Behav. Sci. 2013, 3, 619-633; doi:10.3390/bs3040619

Accounting for Material Reality in the Analytic Subject

Robin McCoy Brooks

New School for Analytical Psychology, 927 N. Northlake Way, Suite 220, Seattle, WA 98103, USA; E-Mail:; Tel.: +206-947-7078

Received: 25 September 2013; in revised form: 5 November 2013 / Accepted: 13 November 2013 / Published: 20 November 2013

Abstract: Scientific advances made in the 21st century contend that the forces of nature and nurture work together through an ongoing series of complex correspondences between brain and mental activity in our daily activities with others. Jung’s cosmological model of the psyche minimizes the fundamental corporeal condition of human nature and as such is critiqued and amended, influenced by the transcendental materialist theories of subjectivity inspired by Žižek, Johnston and Laplanche.

Keywords: Carl Gustav Jung; subjectivity; science; Slavoj Žižek; Adrian Johnston; Jean Laplanche

1. Introduction

“It is not easy formulating a metaphysical position that meets the demands of a material world; there is still a lot of philosophical work to do.” (

[1], p. 582).

Contemporary sciences deeply engage the role of the “sensuous brain” in emotional life, decentering long held psychoanalytic views of mind, brain, libidinal economy and subjectivity [2]. Various psychoanalytic traditions have opened up and are extending our understanding of the relational unconscious in psychoanalytic treatment (such as in transgenerational trauma). However, contemporary theory has not adequately articulated how material forces (bodily and environmental) influence, or impinge, upon the process of subjectification: the formation of the subject. A neuroscientific stance contends that the forces of nature and nurture work together through an ongoing series of complex correspondences between brain and mental activity in our daily activities with others [3]. New materialism theories do not confine nature to a singular biological body but extend materiality to the more-than-human. They view the interface of history, culture, technology, political and scientific environmental practices to be as equally valid as social constructions in the ways we can account for ourselves as subjects [4]. Thus, as human beings we are living and dying in the midst of an agentic natural world whose actions have consequences for both human and non-human alike. In this view, we are always already engaged in multiple agentic-often invisible- ecological/and biological materialisms (such as air and water pollution, epigenetics) whether we know it or not [5].

How the body gives rise to the mind certainly perplexed Jung as he wondered “how life produces complex organic systems from the organic” in his final reformulation of the psychoid archetype in 1946 ([6], para. 375). He was of course limited in his view (as we are) due to limits of the knowledge systems (political, social, scientific, cultural, philosophical etc.) that he was historically entangled in. In this paper, I critique aspects of Jung’s model of subject formation because, in my opinion he minimizes the fundamental material condition of human nature by privileging independent transcendent sources of subjectivity that originate outside of personal experience and personal unconscious fantasy. While retaining Jung’s crucial post-Kantian insight of a split subject I attempt to articulate a model of subjectivity that recognizes the correspondences between the social/biological/ and psychical realms. To that end, I turn to a transcendental materialist theory of subjectivity inspired by post-Lacanian psychoanalysts/philosophers such as Slavoj Žižek, Adrian Johnston and Jean Laplanche. These theorists view the psychoanalytic subject through unique materialist/metaphysical lenses.

2. Debates in Science and Psychoanalysis

An explosion of knowledge about the neurodynamics of the brain is stimulating many kinds of cross disciplinary applications. This is notable in the work of John Bowlby (attachment theory), Antonio Damasio (neuro-biological model of consciousness [7]), Mark Solms and Oliver Turnbull (neural unconscious paradigm [8]), Christian Roesler (epigenetic conceptualization of archetypes [9]), Julia Kristeva (depression [10]) and Johnston and Malabou [2]. These authors creatively rethink subjectivity through the lenses of neuro-biology, philosophy and psychoanalysis, thereby opening up new conceptual possibilities.

How can psychoanalysis remain culturally relevant in an age when neuro-cognitive science seems to be emerging as the dominating master discourse? One stance is for psychoanalysis to do nothing holding the view that the analytic method already is a ‘science’ that is sufficient onto itself that will stand the test of time on its own merits. Proponents of this stance (although richly varied) generally assert that neuro-science is irrelevant to the way practice and to our understanding of the human subject [11,12]. In the much discussed series of papers, Blass and Carmeli make the case against both neuro-science and neuropsychoanalysis by calling into question the claim that neuroscientific findings are relevant for the justification of psychoanalytic theory and practice [13,14]. They argue for the efficacy of the analytic stance which in their minds focuses on “the understanding of meanings and the role of interpersonal discourse in discerning and justifying these meanings”, versus what they call “biologism” which asserts “only what is biological is real” ([15], p. 1584). A case could here be made that adhering to psychoanalytic principles alone as the complete means for understanding the mind and its self-disruptions (to include brain disorders) can be a reverse variation of biologism, a kind of psychoanalytic-ogism or psychoanalytic reductionism.

Another response is for psychoanalysis to creatively assimilate neuro-science by entering meaningful correspondences between brain and mind. Assimilation of material from one discipline to another can take on various and discrete distinctions that Talvitie and Ihanus [15] organize into three neuropsychoanalytic conceptions that I will amend for our purposes here.

The reductionist conception reduces the basic assumptions of one theory of mind or brain to the other. However some authors, who identify themselves as “new wave reductionists” (versus classical) clarify their position as one that while interested in mechanistic explanations, does not view the autonomy of psychology and reduction as contradictory views. They favor “explanatory pluralism…a non-reductivist approach that is neither reductive nor anti-reductive” ([15], p. 1585). A less favorable variation of this stance might see it as psychoanalysis subordinating itself to the leading science, like Anna Freud’s “identification with the aggressor” [16]. From this perspective, one would interpret psychoanalytic questions through the neuroscientific lens as if neuroscience is the basis of all human sciences, in a kind of pervasive neuro-ism [11].

A second or hybrid approach attempts to integrate (versus reduce) or unify the views of psychoanalysis and neuroscience without negating the basic assumptions of either [15]. While this may be a more diplomatic strategy it can minimize or whitewash the irreducible aspects of either discipline, ultimately diminishing the potency of both the organic and immaterial (das ding an sich) views.

Allan Schore’s (the “American Bowlby”) integration of human development and neuroscience culminating in his attachment theory model is an example of a stance which seems to lose the depth dimension of psychoanalytic reflection [17]. There are also many prejudiced notions on the psychoanalytic side. For instance, many contemporary Anglo-American psychoanalysts have theoretical biases in their collective conviction that infants are primarily object seeking [18,19]. This turn in conceptual framework was emboldened by the unification of neuro-scientific models of attachment theory; turning people from the centrality of Freudian psycho-sexuality drive theory [20]. In my opinion, this loses the richness of alterity, of the human psyche in its excesses of desire, its aberrant drives and intrapsychic conflicts.

Talvitie and Ihanus’ third approach or an interfield conception does not attempt to unify any theories but respects the gap between the natural sciences and the humanities [21]. Roesler is an example of an interfield theorist who argues for an epigenetic model of the archetypes, viewing Jung’s own biological arguments as outdated [8]. While agreeing with Knox [22] and Hogenson [23]—also inter-field theorists—that the emergence model is so self-evident as to be ‘banal’, he challenges their contentions that archetypes have a universal component (a priori). Malabou and Johnston, both philosophers—the latter a psychoanalyst—compellingly embrace neurobiology. They acknowledge both the irreducible aspects of each discipline to each other (of mind and brain). In a sustained dialogue with the disciplines of philosophy, psychoanalysis and neuroscience they radically rethink what it means to be a human subject.

The French psychoanalytic tradition (in general contrast to many American models), particularly the work of Jean Laplanche continues to emphasize the centrality of infantile sexuality. He advances and clarifies Freud’s central ideas of drive and instinct and the interplay between what is physiological (biological) and what comes from outside of the infant via (enigmatic/ unconscious) messages from the (m) other. In other words, sexuality is not endogenous to the infant but emerges from the fundamental asymmetrical relationship (attachment) with the other due to its dependence (hilflösigkeit) and difference [24]. Although Laplanche does not rely on neuro-scientific developments to broaden his
theories, his theories “lean upon” (“anlehnung”) the biological but cannot be reduced to it [25].

3. Jung and Kant

It is well known that Jung was closely aligned to and influenced by threads of thinking derived from Kant’s transcendentalism, generally associated with the philosophical movement known as German Idealism. Kant’s subject was split between two irreducible realms-the first positing a pure noumenal, transcendental a-temporal, logical, “I” and the second positing a phenomenal, egoistic, spatio-temporal “I”. The pure “I” can never know itself as arche (ipseity), and is inaccessible as an object of experience. Therefore, Kant stated; “through inner experience I always know myself only as I appear to myself” ([26], pp. 26–27, my italics). In other words, the “phenomenal I” intuits and does not cognize a thing in itself and what is presented through a sense is always an appearance ([27], p. 190). Yet, it is consciousness that turns all “presentations” (Vorstellung) into thoughts, even though one is not able to adequately cognize the conditions that make the act of cognition possible [27]. Vorstellung can be translated as meaning whatever is given as present to awareness and within that Kant designated various kinds of general appearances ([27], p. 155). The term Vorstellung was mistranslated into the English editions of Jung’s collected works calling immediate experience “image” or “idea” rather than “appearance” or “phenomena” therefore rendering Idee (idea) and Vorstellung (representation and presentation) as the same ([28], pp. 8–11).

Returning to the specific topic of subjectivity, Johnston succinctly summarizes the Kantian arrangement of the divided subject thus:

Self-consciousness is limited to apprehending the phenomenal subject. Midway between intuition and reason, the understanding necessitates an iterable “I” accompanying every determinate act of cognition…From this iterability, reason, in accordance with the transcendental idea of psychological unity of subjectivity, treat the iterable “I” of the understanding as indicative of the need for a regulative principle of a timeless self-sameness. This is nothing other than the purely noumenal subject, a subject that must be posited given the systematic aspirations of the interests of reason, although no experiential correlate can ever be adequate to this idea ([29], pp. 103–104).

Johnston’s characterization of a zone “midway between intuition and reason” is an elaboration of Kant’s boundary concept. Kant introduced what he called and empty space’ or gap between the two concepts, which was neither purely noumenal (negative) nor phenomena (positive), or jointly both ([30], pp. 4, 354; [31], p. 497). In another context, Eyal’s Weizman’s depiction of a fixed border that separates deeply fragmented, constantly shifting and elastic [sovereign] territories’ while somehow benefiting both realms comes to mind ([32], p. 7). In this context, Weizman is describing his view of the wall separating Palestinians from Palestine.

It cannot be understated how essential Jung’s use of Kant’s boundary concept was to his project; indeed he attributed his philosophical epistemological basis of esse in anima (soul) to Kant ([31]; [33], p. 123). For Jung, human nature was divided between the inconsistent surfaces of the phenomenal realm that was contained by a unifying transcendent ground beneath its surface. Jung then situated a “world soul”, anima mundi, or “spirit of God” in the very heart of the noumenal territory-whose explicit goal was to advance the individual (and the whole of mankind) towards a union of spirit and soul (“unio mentalis”) in the body ([34], para. 707; [35], paras. 388, 293