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social sciences

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Psychoanalysis  
 
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In New York, German-born psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1885-1952) propounded an even more radically critical assessment of Freudian tenets. The revaluation of feminine sexuality and of the pre-Oedipal relation of the child to motherhood that Horney undertook eventually led her to abandon Freudian psychoanalytical theory altogether.

Without the emigration to America of the vast majority of West European analysts between the two world wars and the eager reception of their ideas, Freudian psychoanalysis would hardly have achieved its present-day worldwide recognition as a relevant cultural force. Although most psychoanalytical currents have developed in America, however, nothing comparable to the schools of thought of Melanie Klein or Jacques Lacan has emerged on American soil.

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Being more interested in therapeutic effectiveness than in systems of thought, American psychoanalysis stressed, from early on, the need to adapt the individual to her or his societal context. As is perhaps best shown by American Ego Psychology, the pragmatic and adaptive ideals prevalent in most American versions of psychoanalysis have often ignored the critical and emancipatory impulses in Freudian thought and in the work of his immediate followers. Early on, American psychoanalysis influenced and supported the IPA in its discriminatory policy against homosexuals seeking to become members of the organization.

Jacques Lacan and the École freudienne de Paris

In the history of post-Freudian psychoanalysis, Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) is the only great interpreter of the Freudian corpus whose intention was not to supersede its basic contentions, but to regain its original meaning and scope within a philosophical framework. Recurring to the existential analysis of Martin Heidegger, the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, and the anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Lacan sought to replace the biological anchorage of Freudian thought with a theory of the subject and the unconscious that was structured according to a linguistic model.

Under the guise of an interpretive return to the Freudian texts, Lacan developed an original system of psychoanalytical thought that included a distinct terminology and an original cure technique. Against the social adaptations of the ego propounded by what he termed somewhat disdainfully "American psychoanalysis," Lacan stressed the relevance of the unconscious and the id, and developed a deeper and more universal understanding of the Oedipal complex and the incest prohibition than the one propounded by Freud himself.

Free to a large extent from sexual prejudices, Lacan pleaded for a revitalization of Freudian tolerance with regard to alternate sexualities and consequently rejected the anti-homosexual discrimination prevalent in mainstream psychoanalysis.

In 1964, Lacan created the École freudienne de Paris (Freudian School of Paris) based on the ancient model of the Platonic academy as an alternative to the associative model of the official Freudian organizations, whose legitimacy was challenged by the EFP and other Lacanian-oriented groups. Lacan's oeuvre has become an indispensable point of reference of post-modern discourse, his texts having been closely discussed by philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.

Feminism and Psychoanalysis in France

Although not a pansexualist, Freud placed sexuality in the center of psychic life and regarded the acknowledgment of sexual difference as a condition of psychosexual maturity. Thus, not surprisingly, his body of work became a constant source of inspiration for those authors generally considered to belong to the core canon of women's, gender, and studies.

Tellingly, Luce Irigaray (born 1932), one of the most distinctive figures within feminist thought in the late twentieth century, is a psychoanalyst by profession and at the same time a keen critic of psychoanalysis. Although Jacques Lacan had initially been her mentor, Irigaray lost her university post soon after the publication of Speculum, de l'autre femme (1974), a work propounding radical feminist positions.

Her main objection against Freudian psychoanalysis is that it has been incapable of examining critically the genesis and claims of its own patriarchical and phallocentric discourse. Since, according to Irigaray, the sexual regime of patriarchy is one of disregard for the sexual difference of women, Western civilization is based not on parricide (as Freud taught), but on matricide.

Opposing basic Freudian (and Lacanian) tenets from her own emancipatory version of a psychoanalysis of culture, Irigaray seeks to unearth the socio-politically repressed connection to feminine difference as a means to achieve a general feminization of human sexuality.

Despite her commitment to women's empowerment, however, Irigaray is far from subscribing to the theses of radical lesbianism as propounded by authors such as Adrienne Rich or Monique Wittig.

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