File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0101, message 11

Date: Tue, 9 Jan 2001 22:02:56 +0100
Subject: HAB: Habermas and Freud

In limbering up for a more detailed discussion of Habermas' account 
of Freud I've been doing some reading. (Much stimulated by 
Kenneth MacKendrick and Gary Davis, whose mails I've been 
pondering for days, and to whom I will try and respond to in greater 
detail soon.) There are really two broad themes:

1) What is it that happens within psychoanalytic treatment? (*This* 
way of putting it gets one out of the bind that if one deals 
exclusively with the *theories* i.e. not with the *practical/clinical* 
aspects thereof, there's a tendency to turn the interprise into a 
history of ideas) If one agrees with Habermas' broad thesis - 
namely that the whole psychoanalytic enterprise is much weakened 
(castrated?)  by the insistence that it is a natural science (that it 
should be seen as part of Psychiatry) what strategies are *then* 
open? (I've been reading Alfred Lorenzer, Ricoeur, and some 
specialist literature on transference/resistance.)

2) The way Habermas moves from these specific psychoanalytic 
issues to the wider project of what is, in Martin Jay's words, "an 
extraordinarily ambitious attempt to reestablish the foundations of 
the Western Marxist tradition as a whole." ("Juergen Habermas and 
the Reconstruction of Marxist Holism", from Jay's *Marxism and 
Totality*) Here the historical/theoretic background is the 
combination of Critical Theory/Psychoanalysis to be found all the 
way back to the cooperation between Horkheimer and Fromm 
starting 1930. (The date of Goethe prize awarded to Freud by the 
city of Frankfurt, and the founding of the first university-based 
psychoanalytic institute in the world. - Neither the Vienna, Berlin or 
Prague psychoanalysts had been attached to a university. Freud 
wrote Horkheimer a personal letter of thanks which the latter 
carried around with him for years.) 
Horkheimer, Fromm, Marcuse, Adorno - it's really an enormous 
literature. I find Wolfgang Bonss very useful: "Psychoanalyse als 
Wissenschaft und Kritik - Zur Freudrezeption der Kritischen Theorie" 
in Bonss and Honneth:  *Sozialforschung als Kritik*, 1982, as well 
as Dahmer: *Libido und Gesellschaft*, and Russell Jacoby's 

The point of difference between me and Gary Davis seems to be 
the question whether (1) and (2) can *in principle* be discussed 
independently of one another or not. Psychoanalysts and all those - 
right through to Martin Jay - who are sceptical of the 'totalising' 
tendency in Habermas' thought will answer in the affirmative: a 
philosopher who makes generalisations in a specific field such as 
Psychology or Anthropology or Sociology without 'following through', 
i.e. grounding such a critique in detail, is inevitably going to be 
accused of dilletantism. Those who are interested in a 'theory of 
society' in the sense of a diagnosis of the contemporary world 
based on Habermas and the 'politicisation of speech-act theory' will 

To my mind it is a difference as old as Plato versus Aristotle, or 
Kant versus Hegel. i.e. it is not soluble. Attempts to give *both* 
sides their due - both the analytic, natural-scientific, cartesian 
approach to a specific field, *as well as* and the Hegelian, (or 
hermeneutic) 'history as a totality' approach - is what 'dialectics' is 
all about. i.e. there is no argument which is going to settle it either 

We're back to the question of what it is that happens when we 
dream (or laugh, or make a slip of the tongue, or listen to a piece of 
music, or look someone in the eye) and what it means to say the 
the 'natural-science'/'hypothetical-deductive method' approach to an 
apparently simple question like the above is in some way 
'systematically distortive'. Happy dreams.

  F.  van Gelder


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