Psychoanalysis and the unconscious in America

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Photo credit: Mike Richardson


Psychoanalysis can introduce a different way of being human into the world and could inevitably change society for the better according to Nathan Gorelick, assistant chair of the English and Literature department.

Gorelick was invited to speak as part of Global Spotlight Canada Jan. 21 because of his work with the Quebecois group, Gifric. The group’s goal is to support and promote new ethics and transform conventional realities by joining regional, national and international partners with professionals from diverse disciplines.

In his work, Gorelick tries to apply the concept of psychoanalysis to the study of literature and philosophy and develop a regard for the unconscious through art, literature and philosophy.

Gorelick said that psychoanalysis has to do with examining the unconscious and recognizing the repressed needs of an individual.

According to Gorelick people often mistake the unconscious for the subconscious. The unconscious is not a buried collection of memories, but something that is hidden right on the surface.

He said the modern mental health industry, which is based on diagnosis and pharmacology, frames mental health care in technical terms. However, the purpose of psychoanalysis is to give the unconscious an outlet in the social sphere, so it isn’t just confined to the individual.

The general attitude in the United States is that Freud was wrong and that his ideas have been disproved. But, according to Gorelick, so much of the contemporary framework of mental health care in the United States is fundamentally Freudian.

“The foundation isn’t just a quaint, historical phenomena. We continue to carry it with us,” said Gorelick. “Our collective denial of Freud’s ongoing importance has to do less with what psychoanalysis is or does, and more to do with a kind of allergy to the unconscious.”

Gorelick said that resistance to Freud’s ideas is symptomatic in the United States. It reflects the culture’s investment in a certain set of values or expectations that are inconsistent with psychoanalysis.

“The claim that we have moved beyond Freud is a naïve and simplistic misunderstanding of what Freud discovered,” he said. “To take what he invented and then move on with it and abandon the unconscious is to completely misunderstand the profound insight that he contributed.”