Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Enough About The Unconscious Already

I promise this will, at least for a while, be the last post on this subject, but I just have to come to the point all this was, I hope, leading up to. (Oh, all right, ‘To which all this was leading up.’ Oh. ‘Up to which all this was leading’, OK?)

We have, if not established, then at least strongly suggested that in the psychoanalytic relation, even more than in other human relations, language is vitally important. (‘Duh. Surely it’s important in nearly all human relations?’) Yes, but especially important here, and there are human relations in which it is of no importance at all: every summer here in this little Greek island I see Greek and German children who are old enough to be fluent in their own language, but not any other; who are not yet old enough to go to school in fact, playing together. And the fact that they have not one single word in common is not a ‘minor obstacle’ to be ‘overcome’; the ‘problem’ doesn’t even arise. They don’t even notice, at the time anyway, that they can’t really talk to each other, though they may remark later to their parents that ‘That boy who’s staying next door talks really funny.’

But that’s by the way: in psychoanalysis, a common language is vital; the whole enterprise doesn’t just collapse, it can’t even start, if there’s no common language. Interpretations of dreams, ‘slips of the tongue’, ‘unusual’ behaviour, invariably rely on linguistic play. This has a particular personal significance for me: my own analytically oriented psychotherapist (Yes, like a character in a Woody Allen film, I have one) is in fact French. True, her English is perfect: she is bilingual in French and English. I happen to be bilingual in Greek and English. She knows no Greek, and I speak French vachement, that is to say, comme une vache l’espagnole. So when she offers an interpretation it is in English, but it is surely likely to be coloured by her life-long immersion in French language and culture. And my interpretations will be coloured by forty years immersion in Greek language and culture.

So my question is, how much does this matter? Is it a good thing, opening up new areas of the unconscious to investigation, areas that might not be accessible in a monolingual relation? Or is it a bad thing, likely to slow us down or lead to misunderstandings? (Though in psychoanalysis there is I think no such thing as a ‘misunderstanding’). Well I dunno. I think there is only one person who might be able to answer that, namely Adam Phillips. And I think his answer would be ‘I can’t answer your question’.

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