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  • Beyond the BreachPsychoanalysis, Deconstruction, and Therapeutic Action
  • Brian Kloppenberg (bio)

In his classic contribution to the field, “The Nature of the Therapeutic Action of Psychoanalysis” (1934), James Strachey draws upon both Freudian and Kleinian ideas about the structural model of the psyche in order to define his own vision of an interpretive process that has the power to fundamentally alter the mental organization of the analysand. In so doing, he is quite specific about the repetitive ways in which the neurotic patient conflates the analyst with internal archaic objects—both archaically good and bad internal objects—thereby transforming the analyst into a “phantasy object” (1969, 281). For Strachey, as long as this dedifferentiating process—what he calls, following Klein, the neurotic vicious cycle—dominates the analytic situation, no therapeutic action can take place.

Thus, therapeutic action as such requires what Strachey calls a “breach” that “could somehow or other be made in the vicious cycle” (280). This breaching action could, in theory, disrupt the incessant conflationary activity on the part of the analysand that makes it impossible to encounter life beyond the severe restrictions of the phantasmagorical vicious cycle of neurosis. In order to effect such a disruption, the analyst must find a way to impress upon the patient a fundamental difference between who she or he is and how the analysand has transformed her or him into a fantasy object. The introduction of this differential by the analyst—via what Strachey calls the auxiliary superego—is a tenuous process [End Page 67] that requires the analyst’s vigilance and ingenuity. Over time, it holds the promise of opening new ways of being for the analysand as she or he becomes able to relate to the analyst and the analytic situation as both “real” and “contemporary” (281).

What does Strachey mean when he describes the analyst and the analytic situation as “real” and “contemporary”? And what sort of “breaching” in the psychic economy of the analysand would have to take place in order for an encounter with the reality of the analyst as a contemporary object to come about? And how do these questions relate to the notion that is often assigned to Strachey and his theory of therapeutic action, by which the analysand makes therapeutic advancement by way of an identification with the analyst’s more benign superego, especially when Strachey himself names such a process “reassurance,” and rigorously distinguishes it from a kind of therapeutic contact with the “real” analyst: “reassurance may be regarded as behavior on the part of the analyst calculated to make the patient regard him as a ‘good’ phantasy object rather than a real one” (285). Certainly there must be more to Strachey’s ideas about the analytic process—above all, the nature of the mutative interpretation—than the dominant reception of his essay would indicate.

If it is not already evident, my aim in asking these questions about Strachey’s contribution to a psychoanalytic theory of therapeutic action is to propose a renewed consideration of what Strachey may have to offer the psychoanalysis of today. While such consideration could arrive from a variety of locations, I will be taking up various aspects of Strachey’s text at the intersection of psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Indeed, my introductory remarks on Strachey may have already telegraphed some of the resonances I find between Strachey’s analytic thinking and the various ways in which deconstruction goes about its business. Is not deconstruction a kind of breaching of metaphysics? And does not metaphysics enact its own kind of vicious, cyclical closure via rigid binary systems—systems, moreover, that bring to mind Strachey’s neurotic patient, caught up in the oscillation between two fantasies—one involving the archaic good object, [End Page 68] another the archaic bad object? If these resonances suggest the possibility of a renewed thinking about Strachey’s contribution to psychoanalysis, might they not also suggest the possibility of a renewal of thinking about therapeutic action at the intersection of psychoanalysis and deconstruction? These are the questions I will take up in the name of more dynamic modes of therapeutic action and—even as—deconstruction.1

Several preliminary discussions must take place in order to...


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