The Enigma of Desire
Sex, Longing, and Belonging in Psychoanalysis
This interview is really a conversation between two friends, peers, and colleagues–two women who were pleased to find each other in the psychoanalytic world who keep track of each others’ development. I confess this as a form of journalistic disclosure, but, also, because of our connection, this interview traverses much more than the book she recently published, The Enigma of Desire: Sex, Longing, and Belonging in Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2015).
I ask Galit Atlas a slew of questions about key concepts in the book: what is she after using terms such as “enigmatic,” “pragmatic,” and “breaks in unity” among them. We wander through the Kristevan garden of bodily fluids and abjection and ponder Kristeva’s appeal to Persian analysts like herself and Gohar Homanyapour (interviewed on NBIP by Anna Fishzon). We think about essentialism and motherhood and try to explore why sexuality takes precedence over desire in America.
Her book title shares itself with one of Salvador Dali’s most famous paintings, The Enigma of Desire, or My Mother, My Mother, My Mother, from 1929. Discoursing upon his creation, also in an interview, Dali had this to say: “Sometimes I spit with pleasure on my mother’s portrait, since one can perfectly well love one’s mother and still dream that one spits upon her . . . now go and try to make people understand that.” Atlas’ book takes up Dali’s demand for work (as well as Andre Green’s plea for the re-establishment of sexuality as central to psychoanalysis), emphasizing sexuality and its many emanations in the clinic as speaking a language of its own. A clinically rich book, Atlas’ work schools its readers in a new way of listening for that which is inchoate and ineffable and worth hearing. Her thinking takes us on a trip beyond the mother-infant dyad, stopping to drink at the house of Laplanche with a little Ruth Stein only to deposit us closer to the drives, opening the door to the land of the autoerotic.
Tracy D. Morgan is the founding editor and host of NBIP, a psychoanalyst in practice in NYC trained also as an historian, she writes about many things.