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American Imago 59.4 (2002) 435-445

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The Role of Love in the Therapeutic Action of Psychoanalysis

Judith E. Vida

"Powerful in [Iris Murdoch] was the love of human differences and of personal idiosyncrasy. . . . Stones were for [her] a natural symbol of individuality. . . . [N]o two natural stones, when examined closely, will turn out to be exactly alike. . . . [T]he scientist and the technologist, perhaps self-consciously and harmlessly, substitute an abstraction from the reality for the reality itself, which is always in the last analysis a collection of individuals. . . . When the individuals under consideration are persons, not stones, the result is unlikely to be harmless. There is loss."

—Stuart Hampshire, "The Pleasure of Iris Murdoch"

My epigraph speaks to "individuals"—and in this context I am using it to refer to individual experiences and definitions of love. I do not think it is fair to talk about love in a general way, in a generic way. Each instance of love is unique to the circumstance and to the persons who are involved. Glen Gabbard has framed the panel for us with tendefinitions of "love" that are witty and trenchant. 1 But they point to vulnerability and longing rather than exist in vulnerability and longing, although my guess is that, at heart, these selections are probably quite personal to Glen. I can't talk about love in impersonal language. For me, "love" demands the language of experience, and of personal experience, not the language of theory and metatheory, and certainly not a language of emotional distance. So, what I say here about "love" is about me, not about "you," and not about "them." [End Page 435]

To approach "love," I have to start with some personal history of "unlove" (a kind of exile). The American Psychoanalytic Association and I have been in uneasy relation to one another for nearly three decades, during which time I have been intensely aware of this, and it, scarcely at all. Our mutual suspicion concerns the human condition, and how differently we ("it" and I) approach it. My increasing unhappiness with the universalizing language of psychoanalysis and certain coercive organizational hierarchical structures led to a condition of exile. But exile has its uses, and in the paradoxical way that "psychoanalysis" can sometimes be extremely helpful in its negative dialectical form, without this experience with the American Psychoanalytic Association I might not have discovered the basic integrity that showed up in my decision not to apply for certification. To join this panel is a tentative return from exile, a return that may actually have begun a couple of years ago when Glen Gabbard invited me to do a book review, which I did (Vida 2000), and he liked it.

Today is probably also related to my having been closely engaged with Sándor Ferenczi for more than a decade. Ferenczi, from the conservative point of view, is still the absolute psychoanalytic bête noir when it comes to "love." What can it mean, and mean to me, that I am here—that I was invited, and that I accepted? For the moment, I think it means that the American Psychoanalytic Association, Glen Gabbard, and I are behaving hospitably, giving each other another chance, sniffing each other to see if, after all, there might be a dialogue—in other words, to discover whether love is yet possible. It will take time to see if it is, yet I wanted to tell you this, so you would know that something personal is alive in this room.

More and more I think it is a good idea to live long enough for the other side of things to show up. Simone de Beauvoir is reported to have summed this up with the words, "If you live long enough, every triumph will turn into a tragedy." My younger son in his first semester at college presented a more hopeful version when he said, "It is amazing how much you can learn from someone you disagree with," and I have certainly found this to be true, but only when I...


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