Sunday, 4 November 2012

Martin Jordan: Foreword to 'Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos' (Dodds, 2011)


Ecopsychoanalysis represents a major step forward in attempting to think about the relationship between psychoanalysis, ecology, 'the natural' and the problem of climate change. It is our very embeddedness in a matrix of relationships between mind, nature and society that makes it so difficult to see what we are doing and to feel its consequences, so that to think in ecological terms becomes very problematic.

Psychoanalysis has always subverted dominant notions of a coherent, ordered known and conscious self. In the same way climate change tells us that nature can be manipulated disordered and attacking, rather than a benign stable backdrop to our lives. The very ground of our existence is troubling us deeply, even persecuting us for our desires and behaviours. What does psychoanalysis have to say about climate change? How can it shed light on our response, or lack of response, to the threat? Can eco-activism itself be seen as an unreflective acting out of unexamined desires and prejudices? Psychoanalysis at its best holds up a mirror to the self and the society around it. Harold Searles (1960, 1962) pioneered psychoanalytic approaches in this area with his seminal work on the nonhuman environment. Dodds contemporises psychoanalysis by placing it within a complex nonlinear web, part of a much broader set of ecological relationships and ideas.

Showing himself to be a 'nomadic scholar' of the highest order Dodds both draws on relevant psychoanalytic ideas to explore the ecological terrain, and points out its limitations in remaining, in spite of all its advantages, fundamentally a psychology without ecology. By drawing upon the geophilosophy of Deleuze and Guattari and current thinking in complexity theory, he puts together an exciting and very interesting argument (or arguments in a rhizomatic form) for how we may approach this current crisis. He doesn’t shy away from the problems inherent in a romanticization of nature which if left unchecked threatens to turn it into a Disney theme park. He asks, as other have started to do in the field of ecocriticism (Morton 2007), whether we need an ecology without the idea and projections of an idealised ‘Nature’.

No one group will be completely comfortable in his ideas. The growing field of ecopsychology will be reluctant to give up on long held notions of nature and indigenous wisdom. Since humans first manipulated their environment they have been making species extinct, yet the current human driven mass extinction is not going to be answered by linguistic games or by imagining a benevolent Gaia which can be pacified through ritual. We need new forms of thinking and being. Many psychoanalysts will also be unhappy giving up their love of structure and the linear, although the inherent nonlinearities in psychoanalytic practice and theory would find a much more appropriate home in these new ideas than the outdated 19th century models of science it still so often clings to. Scholars of Deleuze and Guattari will argue that they opposed psychoanalysis on nearly every point so may be deeply sceptical of any project which involves bringing these two fields together, although in many ways this move may be necessary to more fully develop Guattari's ideas of 'schizoanalysis', especially as applied to the clinic.

Deleuze and Guattari clearly felt psychoanalysis was important enough to require a detailed and often productive critique, and they certainly knew a lot more about psychoanalysis than most contemporary Deleuzians. Thus, in a maneuver some may find disorienting he takes the important things psychoanalysis brings to the table, making psychoanalysis strange to itself, but in ways which in the long term will help it become more vital, more alive, and less weighed down with authority that has dogged it since Freud’s radical vision emerged at the turn of the 20th century. Dodds attempts to play with what each approach has to offer in the sense of a multiplicitus heterogeneity, an assemblage of ideas and processes, mirroring the interlocking complexity and chaos of climate change itself and thereby opening up new spaces for thought. What could be more Deleuzian, or rather Deleuzo-Guattarian than that?

An ecological psychoanalysis also helps us begin to re-imagine therapeutic practice where we can start to create spaces for thought that links to the earth. Deleuze and Guattari's ideas such as assemblage, immanence, the rhizome and the body without organs do not invoke static theoretical concept-objects in the traditional sense, as much as a tool kit, itself both pragmatic and ephemeral, taking lines of flight and thought and in so doing deterritorialising the toolkit into thought/earth spaces which are then again retterritorialised into different forms and processes. Good psychotherapy is all about process, not about 'Truth' and rigidified thought, recalling Bion's negative capability involved in bearing uncertainty while conducting psychoanalysis without memory or desire, and Winnicott's conception of psychotherapy as a highly specialized form of playing. Ecopsychoanalysis takes seriously the challenge of ecopsychology, and its call for us to move beyond the narcissism of anthropocentrism in our thought and therapeutic practice.

The problem with traditional ideas of ecology as it is defined within positivistic parameters, is that it seeks the linear and structured processes of known causal relations amongst things. The complexity of the natural world, its unpredictable, fractal, and vital nature is  sterilised under a lens, the gaze of the scientist is only allowed to see in particular ways, hence the need for nonlinear approaches has been most strongly felt in the field of ecology. Couple this up with the quasi science of mainstream psychology, which deadens off subjectivity and affectivity in all sorts of ways in order for it to become known and understood and we have an unfolding disaster of thinking. Bateson told us that we are making lake Erie insane with our thinking (Bateson 2000), and that we need a new way to envisage the ecology of mind. Hence the central claim of the field of ecopsychology, which Dodds engages with constructively even while criticizing its unreflective assumptions and idealizations, that 'ecology needs psychology, psychology needs ecology' (Roszak, Gomes, & Kanner 1995). This linking of thought to the Earth is also strongly present in the work of Bateson, as well as Deleuze and Guattari. Here, earth and mind are intertwined, folding back on one another in a multiplicity of assemblages, becomings and lines of flight. Nature becomes something both reassuring and terrifying, that ambivalent uncanny terrain that psychoanalysis, despite all its faults, has made its own.

In Dodds' strange ecology, thought and earth move together, become destabilized together, flow and erupt, thought becomes multiplicity and is heterogeneous. By conjoining geophilosophy with complexity theory, the book helps to develop the potentials in both, providing the philosophy we need to help us think through the implications of this new form of nomadic nonlinear science, and the science to develop the intuitive leaps generated by philosophy. This creates the conceptual framework Dodds needs to dislocate psychoanalysis, providing a new unheimlich home in which psychoanalysis can think through what Dodds calls the ecology of phantasy.

The next ten years are central to moving forward towards new forms of interdisciplinary writing and research, and ultimately new forms of relatedness to the earth. The complex interdependent web that climate change sets up between the three ecologies of mind, nature and society, demands that we start be able to think, feel and act in more ecologically complex forms. Ecopsychoanalysis calls on us to start thinking at the precipice. We need to start being able to bear the ecological thought and to re-vision the world and ourselves in nonlinear ways, mirroring the strange ecology that swirls around us and threatens to destroy us, but which, with all its beautiful complexity and chaos can, just perhaps, show us the way out.

            - Martin Jordan, Brighton, England, December 2010 

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