Katie Tobin

Jamieson Webster on Disorganisation & Sex

Disorganisation & Sex, Jamieson Webster, (Divided Publishing, 2022), 240 pages, £11.99

You describe psychoanalysis as uniquely concerned with the singularity of the subject. I was wondering how Disorganisation & Sexillustrates this singularity in the context of sexuality and its discontents.

The book is actually full of case studies, surprisingly, and the editors picked case studies in particular. There’s even a funny run through Freud’s five cases – like a kind of slapdash, like ‘let’s do all of them in five seconds’. It’s difficult as an analyst to write about patients, but the idea was to show how we think about a case and how it doesn’t really conform to the standard ideas of ‘this is X, Y, or Z with problem X, Y, or Z with solution X, Y, or Z’, to show you the wildness of psychoanalysis.

I just presented here in London the case of the young adolescent boy that’s in the book to the British Psychoanalytic Society site. I think it freaked them out a little bit.

I mean, fair enough. One of the things I wanted to talk about was transference and how you navigate this in practice because it’s so fascinating to me but something I know relatively little about.

I mean, the ideas on transference are very varied between the different theories. One way to think of transference is what allows the patient to work; they hand something over to you that allows them to work on their life and on their unconscious. So that’s like a benign nice idea of transference

There’s also the idea that they project something phantasmatic, unconsciously repetitive onto you, and experience you that way. Then you have to work really hard and grip your seat to try to make it through that projection. Because it’ll literally be like, ‘I cannot talk to you anymore’, because they’re re-experiencing something traumatic with you. So, there’s two varieties: one is the one that helps you work. And the other one helps you remember through an experience that you can then work through.

One of the things I wanted to touch on as well was this relationship between philosophy and psychoanalysis. How do you feel each discipline addresses this idea of kind of the subjectivity of truth and knowledge?

Freud and Lacan, to a certain extent, both thought that philosophy was madness. It was neurotic because Freud says, ‘to question one’s life or the idea of life is already to be sick’. And what else does the philosopher do with the idea of when discovering some universal truth of some kind? And psychoanalysis, I think it’s a bit sceptical of this project because the idea is that you have a singular truth, but it’s not going to be a truth in common.

Nevertheless, it’s not as if you can’t read Freud and think that he’s talking about ideas of the unconscious, ideas of the ego or consciousness, ideas of defence mechanisms, which everyone holds in common. So there’s a certain point in which psychoanalysis and philosophy seem very, very close to one another. How do you split the difference? Is it on the side of which it’s close to philosophy or the moment in which it breaks away? Because it’s a practice, right? It’s a practice in which you have an office, and you see patients and so on and so forth. And what you understand comes from there more than it does from your own philosophy.

I love that you enter into a dialogue with Paul B. Preciado’s critique of psychoanalysis. I was wondering how you kind of reconcile his vision with more traditional psychoanalytic frameworks and the challenges or opportunities that presents for the future of psychoanalysis.

I really love Testo Junkie. I was interested in the book and I was interested in the kind of somato-militant vision that Preciado had. If you look at that book very carefully, it’s covered in psychoanalysis. Even Freud, for Preciado, is the first experimenter on himself of all that’s available in that day and age; whether it’s cocaine, whether it’s dreams, whether it’s transference. Freud’s absorbing everything, testing it on himself, and then using it with other people, to a certain extent, to infect and to exacerbate and to push from a certain perspective, well that goes very well with Preciado.

From another perspective for Preciado, we’re just like, ‘psychoanalyst, bourgeois’. People are stuck in some syphilitic conception of the sexual subject that wants everybody to think about their families. So, I like to split the difference between the two and talk about what part of Preciado is present in psychoanalysis and also what parts of psychoanalysis may be outdated.

Especially with technology, I think psychoanalysts don’t know what to do with this progressive technologization of the world. And I don’t know whether I’m a Preciadian or I’m like ‘let’s just absorb all the technology’. I’m still a bit afraid of it, but I also know that any of us can stop it.

Another interesting parallel that you make is between Adorno’s dream journal and Lacanian theory. How you see their differing approaches to the unconscious, and its manifestations, as contributing to our understanding of the subject?

Adorno made a very beautiful statement, which I quote in the beginning, which is that he thought that if he told us his dreams that we could see that they all are part of one world in the same way that Kafka’s novels take place in one space. And that you could understand the artistic construction of that space that you inhabit, and you could examine it from all angles. So it’s a very beautiful, utopian idea of understanding the world that you live in that’s not the world as such. Is that Freud’s idea? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Freud doesn’t need to have that idea because he’s doing something very different than what Adorno is doing.

I think the question that Adorno brings into other moments in the book that’s interesting is to see the world and the unconscious world that you inhabit, as fundamentally a critique of the world as such, in the same way that symptoms are often a critique of the world – a resistance to the world. It’s an idea of what you don’t want to assimilate into yourself. It’s a rejection; it’s a refusal, it’s a protest. Then you have a really interesting idea of thinking about the world that you want to live in, not the world you do live in. You then have a kind of utopian and dystopian viewpoint. I don’t know whether that’s more Adorno than Freud, but it’s what I take from Adorno in order to be a Freudian.

Elsewhere, I’ve really enjoyed your reading your writing about Louise Bourgeois. Are there any other creative writers or artists in that sense that you’ve been drawn to as well?

I recently worked on Carroll Dunham. This is Lena Dunham’s father and Laurie Simmons’ husband. It was a funny problem because I didn’t know his work and so, all sudden, I encountered thousands and thousands of pictures of genitals and I was like, ‘what am I going to do with this?’

But I loved talking to him, and I actually really loved getting into his work. He refuses to talk about the fact that he draws genitals. He’s like, ‘they’re forms. Art has always been about the body, its lines, its colour. That’s it’. He won’t say more, but we ended up having this displaced conversation about what it means to be a self that was fascinating and allowed me an entry point into his work.

I’ve also worked with Roe Etheridge, who I love. He was actually here this week that I was here, shooting. I liked his work – not the pictures of people that people know so well and then also made their way into like contemporary fashion – but his still life works. There’s something so powerful about what he can do with an object.

I have a lot of fun with the artists. I think that when I meet them, they’re really excited because there’s this idea that I could take them on their own terms as opposed to their work being shoved into art history or questions about the market or politics. They really want someone to take them on their own terms.

And just as a final question, what is it that you hope people will take away from the book?

I think it’s the thing that I hope women in particular take away from me, which is the possibility of psychoanalysis to be wild and to be interesting and to be feminist and to give them a certain breathing room.

Thank you so much.

Jamieson Webster
is a clinical psychoanalyst, professor, and New York Review of Books contributor.

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