theory of arts practices
doctoral research

The Critical Significance of Psychoanalysis: A survey of half a century of psychoanalytically inspired critique of bourgeois society

  • Onderzoekers: Frank Vande Veire
  • Promotoren: Peter De Smet (School of Arts), Philippe Van Haute (Radboud University Nijmegen, Fundamental Philosophy)

2006 – 2012

Anyone sympathetic with psychoanalysis as a science is well aware that caution is called for when implementing psychoanalysis in cultural theory, but few will contest that it can and must participate in the discussion of all manner of collective forms of idolatry, enthusiasm, aggression, addiction, depression, the ways in which achievement-oriented and consumer society has man, with his most intimate affective forms, firmly in its grip, about the importance of subconscious forms of identification and counter-identification in groups, about manifold manifestations of racism and ostracism, and so on. Accordingly, during the second half of the twentieth century, psychoanalysis was not only applied as a means to comprehend cultural phenomena, but also as an instrument of critique, notably of the ways in which bourgeois society needlessly inflicts psychical suffering on the individual. This research project will focus on the development of this form of cultural critique. Apparently, the objective will not be to formulate a comprehensive overview of all psychoanalytically inspired critical analyses of bourgeois culture Reversely, I will construct a tentative survey of what is most conspicuous in what psychoanalysis has to offer in the field of cultural critique. Most instances of psychoanalytically inspired cultural critique has Marxist backgrounds. Consequently, the term ‘freudomarxism’ was coined; denoting a combination of Marxist ideological critique and an analysis of the libidinal origins of symptoms. Ideology is then considered a collective symptom of collectivity’s subconscious conflict. A case in point of this type of analysis is the attempt to clarify Marx’ theory concerning ‘the fetish character of goods’ by using Freud’s concept of the fetish. As the fetishist denies the existence of sexual difference (the absence of the female phallus) by clinging to a fetish, the bourgeois in dealing with economic exchange likewise denies the social and therefore discordant origins of goods by clinging to the illusion that the value of goods originates in the exchange itself. To both Freud and Marx, religion acts as a paradigm for covering up underlying, repressed conflicts, and thus creating symptoms.

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