Head Case

In theory and practice, psychoanalysis flourishes in academia

Efforts are under way to reintegrate the theoretical and therapeutic currents. Several of the city's institutes, including the three major ones, offer programs for scholars. The professors and graduate students who enroll take the course but don't undergo clinical training or analysis themselves. For institutes affiliated with universities, there are other ways to join debates. Members of NYU Psychoanalytic have participated in NYU's burgeoning interdisciplinary conferences, where they have addressed such topics as film and torture from a psychoanalytic angle.

For some, recent events provide inexhaustible fodder for Freudian interpretations. Ellen Willis, director of NYU's cultural- journalism program, has written on the sexual symbolism of the destruction of the twin towers and is working on a book about psychoanalysis and politics, in which she pleads to revive the notion "that the psychosexual idea is important to politics." She argues that the resurgence of fundamentalism is "very much based on sexual conflict and guilt." In conservative cultures with political problems, "rage about repressed sexuality may be displaced onto real political grievances."

Her proposals have met with discomfort and incredulity. She is not, she emphasizes, advocating psychosexual analysis as a replacement for geopolitical study. To pose a psychosexual inquiry is not to suggest that Osama just needs a good shrink (or a good lay). In academic theory, as in clinical practice, psychoanalysis can be most effectively enlisted in conjunction with other approaches.

Sometimes, a twin tower is just a twin tower. But knee-jerk dismissal of psychoanalytic ideas impoverishes our interpretive language. Aptly deployed, psychoanalysis might yet find its most useful applications.

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