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Issue 40: Editorial

The Letter, Issue 40, Spring 2009, Pages v - vi


For ten weeks, from late November 2008 to late January 2009, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers remained at number one in the New York Times list of Bestselling Non-Fiction. A curious coincidence between the date of Barack Obama’s election victory and the date of his inauguration.

But the popularity of the book and that of the new President of the United States is perhaps not coincidental. They both promise reader and voter alike great rewards - though at the price of enormous effort.

Of the two, Gladwell is the more specific. We need no reminding of Obama’s mantra: Can we get out of this economic and social catastrophe? Yes we can! Gladwell is on message. Can you become a master in your chosen field? Yes you can! But only if you are willing to spend ten thousand hours working on whatever basic talent you have in order to to bring it to perfection.

Ten thousand hours means three to four hours a day every day of the year for ten years! In the Irish School for Lacanian analysis we are beginning to see the fruit produced by some of those who have engaged in such a long­ term single minded effort.

The Study-day on Psychoanalysis and Psychosis recorded here was the first occasion that psychoanalysts in Ireland came together with their rsychiatric colleagues in a formal way. This finally had become possible because Lacanian psychoanalysis found a place in St. Vincents University Hospital. Dublin some thirty-five years ago under the aegis of two visionary psychiatrists, Professor Noel Walsh and Dr. Mary Darby.

In more recent years, the dialogue developed between the School of Psychotherapy, under Dr. Patricia McCarthy, and psychiatrists and other health professionals, at the weekly case presentation, brought to the attention of those present the value of the Lacanian approach to the understanding of the questions that must be asked before serious mental illness can even begin to be treated.

But the immediate cause of the Study-day to mark the centenary of Eugen Bleuler’s introduction of the term “schizophrenia” was the doctoral thesis Tom Dalzell presented in July 2008. It is a tribute to the impact that this work on psychosis by a psychoanalyst had on his psychiatrist examiners that two of them, Professors Kevin Malone and Eadbhard O’Callaghan presented papers.

They were joined by four psychiatrically trained psychoanalysts: Christian Fierens, a new Lacanian voice in the English speaking world who in the last ten years has published a number of remarkable books inspired by his reflections on the logic of the unconscious; Bernhard Kuchenhoff, who brought a flavour of the tradition bequeathed to the Burghdlzli by Bleuler; Patricia McCarthy, whose clinical teaching has already been mentioned, and Charles Melman to whom the Irish psychoanalytic community owes an enormous debt for his frequent visits over the past twenty years. A measure of his engagment with our work can be seen by the fact that even though an equipment failure prevents us from presenting here his contribution to the Study-day, we are able to publish a talk on psychosis which he had given in Dublin less than six months before!

The non-psychiatrist speakers come from the type of background envisaged by Freud and Lacan in their battle to save psychoanalysis from becoming a footnote in the chapter of psychiatric textbooks on alternative methods of treatment. Tom Dalzell’s first doctorate was in theology; Barry O’Donnell’s early studies in Greek and his doctoral thesis on the Sophist offered him a privileged access to the classical references that are a Leitmotif in the seminal works of psychoanalysis. Helen Sheehan, with a Parisian doctorate in psychoanalysis and an unrivalled knowledge of Irish history and literature, is in some sense the model of what an Irish psychoanalyst can aspire to.

In the midst of all this intellectual talent it would be remiss of me not to emphasise that it would all be mere display if it were not grounded by years of apprenticeship on the couch. Ten thousand hours...and counting!

Cormac Gallagher

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