makes itself by subjugating nonhuman animals]. Dives and Pauper might commend the mercy that inspired some humans to try to slaughter pigs painlessly. Although this commendation preserves the human by refusing to abrogate humans’ sole possession of the right to extend mercy, the commended mercy could arise only if humans perceived a homology of porcine and human feelings.

Bearing this in mind, Beryn turns away not because he is unable to feel empathy, but rather because he, Beryn, begins to dissolve in empathy in his looking and feeling. A version of affective piety, if you like, that can only be undone by looking back to the forest, that place of chivalric mastery and self-creation, to turn back towards a place where he can master suffering without being undone by it. What he resists is precisely that sense of “becoming” discussed by Cohen, Grosz, or Deleuze and Guattari. (I'm sure I have JJC's discussion of the 'dissolving' M. Kempe in the back of my mind here)

And yet we shouldn’t see this becoming as one that takes place only between humans. My example from Dives and Pauper should be understood as a gesture towards my argument against, again, the various manifestations of the word ‘human’ in your paper, Eileen: ‘human bodies’ and the like. These bodies should be understood as bodies, simply, without the adjective, not only in the sense of sentient matter, but also in the sense of objects or even forces interacting: between humans and humans, between humans and animals, between humans and buildings even, between bodies and bodies. It is this space of flux, of being caught up, dragged down, dispersed, that Socrates longs to escape, by declaring himself above the human and so, he hopes, only human, only Socrates, and indeed it is this space, too, that Beryn longs to escape: but both can only do so by trying to suspend the empathy that may be the only way they can actually exist.



Love your description of radical alterity.

Nothing so medieval or litcrit for you. Just a few questions:

I of course like the idea of an intersubjective self, but while the intersubjectivity you describe does seem organized upon a dyad, this dyad is one in which one party—the child, the patient—is largely dependent upon the other: one is the caregiver, one is the caregiven, and while the caregiver might alter her (sometimes his in this paper) behavior/mind in response to the needs of the caregiven, the caregiver still holds most of the power. I would prefer a model in which the intersubjective self, first, is not organized only or primarily upon or in a manner largely analogous to a dyad (mother/child; caregiver/child; therapist/patient; film/watcher; etc.) but rather, again, between bodies and forces, and second, building out of the first point, I would prefer a model in which dependent relationships are shared out between the members of the community in a manner other than, oh, some more pleasant version of the master-slave dialectic. The political implications, as pretentious as they may be in this context or venue, are significant, although I don’t have the time (the brains? the energy? the engagement?) to spell those out just yet, if they need to be spelled out. The therapeutic implications are much, much fuzzier, and probably to be ignored.

I’ve also a few questions—quibbles?—about some of the paragraphs in the middle: “This capacity is critical…,” “Thus, from the perspective,” and “With a sense of self…” You may just be or just primarily be summarizing the work of others, but I’m wondering about the switch between “core of the self” and “sense of self.” I find the latter locution much more convincing, although only so long as this “sense” is not contrasted with some underlying certainty that the “sense” (mis)apprehends.

Anonymous said...

Karl: A few repsonses.

1) I have located the intersubjective in the dyadic structure only because that is where the current neuroscientific research, building upon Bowlby's ideas, has been directed for the last couple of decades. Having said that, there is an emergent literature in group psychologies where the same so-called corrective emotional experience is generated both within and outside the dyadic. Yalom's (2005) new book is good on this.

2) So, everything that holds for the dyad, holds in principle for any intersubjective relation(s). The other holds the key to our development, which tends over time toward the balancing of the power differential you refer to. Remember we're talking about the first 2 years of life and about the therapeutic situation. So, yes, power in these contexts will be uneven. The goal, however, is to create fully functional, emotionally resilient individuals who can move adroitly and confidently among the "bodies and forces" you speak of.

3) So, indeed, I'm on the same page politically, or I'm pretty sure I am. Think about this in developmental terms--to put it politically, what kind of citizen will we/can we create? This, broadly, was Maslow's guiding concern. It is the concern of those theorists/clinicians, like Paul Gilbert, engaged in the fostering of compassion. It is the concern of all clinicians and theorists that are worth reading, IMHO. It's the reason why psychoanalysts who (apparently) do not see beyong the dyadic never appealed to me. Thus the appeal for me of Reich, Ferenczi, and Guattari, to name three "biggies."

4) I like "sense of self" much better but then I would--I'm stll enough of a humanist. The researchers I read would likely prefer "core self" as if to suggest that the self is locatable in the brain. I quoted a couple of researchers who think it is locatable. Other researchers think they can locate the unconscious. That's all very interesting to me, but, at the end of the day, I'm inclined toward the phenomenological--how are selves experienced and what do they mean to us as contexts change? A person who suffers from PTSD has a markedly different sense of self than a person who suffers from borderline personality disorder. I'm interested in that difference, those qualities, those contexts.

Karl Steel said...

Emile, thanks. Answered all my questions and then some!

But another one struck me last night. You cite a lot of research detailing and hypothesizing about the critical development of an infant’s brain/self in relationship to its caregiver. I accept that the early years of a child are crucial, but doesn’t that importance derive in large part from the pliability, the emptiness, the incompleteness of an infant’s brain in comparison to the brain of an adult? Are the differences in pliability between the brains of adults and children so large as to become differences of kind rather than of degree? In other words, as much as I’d rather not be, I’m hesitant about the portability of the child/caregiver model of intersubjective development to patient/therapist or subject/community models.

Not surprised you share my humanist hesitations about the ‘core.’ Funny that thing about the desire to locate the “self in the brain.” Well, it may be there, but if it’s only there, there’s no there there. Since that brain requires interaction in order to form a self, and that self is, to a greater or lesser degree, in constant flux because of constant interactions, it seems a bit idealist to want to reduce that self to the brain.

Anonymous said...

To take up the question of the adult brain's pliability versus that of the infant's:

The neuroscientific research suggests it is a difference in degree, not kind. The adult brain remains plastic over the life course, though it will never be as remotely plastic as it was when it was age 1 month to roughly age 10. Studies of mothers' brains during interaction with their infants reveals significant prefrontal cortex alteration, mainly chemical in nature.

So, enter newer therapuetic modalities like EFT (Emotionally Focsed Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), CMT (Compassionate Mind Training), and ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), all of which depend in specific ways on the plasticity of the adult brain. DBT, for example, was developed to work with an extremely difficult population--borderlines--and built on the techniques of cognitive-behavioral tradition, particularly some of the successful intervention strategies of Marsha Linehan. These fairly intensive therapies have been proven to be effective at post-intervention and followup, but still relapses are not uncommon.

The best books I can recommend to address your hesitation on the issue of the portability of the infant-caregiver model are:

Schore (see my bib.)

And D. J. Siegel's new book (to be released): The Mindful Brain in Psychotherapy: How Neural Plasticity And Mirror Neurons Contribute to Emotional Well-being

I've heard lectures from the latter, and it promises to be great.

Anonymous said...

Karl--thanks for reading my essay and for your comments on it; they are very instructive and will help me refine my thinking. In relation to your last post, but also in relation to our dialogue on the "Whoops! There Goes Humanity!" post, you might be very interested to read the mini-essay, "Reasonable Doubt," on The Edge website by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of the book "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity." The essay can be linked here:


Jeffrey Cohen said...

check this NYT oped piece by Goldstein too: