The Trans-cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis or the Perks of Comparative Psychodynamics


Daniele Cuneo


From the very start of his enterprise, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the inventor of psychoanalysis, was worried that the new discipline he had fathered could be considered as a merely ‘Jewish science’, without any claim to trans-cultural generality, let alone the respectability of a true science. As psychoanalysis proved to be one of the most influential cultural movements of the last century and of contemporary globalized society, the talking cure seems to have passed the test of history so far, but it is far from being globally considered as “a culturally and politically impartial and universally applicable science” (Hartnack 2001, 1).
The present panel is aimed at investigating and challenging the soundness and validity, both theoretical and clinical, of psychoanalysis in a trans-cultural, global world, especially within the scope of Asian cultures and traditions. The theory and practice of psychoanalysis originated in the West, and are to this day imbued with European cultural biases and assumptions. Crucial psychoanalytic concepts such as the Oedipus complex and narcissism are strictly linked to the legacy of Classical Greece. The Western classical canon of works such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet has vastly shaped psychoanalytic theory from its inception up to its most recent incarnations. Moreover, numerous Christian assumptions, just as the crucial ideas of confession and redemption, underlie and inform the meta-theoretical foundation of psychoanalysis itself.
However, already in 1923, for instance, the Indian Psychoanalytic Society was created as the first institutional instantiation of psychoanalysis outside Europe. Even more so in the last decades, with further dissemination of the talking cure towards the East, the attempts at an endless negotiation and creative play between the theory and concepts of psychoanalysis and the social and mental realities of the various world cultures have been witnessed in the making by many attentive observers.
The need of an everlasting reshaping of psychoanalysis as a desideratum from both a theoretical and a clinical standpoint is the working hypothesis to be investigated in the present panel. Single cases of adoption, application and adaptation of psychoanalytic concepts and practices to cultures (societies, individuals, texts, etc.) outside the European one —be it by psychoanalysts, textual or cultural scholars, literary authors, critics or more— will be showcased in the search of a rationale of change and negotiation that might show fruitful avenues of development for both psychoanalysis itself, in its various schools and declinations, and the very study of cultures and Culture through its honed theoretical tools.

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