Psychoanalysis against Normalization (2018)

As we move into the digital age of the 21st century, the age of the screen, social media and the increasingly predominance of the Imaginary dimension, as clinicians, we find ourselves under various pressures brought on by late capitalist consumerism.  Patients often seem to believe that time really is money, that they want to “get” something from their analyst, and that they just want to be “successful” or “happy.” Of course, these demands assume that there are normal, or universally agreed upon meanings to these terms— as if success always means financial success or that a consistent state of happiness is always present for normal, healthy people.  

The tendency towards this kind of thinking is reinforced by many factors including social media and the hypnotizing lure of the digital screen.  We find ourselves enchanted to identify with the illuminated images and the glamorous people who are presented before us to desire. This leads to a narcissistic feedback loop of identification in which we identify with what we like and like with what we identify.  Not only does this contribute to a culture which seeks to marginalize otherness and be blind to difference, but this can inhibit our abilities to recognize the Other within us. Further, this narcissistic investment in the normalized ideals of consumer culture can lead us to lose touch with the sensuousness of our embodied experience, as well as our abilities for creative symbolic play.

Psychoanalysis can and must address these trends toward consumerist normalization through the creation of a sense of ritualistic space as well as through the liberation enabled in a free associative discourse.  The consistency of the schedule in the analytic frame can create a kind of ritual time and space that stands outside the monetized time and space of consumer culture. The backdrop of the sameness of time and space paradoxically underscores the differences in what is spoken each session.  The analytic hour can offer the analysand a respite from the normative commercial demands of everyday life and the quick but often empty gratifications of the digital world.

The process of free association can allow a kind of liberation from the normalizing pressures of everyday life.  By speaking to whatever comes to mind (or body) one has freedom to speak (and listen) to the strange thoughts and feelings that would otherwise be unspeakable and get in touch with the strange flow of words that arise located outside of our egos.  In the most general sense, this can be a spiritual experience in that it gets in touch with something beyond our egos and transcends our sense of self. As this analytic discourse allows us to question our how our subjective experiences involve much more than the realm of the ego, this internal interrogation points to a greater ideological critique of assumptions and investments relating to the normalizing capitalist discourse and its notions of value, success, truth, beauty, time and money, and so forth.  

As the analytic conversation questions our assumptions of internal and external realities, it forms a dialectic process in which new realities are created synthetically between the analyst and the analysand.  Thus, psychoanalysis can offer a radical critique of any notion of a normalized reality as it pulls apart ideological constructs and reveals their inherent identifications with our cultural norms and our socioeconomic assumptions.