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  • Commentary on “Non-Cartesian Frameworks”
  • James Phillips (bio)

Whither psychoanalytic theory and practice? This is the question raised by Louis Berger as he confronts psychoanalysis’s response to the collapse of Cartesianism that has shaken the foundations of other humanist disciplines (as well as the natural sciences) and has finally caught up with Freud’s heirs. Anyone wanting evidence of this shakeup in psychoanalysis need only consult the final 1994 issue of the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. For the seventy-fifth anniversary edition of the journal, the editors organized a symposium on “The Conceptualization and Communication of Clinical Facts in Psychoanalysis.” In his foreword to the 300-page issue, the editor, David Tuckett (1994, 865–70), evokes the theoretical pluralism that has beset the field and asserts what is the presupposition of all the articles that follow: There are no theory-free facts, and the challenge now is to deal with this reality.

I think I can assume, however, that for Berger these papers would mostly fall into his category of “not going far enough.” He invokes a Cartesian representationalism, critiqued variously by Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Castoriadis, that continues to infect even such discussions of fact and theory in psychoanalysis as those in the landmark volume of the International Journal. Thus, though that volume may represent the official announcement of the death of positivism in psychoanalysis, it stops short of announcing the profession’s entry into the postmodern era. Indeed, it should be noted that in much contemporary discussion, an awareness of the issues of theoretical pluralism and fact/theory dilemmas rests quite comfortably with the most blatant examples of representational thinking. The object-relations tradition, for instance, remains such a dominant force that most of us would have a hard time giving up our talk of internal objects and internal representations.

Berger’s presentation of the three critics of representational thought is clear and enlightening. The inclusion of Castoriadis is important because he, unlike Heidegger and Wittgenstein, is a clinician. Berger’s application of this critique of representation to psychoanalysis, and specifically to the question of the theory/practice relationship, is also developed in a meaningful way. (For a development of the critique of representational thinking that emphasizes the role of Locke in expanding the Cartesian tradition, see Nasser 1994.) Since I am in agreement with the thrust of Berger’ s presentation and have little to add to it, I will focus my comments on one area that I think does warrant further discussion—the relations between the postmodern and other postempiricist or postpositivist traditions. Although some writers (e.g., Leary 1994; Silverman 1994) tend to group movements such as postmodernism, hermeneutics, [End Page 187] and social constructionism together, Berger’s argument singles out postmodernism as the only truly nonrepresentational postempiricist movement.

Of the other non-Cartesian traditions, Berger says that “their tacit retention of representationalism (including its concomitant, the theory/practice dichotomy) demonstrates their failure to identify, adequately understand, or avoid key Cartesian difficulties and limitations. They fail to appreciate the effects which accompany enframing.” He adds later: “I have been making my point with examples drawn mostly from the American Middle School, but I submit that any analytic position that invokes models or analogous logical formalisms—e.g., hermeneutic, self-psychological, constructionist, action linguistic—is subject to the identical criticisms.” I wish to take up the case of hermeneutics and question whether its differentiation from postmodernism does indeed revolve around the issue of representational thought. Sorting this issue out will bear on the final conclusions of Berger’s paper. It is true, as Berger points out, that hermeneutic discussion in psychoanalysis often involves a comparison of (representationally articulated) models; but that is not the whole story regarding hermeneutics. Remember, after all, that Heidegger—directly in Being and Time (1962, 62), and indirectly through his profound influence on Gadamer—was a pivotal figure in the development of hermeneutics. Heidegger considered his analysis of man’s precognitive enmeshment in the world to be a “hermeneutic of Dasein.” For his part, Gadamer’s analysis of man’s relations to others and to the world concludes in a relationship that is mediated through a language that is fully dialectical and...

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