Why psychoanalysis? My strange encounter with Freud’s work.

Maybe the first step towards any proper type of thought can start at posing a general naive question to oneself and then attempt to delineate some kind of an answer to it.

So why psychoanalysis? Who was Sigmund Freud, what did he do, and what kind of a movement did he engender?

As a first step I will try to outline my personal experience and the strange path it took me to encounter this specific type of books quite early on in my life.

The course which led me to encounter literature in general would be a very different and a longer story, allowing for an introspection way back into the very early childhood, but I will try to confine myself here to the encounter of the thought of Freud, Žižek and Lacan.

After reading a short collected volume of Plato’s writing quite early on in a library of the Catholic Gymnasium I went to (for just for one year) I decided in a typically idealist manner that my main interest in life has thus become philosophy. I was reading the book out loud to my younger sister, which led me to develop an early head start for the love of dialectical thinking.

It was somewhere around 2004 and I had just switched schools from an earlier local Gymnasium which was more specifically dedicated to computer science and where I had abruptly stopped visiting all of the classes quite early on in the year; the catholic school was a second attempt after a big failure. While spending the majority of the time at home, mostly working on and with my big box of a home computer, which I incidentally constructed myself from parts ordered online and had developed a huge passion for, I had the opportunity to discover the vast online space provided by the internet. This was a time before the discovery of LCD screens, tablet computers and smartphones becoming popular and getting into general popular usage.

I somehow managed to end up in a local online forum dedicated to philosophy, and after exchanging some messages in different threads got invited by an unknown person to meet for a coffee and discuss, and naive as I was, it seemed at the time that’s what philosophers tend to do. Little did I know that simply meeting a person might end up changing my life.

What developed from there was a very strange encounter that had lasted for quite some time, maybe a year, two or three, I’m not completely sure anymore. Having some sort of a passion to argue about different intellectual topics, I had made a friend that entered my life at an early age, and left it abruptly a bit later. While I had a desire to become a philosopher in the style of the great Plato myself, and not really knowing how idealist my goals were at the time, while my friend was more interested in the general area of psychology and started reading and writing about those topics, more specifically the work of a French psychoanalyst named Jacques Lacan. Not having much clue about the structuralist and post-structuralist literary movement myself, nor really interested in French as a language, although visiting Paris once, I opted for Freud instead, since the entire Standard Edition was publicly displayed at the local university library at the time and was quite easily accessible. I also had the luck of there being quite a big community of bloggers active online at the time dealing with many connected different theoretical fields.

So while meeting on a regular basis and having intense verbal disagreements about refined intellectual points that looked very important then, but probably weren’t really just so important, the encounter allowed me to greatly expand my area of interest and get acquainted with authors I’ve never heard of. I thus got familiar Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous witticisms like the limits of my language are the limits of my world, found out about the existence of something called the Marxist theory via the work of Louis Althusser, and bought some books in London by a strange French philosopher named Alain Badiou. Since the academic lectures and texts by Slavoj Žižek were widely available online at the time, and I was spending a lot of time browsing the internet, and with him being the main vocal public proponent of Lacan’s work in the English language, I started following his work. The result of all of this strange course of events is that up to this day, more than a decade later, my reading of Lacan’s work is still non-existent, while I had consumed an immense amount of literature designated as Lacanian, i.e. explaining and derivative of his work, with Freud still being one of my favorite authors up to this day.

What had mostly caught my interest was the shift in Freud’s work from being a neurologist, i.e. a natural science scholar, to the more seemingly humanist area of psychoanalytic theory which goes more through the course of a conversation with a fellow human being. I still vividly remember Freud’s descriptions of treating neurotic patients through hypnosis, and him noticing that he could produce somatic changes in a person with the help of mere speech, something that seemed quite uncanny to someone specialized in medicine and neuroscience with the extended knowledge of the biological connection of nerve tissue throughout the human body; with pure verbal suggestion he was able to produce symptoms in patients that could be said to be more akin to what Lacan later designated as the mirror stage of human development then due to any real direct biological causes. I might note here that in the standard interpretations of psychoanalytic theory Freud is usually designated as being too vulgarly reductionist in terms of direct biologisation, with unfortunate terms like the instinct popping up in the English Standard Edition, while Lacan was supposedly more capable of more abstract linguistic reinvention of psychoanalysis through his reading of it via Sassure’s structuralist linguistics and philosophy more general, but I wholly disagree with this assessment, and evidence on the contrary can already be found in the first book of SE, that is, the pre-psychoanalytic writings.

I also had the luck of living in a country where Freud’s writing itself was intimately connected to the philosophical field, with seemingly countless publications of his work accompanied by interpretations of it being widely available in my local language, thanks mainly due to the work of a philosopher in Ljubljana named Mladen Dolar, and whom I still value immensely.

The psychoanalytic teaching could be summed up, no matter how varied and diverse the field might be, to boil down to one single concept: the unconscious. Being some kind of a neurotic person and a young man myself, I had the absolute conviction of the importance and centrality of this concept for any real thinking of human subjectivity. My neurosis and my constant slips of the tongue, and of the pen, were enough evidence for me to convince me of the importance of psychoanalytic theory. But, as I did not undergo any real analysis myself, my interest has remained mostly philosophical, and still is to this day, which means abstract in nature.

To be continued…

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