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Psychoanalysis and the Future of Theory

The Letter, Issue 1, Summer 1994, Pages 28 - 67


Psychoanalysis and the Future of Theory

Malcolm Bowie


'Zukunft' - ich habe das Wort in den Titel meines Vortrages aufgenommen, einfach, weil der Begriff der Zukunft derjenige ist, den ich am liebsten und unwillkürlichsten mit dem Namen Freuds verbinde.

Thomas Mann, 'Freud und die Zukunft' (1936)


('Future' - I have used this word in the title of my address simply because it is this idea, the idea of the future, that I involuntarily like best to connect with the name of Freud.

'Freud and the Future')


The temporality of the human subject as studied by Freud suffers from an internal disproportion that has often been noted but seldom discussed: whereas he describes past time fondly and in detail, his account of future time is foreshortened and schematic. The present in which the analytic subject speaks is poised uneasily for Freud between discontinuous time-worlds. The problem lies not in the fact that past and future are logically asymmetrical, but in the seeming flatness that afflicts one of them: the past has character, but the future has none. Romancing the matter only a little, we could say that for Freud the past is 'a character', while the future is a cipher and something of a bore.


My own discussion of this state of affairs falls into two unequal parts. The first and main task that I have set myself is that of describing ’the future' -the concept rather than the tense -as it has been manipulated by psychoanalysis. Here I shall be paying particular attention to the later writings of Lacan, suggesting some of the ways in which his discussion of temporality completes and complexifies Freud's, and pointing to one or two of the problems that this discussion raises for psychoanalysis as a theoretical discipline. 'What kind of future can psychoanalysis have when it talks about futurity in this fashion?. This is the sort of question that I shall be asking in due course.


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