Monday, 28 December 2015

on why it matters, to me, that psychoanalysis not be relentlessly portrayed as science

I've been thinking over why it matters to me that, say, explanation should not be taken as the fundamental entry point of the concept of 'the unconscious'. Or why I do not always find it helpful to characterise psychoanalysis as a science. I suspect my reasons are not the standard ones. Those include such concerns as that psychoanalysis treats of meanings or reasons rather than causes (assuming the former are not the latter), or a vaunting of the natural sciences or of laws of nature as paradigms of science or of scientific knowledge (which psychoanalysis and social sciences cannot hope to emulate). I'm not troubled by the idea that psychoanalysis may be pursued as science here or there, that we might find some criteria that go beyond mere 'body of knowledge' (history surely isn't allowed to count as science) but stop short of some deductive-nomological structure or what-have-you. It's rather all got to do with fundamentals. My claims is that, at its root, psychoanalysis is not to be taken as a science.

The logic of the point is quickly if admittedly without argument put. Science involves us putting a question to nature which we allow to answer in ways that may surprise us. (The answer cannot already be contained in the concepts in terms of which the question is put.) Whilst we may do this at local junctures here or there (we might not know yet if Geoffrey is repressing anger towards his father; the answer might surprise us), we cannot, I suggest, articulate even the being of the fundamental explananda without already deploying a psychoanalytic sensibility. What transformations in psychoanalytic theory, in the explanantia, involve, it seems to me, are fundamentally transformations in sensibility, transformations in ways of seeing. Such refinements and variations of sensibility can be found in stages of Freud's work, but also in the developments in object relations and Kleinian theory-and-practice. The new sensibilities open up for us new domains of emotional experience as objects to be known and negotiated. The grasp of the concepts for these domains presupposes the flourishing of the requisite sensibility. Expression, evocation, metaphor, etc. are often fundamental to opening up and attuning such depth psychological vision. Disagreements between schools are often, I suggest, rooted in different sensibilities, or the attempt to grasp a new theory without also changing the sensibility into which it is grafted.

At any rate, I'm not going to press the above here. My claim is just that those who suggest that psychoanalysis is a science often overlook the extent to which the sensibility makes available the facts and can either downplay or ignore its fundamental role in making available psychoanalytical knowledge. Psychoanalysis, I want to say, is importantly more revelatio than scientia. This leads me straight back to why it matters to me that psychoanalysis not be portrayed as fundamentally a (social) science or as fundamentally in the business of explanation. It is because such approaches are, I believe, misguided in the way that they ignore the fact of their own revelation and the change of sensibility required to see what is revealed, and say to us too: hey, you too can get here where I am just by using empirical knowledge and right reasoning. (The Alpha Course provides a parallel example in relation to evangelical Christianity: it's all portrayed as so-very-sensible that one wonders: why bother; give me Kierkegaardian absurdity any day over this...) And, here's the thing: there's nothing more annoying than someone trying to pass off their own unarguable revelation as something to be arrived at through evidence and reason. It is a form of narcissism and a failure of dialectical responsibility and ethical recognition. Show me how you see things, yes, draw my attention to this or that, draw out what may already be implicit in my experience, evoke and express and poetise. But, please, do so with an open heart; do not try to force your revelation on me by tacitly pretending or forgetting that you never had it, or by making out that it can be grounded in what can anyway be ascertained independently of it.