Gillian Straker and Jacqui WinshipOct 12, 2021
The Talking Cure
Normal People, their Hidden Struggles and the Life-Changing Power of Therapy
Gillian Straker’s name has long been on my radar, particularly for the ways in which she has used psychoanalytic thought to contend with the vicissitudes of apartheid and its aftermath in her home country, South Africa. But she has also made use of what apartheid taught her about the human mind. Indeed, there is much for psychoanalysis to learn from apartheid.
For over 20 years, Straker has published, largely in relational journals, about racism, and the ways in which living under the extremes of racist duress take their particular toll. (It is high time for those articles to be collected and published.) Straker begins with trauma and dissociation—and the work of thinkers like Donnell Stern on unformulated experience gird some of her thinking. But she also turns to minds outside the field as well to elaborate certain ideas that pertain to fetishism, morality, mutuality, and perversion—foremost among them Bourdieu, Butler and Bhabha.
Straker’s reflections on her own capacity to block from consciousness the damning impact of apartheid provides a guidepost for all her theorizing. This is an author who knows of what she speaks, and to read her is to be immersed in both her vulnerability and her searching intellect. Perhaps her two most eye-opening articles—“Race for Cover: Castrated Whiteness, Perverse Consequences” and “A Crisis in the Subjectivity of the Analyst: The Trauma of Morality”—could perhaps only have been written by someone living under apartheid. And yet, I find them useful for thinking about working in an interracial analytic couple. By the time she wrote her most unique theoretical contribution, “The Anti-Analytic Third”, one feels that she wants to warn white analysts, or heterosexual analysts to avoid taking politically correct positions when working with black or queer patients and to not back off from engaging with pathological conflicts that they may bring into the consulting room. Identity politics (and the patient’s desire to “know” if the analyst is “like” her at the level of social identity) can create a kind of noxious ethos that “opposes analysis.” Indeed, bending the frame for a patient because one feels a guiltiness does more harm than good. An especial contribution of hers is to help analyst’s think about working with difference in politically charged situations. Given that in this moment, at least in the United States, from where I am writing, the psychoanalytic world seems to be attempting a reckoning with its own racism, Straker reminds us that leading with guilt will not help anyone—black or white—to make the best use of the clinical encounter.
Gillian Straker has also recently co-authored The Talking Cure: Normal people, their Hidden Struggles and the Life-Changing Power of Therapy (Macmillan, 2019) with Dr. Jacqui Winship, designed to reach a popular audience, enticing them to take to the couch, and serves as the supervisor on a newly created podcast on psychoanalytic supervision titled Three Associating.