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A Note
Who Gets to be Criticized and Who Doesn't?

by Jean Hantman,

addressing the following:

1. What's up with criticizing the critic?
2. Is there a continuum between eccentricity and lunacy that is worthwhile examining?

Taking a peek at Adam Phillips on Roudinesco's biography of Lacan
and Linda Hopkins on Masud Khan

For a psychoanalyst who was the senior editor of the new Penguin collection of Freud's works to write in his review of Elizabeth Roudinesco's biography of Lacan that it is 'strange to wish' is strange.  J. Hantman

1. What's up with criticizing the critic?

Adam Phillips on Roudinesco's biography of Lacan: "He wanted psychoanalysis to be a science of self-deception, a proof against the old pieties. It would be strange to wish (italics mine) that he were more lovable, or honest, or familiar. His life is exemplary in the modern sense, not as a picture of virtue, or even as a struggle to live out some kind of personal truth, but rather as a question: How complicated can we allow people to be before we stop trusting them?" (Slate)


                The unconscious wishes, unbound.               
                To the psychoanalyst there are no strange wishes.
                For someone whose trust is so expansive, Adam Phillips is so untrustworthy to himself that he belongs to that cadre of psychoanalysts who hold firmly to the belief that the analyst's personal life should be untouched by the contaminated thoughts of the regular people, or anyone.
                And if the analyst's life becomes unlocked, accidentally or not, shut up about it: don't wish, unless it is some groovy quirk, like Ferenczi's groovy life, something that was personally appealing to Phillips.
                Motivated by consideration and open-mindedness (maybe), there is an element of author-secretiveness, some mysterious need to lock away the inevitable areas of badness (but whose?), because there is always good and bad.

                Okay, we get it. Everyone is good and bad.

                So if there is good in everyone, why condemn a discussion of the bad?
                Yes, who cares if Lacan blew his kids off on the street, totally ignoring them after having abandoned them for his favorite child? I still "trust" Lacan, despite his being a not-that-great Papa, because, for one amazing thing, he said: "the ego is frustration in its essence" (Ecrits), taking to task the North American idealization of the ego at the time, which was being perceived as a neat and tidy solution to the battle between the superego and the id.
                So who cares that Lacan wasn't a fab Dad?

                But, who cares if Roudinesco cares? For the psychoanalyst who edited the current the new Penguin collection of Freud's works to write that it is "strange to wish" is well, strange. The unconscious is wishes. It is the reason that the ego is "frustration in its essence". (Lacan, Ecrits)

                Why conceal our critical impressions (wishes) of the private lives of analysts, including Freud? Phillips and Hopkins don't care how their heroes lived outside of how they worked. This is my hero--so shut up with your negative impressions. But why? Why care about how these analysts, soul mechanics, are examined and wished about? Instead of living what he teaches--acceptance--Phillips' criticism of criticism is curious. He is pretty selective: critical of critics of people he admires, in other words. 
                "Why not?", he says to Roudinesco's dismay at something Lacan does.
                But why not?, to Roudinesco's dismay? It's just a feeling, her story.

2. Is there a continuum between eccentricity and menace that is worthwhile examining?

Amy Bloom on Hopkins' biography of Masud Khan:  "If I were a snob, a liar, a drunk, a philanderer, an anti-Semite, a violent bully, a poseur and a menace to the vulnerable, I would want Linda Hopkins to write my biography" (NY Times Book Review)

                Let's look at The Khan. Linda Hopkins makes a case for forgiveness in her recently-published biography of Masud Khan, that, though he was a "menace to the vulnerable", we should accept. Accept what? Violent bullying? Anti-semitism? Menacing the vulnerable? Going back to Phillips' question (how complicated can we allow people to be before we stop trusting them?) there seems to be a condemnation in modern psychoanalytic biography of the concept of masochism. (Phillips' euphemism "complicated" is sweet, let's face it.)
                For Phillips and Hopkins, and many other modern psycho-biographers and critics of psycho-biographers: as long as you're quirky and bright and make great insights, go ahead and beat the shit out of me. Get arrested. Fuck up your kids. And guess what. I promise to protect and protect and protect.
                In fact, instead of suggesting that you, my hero, might not understand the difference between an impulse and an action, I'll call you "complicated" instead of unconscious.

                Hopkins' implication that an analyst, or anyone, can do just about anything he wants, and get away with it--because people are always good and bad--is good and bad.
                It's a good-intentioned invitation, like Phillips', to be less rigid about our notions of right and wrong. That's good, since the history of psychoanalytic societies veered, in the 40's and 50's, into a ritualistic, time-wasting venture designed to deflect clinical ineptness by substituting rules for clinical research. (For example, it's "real" analysis if you lie on the couch four times a week, it's not  "real" analysis if you lie on the couch once a week. That's "therapy".)           
                There seems to be no place in psychoanalysts' psycho-biographies to examine the difference between eccentricity and lunacy, to even acknowledge a difference. Not for the sake of policing (though I do not mind policing, obviously); but for the sake of truth (the post-postmodernist is permitted to believe in truth.

                For instance, the truth is that there's a difference between a wish and an act of destruction. It is impossible to be strange for wishing, but possibly strange for acting destructively, especially when children are involved).

                All signs in contemporary psychoanalytic biography point to an aversion to discussing a continuum of lunacy/eccentricity (structure/rules-rigidity).
                One does not get the feeling from Hopkins' biography that she is signing a permission slip for bad behavior for all of us, by the way. It's for the selectively-chosen, those who say a few interesting things, or stand out from what Edward Glover called the "tyro" when referring to the psychoanalytic societies' apparatchiks.
                To the forgiving contemporary psychoanalyst biographer, if you're  talented, or appealing, or rebellious, or whatever else the biographer thinks is goodness, you are absolved, period. 

                 And there is an aversion to examining the motive behind the selectivity involved in criticizing the critic because that would require making distinctions, and that is so complicated.
                For people whose lives are steeped in psychoanalysis, the process that instructs us to say everything, there seems to abound an opposite wish in the literature: muddle a topic in order to take it nowhere, protect a bad object, lock up the secrets; or spill the secrets but refuse to distinguish eccentricity from lunacy.
                The Diagnostic Manuals are laughable (see, I'm criticizing too!), but that's not much of an excuse for completely trashing the complicated idea of making a distinction between desire and action.
                Of course the thing that comes in between "what do you want?" and "what will you do?" is talking, words, language, and more talking, words and language. Blessed Freud. He got it.

Jean Hantman, Ph.D.

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Cheltenham, PA 19012

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