Gila Ashtor, "Exigent Psychoanalysis: The Interventions of Jean Laplanche" (Routledge, 2021)


In Exigent Psychoanalysis: The Interventions of Jean Laplanche (Routledge, 2021), Dr. Gila Ashtor “strives to draw out the discipline’s conceptual underpinnings by putting them in conversation with Laplanche’s comprehensive innovations.” Ashtor engages with “the broadest and most fundamental concerns of psychoanalysis.” What is the nature of psychoanalytic theory? What is the unconscious? What causes mental suffering? Why does psychic life develop?

Acknowledging that while contemporary practitioners may work “flexibly across a range of different schools” they leave fundamental theories of mind “intact”. “What are we clinging to?” Ashtor asks. “The grammar of our discourse is filled with constructions we do not believe anymore yet we cannot bring ourselves to use a language other than the one Freud taught us”.

Laplanche believes we lost sight of the “true revolution” which is that “we revolve around others.” “There’s so much appreciation in Laplanche of the actual other person” Ashtor told me. “The core of Laplanche’s boldness is that when Freud abandons the seduction theory what he really abandoned is that we are impacted by other people. The impact is mediated by fantasy but there are other people there. Laplanche wants both fantasy and real otherness.”

Where has sexuality gone? Our default is to believe that our desires are endogenous. They are not. “The fact that the innocent infant encounters the sexual adult is the reason that the infant grows into an adult with an unconscious. It’s very productive this encounter. This is what’s going to give a child an unconscious.” For Ashtor, contemporary theory needs something that appreciates “the centrality of sexuality and drive even if how we think of drives needs to be reformulated.” We also need to appreciate the “concrete reality of attachment. There needs to be some way that we bring these two together.”

In this interview Dr. Ashtor and I discuss the following questions: What are the needs of the present moment and why is Laplanche suited to meet them? How does Laplanche put psychoanalysis to work to create new foundations for psychoanalysis? How does enlarged sexuality demand a totalizing reversal in how we understand the basic navigation of mental life? What are the differences between Laplanche’s Enlarged Sexuality with seduction and translation and Ferenczi’s Confusion of Tongues with passion and tenderness? What is Laplanche’s notion of how sexuality develops in relation to self-preservation? What is the central claim of affect? Are we implicating mothers again? What is meant by interpretation is on the side of repression, rather than that of the repressed? How does traditional metapsychology falter precisely at the place where a true recognition of others is required?

Ashtor finishes the interview with this observation, “Psychoanalysis is missing a coherent theory of affect. This is one of the biggest problems in psychoanalysis” and leaves us with a question “What would it mean to accept a comprehensive affect theory as a viable replacement of Freud’s dual instinct theory as the primary factor in psychological organization?”

Christopher Russell, LP is a psychoanalyst in Chelsea, Manhattan. He is a member of the faculty and supervising analyst at The Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies and The New York Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. Christopher is a board member with Restaurant After Hours a 501C3 charitable organization committed to mental health advocacy, resources, and support for the hospitality industry.

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Christopher Russell

Christopher Russell, LP is a psychoanalyst in Chelsea, Manhattan.

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