The Work of Psychoanalysis
Sexuality, Time and the Psychoanalytic Mind
When the Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis writes a book about the work of psychoanalysis, interested parties ought to take notice. But alas, the world of psychoanalysis speaks many languages and readers often choose authors who speak their own tongue. The Work of Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2017) by Dana Birksted-Breen, while written in English, listens to international voices in the psychoanalytic community and considers them from the perspective of an analyst who is a multilingual traditionalist with a contemporary ear. The subtitle of the book, Sexuality, Time and the Psychoanalytic Mind, illustrates the point. The author adheres to a French-inflected Freudian premise that sexuality is foundational to psychoanalytic work while at the same time pushing forward the frontiers of theory with her reflections on the theme of time. These reflections are fresh, original, and convincing essays on the temporal processes that are essential to the psychoanalytic endeavor.
Birksted-Breen’s book addresses the topic announced in the title—the work of psychoanalysis, taking up questions of sexuality, identity, and time. A central chapter on the “penis-as-link” demonstrates her capacity for honoring, reconciling, and cleaning up theoretical muddles while giving birth to a novel concept. While this chapter focuses on the male member, its conceptualization arises from decades of thinking about the feminine in psychoanalysis. Many readers are likely to take away a renewed understanding and appreciation of the centrality of the feminine and of time as components of the psychoanalytic mind.
Dr. Birksted-Breen was born in New York, raised in Paris, and trained in London. In the book, she virtually bridges the channel by integrating key ingredients of the French and British traditions but does not quite cross the pond, citing theoretical emphases that distance her from the American love affair with relational psychoanalysis. She does not criticize other schools but cautions that each one has its own “grammar” that limits any multi-lingual project and obligates the writer to situate the intellectual ancestry of every psychoanalytic term as a necessary discipline for theoretical consistency.
Do not fear that the book is an exercise in psychoanalytic pedantry. On the contrary, I cannot imagine that all readers will not agree that Birksted-Breen’s book captures the essential spirit of our profession and presents a brilliant exposition of the uniquely compelling genius of this thing we call psychoanalysis.
Philip Lance, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles. He is candidate at The Psychoanalytic Center of California. He can be reached at [email protected]