It is safe to say that before Freud there was no psychoanalysis. Regardless of the fact that many psychoanalytic ideas were somehow suspected in many ways one cannot say that there was psychoanalytic knowledge proper before Freud. Freud was the first to collect and develop these ideas into an organized theoretical corpus. But more importantly, Freud was the first to think psychoanalytically. Famously, when Freud was on his way to visit the US -a largely pre-psychoanalysis place at the time- he told his then disciple Carl G. Jung: "we bring them the plague, and they don't know it".
In this sense, before Freud there was a pre-plague state of things. Freud did not make that sour allusion to the American continent before Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century by mistake or coincidence. It was a joke, and therefore must be taken very seriously. Unlike Europe in the Middle Ages, in America there was no plague - however foreseen cataclysms of the sort were. Moreover, the very existence of Europeans was suspected by the Native Americans, foreseen, expected at least in myths, but all in all not a fact. But with a good measure of certainty, it is possible to affirm that the discovery of the American Continent changed its destiny radically and forever, in hindsight at the very least. Analogously, Freud brought the plague with him to America and something changed in the same measure, that is: a no-turning back threshold was crossed. A similar experience occurs the first time a reader opens one of Freud’s books. There is no turning back for better or worse; whether one rejects psychoanalysis or accepts it, resists it or works through it, psychoanalysis is a Pandora box. Turning back becomes impossible because existential questions creep into the mind, and those questions insist. It is this clarity of the before and after the threshold, and the insistence of the questions that is so striking with Freud.
Freud brought the plague with him to America.
If psychoanalytic thinking began with Freud, it means it can very well disappear. It has not yet happened everywhere, in fact there are places on the globe where psychoanalysis thrives. But I understand psychoanalyst’s worldwide fear for psychoanalysis’ disappearance; they can foresee it. The day can come in which there is a last psychoanalyst standing, someone will be the last person to read a psychoanalytic book. On the other hand, mental illness, in any way it is conceived, can cease to exist, and there may be no need or use for psychoanalysis. Nowadays the plague has almost, in Europe at least, disappeared. Is this also a possibility with neurosis or psychosis? There can come another form of treatment of these conditions that may be more effective than psychoanalysis. Especially now when the tendency is to encourage shorter forms of therapy. There are good reasons for psychoanalysis to cease to exist and good reasons for psychoanalysis never to cease to exist, and these are not quite the same as those for the plague.
I believe that the best way to make a small enquiry on the reasons why psychoanalysis may or may not cease to exist is by thinking it through psychoanalytically. I have stressed that as well as psychoanalytic knowledge, the mode of thinking of psychoanalysis was Freud’s invention. If the future of psychoanalysis was to disappear from culture, knowledge and discourse in general, two things are possible: for it to disappear completely and be forever forgotten, or for it to reappear. The former is the least interesting, and to my mind also the least likely.
When trying to refute this very argument in my mind I tried to think of disciplines that have disappeared completely. I failed to find one. I thought of witchcraft, and then thought of those entire cities that -still today- are protected against the evil eye and other demonic powers. I thought of alchemy, which, in spite of seemingly having been superseded by modern science, still insists from within science. To give a very well documented example: in the nineteen eighties, the last plague -the last curse- was cast upon humanity, it is well remembered still, I think. People started dying inexplicably from Caposi sarcoma and other strange diseases. Immediately, people suspected of a divine punishment against those who fell ill - homosexual men firstly and mostly. The only thing to do for scientists in order to stop the plague was to mix and match every known compound that could possibly work against the curse, a very well known alchemistic procedure – trial and error. This is a possible reading and interpretation of the fact that a substance coming from cod was used to develop AZT and treat what later was going to be known as AIDS – allopathic medicine, ladies and gentlemen!
I tried to think of disciplines that have disappeared completely. I failed to find one.
The spirit of alchemy prevails, clearly. But alchemy is deemed a pre-scientific endeavour destined to fail. Turn coal into gold? Eternal life? But, are these goals so naïve and unthinkable? I don't think those objectives are so far removed from those of nowadays science: reducing carbon footprints -reducing the irreducible combustion residues - or finding the cure for cancer. In fact, “reducing carbon footprints” is, in my mind, driven by similar forces to the ones that drove the phlogiston theory in the eighteenth century. The phlogiston, of course, is believed nowadays to be pseudo-science, magical thinking at best, and perhaps for very good reasons as well.
Yes, science has proved to be more effective than alchemy, but that is not the point. What we call alchemy amounts to alchemy's failures: ridicule objectives, unachieved by means of no less ridicule means and with utterly ridicule results; we can call it naiveté or lack of the appropriate knowledge and technology. But in fact, today, alchemy opposes symbolically science, because it holds the place of what scientists find inadmissible about science itself: science’s absurd objective of achieving the impossible, like flying or living forever. That is, in my view, the ultimate goal of science. Of course, science has small triumphs here and there, like airplanes and spaceships built and cancer cured. I am not minimizing the importance or great uses of these achievements. How enjoyable and useful it is to travel on an airplane and what a blessing it is to beat cancer. What a problem, on the other hand, is the pollution we produce and the overpopulation of the planet. This is how then science has new, never-ending objectives: always linked to the perpetual enjoyment resulting from pursuing its absurd goal.
This goal is set precisely by what science finds most inadmissible: the desire to achieve the impossible. Scientifically speaking, the impossible ought to be impossible, not possible. Otherwise, in this very little collapse of oppositions rationality as a whole would be disproved, the very thing science is based upon. I am not arguing that rationality cannot in fact be disproved; I think it is so very often. However, in order to be and remain science, and not become, for instance, religion, science must rely on rationality. In short, science’s innermost goal is precisely what is inadmissible within its discourse.
In short, science’s innermost goal is precisely what is inadmissible within its discourse.
What about psychoanalysis then? The future of psychoanalysis could be thought along these lines in relation to many disciplines, science in general and humanity itself. For example, psychoanalysis could very well be thought of as the symbolic place of that which humanity rejects, beginning with the notion of infantile sexuality and its total misunderstanding. There are more and more books about sexual education for children, adult sexuality for children, but the idea of a book for children in which the pleasure of suckling is described for children is quite inadmissible, I would think. Not very many are ready to class suckling as sexuality, which is something that Freud did more than a hundred years ago. In fact, it would seem that the purer, more angelical the image of suckling, the better. In any case, I believe it would be more fruitful to think of psychoanalysis in an oppositional relation to philosophy.
If psychoanalysis were to be opposed, purposely forgotten by those who devote themselves to think, that is, philosophers, it would be because they would find psychoanalysis unconvincing. Psychoanalysis would not be enough to placate the philosopher's skepticism. That is my hypothesis, for the philosopher, psychoanalysis would come across as suspicious.
However, Freud himself has been classed as one of the "philosophers of suspicion" precisely because of his postulate of the unconscious. Freud is skeptical about the conscious mind's (or the ego's) believed mastery. Freud focused precisely on explaining in a detailed form, by means of precisely three models, how it is that the mind does not know itself fully, thereby not being able to "say it all". Is it not because psychoanalysis does not say it all that philosophers would reject it and go on doing philosophy? Would psychoanalysis, like alchemy, not become the place that holds what philosophy, like science, rejects?
I would be inclined to say yes. I believe that by explaining the impossibility to say it all, psychoanalysis seems to the philosophic skeptical mind a discourse that says it all, and therefore something to disagree with, so that not all is said. Psychoanalysis then holds the place of the absurd goal of philosophy, to be the science of all things, to say it all. Philosophy then rejects it for it finds it inadmissible, or better yet, unconvincing. But how enjoyable it is, even and mostly for a philosophical mind, to hear an interpretation that uncovers that which hitherto was veiled and unknown. It is an analogous pleasure to flying on an airplane or beating cancer: it fulfills for a little moment the absurd goal. The psychoanalytic interpretation fulfills briefly the absurd goal of saying it all, of knowing it all, even the hidden or the unconscious. It is in that measure that psychoanalysis and philosophy have a relation that can mostly be thought of as symptomatic. Of course, the interpretation might be about this very enjoyment of the interpretation, thus it would deflate the enjoyment and provoke anxiety. But that is beside the point.
Psychoanalysis then holds the place of the absurd goal of philosophy, to be the science of all things, to say it all.
Philosophy finds in psychoanalysis an ontological answer: human beings are driven partly by an epistemophilic drive and it is sexual in nature. Every other activity of knowledge is a displacement of the original drive, a de-sexualised version of it. The devotion of philosophy to knowledge, perhaps, is the epitome of this. All of philosophy’s deep elaborations are answers to a fundamental, existential, bodily curiosity. If only a philosopher read this, and this echoed in his mind… Bang! The plague. Bang! An answer. Bang! So many questions more.
If psychoanalysis was to disappear, to be vanquished from the realm of knowledge, I am pretty sure it would return. Deformed, in disguise, displaced, like a symptom, carrying the reason why it was opposed in the first place: the ridiculous and inadmissible elements of all the forces that oppose to it, their core. The questions that drive psychoanalysis, the questions that psychoanalysis evokes, will insist from within the core of humanity. The answers to them, ridiculous and anxiety provoking, will return and insist as well, as psychoanalysis or as something else.