by Rita K. Teusch, PhD
Rita Teusch, PhD, is a Faculty Member of BPSI. Her remarks below also appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of the Hanns Sachs Library Newsletter.
Donna Orange, PhD, PsyD, is a psychoanalyst and philosopher well known to analysts through several books and articles in which she masterfully explicates her philosophical and clinical quest for an Ethics that recognizes all humans as deserving of interpersonal recognition and dignity: The Suffering Stranger (2011), Nourishing the Inner Life of Clinicians and Humanitarians (2016), and Climate Crisis, Psychoanalysis and Radical Ethics (2017).
In Psychoanalysis, History and Radical Ethics, Orange continues her bidding for an ethical awakening, which, she maintains, is necessary if we truly want to engage with the urgent triple dangers we are facing: climate emergency, increasing economic and racial injustice, and white supremacy. She deepens her inquiry into the intersection of psychoanalysis, philosophy and the past and present socio-historical context providing compelling examples which disrupt the temptation to deny reality or keep awareness of social realities in a state of ambiguity or fogginess. Orange reviews the historical roots of psychoanalysis and locates them in a time when a philosophy of individual rationalistic dualism was prevalent, which tends to underestimate knowledge gained from immediate emotional experience. Orange furthermore explicates our habitual dissociation when faced with human suffering beyond our offices and challenges us to engage in an “ethical reading of history,” which she describes as “reparative reading” rather than “paranoid reading,” and which involves seeing ourselves in our historical context and relinquishing the innocence of our early Colonial ancestors.
Orange’s focus on “learning to hear (other’s suffering)” evolved from a personal struggle with sudden one-sided hearing loss, which led to several years of isolation until she was able to get a cochlear implant and began learning to hear again. This experience further increased her empathy for the suffering of people whose voices have been silenced by oppression, prejudice, violence, poverty, and other cruelties. She writes “My choice to focus on hearing … intends to focus on the other. Whom do we need to hear, and what remains unheard? Listening is my activity, hearing is my receptivity, my vulnerability, my willingness to be affected by the other” (p. 2). Orange places her book within the “ethical turn” in psychoanalysis (p. 119). “My questions about hearing unheard and silenced voices intend to challenge us to read history, to read the history of our psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic disciplines from unfamiliar angles, to read the history of our countries from the vantage point of the oppressed” (p. 2).
Her book is divided into seven chapters, each ending with a series of informative notes and extensive references:1. Silence in Phenomenology: Dream or Nightmare? 2. Violence, Dissociation, and Traumatizing Silence. 3. This is not Psychoanalysis! 4. The Seduction of Mystical Monisms in the Humanistic Therapies. 5. Reading History as an Ethical and Therapeutic Project. 6. Radical Ethics: Beyond Moderation. 7. Ethical Hearing: Demand and Enigma.
Chapter 1 examines the widely divergent forms of silence explicated by Jean Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Emmanuel Levinas. There is heroic silence, pregnant silence, silence as threat and violence, silence that refuses witness to victims of atrocity and their children, and silence of complicity in violence and violation of human rights. With regard to silence in psychoanalysis, Orange discusses the multiple egregious sexual boundary violations by prominent psychoanalysts and a tendency to protect the offender rather than the patient. She references the recent article by Philip Cushman (2018): “The Earthquake that is the Hoffman Report on Torture: Toward a re-moralization of psychology”. Orange honors the psychologists/psychoanalysts who led the fight to expose and end the involvement of psychologists in the US torture-program, but states: “most of us were silent, and even now (are) inadequately horrified by the acts done in our name” (p. 16). Orange maintains that “we need a theory and practice of ethical self-hood… and create moral dialogues, even protests, to resist ethical fogs and ambiguities like those that permitted us to stand by while psychologists participated in torture” (p. 17).
Chapter 2 presents Orange’s inquiry into what leads us to not want to know about the historical victim or victimizer status in the US and elsewhere. She writes: “As psychoanalysts we must ask what unconscious processes lead to the fogging of memory and the confusion of victimhood and perpetration” (p. 35). She provides an illuminating discussion of the dissociation of trauma in psychoanalysis, and elucidates dissociation of historical trauma in the US and elsewhere, which often hides under the mask of normalization- until it can no longer (p. 36). Orange suggests that the “honor of the family” may need to be listed as a proper psychoanalytic defense (p. 35), as can be seen in the work of Canadian-German psychoanalyst and historian Roger Frie’s book (2017) Not in My Family: German Memory and Responsibility After the Holocaust, in which he describes his own journey toward realizing that his beloved grandfather was an actively participating Nazi.
Chapter 3 addresses what can be described as the boundaries of psychoanalysis, i.e. “what is psychoanalysis?”. Orange recaptures the early history of psychoanalysis and how it came into being in an era of anti-Semitism, which created a baseline position of fear and suspicion. She illustrates the subsequent secrecy in psychoanalytic institutes and tendencies to silence psychoanalytic members who thought differently. Opponents to orthodoxy were thought of as “insufficiently analyzed,” homosexuals and other sexualities were excluded because of putative “pathology.” Orange surmises that these defensive reactions partly can be viewed as self-protective mechanisms resulting from the trauma of anti-Semitism, partly as an unconscious identification with the aggressor, rationalized as “protecting orthodoxy.” Orange offers several suggestions to combat silencing in psychoanalytic institutes, which she sees continuing until today: 1. teach students to read all psychoanalytic texts critically and with an eye towards their clinical implications; 2. understand each theory’s underlying philosophical assumptions about human nature, gender, race, and sexuality; 3. include a mandatory course on the history of psychoanalysis; 4. encourage more inter-disciplinary study (Freud linked psychoanalysis with history, art, and literature, and opposed reducing psychoanalysis to a medical specialty); 5. include the ideas of “psychoanalytic dissidents” in the curriculum; 6. prepare younger colleagues for the publication grind and encourage them to not give up if a journal rejects their innovative voices; 7. accept and welcome rather than criticize younger colleagues who dare to speak up at analytic meetings and conferences; 8. speak out against renewed efforts to restrict the title of psychoanalyst to those who subscribe to a narrowly prescribed theory and practice, and to exclude the many who have devoted themselves to psychoanalytic work, but who understand it differently (p. 56).
Chapter 4 is arguably Orange’s most personal chapter. In this chapter she emphasizes that attachments to authorities can impede our ethical hearing. “These bonds deprive the listener of the critical distance needed to evaluate the message let alone the messenger” (p. 63). Orange summarizes the historical contexts and philosophical underpinnings of the works of Freud, Jung, Heidegger, and Hermann Schmitz, and their personal actions and responses to violence in their societies. She advocates a careful and critical reading of philosophical and psychoanalytic literature as an anti-dote to uncritical and cult-like acceptance of any one author.
She notes that Freudian psychoanalysis is located in rationalistic Enlightenment Europe that was full of both individualisms and dualisms, for example masculine and feminine, active and passive, fantasy and reality, good and evil, and came to involve psychoanalysis versus psychotherapy, analyzable versus unanalyzable, conscious and unconscious, ego versus external world, phallic versus castrated, heterosexual versus homosexual, object-seeking versus pleasure seeking (p. 63). Often the second member of the pair is disparaged. A purely rationalistic way of thinking tends to minimize a more immediate emotional knowledge that is not yet symbolized, but needs to be recognized, accepted, and worked with so it can be put into words (p. 63).
In her discussion of Jung and Heidegger, the author reveals her conflict when she realized that Heidegger, who she admired and passionately studied, was a member of the Nazi Party and a life-long supporter of the Nazi regime. Heidegger maintained “a malignant silence after the war about the Shoah and about his own support for the Nazi regime” which “places him in a philosophical horror zone” (p. 65). In her narrative about Jung, Orange tells us that Jung worked within the Nazi system but did not formally join the Nazi party. “He was trying to help, he said” (p. 72). Jung claimed in 1946 to have criticized Nazi Germany so sharply that he ended up on a “Nazi—blacklist”, however, several scholars have noted that there never existed a publicly accessible blacklist, so Jung could not have known this. Jung also claimed that the Nazi’s had banned his books, but Orange’s research found that there is no evidence of this, however, there is plenty of evidence that Freud’s books were banned and burnt (p. 73). Orange states that there is no evidence that Jung ever recognized his anti-Semitism was involved when he continued to speak of a “Jewish” psychology and a non-Jewish psychology (p. 73). This chapter ends with a discussion of Hermann Schmitz who is widely recognized as a founder and prodigious writer of a “new phenomenology” in Europe but whose book (Schmitz, 1999) Adolf Hitler in der Geschichte (Adolf Hitler in History) minimizes the horror of the Nazi destruction, and reserves the name of Holocaust to what happened to Germans in WWI (p. 74).
In chapter 5, Orange describes ways that we can undo the silence and silencing of others in society and connect more emotionally with the extreme suffering that white privilege has caused, and develop a capacity for concern (Winnicott, 1965). She maintains that when we become truly able to hear the voices of those who have been marginalized, violated, and oppressed, and understand their humanity, we will be changed and propelled to stand up against racial, sexual, and economic violence and injustice. She recommends that, in order to overcome “normative unconscious processes,” i.e. that aspect of the unconscious that pulls to repeat affect/behavior/cognition patterns that uphold the very social norms that cause psychic distress in the first place (as cited in Layton, 2006, p. 242), we need to immerse ourselves in the histories written by those who have been silenced and violated by history’s usual telling (based on a presumption of superiority, entitlement, and sheer historical unconsciousness). Orange urges us to make such “ethical reading” a priority, an ethical and therapeutic project. She describes it as “reparative reading” rather than paranoid reading (Sedgwick & Frank, 2003). We need to become able to really hear these silenced voices and listen to their “experiential histories” (p. 108), which may disturb and disrupt us because they lay bare the sense of privilege and entitlement which have allowed us to demonize and ignore the other. Such ethical and reparative reading will also help to relinquish the innocence of our early Colonial ancestors. Orange recommends we read James Baldwin (1963), Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014), Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015), Wendy Warren (2016), Isabel Wilkerson (2010), the new biography of Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight (2018), Michelle Alexander (Alexander & West, 2012), Thomas Kohut (2012), Eduardo Galeano (1973), Bryan Stevenson (2014), and Roger Frie (2017).
Chapter 6 is titled: Radical Ethics: Beyond Moderation. Orange reminds us that the word “radical” is derived from Latin radix or root: “The word refers to something basic or fundamental, the very root at whatever is at stake” (p. 116). What is at stake Orange describes as following: “Arguably, we face today the imminent destruction of a livable planet, combined with ever more extreme economic injustice, organized as ever by white supremacists who hold and increase their dominance with the silence-gives-consent of many who may or may not consciously or explicitly hold their racist views” (p. 116). Given the emergency nature of our precarious times, Orange maintains that it is obligatory that we expand our human capacity for empathy and compassion to include others beyond our own close circles or even national boundaries. Citing Hegel, Levinas (1979, 1998), Løgstrup (1997), Wadenfels (2011) and others, she pleads with us to hear and recognize the suffering and traumatized others, whether near or far, as fellow human beings, and allow ourselves to be touched by their sufferings so that we can come to feel a responsibility to do something to alleviate it. Levinas, Løgstrup, and Wadenfels have in common that they stress the human capacity for vulnerability and mutual responsibility. Entitlement and Ego have no place in these philosophies of Ethics. “Precisely in responding to the command that the other’s suffering imposes on me, I am brought to subjectivity” (p. 122). She cautions us against normalizing the suffering of others (racial and economic injustice, climate change, colonial politics), i.e. as seeing the suffering of others as “collateral damage” (p. 137).
Chapter 7: Ethical Hearing – Demand and Enigma, is dedicated to the memory of Lewis Aron (2016) “theorist of mutual vulnerability and practitioner of relational inclusiveness” (p. 143). Orange reviews in this chapter the history of contemporary relational psychoanalysis (Bromberg, 1996; Mitchell, 2000) and voices her concerns about the focus of some of these theories on normative “multiple-self-states”. Multiple-self-states theories presume a normative dissociative self and advocate for “standing in the spaces” (Bromberg, 2004). Orange writes: “A theory that valorizes maintaining a split consciousness and ridicules the search for personal integrity and integrated selfhood, just because we often feel “of two minds”, may fail crucial tests of civic courage” (p. 155). Mourning and the recognition of finitude require of each of us more integration than simply letting self-states co-exist (p. 155).
Orange ends this chapter emphasizing that dialogue is indispensable to becoming aware of the ethical-a-priori (Sedgwick & Frank, 2003) to make the normative unconscious conscious. She writes: “This cannot happen in a vacuum, but requires exposure and listening to the excluded others. Unfortunately, the very structures and systems hiding the humanity of the other prevent such dialogue” (p. 160), i.e. education is still widely segregated by race and economics, there is separation by language, insistence on privileges we have come to take for granted. “When deprived of an a- priori privilege, many people become resentful and prey to demagogues, nationalism, and racist and sexist cults. Inability to recognize our unjustified privilege, just because it has been ours longer than we can remember, makes us vulnerable to those who say this privilege belongs to us, and that we must fight for it. These cultural assumptions, treated as religious- multiply and fill the earth- lead to a further assumption that anyone who question must be a dangerous Marxist radical. So, relearning to hear takes effort. It brings discomfort, worry, even insomnia” (p. 161). Orange differentiates ethical responsibility from masochism and introduces Levinas’ notion of “substitution” (p. 166), which does not mean joining the stranger in the ditch, but it also does not allow looking away in indifference, or just passing by. It means “bearing the weight of the other while giving up self-absorption” (p. 166).
I highly recommend this important and challenging book to every one of us. It is easily accessible, well-written, replete with thought-provoking philosophical arguments and well-researched facts, and highly relevant to our socio-historical situation. In a clear voice Orange urges us to examine white privilege and open ourselves to the suffering and trauma it has caused and is still causing. Orange argues that social and economic justice will become possible if we accept the ethical demand to make fundamental changes in how we are being in the world and how we relate to our fellow human beings, far and near, who are much less fortunate. Her ethics requires us to be humble, take responsibility, and work towards becoming ready to feel the suffering of others, not only that of the patients in our offices. Her proposition of such an ethical turn is radical because it threatens the status quo and requires letting ourselves be disrupted, vulnerable, and open to the loss of cherished privilege. Orange believes it is the only ethical option.
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About the Author
Rita Teusch, PhD, is a Training and Supervising Analyst and faculty member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. She is a part-time Lecturer in Psychiatry (Psychology) at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge Health Alliance, and provides supervision to psychology interns and postdoctoral fellows at Cambridge Hospital. Dr. Teusch has a private practice in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
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