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Freud in the twenty first century: a Chinese puzzle

The Letter, Issue 38, Autumn 2006, Pages 22 - 38


Gerry Sullivan

Newton, Marx and Freud are the three emblematic figures commonly credited with shaping the psycho-cultural world of advanced industrial modernity, our sense of where we are in relation to the cosmos, as it were; Newton in relation to the outer (physical) world, Marx in relation to the social (and economic) world, and Freud in relation to the inner (psychic) world.

Nevertheless, not only Einstein, but quantum mechanical GUTS, and superstring and M-brane multidimensionality have given us a very different picture of the physical universe for the twenty-first century. In the post Soviet (and post Mao) era there is a widespread view (which I only partially share) that Marx's historical and dialectical vision is redundant. With respect to Freud, it is held that the psychopharmacological developments of the twentieth century, and the emergence of neuroscience, have bypassed his approaches. Furthermore, the social effects of feminism and of gender blurring social lifestyles have combined to judge the foundations of his theories as both patriarchal and significantly limited in the scope of subjective gender positions which it can allow.

Even within psychoanalysis, Kleinian, object relations, ego psychology, neo-Freudian, and later approaches, such as those associated with Kohut and Kernberg, all see Freud as a founder, rather than a resource for, and a contributor to current dynamics and dilemmas.

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