International Symposium in Phenomenology





Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis

The theme for the 2011 meeting of the International Symposium on Phenomenology is “Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis”.

What problems does psychoanalysis pose to philosophy? Does psychoanalytic metapsychology contain an implicit philosophical message or problem(s) that cannot be recuperated by philosophy and that puts the latter to the test? Isn’t it precisely because philosophers – and certainly phenomenologists? - always assumed all to eagerly that psychoanalytic metapsychology was just another philosophy that raised interesting questions (on subjectivity, sexuality, the unconscious etc.) but in the wrong (scientistic) language, that psychoanalysts quite often had the feeling that the debate between the two disciplines was a ‘missed encounter’? But what then is the originality of the psychoanalytic approach and what remains unthought in it? Or better still, isn’t there a structural and unsolvable tension between the psychoanalytic approach and the philosophical tradition at large? Can this tension be thematised in a fruitful manner?

Phenomenology and psychoanalysis are in many ways contemporary disciplines. Freud’s Traumdeutung for example, was published in the same year as Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen. No wonder then that many authors from the phenomenological tradition (Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Deleuze and many others) dealt extensively with psychoanalysis and vice versa (Lacan is probably the most famous example here). What does this common history teach us about the questions we just raised? Are those who consider the debates between phenomenology and psychoanalysis a ‘missed encounter’ right and, if so, what can we learn from it with regard to the very nature of both disciplines? Besides, psychoanalysis was not just important for phenomenology in the strict sense, it also played an important role in critical theory and in neo-marxism. What role can psychoanalysis still play in contemporary social critique?

In the last decade or so psychoanalysts ceased looking primarily for inspiration in the social sciences and in phenomenology. They tend more and more to develop their discipline without taking into account recent developments in these two disciplines. Psychoanalysts turn instead more and more to evolutionary psychiatry (evolutionary theory) and the neurosciences (neuro-psychoanalysis). In doing so they give new life to some of the basic assumptions of Freudian thinking. How should we appreciate this ‘turning away’ from phenomenology, which in many respects also is a ‘return to Freud’? Is it just a mistake and the symptom of the rise of a new positivism or does it create new chances for both phenomenology and psychoanalysis? How should we appreciate in this context phenomenology’s own recent turn towards the neuro-sciences (e.g. neuro- phenomenology)?

Psychoanalysis is not for all times. It can only exist on the basis of the (historical and hence contingent) assumptions that found a culture. In more Foucaultian terms: psychoanalysis belongs to a specific episteme. What does it mean for the status of psychoanalytic theory that the origin of many of its basic concepts – hysteria, trauma, work…- can be traced back to a specific moment in time and are intrinsically linked to a specific episteme? And what does this mean? Are we witnessing the last moments of the episteme to which psychoanalysis – but also phenomenology? - belongs, and hence to its becoming obsolete…? Is it not the case that psychoanalysis not so much teaches us a lot about contemporary subjectivity, but rather that it is an intrinsic part of the conceptual framework that brought this type of subjectivity into being?

These are some of the most urgent questions that are raised in contemporary ‘Philosophy of psychoanalysis’ and that we would like to address in next year’s meeting of the symposium. We believe that they determine a field of reflection in which a confrontation between philosophy and psychoanalysis can be productive for both disciplines.

Any member of the Symposium who would like to be considered for a presentation should send a short, paragraph-long description of current research on the theme to dahlberg@csc.kth.se no later than 1 February 2011. In addition to this call issued to the membership, the Co-Directors have been recruiting new members whose work speaks to these questions. Please remember that we have only 15 plenary sessions available on the Programme, so we unfortunately will have to disappoint some Symposiasts’ requests to present a paper. We hope to have a very preliminary program established by mid-March.











Webmaster Leif Dahlberg, dahlberg(at)csc.kth.se


August 21, 2010