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  • The Self Between: From Freud to the New Social Psychology of France
  • Andrew J. McKenna
The Self Between: From Freud to the New Social Psychology of France, by Eugene Webb; ix & 268 pp. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993, $35.00.

That psychology and sociology are one science is the fundamental premise guiding Eugene Webb’s The Self Between, which he defines early on as “a self constituted dynamically and continuously by the relationships it finds itself involved i n.” The “new social psychology of France” designated by his subtitle is mostly the one inspired by René Girard’s mimetic model of human behavior, to which four of Webb’s seven chapters are specifically devoted.

Girard’s idea, which he learned from our literary masterpieces, is that human desire is mimetic, that it imitates other desires in its choice of objects and in pursuit of their possession. As desires converge on a single object, the locus of conflict will be between subjects rather within their individual psyches, a consequence that motivates Girard’s ongoing critique of Freudian psychoanalysis.

But Freud’s theories are everywhere disputed in this book, which reports reliably on the devastating critiques advanced by François Roustang, Marie Balmary, and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. Roustang has convincingly (and entertainingly) uncovered Freud’s blindness to the pathologies of transference and discipleship investing the foundation of psychoanalysis. A pattern of rivalry for recognition and preeminence guides Freud’s career in a way that is reenacted around Lacan. Balmary, somewhat a Lacanian her self, has turned psychoanalytic theory against Freud to explore his own family secrets, while severely questioning the master’s bid for a universal theory pursued via self-analysis amidst a period of emotional upheaval. And Borch-Jacobsen has shown how th e dynamics of hypnosis that Freud rejected early on were brought back as transference, while arguing for his own part that mimetic identification with the other, rather than any primordial drives, is what brings the subject into being. These informat ive chapters help bring us up to date on significant debates that have developed since Lacan drew the French intellectual world, and so many Americans after it, into the orbit of psychoanalysis.

But by far the bulk of Webb’s attention goes to Girard’s work and to that of [End Page 191] scholars and practitioners who have sought to extend it further in the social sciences. Principle among them is Jean-Michel Oughourlian, whose Puppet of Desire (translated by Webb in 1991) demonstrates how the mimetic model plays out in psychotherapy, notably in the workings of hypnotism and somnambulism, in cases of demonic possession, and in obsessional neurosis. In each case, the subject is unwitt ingly captive of another’s desire in a way that produces behavioral anomalies and disorders that are nonetheless available to lucid, jargon-free diagnosis. What is appealing here is the deployment of a rational explanation for irrational behavior, once we grasp the paradoxical rationale of desire; equally appealing prospects of actual healing are outlined here and at the end of the book, where possibilities of freedom and responsibility are resurrected from a technical vocabulary that smothers them.

Girard’s idea of the self as relation, as interdividuality, rather than as a discreet unit, has social and political dimensions to which we only find tantalizing allusions in his works. They have been pursued with acumen by such writers as André Orléan, Paul Dumouchel and especially Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who figures importantly among those aligning systems theory with theories of social and economic organization. Like Borch-Jacobsen and Roustang, Dupuy restores due attention to concep tions of crowd behavior outlined at the end of the last century by Tarde and Le Bon, whose best insights Freud studiously discarded.

This is richly interdisciplinary work, strongly suggesting that we variously redraw and erase lines defining academic fields. Occam’s razor flicks often and decisively in these pages, which restore needed balance to the effects of some wild er French imports. Webb brings no new ideas of his own to this capable synthesis, but his accurate report will help guide researchers toward major recent developments in France around and mostly beyond Freudian psychoanalysis...

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pp. 191-192
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