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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Art of the Subject: Between Necessary Illusion and Speakable Desire in the Analytic Encounter by Mardy S. Ireland (Other Press) A practicing psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist based in Berkeley, California, Ireland launches a theoretical and clinical engagement between two fields of psychoanalysis represented by Donald Winnicott and Jacques Lacan. The two approaches are generally considered incompatible, but she explores how they can complement and supplement each other to broaden the space within which therapists work.

Clinical theory, to be effective, must provide psychoanalytic practitioners with a framework and a mental space that takes into account the “disturbance in the analytic field” that neccesarily occur during the work in progress. Since Freud there has been no psychoanalytic school of thought that has been able to address the realm of illusion, images,and bodily sensations together with the conditions that open the field of speakable desire.

The Art of the Subject provides this unique theoretical space by weaving together, for the first time, Winnicott’s (British School) focus on the necessity of illusion and Lacan’s (French School) emphasis on the limit that makes subjectivity possible. And as is true of the process of psychoanalysis itself, the one plus one of Winnicott and Lacan yields here a potentiating “third” from which fresh and vibrant aspects of the analytic matrix emerge and are voiced.

Infinite Desire by Paul Oppenheimer (Madison Books) examines the prevalence of guilt in a society that is largely irreligious. Once upon a time, he argues, Western culture, founded largely on the myths of original sin and the Fall, conveniently described guilt as the result of sinning against God. Such a view of guilt entered history through Augustine--who repressed his own lustful childhood in his Confessions with idealized versions of sin and salvation--and held sway in the West until the 19th century. By that century's end, Nietzsche had condemned the Christian religion for enslaving its followers through a doctrine of guilt that weakened them and robbed them of their will to power. In addition, Hegel and Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, while Feuerbach, Marx and Freud declared that God was simply a projection of humankind. The 20th century opens, according to Oppenheimer, on a moral wasteland bereft of God--and yet, he notes, the guilt remains. Writers as diverse as Kafka, Dostoyevski, T.S. Eliot and Maupassant, he says, express lucidly the anguish and despair of the modern conscience when it lacks the contours and context to define its inchoate guilt. As the 21st century unfolds, guilt lingers on and begins to take a new shape. Oppenheimer contends that our unending material desire provides the foundation for our current guilt. Oppenheimer's slim study purports to show the superficial and shallow character of contemporary moral consciousness, but his thesis about material desire differs little from Augustine's notion that concupiscence, or sexual desire, is the root of all guilt.

Deficits and Desires: Economics and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Literature by Michael Tratner (Stanford) examines the effects on literary works of a little-noted economic development in the early twentieth century: individuals and governments alike began to regard going into debt as a normal and even valuable part of life. The author also shows, surprisingly, that the economic changes normalizing debt paralleled and intersected with changes in sexual discourse.

In Victorian novels, sex and debt are considered dangerous activities that the young should avoid in order to save and invest toward eventual marriage and a home. In twentieth-century texts, however, it often seems acceptable to go into debt and engage in sex before marriage. These literary representations followed social transformations as both economic and sexual discourse moved from the logic of saving and production to the logic of circulation. In Keynesian economics and consumerism, governments and individuals were actually encouraged to borrow and to spend more in order to increase demand and keep money circulating. In twentieth-century sexual treatises, people were similarly encouraged to indulge their desires, as pent-up states were considered as deleterious to the physical body as they were to the economic.

In this book, the author traces these social transformations by examining twentieth-century literary works and films that are structured around contrasts between repressive and expansive forms of economics and sexuality. He studies a range of authors, including James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, Zora Neale Hurston, and Frank Capra. The book ends with the 1960s, because after that decade deficits no longer seemed the cure for anything, and the advocacy of sexual indulgence dwindled. For half a century, however, the intersections of sexual and economic discourses created a sense that society was on the verge of a vast transformation. The artists studied in this book were fascinated by such a prospect, but remained ambivalent, as it seemed that their dreams of escaping dull bourgeois life and ending repression were becoming true because of the influence of the crassest economic policies


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