Dr.Joel Whitebook, Philosopher and Psychoanalyst will discuss his book Freud: An Intellectual Biography
As Hegel observed, the “Objective Spirit” never stands still — an observation that is especially true today. As a result, members of every generation have to return to the classics and reappropriate them for themselves. This is what Joel Whitebook has done in his recently published intellectual biography of Freud (Cambridge University Press) that we will be discussing in this workshop.
Cutting through the tired clichés of the “Freud Wars,” the author presents us with a radically new portrait of the founder of psychoanalysis. Because Whitebook is a philosopher as well as a psychoanalyst, he has been able to integrate many of the profound transformations that have taken place in psychoanalytic theory and practice, infant research, gender studies, philosophy, and critical theory since Ernest Jones and Peter Gay published their canonical studies in the last century. Whitebook thereby succeeds in creating an account of Freud’s achievement that speaks to our cultural situation.
Furthermore, in addition to presenting the unfolding of Freud’s thinking in the context of the developments in his personal life and in the society at large, Whitebook has also succeeded in bringing this iconic man to life in compelling fashion. Where Freud often tried to protect himself by hiding behind the forbidding mask of an authoritarian patriarch and unbending rationalist, we come to see him as the vulnerable, complex, and all-too-human person that he was.
“Being dragged into the orbit of Webster’s mind is like entering the Magic Mountain: you go in as a visitor, and stay as a patient”
– Tom Mcarthy, author of Remainder and Satin Island
“Jamieson Webster’s new work reflects upon that aspect of hysteria—or conversion disorder—that has eluded the attention of most commentators: the indifference of the subject at the very moment that the symptom is most clearly enacted. This point of departure allows Webster to think about what the body contains but also what traverses the body at a level that is prior to speech, that is perhaps the condition of speech itself. This incisive and unsettling meditation gives us a form of psychoanalytic writing that tracks the transference as bodily transformation and impasse. It is written in and for our times, when the courage and difficulty of the slow labor of psychoanalysis provides a perspective that eludes the certitudes of dogma and the exhilarations of false promises. Webster’s book asks us to stay within the domain of difficult exchange where what registers and shifts at the level of the body lets us know more about what we can expect of life and what our own living carries of the lives of others. Beautifully written, theoretically brave, and disturbing in all the best ways”.
– Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory, University of California, Berkeley
From the book:
Conversion disorder—a psychiatric term that names the enigmatic transformation of psychic energy into bodily manifestations—offers a way to rethink the present. With so many people suffering from unexplained bodily symptoms; with so many seeking recourse to pharmacological treatments or bodily modification; with young men and women seemingly willing to direct violence toward anybody, including themselves—a radical disordering in culture insists on the level of the body.
Part memoir, part clinical case, part theoretical investigation, this book searches for the body. Is it a psychopathological entity; a crossroads for the cultural, political, and biological in the form of care; or the foundation of psychoanalytic work on the question of sexuality? Jamieson Webster traces conversion’s shifting meanings—in religious, economic, and even chemical processes—revisiting the work of thinkers as diverse as Benjamin, Foucault, Agamben, and Lacan. She provides an intimate account of her own conversion from patient to psychoanalyst, as well as her continuing struggle to apprehend the complexities of the patient’s body. When listening to dreams, symptoms, worries, or sexual impasses, the body becomes a defining trope that belies a vulnerable and urgent wish for transformation. Conversion Disorder names what is singular about the entanglement of the fractured body and the social world in order to imagine what kind of cure is possible.