Vanessa Sinclair and Manya Steinkoler, "On Psychoanalysis and Violence" (Routledge, 2018)


Gun violence must be what drive defusion looks like; with every shot fired, with every life stilled by rounds of ammo, we are summoned to address the acute darkness of psychic collapse and radical decompensation. We witness the unthreading of a once more sturdily interwoven seam. We live on the edge. Don’t sit with your back to the door. By the time you get that gun out of your purse, you know it’s already too late. How did we get to this point? How did you and I become captive to a violence that holds us all captive? Ours is a culture that depends on spikes in fear followed by states of frenzy followed by mind-blowing numbness. Given the overstimulation that drives us to seek quiescence—how we live now—I chose the death drive as the autumnal theme for my work at NBiP. Vanessa Sinclair and Manya Steinkoler’s book Psychoanalysis and Violence: Contemporary Psychoanalytic Perspectives (Routledge 2018) provided me with an antidote to the temptation to defensively play dead. It is perhaps an understatement to say that our capacity to withstand otherness needs some bolstering. We are in luck with this interview for no one works with otherness in quite the way Lacanian-inflected analysts do. Sinclair and Steinkoler argue that we have gone beyond being unbehagen—the malaise one feels in everyday life (which would now feel like a luxury)—and detail a different kind of anxious, imperiled experience—they call it to be “angwashed”: in short, we are soaking in it. This book is about the consequences of a new experience of aloneness, about the inculcation and proliferation of narcissism, and its dire consequences. I think of guns and I think of trigger warnings. The one who pulls the trigger is radically alone. The one who needs the safe space ends up being set apart. No one belongs. Belonging demands we be with others. Yet when you kill someone they are with you forever. When you kill someone you have also at long last really made contact with a being outside yourself. As Modern analysts say: “follow the contact.” Lacan reminds us that the human subject is catapulted into being by an encounter with language, the other, and the social link. Each of these entities threatens human narcissism. As such, every encounter with difference (represented by language, the other, the world) can arouse the specter of violence. Here are some encounters with difference and its vicissitudes to be found in this book: Judith Butler makes a cameo in a bit of a dry essay that seems to advocate for the use of the superego to rein in violence. Todd McGowan argues that terrorists act so as to restore sexuality and the sublime. Guy Dana addresses the violence that accompanies demands for transparency: we can never know ourselves and so never be clear. Jean-Jacques Moscovitz reminds us that all cultures are founded by a sacrifice which made me wonder if all the violence is an attempt to manifest something gone missing? Geneviève Morel examines the memoir of a peripheral member of the Weather Underground asking what feelings about oneself make one want to come to destroy? Patricia Gherovici explores the relationship between a period of violent upheaval in Argentina accompanied by the proliferation of Lacanian thought and practice. Todd Dean reports on the violence of mechanized mental health practices used to “treat” the marginalized. And my favorite essay (there are more essays herein than I have summarized), was by Steinkoler, one of the editors, who used her analytic “skills” to craft a journalistic piece exploring the life of Adam Lanza, arguing that mass executioners kill in an attempt to break into a symbolic order from which they feel excluded, to exist, if only for a moment, as subjects on the human stage. Alireza Taheri’s essay argues that we live in a moment where some of us are “subjugated before we even become subjects,” a thought both terrifying and resonant. And so in closing I wonder: do the violent acts of the “lone wolves” contain a plea for a limit? Is the violence a response to too little, or to too much? And what to say about our clinical work and theory and the shifting of the tides therein? With the relational turn, which was also a necessary development, and its critique of analytic authority, and appeals to democracy, I wonder if psychoanalysis has become a part of the problem that besets us? Please feel free to address all comments regarding the interview to me at

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Tracy Morgan

Tracy D. Morgan: Psychoanalyst, LCSW-R, M.Phil., Editor, New Books in Psychoanalysis.

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