Monday, August 28, 2017

On Writing, Psychoanalysis and Racism: Zaretsky's Essay

I am reading Eli Zaretsky’s essay “Psychoanalysis, Authoritarianism, and the 1960s” in Psychoanalysis and Politics: Histories of Psychoanalysis Under Conditions of Restricted Political Freedom, edited by Joy Damaousi and Mariano Ben Plotkin (New York: Oxford, 2012); and I am disheartened. 

I am disheartened because while I continue on a project I began two decades ago – the biography of Edith Buxbaum – I am increasingly plagued by the whiteness of my subject. Recently I was invited to write about African American psychoanalysts for 

The  “13,000 page reference center is dedicated to providing information to the general public on African American history and on the history of the more than one billion people of African ancestry around the world.”  I’ve written two entries so far, one on Veronica Abney, a training and supervising analyst with the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis out of LA and one on Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, who just celebrated her 103rd birthday.

I chose to write my second entry on Dr. Lawrence, a psychiatrist and the first African American psychoanalyst in the United States, because she was in New York City the same time as Dr. Buxbaum, and I wanted to see if their paths crossed in any way. They did not. The only place in which I found a tiny connection was via the "B" column in a biographical lexicon of Psychoanalysts -  Psychoanalytikerinnen: Biografien A-Z.  Buxbaum’s name was at the end of column B and that of Dr. Lawrence’s Caucasian mentor, Dr. Viola Bernard, was at the beginning. Not a real connection, but I was interested.

In the late 1940s, Dr. Bernard had helped Dr. Lawrence wade through the racism that existed in New York’s psychoanalytic community, specifically Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, where Lawrence received certification in 1948. By then Buxbaum was practicing psychoanalysis in Seattle; and since she was not a medical doctor, she would not have been practicing in hospitals, such as Harlem Hospital, where Lawrence worked.

I am disheartened by Zaretsky’s essay because he writes in a language that is not mine. His writing is inaccessible to anyone not steeped in psychoanalytic theory and, as such, he does little to move psychoanalytic knowledge forward. More important, Zaretsky continues to write within the context of whiteness. For instance, McCarthyism was not “the largest wave of repression in American history,” as he writes. (p. 236) What happened to slavery?

Especially in times like these, when the United States president belittles forward-moving thinking, one would hope that scholars, such as Zaretsky, would be more aware of the importance of including the subject of race into institutional histories, of which psychoanalysis is just one. Still, I will continue with his essay and the others in this collection, which examine restrictions of political freedom in Italy, Spain, France, Hungary, Brazil and Argentina.

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