In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Barnaby Barratt's Polemics
  • Stephen Frosh (bio)
What is Psychoanalysis? 100 Years After Freud's 'Secret Committee.' London: Routledge, 2013, 240 pages.
Radical Psychoanalysis: An Essay on Free-associative Praxis. London: Routledge, 2016, 242 pages.
Beyond Psychotherapy: On Becoming a (Radical) Psychoanalyst. London: Routledge, 2019, 218 pages.

Who Knows?

According to Barnaby Barratt, psychoanalysis "is the process of breaking-down assumptions. That is, of perpetually being willing to call oneself into question" (2019, p. 50). This is fortunate, because reading his trilogy, one might be forgiven for thinking that being willing to call oneself into question was not the mark of an experienced "radical" psychoanalyst. There is a great deal of certainty in these books. Everyone else is wrong. Most psychoanalysts—sometimes including Freud, especially in his post-1914 metapsychological works—are in fact just "psychoanalysts," the scare quotes being deliberate. Those who talk about psychoanalysis as "a relationship" usually "deteriorate into drivel when asked what sort of dyadic encounter makes this process distinctive" (2013, p. xv). Writers of "undergraduate textbooks in psychology" are "simple minded" (2013, p. 12) whilst little can be found in the "theoretical structures" of relational and intersubjectivist psychoanalysts, despite their "grandiose" claims, "to distinguish their conduct from a sophisticated version of the practices of counseling and coaching" (2013, p. 38). This is all from the opening salvos in the first book, but at least Barratt is consistent. The second volume criticizes pretty well all schools of psychoanalysis (ego [End Page 786] psychological, object relational, Kleinian, Lacanian) for retreating from Freud's radical decentering perception—the famous idea that "the ego is not master in its own house" (Freud, 1917, p.143). The third volume, which is largely a sustained critique of psychotherapy and of psychoanalytic training, concludes with what amounts to a summary of some of his major arguments against his colleagues:

the most powerful and pernicious resistance to psychoanalysis has always come from "psychoanalysts' themselves—not only all the alleged practitioners and wannabe practitioners, but also those who have, ignoring the necessity of free associative praxis, seized upon one aspect of the several theoretical models of the mind that Freud constructed after 1914 and then sought to amplify or modify these metapsychological speculations into their own model for the practice of 'psychoanalytically informed' psychotherapy.

(2019, p.79)

As it happens, though I might be mistaken, Volume 3 seems more moderate than Volume 1, so perhaps some calling-oneselfinto-question (to multiply hyphenations, in a phenomenological kind of way, as Barratt likes to do) has crept in, but this is a matter of degree: Barratt knows the truth of psychoanalysis, and not many other people do.

Some others do, of course; it is impossible to be within a discipline or praxis (praxis being another favored term) without acknowledging some predecessors. Volume 2 is dedicated to André Green and Jean Laplanche, with good reason, especially with regard to Laplanche. Laplanche's notions of decentering and recentering, Copernican and Ptolemaic processes, and the "fundamental anthropological situation" (2016, p. 99) are central to Barratt's argument and usually cited—though his claims to originality suffer somewhat from their absolute dependence on Laplanche's now well-known and cogent critique of Freudian backsliding. But this "leaning-on" Laplanche is to good effect, as it gives Barratt's polemic some grounding in the work of a first-rate philosophically oriented psychoanalyst whose systematic thinking on trauma and otherness is inspiring some of the most productive writing on how psychoanalysis might be deployed [End Page 787] to "radical" ends, both theoretically and politically (Fletcher, 2007). These ideas are of great significance for the field of psychoanalysis and for other areas of social theory—for instance, Judith Butler draws on them effectively in Giving an Account of Oneself (2005). Barratt does a service in developing them as part of his own effort to reconstruct psychoanalysis as he thinks it should be; whether or not they are not actually his ideas may not therefore really matter.

Anyway, spleen over; the turgid and aggressive nature of these texts is my excuse. Instead of taking offense at Barratt's belligerence and his belittling of those with whom he disagrees, it is more useful to look...


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