Psychoanalysis, anti-semitism and the miser (New Formations 72, Winter 2010)

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Publication date: July 1, 2011

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Stephen Frosh

In some recent writing that draws on Lacanian ideas about the structure of psychoanalysis, Slavoj Žižek opposes the common cultural vision of the analyst as confessor or priest. In this view, psychoanalysis is born out of the capitalist spirit of ‘thrift’, of hoarding and spending only with reluctance. Instead of the religious imagery of confession and forgiveness, or indeed a fantasy that psychoanalysis might represent a ‘cure by love’, Žižek alights on an anti-semitic trope that starkly pronounces on psychoanalysis as a mode of economic exchange. Miserliness is the core of this trope. Žižek writes (in The Parallax View), ‘The link between psychoanalysis and capitalism is perhaps best exemplified by one of the great literary figures of the nineteenth-century novel, the Jewish moneylender, a shadowy figure to whom all the big figures of society come to borrow money, pleading with him and telling him all their dirty secrets and passions.’ This paper takes seriously the idea that, in centring on a miserly exchange mediated by money, psychoanalysis reveals the structuring power of the social order over encounters that are fantasised to be based on love or care. However, it asks why the trope has to be so explicitly anti-semitic in its formulation. It is argued that what breaks through in this and some other passages where Žižek overly exuberantly evokes anti-semitism is a continuing failure of psychoanalysis to deal with its own ‘Jewish’ investments.

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