Donald Moss, "At War with the Obvious: Disruptive Thinking in Psychoanalysis" (Routledge, 2018)


What does Donald Moss have against common sense, Captain Obvious, sincerity, and everything duh!? At War with the Obvious: Disruptive Thinking in Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2018) turns to culture and the clinic to reach beneath semblance, the lure of affect, and the comforts of doxa, and to discuss “erotic thought,” rupture, and conceptual transgression. Moss is interested in how flashes of profound epistemological disorientation and isolation are transmuted into potentiality and theory: from fragmenting “zones of uncertainty” and the suffocating flood of experience we might -- as analysts, artists, writers, and political actors -- manage our way back to sociality and thinking, safely ashore and reconstituted but not the same. As in his previous books, Moss writes courageously, revealing his own periodic struggles with smugness and easy solutions – moments when he, unable to analyze or gather himself – lashed out, fled, and recovered with great difficulty. In a particularly compelling chapter, Moss describes his experience of terror, shame, and rage when a violent patient threatens to hit him in the face and leaves the consulting room shouting “faggot!” The epithet later erupts in Moss as he waits on a subway platform next to an effeminate man and resounds in the reader as Moss parses his identifications and disidentifications, both with the ostensibly gay stranger and with physical and psychic vulnerability. In the chapter, “On thinking and not being able to think,” Moss reflects on what happens when he observes objects, specifically performance art and documentary photographs, and endures an unexpected collapse of the frame, a sudden loss of legibility. Moss recounts such a disintegration while viewing photos of Abu Ghraib, and attributes it not to the photos’ disturbing subject matter but to their uncanny registering of his look: when the spectator’s gaze appears within the framed spectacle his subjectivity is obliterated. Captured by the photograph, losing his privileged perspective and link to other audience members, Moss is momentarily rendered an object. Without a stable “I” he is unable to interpret. He concludes that the capacity to create a new frame and thereby regain distance depends on the re-establishment of a transferential “we” -- a refinding of one’s place among an expanded and transformed community of viewers and readers. The book’s most original and moving chapter, “I and You,” is the result of a yearlong collection of patients’ utterances. Moss wrote down one sentence from every session, collated each day’s lines, and published them in abridged form in At War With the Obvious (all 154 days are presented in a separate book). Together they constitute a dirge, a mournful cry made no less searing by its unstable and acousmatic authorship.
Anna Fishzon, PhD is Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol, UK. She is a candidate at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR) and author of Fandom, Authenticity, and Opera: Mad Acts and Letter Scenes in Fin-de-siecle Russia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Her articles have appeared in Slavic Review, The Candidate Journal, Russian Literature Journal, Slavic and East European Journal, Laboratorium, and other academic publications. She can be reached at

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