Keynote Speech ECCP Conference Portoroz/Slovenia,  Sept 18, 2014

Postmodern Cultural Resistances against Psychoanalytic Working – how to deal with it?

 Markus Fäh, Ph.D., Zurich



Postmodernism, Globalization, Acceleration and Virtualization are major cultural developments producing specific cultural and individual resistances against psychoanalytic working. How can we psychoanalysts deal in a creative and efficient way with these resistances, on a clinical as well as on a political and cultural level? What are our own resistances against influencing individuals as well as the society with our psychoanalytic perspectives and instruments? The author formulates some tentative and provocative hypotheses.

Dear Colleagues, dear friends!


Before I begin with developing my thoughts I would like to thank the local organizing committee and the Slovenian Branch of ECPP, especially Vera Horzen and Isztok Zver, for the brillant organization and the very warm welcome, and also Barbara Fitzgerald, Charles Sasse and Tania Mizinova for the huge amount of work leading our organization!

In summer 2003, in Lvov, ECPP was given life, and in autumn 2004, ten years ago, we had our second conference in Ljubljana, thanks to our friend and veteran Janko Bohak. I had the chance to be the first president of ECPP, and felt quite overwhelmed by this task, and thanks to the many friends in the board, to name a few, of course Barbara, Cornelia Krause-Girth, Alfred Pritz, Mikhail Reshetnikow, Charles Sasse, and all the others, we managed to survive the first years…in 2008, Mikhail Reshetnikow took over, and with his organizing talent and management capacities, ECPP started to flourish, not only in qualitative but also in quantitative aspects…

2012…Barbara Fitzgerald was elected president…and she fills ECPP with her organizational as well as her psychoanalytical and spiritual capacities…

It is not self-explanatory when the climate in organizations is alive and good. Many organizations, especially psychoanalytic ones, suffer from group symptoms that inhibit their productivity and success.

I have raised this issue in the third ECPP Conference in Paris 2005 where I spoke about the analyst’s fear of being creative, about the thinking inhibitions, and the infantilizing group mechanisms in psychoanalytic organizations. In Kiev, 2009, it was the intercultural difference between different national and regional psychoanalytic cultures that attracted my attention, and I postulated four stages in the development of a specific regional or national psychoanalytic culture. A year ago, in Repino, in the Summer School of ECPP Russia, I addressed the challenge of the global change to psychoanalysts, and the tendency that we as analysts deny and disavow changes happening around us that contradict our beloved and cherished views and values.

Today I would like to elaborate on this and connect two strands of thought, on one hand societal and cultural change as well as individual symptoms and defence structures, on the other hand and in the second part of my paper the psychoanalysts’ symptoms and defences against dealing analytically with this challenge.

My thesis is: if psychoanalysts understand their task in Freudian tradition – helping people change under certain societal circumstances given by removing unconscious barriers – we psychoanalysts in the first quarter of the 21st century have to understand the present societal changes , and also the impact of these changes on the individuals facing it when we want to fulfill this task successfully…

Psychoanalysts who understand their task and work as making Ucs Cs , will study the impact of societal change, and will try to understand the coping strategies and the ucs elaboration of these societal changes, and they will also study their own resistances against perceiving societal and individual motives.

First I would like to to shed some light on four major societal and cultural changes human beings are confronted with in these days.

Second, I would like to discuss the individual and collective resistances to psychoanalytic work stemming from these changes. And I will introduce the concept of the psychoanalytic phallus and the symptom of the phallic inhibition of analysts as an individual and group symptom of the psychoanalysts, refusing to deal efficiently and successfully with collective and individual as well as their own resistance. I will put forward a clinical and theoretical understanding of these symptom, and jlbwill try to give some ideas how to overcome it.



1: Hypercapitalism

The notion of hypercapitalism is used by economists and philosophers to describe the present stage of capitalism. It is characterized by not only exploiting people as producers, but also as consumers.

Corporate structures where individuals knew their place and career pathways have continually been eroded. Now employees are seen as assets (human resources) who have to continually prove themselves to be kept on in their jobs. No more jobs for life. Life (bodily) is used up to produce profit. Used up people seek diversion by appealing to outside themselves for diversion. Buying and shopping malls appear as the new churches where the imagination of consumers is stirred and exploited.

We are not paid the whole value of our work – the traditional capitalist exploitation according to Karl Marx, this is the classical capitalism. In hypercapitalism, in addition to the first step of exploitation, we as consumers have to pay for nothing. We pay for more than we get, because we pay for nothing, and we fill this nothing with our imaginary projections. The french philosopher Jean-Paul Galibert highlightens this finding in a very creative and inspiring book: »Chronophages« = Time Eaters. Our whole life time is eaten up by the Chronophages, we work as producers, and we work in a leisure time with our imagination to create more than there is in the products we buy.

Where in our cities, organised as they are around profit, are there resting places for dwelling, protecting us from the obsession to give away our time to the Chronophages?

Take Credit Cards as an example. We pay for the illusion of paying nothing when we buy products, in fact we pay horrendous rates of interest. And brands like Nike: you pay for the product many times more then the real cost it took to produce it, but we pay the right to identify ourselves with this brand, so ironically we pay for the right to work with our imagination and fill the brand with our fantasies and longings.

I will not go more into the whole theory of hypercapitalism, the essence is that even as consumers we are exploited, we do not get a fair return, we fill the emptiness for which we pay with our hyped imaginations. So , in fact, as consumers, we work again, we work by fantasizing and pumping up the content of what we are buying. Hypercapitalism creates a great mass of people working as producers and consumers , and a small number of hypercapitalists accumulating all the money.

It is only by means of using the instrument and perspective of psychoanalysis, especially Lacanian psychoanalysis, we come to the point of understanding what hypercapitalism is doing to us. The impact of economic substructure functions like the Real according to Lacan, it is not symbolized, it is a mute force oppressing us all, sucking the blood out of our veins, and we are even enjoying it! The task of psychoanalysts would be to understand such unconscious exploitation, speak it out and restore the freedom of people to agree or not agree.

To perceive the Real, to tolerate the anxiety connected with this step, empowers the individusal to choose…to agree or not to agree..which includes the people and leaders they wish to support.

A core psychoanalytical capacity is to analyse the subject as well as the object, to analyse the madness within the individual as well as the collective madness in the world surrounding the individual. Helping people coming to terms with the madness of the culture and and society around us, and to restore sanity and not merely keep functioning a sanitised wasteland, is the main task for us psychoanalysts.

Understanding the mechanism of hypercapitalism is not possible without psychoanalytic instruments. Psychoanalysis has to analyze societal changes and their impact on the lives and psychic functioning and structure of people, then it will fulfill its function for changing individuals and society for the better.

The late philosopher and intellectual Tony Judt once said that “the thrall in which an ideology holds a people is best measured by their inability to imagine alternatives”. Psychoanalysis needs to explore ‘the thrall’.

A consequence of hypercapitalism is the growing economic inequality. The wealth of the world is in the hands of the few. We have a situation resembling the one in the 19th century, as the research of the French economist Thomas Piketty shows, when wealth was inherited, and you had no chance to change your social class by your own effort and merits. Born poor, stay poor. Born rich, stay rich. By working (honestly – one is tempted to say) it is impossible to escape your social class.

This creates severe psychic consequences. The classical capitalistic meritocratic ideology that every man und woman can use their life span to to pursue any individual goals – the promise of the pursuit of happniness – even get rich if he feels like it – when they work hard und accumulate enough capital, is fundamentally eroded.

Those who are rich today do not have to work and they become richer just because of the economic laws of the financial market. Those who are poor and work hard will never become rich because the deeply indebted states take away a lot of their income. Nothing changes, the social-democratic efforts only try to minimize and soothen the consequences of hypercapitalism. The Slowenian philosopher and Lacanian Thinker Slavoy Zizek says there is only one conclusion: There must be a revolution to remove this sick and destructive economic system. But what kind of revolution? We do not know yet, he says, but we have to think about it.

It is a psychological and a socio-psychological question; Why are people blind to these economic facts, why is there no public debate on taking away the trillions of dollars from the rich and fill the chronically empty box of the financial household of the states, regions, communities. Why taxing income and consume , why not taxing wealth and inheritances?

Income tax and consumer tax are not social, they hit the rich and the poor likewise. Fortune tax only hits the rich, and enhances the situation of the public sector. There are differences in taxing inheritances, but the fact remains that inequality is increasing due to capital inherited in relation to income generated by work.

Why is this not part of a global agenda of politicians around the world? Like in therapy, we have to ask the question so that it can be studied psychoanalytically.

Why do we unconsciously agree with being sucked out, being cheaten, being lied to? Is it an unconscious desire to suffer, to be treated badly? And the rich and mighty only exploit this neurotic desire of the masses?

Do we have a desire to sacrifice our energy to nurture an insane system, to keep it alive?


2: Postmodernism

Postmodernism is a specific cultural phenomenon characterized by some features I will shortly describe now.

Postmodernism as a paradigm favors pluralism and difference rather than a central and all encompassing master or meta-narrative. Since according to postmodernism the completeness and consistency of any school of thought remains indeterminate, the only legitimate position is to celebrate diversity and pluralism of points of view. This is the equivalent of multiculturalism in a larger culture.

In the psychoanalytic field this tendency is reflected by the existence of different schools of psychoanalysis that can be clearly defined and discussed, and the growing difficulty of establishing an overall theoretical map encompassing all different psychoanalytic schools of thought. In this respect , ECPP is a compromise between modernist and postmodernist tendencies: On one hand, ECPP does not want to create a leading paradigm of psychoanalytic thought favouring one psychoanalytic school and creating bureaucratic and hegemonic structures exerting overall dominance, on the other hand we try to stick to some basic common grounds applying to the thinking and working of all of us.

Postmodernism has a deep impact on the lives of individuals and on the culture as a whole: It frustrates the longing for a strong father figure establishing and enforcing the law, on the other hand, it allows for a space for feeling and thinking not dominated by some restrictions and inhibitions.

How can Psychoanalysis be an instrument to deal with the impact of postmodernism?

Postmodernism challenges psychoanalysts in many ways:

First, it confronts us in a personal and narcissistic way: we have to accept the fact, that our psychoanalytic paradigm is no more the leading psychological paradigm in culture. There is a pluralism of psychotherapeutic approaches, there is a big market, and rivaling transnational »companies« in sharp concurrence. This is a narcicisstic injury we have to deal with, younger colleagues perhaps are less afflicted by this, because they never experienced the »Golden Age« of monopoly of Psychoanalysis that lasted till the beginning of the 80s.

Second, postmodernism challenges us in a clinical way: It has an impact on the demands with which clients and patients are confronting us. They want to adapt to postmodernist values, they are children of this culture, so they rebel against authority, setting, theory. They want flexibility, empathy, they change their demand according to their rapidly changing life situations. They want first crisis intervention, after having mastered the crisis, they often do not want intense long-term analysis, but some coaching for a specific life stage with specific problems. They demand for advice and quick solutions. How do we deal with this demand? In classical analytical therapy, we were in the comfortable situation of having had established a clear setting, and on this basis we could interpret many movements of the patient, many demands as a reflection of transference wishes and resistance. Without having established a setting and a strong enough working alliance, we are on a shaky ground. Psychoanalytic interventions are addressed to people not yet ready or willing to work analytically. This forces us to operate not only with classical explicit interpretations, it demands from us to act and counter-act, inspired by implicit psychoanalytic understanding.

I will not go into a detailed case report, only mention the example of a manager, 45-year-old, leading two love relationships in a parallel way, and coming to me with the question: I cannot do it anymore, I am like a candle burning on both ends, please tell me which woman should I choose? Of course I frustrated this demand, telling him hat it must be a symptom of his life style that he could not feel the answer to his question within himself….I worked with him analytically in a setting adapted to his international jet-set life style, and I had to be flexible as well as firm towards him in my demand for reflection instead of action…now he is coming to realize that his way of managing everything is a defense against a deep anxiety of BEING himself….

Third, Postmodernism challenges psychoanalysts in a theoretical way….

Psychoanalytic Theory is a child of modernism. Emancipation of the individual from the pressures of identifications with societal norms and pressures.

Classical psychoanalytic theory reflected the myth of the oedipal father as a guarantee of psychic structure, introducing the law forbiding the incestuous relationships between infant and mother.

Postmodernist theory critizices hegemonic demands , and also critizices the idea of a universal law. In this way it undermines the modernist notion of the Oedipal Father.

We can notice this theoretical break in the process of the Work of Lacan. Lacan discusses the two aspects of the father. The father as separating mother and infant, introducing the law, but also the pervert father of the primal horde, abusing, violating and killing his children and perverting the law.

Postmodernist Lacanian Theory helps to understand why the modernist and classical psychoanalytic longing for an ideal father is a defense against something else.

Against emptiness, against the need for filling the void with something else than a BIG OTHER.

There is no big other. It is just what we are longing for.

Of course this very short glimpse of late Lacanian Thinking is not sufficient to discuss this complex subject now. What I am underlining here is that postmodernism is also a challenge to classical psychoanalytical theory.

Many psychoanalysts are inhibited in their theoretical thinking. They fall into the clinicist trap, they even denigrate theoretical thinking. But Theory is the second phallus of psychoanalytical thinking.

The first phallus is our psychoanalytical method. The second is theory.

I will address this point again later.

3: Globalization

The third challenge we are facing now is the challenge of globalization.

Globalization confronts us with the fact that that our regional or national illusions are lost. Everything we do, on an individual as well as on a collective level, has a global aspect.

As psychoanalysts in the traditional and classical sense we have developed a culture of privatistic illusions. We tend to interpret even societal phenomena in familialistic terms.

But globalization forces us to accept that everything we do is global. When we psychoanalysts abstain from political thinking and acting, we are just naive cowards not using our potent phallus to give our contribution to create a better world.

What is the psychoanalysts contribution to a better world?

Psychoanalysis in a globalized world confronts us also with the fact that there is transnational diversity within global unity. This also leads to the question of transnational psychoanalytical identity and national psychoanalytical cultural diversity.

Five years ago, in Kiev, i focused on the subject of different national psychoanalytical culture as a third stage of psychoanalytical development. Horst Kächele proposed a fourth stage, the stage of transnational diversity. I fully agree with him. The challenge of development of psychoanalytic communities around a globalised world is to merge specific national and regional culture with psychoanalytic common grounds.

Therefore globalization is a two-fold challenge for us psychoanalysts. We have to think about the impact of globalization onto the minds of people, and we have to adapt our psychoanalytic culture to the globalized world.


4: Acceleration, Virtualization, Simulacra

Let us just briefly mention the fourth societal challenge we are facing, the cultural phenomena of acceleration and virtualization. The world is growing faster in relation to the slowness of our human minds, and it is also getting more and more virtual as opposed to real. We are drowning in simulated versions of reality, so called »simulacra«, according to the term the French philosopher Baudrillard coined.

The rapidly growing production of virtual reality leads to the experience that people lose contact with what is real. They are never sure, is it real or just another narrative, a fake, a simulacrum?

Take love life as an example.

You can »manage« several »love« relationships in parallel just by creating the simulacrum of a love relationship for every receiver of your virtual text messages.

By communicating with SMS over great distances, by example, you create a simulacrum of real contact, when you manipulate the receiver in believing something that is not real.

As a reaction to this irritation the disbelief and distrust in what is said rises. People want real proof of the non-virtual character of their perceptions, they are not satisfied with words.

So there is a thirst for reality, hyper-reality, because we have learned to distrust deeply every surface, every sentence. The greed for hyper-reality is unsatiable.

The three films of the Matrix Trilogy by the Brothers Wachovski is an analysis of simulacra as well as a simulacrum it self. With psychoanalytic concepts we are able to understand the way simulacra function and undermine the symbolic reality of our lives.

Bion called the »cliché versions« of reality that borderline or psychotic persons create to defend themselves against fully falling into psychotic functioning »Beta Screens«, reality constructions not constructed out of well symbolized alpha-elements but being composed of bizarre Beta-elements patch-worked together as a fragile protective shield against overwhelming sensual reality and experience.

We live in a world of Beta-Screens.

It is very difficult to tell the difference between accurate versions of reality and simulacra shields. We analysts have to be aware of this difference and making people to become aware of it too.



5: Individual and Cultural Resistances

Why do people often not perceive these social changes? Why do they, and we, not perceive the environment disaster, the economic inequality, the dangers from genetic research, the danger of nuclear or chemical war? Why do we not realize the reason for all that?

Why are people even enjoying their prison, their lack, their horrendous situation?

Why do they abstain from thinking and acting against it?

Why this inhibition of creativity and political courage?

There are many reasons for it. But the most important is defense against anxiety. Perceiving the real produces anxiety. The truth is unpleasant.

For example the truth about our drive structure and our super-ego-structure. That we defend against paranoid castration anxieties on one hand, and that we enjoy passively masoschistic pleasure when we allow the ruling class to dominate and repress us, and we let the rulers exploit our working force and our imagination power.


6: The Psychoanalytical Phallus

What is the task of the analyst? The analyst’s capacity is to perceive, contain and analyze the derivatives of the Unconcious. To confront the manifold individual as societal symptoms. To speak out the unpleasant truth and to bear the often unfriendly resistance reactions. In other words: to cope with the negative transference as well as his own countertransference.

Psychoanalysis is a strong instrument, it has a subversive power, because it is able to question the individual motives on a very deep level.

The two aspects of psychoanalytical power, the two psychoanalytical phalli are: the psychoanalytical method and the psychoanalytical theory.

But why are we psychoanalysts inhibited in using our psychoanalytical phally, using our phallic potency fully for the best of ourselves, our beloved ones, our clients, the world?


7: Guilt and Unconscious Fantasy

I think we cannot understand this problem, and we cannot overcome this impotency when we do not understand the essence of human aggression, and the great human pleasure stemming from the aggressive drive, i.e. castration pleasure, robbing pleasure, killing pleasure.

Put in the terms of Castration Theory, developed by the Swiss Psychoanalyst Judith Le Soldat:

Acquiring and using the phallus is linked to the oedipal crime having castrated mother and father, and therefore raises guilt and castration anxiety.

Castration Theory postulates that in revenge for the frustration of our passive and active infantile genital wishes we castrate our parents. This produces overwhelming guilt feelings and castration anxiety because we fear the revenge of the castrated parents.

Later on, every success in life, everything we take, is unconsiously equal to having castrated and robbed the trophy, and even, to avoid being revenged, having killed the parents (this by magical thinking and reviving our parents with our genital wishes, leads to even greater revenge anxieties, fear of revenants killing us).

For us psychoanalysts, everything we have learned from Freud, from all the other psychoanalytic theorists, from our own personal analysts, from our supervisors, is considered as a castration trophy. We feel unconsciously guilty of having it, and if we do not confront this guilt and analyse it, we defend against it by creating unconcious phallic inhibitions.

This is the case when analysts do not use their analytic capacities, when they hold back knowledge.


8: The Defenses of the Analysts

The phallic inhibitions of analysts have many faces: We can see it in the creativity inhibtion of many analysts, in the inhibitions in daily clinical practice…

They do not allow themselves to intervene analytically…

They do not allow themselves to seduce clients for analysis proper…

They do not apply psychoanalytical thinking to their own problems, as well to the problem of their children, their beloved ones, their friends…they hide their treasure…and rationalize this inhibition by adhering to an exaggerated ideal of abstinence…

They do not speak out loud their analytical position in the public sphere, they restrict themselves to working clinically, and even there, they do not enjoy being analysts…

They identify themselves with the cultural aggression, they argue defensively against Freud bashing positions…

They are not proud of being psychoanalysts…

And so on…

This phallic inhibition is a neurotic symptom as every phallic inhibition is… they hide their best piece…they defend against coping with their castration anxieties and guilt consciously…and analyse the fantasies and feelings connected with successful functioning…

9: Perspectives

What should analysts do?

First, they should perceive and diagnose their phallic inhibitions. To be symptomatic is no shame, if you properly analyse it…

Second, they should analyse their inhibitions using the psychoanalytic method AND the psychoanalytic theory

Third, they should go out and speak…

  • In their individual career
  • In the organizations where they work: They should build up courage to fight and to win…but filter out primitive aggression and contempt…tame the inner monster and use it for fairplay and success
  • In culture and society: we have to use aggression to put it into productive channels!

So please, colleagues, to speak with Bob Marley: Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights! For the rights of all human beings, for the purpose of conquering the Unconscious, riding the tiger!

Thank you!