Increasing confrontations between these opposition forces and the state meant that we often went to sleep at night with the ominous sounds of exploding bombs and machine-gun fire piercing the silence. I was also now on occasion meeting individuals who had been arrested and tortured by the military or police. It was chilling to be in their presence, especially among those whose spirits had been broken irrevocably by the experience. Only later would I realize that one purpose of their imprisonment, torture and release was their function as a chilling reminder to those who came in contact with them of what awaited anyone who dared to challenge the authorities.
In retrospect, I recognize that at the time I was able to manage the fear produced by such encounters because I was armed, one might say armored, by my political critique and commitment to social justice that included close bonds with others whom I admired and with whom I deeply identified. One evening in August , Gabriella and I were about to host an encounter of the various small feminist groups that had emerged in Buenos Aires, when we received word that there had been an attempted prison break at Rawson Penitentiary and that, after giving themselves up, 16 prisoners had been shot down in cold blood by the marines.
Women, they insisted, were oppressed by virtue of their gender no matter what the political ideology of the men in their lives. Several years later, I met another survivor of the Trelew Massacre, Maria Antonia Berger, a courageous woman whose face and body had been disfigured by the barrage of bullets that had almost killed her. I never saw Maria Antonia again; some months after the military coup in , along with thousands of other Argentines, she was disappeared and assassinated.
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But between the Trelew Massacre and the Dirty War that would assault the body politic some four years later, a parenthesis occurred during which a hard- won return to democratic rule permitted the flowering of an openly radical cultural and political environment that made Argentina a compelling place to be. In neighboring Chile, the democratic socialist Allende government had also produced a cultural renaissance in which artists, poets, writers and musicians painted, wrote and sang in support of its reformist and anti-imperialist policies.
But unfortunately this exhilarating political environment lasted a very brief period of time. By September , in the wake of the horrendous military coup that overthrew Allende, I was interviewing refugees from Chile who were fleeing across the Andes to seek asylum in what was, for the moment, still a democratic Argentina. I spent several days with the writer Ariel Dorfman just after his escape from Chile. His manic state of mind, born out of what he had experienced in the early days following the coup, was contagiously destabilizing.
Only later would I come to understand the mechanism of disavowal that I employed in order not to have to acknowledge to myself the psychological implosion to which I might otherwise have submitted. Indeed, as I travelled back and forth between Argentina and the US during that period, I believed I had an ethical obligation to raise consciousness in this country about the terrible human rights conditions south of the border. I presented papers in academic meetings and wrote articles analyzing the forces responsible for the human rights debacle occurring in the Sothern Cone. One of the most difficult aspects of this period was my emotional experience of disaffection from people in this country who, beyond the Latin American academic and solidarity community, knew little and, I resentfully believed, cared less about what was happening in their name beyond our national borders.
I traversed two very different realities, and the distance between the two often produced feelings of helpless rage toward my compatriots. I believed their disinterest was responsible for the escalating violence against people I knew and loved who were rapidly becoming targets of a ruthless military onslaught financially, diplomati- cally and militarily supported by the US government and corporate elites.
Among those people was Carlos Perez, a book publisher with whom I had been in a relationship for several of those tumultuous years Feitlowitz, Once the coup occurred on March 20, , I was not able to return to Argentina. Hollander, , was among the thousands of books burned in the streets by the fascist-identified military determined to kill off all critical thinking that threatened their domina- tion over Argentine society.
I had little idea at the time that these experiences represented for me a cumulative traumatic wound that was unrecognized as such and thus left unattended. I had even less understanding of their connection to earlier traumatic experiences that, as a child and adolescent, I had struggled to manage alone, often by turning to poetry and literature as solace and a way of finding meaning and connection to others who were able to express much of what was inchoate in my own awareness of self. This interest in internal states and relational experience had originally led me to choose psychology as an undergraduate major.
One psychology course I took required a practicum, and I elected to work in a state- subsidized daycare center for working-class parents, where I took care of the children until their parents arrived in the early evening to pick them up. My not yet analyzed associations to my own early struggles with a narcissistically preoccupied mother and the early loss of my father to cancer made the nightly ritual agonizing. My identification with the emotionally neglected and agitated children was so disturbing that my observant advisor suggested I choose another career until I could work through the issues that were making the experience so burdensome for me.
As an historian I could address some of the same dynamics I saw in the daycare center, only now in a broadly contextualized and less personally painful way because they could be thought about in the context of large group dynamics occurring over the course of hundreds of years.
Further, I could experience a kind of vicarious gratification that came from studying the multiple historical examples of individuals and groups who were able to fight to overturn the authorities and conditions that oppressed them. But this intellectual resolution turned out to be chimerical, given the particular history I would ultimately choose to specialize in and then to live!
Mapping the field of psychoanalytic psychosocial practice
And, in the end, I found my way back to psychology. A precipitating event in this regard occurred when I went to Madrid in the summer of with the purpose of interviewing a number of Argentine women who had fled into exile to escape the military state and its torturers. One woman told of having to abandon her children to relatives as she frantically scrambled to elude the military forces stalking her from house to house; another revealed how, as she walked along the wide avenues of Buenos Aires, she was kidnapped by hooded men leaping out at her from one of the infamous unmarked Ford Falcons used by the right-wing death squads.
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Another woman spoke of having been sought by military forces who, bursting into her home without a warrant and finding only her younger brother, kidnapped him instead, torturing and killing him for no reason in particular. Yet another told of being forced to watch while prison guards tortured her elderly parents in order to secure information she did not have; and one reported how, when her pregnant daughter suddenly vanished, clearly the victim of a military or death-squad action, her endless searches for her daughter and grandchild yielded nothing but a gaping hole in her heart; many told of having narrowly escaped similar fates before they were forced to flee into the uncertainty and dislocation of exile.
As I listened, I was aware of how important it was to these women that they could offer testimony about their life-shattering experiences. Bearing witness was excruciating but crucial for me as well, even though I felt overtaken by a sense of profound horror.
And I realized I could not depend on my social science training or my radical political theory or my feminist analysis to understand these women as individual survivors of a collective tragedy. I could not account for their capacity to endure the brutalities to which they had been subjected without going mad. Nor could I explain the variation in their success or failure to cope psychologically with such severe life disruptions and losses.
Psychosocial Work Group | psychology-and-other
Not present, but like ghosts, were the torturers themselves and, for me at the time, their equally inexplicable capacity to inflict such sadistic assaults on the minds and bodies of fellow human beings. While by then I was in a personal psychoanalysis and married to Steve Portuges, a psychologist in psychoanalytic training whose social radicalism paralleled my own, psycho- analysis was not yet integrated into my political life, which still revolved around the Latin American solidarity movements. I was producing and hosting a bi-weekly hour-long program on Pacifica Radio, for which I interviewed Latin America scholars and activists — among whom were feminist intellectuals and organizers — whose experience and analyses could enlighten the US public about the political realities throughout the region.
As I read it, I became enthralled with the woman who emerged from its pages and knew at once that I wanted to write her biography. With that goal in mind, I contacted her, not realizing how much our relationship would dramatically change and enrich my life. She had been a major figure among the psychoanalysts in Argentina who, during the same period I had been there, had responded to the turbulent social and political conditions by developing a theoretical orientation that integrated object relations and Lacanian ideas with radical social theory, and which they practiced in an activism that aligned them with human rights and social justice movements.
In , as political polarization intensified and paramilitary forces operated quite openly, Langer was forced to flee Argentina into exile after being told by a patient that she had been targeted for assassination by the infamous death squad, the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. In Mexico, she was rapidly integrated into the Mexican psychoanalytic community, but her passions lay with the solidarity work among refugees from the Southern Cone and increasingly from the bloody civil wars encompassing Central America.
ACTION – A LIMIT OF PSYCHOANALYSIS?
Through Mimi I met a network of colleagues, mainly from Argentina, but also from Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Mexico, who provided an important bridge for my own integration of social and psychological theory and political activism. Their example led me to seek my own psychoanalytic training in Los Angeles. Over the years, my relationship with my Latin American colleagues has enriched my theoretical and clinical understanding of how social trauma operates, often silently, as a pathogen that corrodes subjective and interpersonal relations, the symptoms of which can be decoded by a psychoanalytic method that takes account of the social matrix of psychic malaise.
Thus the customary emphasis on the familial- based etiology of psychological disorders can be situated in the larger social context of ideological and institutional structuring of unconscious processes and intersubjective experience. This orientation has guided my research and writing on the psychological impact of social trauma in the context of the state terrorist regimes and the nominally democratic cultures of impunity that succeeded them in the Southern Cone.
I was able to spend considerable time with Mimi while she lived in Mexico City, where I traveled frequently to visit and record almost 60 hours of interviews for my biographical project about her life and work. During these meetings I learned about their objectives, pedagogical and clinical methodologies and their resolution of the challenges to sustain continuity in their work in Nicaragua. The Sandinista Revolution had just overthrown the repressive US-supported Somoza dictatorship and was developing sweeping reforms, including a mixed state and private sector economic model, a parliament composed of representatives of multiple political parties and mass-based popular organizations and a non- aligned foreign policy.
In a unique way, psychoanalysis was setting down roots in the fertile soil of a society committed to social democracy and a radical restructuring of power hierarchies.
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They also supervised mental health professionals who worked with the various mass organizations that mobilized different sectors of the Nicaraguan population — women, peasants, students, refugees from neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala — who were then collectively able to represent their sectoral interests. These uniformly thoughtful essays should go far towards advancing this ambitious goal. To my mind this book represents a consolidation of a tendency that has been developing in our field over the last few years, one that has been largely absent since the days of the early political Freudians, characterized by a willingness forthrightly to assert a political point of view in one's writing.
In preparing to write this review I was perusing the discussion of a book on a political subject that appeared in a journal 10 years ago, and was struck by the cautious evenhandedness with which the matters at hand were being discussed. This convention of psychoanalytic Skip to main content.
Advertisement Hide. Book Review First Online: 18 June Some of these essays explore curiosities in odd corners of the language simply to remind us of the extraordinary richness of the English language. Others illustrate larger processes of cultural borrowing and change. Word Watching Format Paperback. Online Not in stock. Psychoanalysis, Class and Politics: Encounters in the Clinical Setting Lynne Layton, Nancy Caro Hollander, Susan Gutwill Describes how issues of class and politics, and the intense emotions they engender, emerge in the clinical setting and how psychotherapists can address them rather than deny their significance.
Watching Brief Julian Burnside In Watching Brief, noted lawyer and human rights advocate Julian Burnside articulates a sensitive and intelligent defence of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, and the importance of protecting human rights and maintaining Wordwatching: Field Notes From an Amateur Philologist Julian Burnside Some of these essays explore curiosities in odd corners of the language simply to remind us of the extraordinary richness of the English language.
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