Revolutions and RevoltsBook tickets
Psychoanalysis and Politics
CALL FOR PAPERS
The outside world is currently watching with excitement as well as horror the protests taking place in Iran against a regime which brutally assaults and murders the citizens who stand up against it. The slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” centres on the elements the regime suppresses; its female citizens primarily, and the fundamental rights to live and to think and act freely. In this context, Gohar Homayounpour (2023) refers to “the birth of a new female epic hero”, and along with previous revolts in Iran, it echoes the title of Juliet Mitchell’s (1971) article, “Women: The Longest Revolution”, which points to the neglect of the problem of women’s condition within socialist thinking, and emphasises the importance of combining attention to experiences of oppression with analyses of the uneven development of oppressive structures.
As a parallel to what Freud (1919) observed – “heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich” – the words “revolution” and “revolt” have a shared origin, both ultimately going back to the Latin revolvere, “to revolve, roll back.” When the term “revolution” first appeared in English in the 14th century, it referred to the movement of a celestial body in orbit; that sense was extended to “a progressive motion of a body around an axis,” “completion of a course,” and other senses suggesting regularity of motion or a predictable return to an original position. At virtually the same time, the word developed a sharply different meaning, namely, “a sudden radical, or complete change,” apparently from the idea of reversal of direction implicit in the Latin verb. “Revolt,” which initially meant “to renounce allegiance,” grew from the same idea of “rolling back,” in this case from a prior bond of loyalty. We might link this process to the compulsion to repeat, and to the need to repeat, to conjure up “a piece of real life”, as “one cannot overcome an enemy who is absent”, and to the significance of working through, “a course which cannot be avoided nor always hastened.” “Reification”, wrote Russell Jacoby, is a social illusion which “works to preserve the status quo by presenting the human and social relationships of society as natural – and unchangeable – relations between things. What is often ignored in expositions of the concept of reification is the psychological dimension: amnesia – a forgetting and repression of the human and social activity that makes and can remake society. The social loss of memory is a type of reification – better: it is the primal form of reification.”
The psychoanalytic decentring of the ‘I’ and its emphasis on understanding unconscious forces of oppression as well as the liberatory potential of reconciliation with the ‘it’ stands against the dominant view of human beings and social relations. Furthermore, its refusal of a sharp distinction between ‘the individual’ and ‘the social’ lays the basis for reimagining social relations. Psychoanalytic theory tells us that the ‘I’ is not ‘the master in its own house’, that the idea of total autonomy is a fiction. Psychoanalytic practice, on the other hand, aims at increasing one’s degree of freedom – freedom is conceived of as gradual rather than absolute – via ‘working through’ of material that blocks one’s capacity for vision, thus enabling alternative paths of action. Both Barnaby Barratt (2016) and Jill Gentile (2016) have linked the psychoanalytic practice of free association to radical liberation – a freedom of thought and imagination which open up new possibilities for being and living.
In reflecting on Freud’s practice of listening, Abramson (1984) emphasised the link between what one might describe as psychoanalysis’ respect for subjectivity and its stand against manipulation: “Freud’s practice of therapy […] implicitly ruled out the efficacy of manipulating the patient from the outside – as if human minds were objects like any other objects, movable by electric shocks, chemical drugs, orgone boxes, or mineral baths. There remained an irreducible sense in which the human being must be approached as his own subject – as a participant in the constitution of his experiences”. Compared to such methods as lobotomy, ECT and arguably, CBT, Auestad (2005) argued, psychoanalysis can be said to have an opposite aim; “where the former are based on the principle of the removal of painful emotional states and/or memories of painful experiences whether physically or by means of ‘techniques of thought’, without noticing what these are about, psychoanalytic method would aim to detoxify the emotion/memory/experience, to make it bearable so that it can be reintegrated, lived with as part of oneself. Rather than (metaphorically) amputating what causes pain and distress, a psychoanalytic take would be to show that it can be spoken about and borne and validated by a listening other – and mourned – so that it would lose its explosive power after having acknowledged, accepted and shared.” As Freud (1914) reminds us, to remember something in this context means to remember it as mine, not someone else’s or something distant or remote, but a live force, “a piece of his personality, which has solid grounds for its existence and out of which things of value for his future life have to be derived”. We may ask how such insight, such reconciliation, links with liberatory practice aimed at social change on a smaller or larger scale, and what authentic liberation might mean to us today. What might we learn from previous attempts at revolts and revolution? What does it take to initiate radical change, and what are the pitfalls of this impulse?
The political meaning of ‘revolution’, to “overthrow of an established political or social system” is recorded by c. 1600, derived from French into English. Since then, we have witnessed a number of revolutions, failed as well as successful. In more recent times, we might think of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and environmentalist actions among others. While the title of this conference is inspired by the ongoing Iranian revolution, it may also be taken to refer to a range of different revolutions and revolts, revolutionary moments in an individual’s or group’s life, or to psychoanalysis as revolutionary. We encourage contributions that consider revolutions and revolts from different geographical perspectives and in different locations, and that engage with different aspects of this theme, in the past as well as in our present.
This is an interdisciplinary conference – we invite theoretical contributions and historical, literary or clinical case studies on these and related themes from philosophers, sociologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, group analysts, literary theorists, historians, anthropologists, and others. Perspectives from different psychoanalytic schools will be most welcome. We promote discussion among the presenters and participants, for the symposium series creates a space where representatives of different perspectives come together, engage with one another’s contributions and participate in a community of thought. Therefore, attending the whole symposium is obligatory. Due to the nature of the forum audio recording is not permitted.
Presentations are expected to take half an hour. Another 20 minutes is set aside for discussion. There is a 10 min break in between each paper. Please send an abstract of 200 to 300 words, attached in a word-document, to psychoanalysis.politics[at]gmail.com by March 20th 2023. We will respond by, and present a full programme on March 30th 2023.
This is a relatively small symposium where active participation is encouraged and an enjoyable social atmosphere is sought. A participation fee, which includes one shared three course dinner with wine, of € 379 before April 5th 2023 – € 449 between April 6th 2023 and May 2nd 2023 – € 549 after May 2nd, is to be paid before the symposium.
Your place is only confirmed once we have received your registration including your payment. Additional information will be given after your abstract has been accepted or after the programme has been finalized.
We would like to thank the Norwegian Psychoanalytical Society.
Depending on your tax regime, it is likely that you can put the participant’s fee towards your private practice. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer travel grants or other forms of financial assistance for this event, though we will aim to make a reservation at a nearby hotel with a group discount. You will contact this (or another) hotel individually to book your room. Please contact us if you wish to make a donation towards the conference. We thank all donors in advance!
NB: Please make sure you read the Guide for abstracts thoroughly.
Abramson, J. B. (1984) Liberation and its Limits. The Moral and Political Thought of Freud. London: The Free Press/Collier MacMillan Publishers.
Auestad, L. (2005) Respect, Plurality, and Prejudice: A Psychoanalytical and Philosophical Enquiry into the Dynamics of Social Exclusion and Discrimination. London: Karnac/Routledge.
Barratt, B. (2016) Radical Psychoanalysis: An Essay on Free-Associative Praxis. London: Routledge.
Freud, S. (1914) Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through. SE, vol 24.
Freud, S. (1919) The Uncanny. SE, vol 17.
Gentile, J. (2016) Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire. London: Karnac/Routledge.
Homayounpour, G. (2023) “The birth of a new female epic hero in “the subversive feminist revolt” of our times in Iran. Towards an ethics of life” A Political Mind Special, Jan. 20th https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/civicrm/event/info%3Fid%3D1344%26reset%3D1
Jacoby, R. (1975) Social Amnesia. A Critique of Conformist Psychology from Adler to Laing. Sussex: The Harvester Press.
Mitchell, J. (1971) “Women: The Longest Revolution” https://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/mitchell-juliet/longest-revolution.htm