October 1991 - written as a participant in the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study's First Instensive Year on Psychoanalytic Theory:
Notes Towards An Essay On Charles Brenner, Psychoanalysis and the Teaching Self
Once again an experienced member of the psychoanalytic community managed to distance himself from his students. Dr. Brenner's opening remark, "You don't mind if I read this, do you?" functioned as a controlling devise to set him apart from his audience. He, thereby, began his encounter with our class and within our learning environment by way of perpetuating two outdated and erroneous assumptions: one, that the practice and process of psychoanalysis is synonymous with distance, and, two, that status and renown - based on longevity and authorship - deserve automatic reverence.
Reading a paper is not teaching; it is reading a paper. So, let us right away, drop the word "teacher" from the roll call of "paper readers." A "paper reader" is a "presenter," (although not all presenters are paper readers). Now, there is nothing wrong with presenting a paper. Many of us here have done so. But, say it again, paper reading is not teaching. It may be true, as was suggested to me, that more than 90% of the teaching-analysts in the American Psychoanalytic present their material Brenner-fashion. Yes, indeed. This might be true. It is also irrelevant and no reason to waste my time.
Dr. Brenner's teaching voice - as presented in our class and in his writings - is a reflection of his methodological approach to psychoanalysis. Because a teacher's voice is a
reflection of the teaching self, and all aspects of the self are intertwined. And because the teaching/writing/theory- making/analyst selves are one. And all these aspects of self meander into a position in relation to others - in the classroom, on the page, within the analytic dyad - in
accordance with an individual's race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference and specific location in time.
Writing is an aspect of the teaching self: it is a reflection of self; it is the placement - through words - of the self on the page. For all to see. There is no hiding, no anonymity. Even where there is hiding. You are always found out. Because a writer exists in relation to words - as a teacher exists in relation to students. And, like the teacher, the writer is a presentation of words and the initiator of the sounds those words make and the images and feelings they elicit on and off the page.
I appreciate Dr. Brenner for his scholarship, for amassing a body of material I can call on for a writing project. I appreciate his grasp of English. I do not care for his location on the page or his location in relation to others - readers, students and, presumably, analysands - as expressed through his authoritarian, I-know-truth, stance. Because stance is form. And form is content: each weaves itself inside the other, quite unconsciously. Before the writer even knows it. So, we must look closely at Dr. Brenner's remarks and the theories he espouses to see just how his content is entwined with his presentation and form. Since content, presentation and form are chief components of the teaching self.
For me, the highlight of the Intensive-year course's second class was name deleted's in-depth case presentation: I learned about the concern of one human being for another. I learned about suffering and name deleted's appreciation of that suffering. I expected more insight from Dr. Brenner. He had enough information to discuss aspects of the patient's intrapsychic milieu. But he merely commented on the obvious, that the patient liked name deleted well enough to continue in treatment. Dr. Brenner distanced himself from the patient's suffering to the point of intellectual withdrawal. And I think this withdrawal is connected to his presentation of psychoanalytic theory, which includes withdrawal from an aspect of self. And I think that aspect is female.
I began reading Dr. Brenner's books during the Anita Hill - Clarence Thomas debacle, when the issue of sexual harrassment took root in the American mind. I went from the
television set to Psychoanalytic Technique and Psychic Conflict, to the television set to The Mind in Conflict and back to the television set. I tried to distinguish between the feelings I was experiencing while listening to the trashing of Anita Hill and those I was experiencing while reading Dr. Brenner. I could find no distinguishing elements. In both cases, I was reacting against the devaluation of women. In both cases, male sexual fantasies served to derail women psychologically - doing damage to female and male psyches.
Sexual harassment is one component of the devaluation of human beings. And the devaluation of human beings is, in part, a symptom of failure to acknowledge interdependence as
characteristic of the human condition. Instead of facing up to implicit feelings of dependence, the individual withdraws and attacks. And distances. Or harasses. One person harasses in the work place: another harasses in the classroom or through reinforcement of theories that debase women. Motivation for each of these manifestations of human devaluation comes from the same place - the self's insecurity vis-a-vis other, particularly female other. And this withdrawal from female other - which is the woman-mother in all of us - results in the development of a one-sided genderized self. Creating the need to distance oneself from self and others in the classroom and on the page. On the couch, and behind it.
The theory of penis envy is, of course, a reaction to and an over-compensation for fear of the all-encompassing Mother. Instead of coming to terms with his fears regarding female power, Freud, et al created and, then, perpetuated the mythology that we women think we are missing something from between our legs. Note Dr. Brenner's example of the woman who is afraid of flying. Her anxiety focuses on the fact that she is a passenger without access to the plane's controls. Dr. Brenner speaks:
If one knows what the controls of an aircraft look like, it is easy to
guess that for this patient, to sit at the controls of a plane with the
control stick - which ... is colloquially known to pilots as the 'joy stick,'
i.e., the penis - between her legs unconsciously gratified her wish to
have a penis herself. (Brenner, Psvchoanalvtic Technique, p. 151)
This is pure fantasy and has little to do with the conflicts this woman was experiencing, and everything to do with Dr. Brenner's hallucinatory interpretations.
Classical analysis emphasizes the importance of not cluttering the analytic field with extraneous material. Rightly so. But there is an inherent contradiction in this dictum. What of the analyst's mind and his thought processes? And I use the male pronoun here deliberately. Because I am speaking of historically-constructed male thought. Which has been defined/and fine-tuned/to the point of unconscious/ preconscious/and conscious/cultural acceptance/by women/as well as men/of a one-sided/and/therefore/limited/and limiting/expression/of human/consciousness.
Perpetuation of ideas determined by an already-existing and historically-constructed male consciousness is psychoanalytically regressive. It is irresponsible because it
is an intrusion into the analysand's field of learning. It interferes with individual autonomy and stymies the analysand's ability to evolve as a person separate from the analyst. Moreover, it inhibits the analysand's ability to achieve at least two essentials for analytic success: one, the ability to learn how to mourn in relation to one's developing autonomy and, two, the ability to enjoy oneself in relation to self and loved ones. Because the vision for autonomy and self-control has been informed by a male consciousness and, thus, a male sensibility. As a consequence, the form of analysis which is classically oriented around the notion of penis envy will be dotted with failure - for men as well as for women. For analyst as well as analysand. Because this expression of classical psychoanalysis has been out of touch with the female aspect of self. And because the patient still suffers from want of a fully-integrated self.
The notion of penis envy is based on antiquated theory developed before psychoanalysis settled itself inside this century's imagination. This was a time when Freud's statement: "the female genital has remained undiscovered" (Freud, "Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex" in Strachey, SE, p. 174; Pine hand-out) existed outside the framework of a clearly articulated - and recorded - description of female sexuality - as defined by female consciousness. We, women, have always been capable of self exploration - mentally and physically - and evidence indicates that we have been content with our findings. But we have been uneasy, even terrified, of sharing our self-knowledge with each other, with men and, especially, with ourselves. Dr. Brenner's construction of self has contributed to this uneasiness and fear.
Creative students of psychoanalysis do not want to be told how to think - or listen. We want to develop our own ideas in relation to those who have come before. It is incumbent upon our teachers to provide us with a learning space that allows us to become more of who we already are so we may become as good as the psychoanalytic profession can be.
copyright1991, 2005Esther Altshul Helfgott
*Originally printed in Memo to Intensive Participants, Karol Marshall, Program Director, 4 unnumbered stapled pages, p. 3 - 4, October 1991
Primary Source: History of the Development of Psychoanalysis in Seattle, Washington;
Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study File, author's archives