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  • Questioning Authority: Essays in Psychoanalysis 1970-1996
  • George J. Makari
Questioning Authority: Essays in Psychoanalysis 1970-1996. Stanley A. Leavy. Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford, 2005. 223 pp. $20.00 (pb).

When an author asks us to question authority, we might wonder whether we have been lured into a hall of mirrors. Will he question only the authority of others and ask us to take his own authority for granted? Or will the author disappear into a self-reflexive maze, turning his work, to paraphrase Nietzsche, into a dialogue between a question and a question mark?

Stanley A. Leavy has asked many probing questions over his forty years as a maverick psychoanalyst. He was struck by the phrase "Question Authority" when he saw it on bumper stickers during the 1960s. It seemed to resonate with his own questioning of psychoanalytic assumptions and dictums. And like the bumper stickers on the back of an old V.W. bug, Leavy's compilation of published essays reminds us of a turbulent but not so distant past.

Having been trained in the orthodoxy of American ego psychology, Leavy was a man looking for a way out. In the first essay in this collection, published in 1970, Leavy embraced John Keats's notion of "negative capability" as a justification for a more open engagement with patients and a more ecumenical stance toward other psychoanalytic theories. Rather than analyze by rote Keats's Oedipus complex, Leavy proposed that psychoanalysis learn from the poet. Ultimately, however, this essay is unsatisfying, for Keats has little other guidance to offer psychoanalysts. "Negative capability" was but a place to start for Leavy. It was the opening shot from a rebel who still had no cause.

The next four papers showcase a man who had discovered his cause. During the 1970s, French critical theory landed on a very distant Left Bank: New Haven. At Yale (as well as other universities such as Johns Hopkins, Brown, and Berkeley), structuralism and poststructuralism took hold, creating great [End Page 119] excitement among literary scholars and humanists. Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, and others embraced linguistics, semiotics, hermeneutics, Saussure, Ricouer, and Lacan. So, too, did this Yale clinical professor of psychiatry. In 1977, Stanley Leavy was one of the first psychoanalysts with standing in the American Psychoanalytic Association to present the work of Jacques Lacan to that recalcitrant audience. Thus began Leavy's attempts to develop a dialogue between these two "thought collectives"—to use Ludwig Fleck's term (1935)—and his attempt to use each system of thought to question the authority of the other.

In these essays, Leavy did not continue to push for "negative capability," but rather searched for fresh positive claims upon which to ground psychoanalysis as the grand edifice of American ego psychology began to crack. He used Lacan's insights to elaborate new rules for psychoanalytic interpretation. How do analysts find deep structures and regular patterns of signification in the clinical encounter? Leavy discounted extraclinical information coming from neurobiology, developmental research, and the direct observation of children. Instead, he embraced Lacan's notion that the clinical encounter was a web of signification, and he looked to the analysis of dialogue, the roles of metaphor and metonymy, as well as a close examination of free association and transference.

This effort was encouraged by French critical theory and the notion that subjects can be read like texts. Leavy's efforts also linked up with a small band of American psychoanalysts who were trying to root analytic theory in (mostly Chomsky's) linguistics. That effort was pressed forward by, among others, Victor Rosen, Theodore Shapiro, Hartvig Dahl, and Leavy's Yale colleague, Marshall Edelson. Leavy's work also can be read alongside the efforts of Roy Schafer and Donald Spence to make psychoanalysis a hermeneutic enterprise. Today, these attempts seem to have faded. Skepticism regarding the mixing of biological facts with human meanings has also receded, allowing "neuropsychoanalysis" and empirical studies to forge ahead. If "signifier" and "hermeneutics" were the banners for change in 1977, the cry for PET scans is one of the loudest heard today.

But in another way, Leavy's efforts were quite prescient. Lacan's theory undermined...


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