Truth, Reality And The Psychoanalyst

Truth, Reality, and the Psychoanalyst: Latin American Contributions to Psychoanalysis

Edited by Sergio Lewkowicz & Silvia Flechner

Published by The International Psychoanalytical Association, 2005

308 pages

Sometime last century I found myself on a brief visit to Buenos Aries. I was amazed to find Freud on the streets. Everywhere I went in the city, the newspaper stands displayed paperback editions of the Standard Edition. It was a long time ago, and I don’t know if this is still the case, but it alerted me to a kind of cultural sophistication that was quite unknown to me. Fancy walking down Collins Street, stopping for a tram ticket and a bar of chocolate, and glancing through The Interpretation of Dreams while waiting for your change.

Not being a sociologist or a historian, I wondered what to make of what I saw on the streets of Buenos Aries but now, reading Truth, Reality, and the Psychoanalyst: Latin American Contributions to Psychoanalysis, I began to find some answers. There does seem to be a remarkably close exchange with the cultural milieu, which is influenced by psychoanalysis and, at the same time, influences it. I was struck by the formidable scholarship of many of the papers and the passionate engagement their authors have with other ways of seeing and understanding the human condition. Not only do the writers appear to draw inspiration and stimulation from other disciplines – philosophy, literature, linguistics – to name just a few - but they also appear to be confident that they have something valuable to contribute to the world outside their consulting rooms. With a few exceptions, Australian psychoanalysts are far more likely to keep a respectful distance and to remain silent about our cultural milieu. Except, of course, when we are behaving badly and assume a grandiose and hateful superiority to the rest of the world.

South America is the world’s fourth largest continent and consists of 13 countries. This continent is one of vibrant as well as terrible extremes. It conjures up both wonderful and shockingly disturbing phantasies. Even the most superficial knowledge of this part of the world – which is all I can claim – evokes exotic images of the empires of the Inca and the Aztec, the Amazon River, the Tango, the poets, artists and writers. We know too something of the darkness – the horror and awfulness of the place – it’s torture and brutal military regimes, the political instability, inflation, poverty and racial tension. As if we did not have enough to begin to get our minds around, there are more complexities to fathom. The IPA region of Latin America includes the Caribbean and Central America. We thus have a region with a total population of more than 500 million. If we then add the challenge of trying to understand how psychoanalysis – embedded in these diverse situations – has developed and contributed to our body of knowledge and experience, it is all too easy to shrug and give up the challenge. The editors of this book – the third published by the International Psychoanalysis Library – think this would be our loss.

Part of the point of this book was to elaborate the differences and similarities between Latin American psychoanalysis and that which is practised elsewhere, and to highlight what distinguishes the work of our Latin American colleagues. This is a huge task - perhaps as daunting as the vexed question of how we in Australia might better engage with the world around us. The conflict, echoed throughout the book, is acknowledged in the foreword in the words of the Brazilian poet, Carlos Drummond de Andrade who is quoted as a young writer:

“ World, world, big world, my heart is bigger.”

And, then again, correcting himself many years later:

“No, my heart is not bigger than the world.  It is smaller, much
smaller.  In it, there is no place even for my pains. … That is 
why I divest myself, I expose myself in the bookstores.  I need
everybody.”

The book is organised around the concept of author and discussant. There are chapters written by distinguished colleagues from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico. Discussants – also chosen carefully for the depth and breadth of their clinical and theoretical competencies – come from France, Italy, USA, Australia and Israel. Eight concepts were chosen which were felt to be representative of the unique developments and contributions of the region. These concepts, with a chapter devoted to each, are countertransference, field theory, psychoanalysis and linguistics, the experience of truth in clinical psychoanalysis, external and internal reality, psychic zones and the processes of unconscientization, dreams, and finally, child and adolescent psychoanalysis. The book is given a most helpful context by its introductory chapter written by Etchegoyen and Zysman in which they sketch the history of analysis in the region with the aim of tracking ideas and relating them to the social reality. We are mostly protected – in our part of the world – from the necessity of addressing, on a daily basis, the reality of working in extreme conditions where analysts find themselves with cruel ethical dilemmas. These matters – of utmost seriousness – are addressed with tact, integrity and openness.

The book is held together, as its title suggests, by its theme of a search for truth, an aim - as we are repeatedly reminded – that Freud particularly stressed. This search for truth is seen as one of the main challenges in the social and cultural reality faced not only by the pioneers psychoanalysis in Latin America, but also by analysts “in recent years, working under difficult conditions, under dictatorships, and in the midst of brutal social differences.”

This book will be of particular interest to clinicians that wish to broaden their engagement with other disciplines, most particularly to those who have followed the vicissitudes of Bion’s later work. It will also interest those who are familiar with the work of the Barangers and their concept of the analytic situation as a field – a concept that they first introduced over 40 years ago. Much has changed and the book provides a rare opportunity for English speakers to acquaint themselves with they way this concept has been developed and used in Latin America. I have, of necessity, skimmed over much else in the book.

Readers will have to judge for themselves what they make of this ambitious book which endeavours to build some bridges across the analytic divide.