Desires


Scene From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania and Bottom, Edwin Henry Landseer, 1848

From Threepenny Review:

As in Freud’s own time, the “boundary violation” (the discipline’s contemporary euphemism) remains embarrassingly common. Usually the clinician is a man, often professionally distinguished with years of experience, and the patient a younger woman. My home city of Boston has, in the last decade, lost three senior analysts to disgrace. One was the chair of a national ethics committee; a second was the editor of a prestigious psychoanalytic journal.

Freud treats the analyst who succumbs to this pattern with a dry, corrective irony: “[the analyst] must recognize that the patient’s falling in love is induced by the analytic situation and is not to be attributed to the charms of his own person; so that he has no grounds whatever for being proud of such a ‘conquest,’ as it would be called outside analysis.”

Can erotic feelings be so delusory, ductile, nearly arbitrary, induced by a construct? The Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt describes the fairies’ “love juice” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Desires in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are intense, irrational and alarmingly mobile. This mobility, the speed with which desire can be detached from one object and attached to a different object, does not diminish the exigency of the passion, for the lovers are convinced at every moment that their choices are irrefutably rational and irresistibly compelling… The emblem, as well as agent, of a dangerously mobile desire is the fairies’ love juice. No human being in the play experiences a purely abstract, objectless desire; when you desire, you desire someone. But the love juice is the distilled essence of erotic mobility itself, and it is appropriately in the power of the fairies.

The two people in the consulting room merely talk, but in a way that invites the mobility of desire with an intensity like that of the stage-woods of Midsummer Night. The psychoanalytic process devises that love juice, channels it, and distributes it for its special use. But in the analytic situation, the potion—Greenblatt’s “distilled essence of erotic mobility”—is not in the power of a magical creature in a theatrical drama. It is in the power of the human analyst on the tilted analytic stage.

The analyst, drunk on the love juice, may feel justified, thrilled by “the charms of his own person” and their effect; he believes he is himself a bit magical—charismatic. Freud’s tone about this recalls Shakespeare’s play. The cool, smiling irony of “not to be attributed to the charms of his own person” mocks the notion of charisma. Self-deluding, the idea of a personal charisma beyond the structural is also, as a matter of theory, redundant. As a moral or ethical matter, it is radically defective: a charismatic analyst, within the clinical setting, is a massively destructive contradiction in terms. It punishes trust. The patient’s love is a construct provoked by the analytic situation; the analyst, having set the process in motion, is responsible for limiting and protecting it.

On Psychoanalysis, Ellen Pinsky, Threepenny Review