Hopefulness in Contemporary Psychoanalysis: Ricoeur’s Interdisciplinary Intersubjective Synthesis

Jeffrey Sacks, D.O.


Ricoeur’s interdisciplinary model of blending Psychoanalysis, Literature and Philosophy examines Freud’s opus and anticipates the evolution of Contemporary Psychoanalysis over seventy-five years. 

Early on in his interdisciplinary career, Ricoeur (1966) philosophically examines “the fallibility of man” and “the voluntary and the involuntary”, which corresponds with core questions within Freud’s pioneering interdisciplinary re-examining opus. This overlap in methodology and thematic provokes his life-long study of Freud’s opus through a philosophical/ linguistic lens. 

Ricoeur’s scholarly methodology offers opportunities to re-examine traditional models and synthesize new temporary possibilities. These new possibilities prefigure contemporary psychoanalysis’s clinical evolution and offer a transformation of Freud’s core ideas of past bound analysis to future oriented (Summers, 2013) synthesis.
Freud study
Ricoeur (1970) famously clarifies Freud’s model of consciousness/unconsciousness as a “master of suspicion” in which man operates as an unknowing (inhuman) animal, continuously embedded within the body and the unconscious. Within this matrix, symbols conceal the unknowable veracities of man and the analytic process offers discovery of these hidden unknowns.

Ricoeur’s alternative model offers personhood’s inevitable fallibility as a new model for human’s struggle with the unknowable involuntary and its symbols. This fallibility captures the inevitable bewilderment of the human endeavor to make sense of our ultimately unknowable self/ other/ sociocultural matrix. Within this new matrix of the linguistic animal, symbols alternatively reveal as well as conceal. This new possibility oriented collaborative linguistic process expands hopeful awareness or consciousness.

Ricoeur (1978) offers personhood as a two-person linguistic animal embedded in an uncertain multiplicity dominated by the world of language, symbols, interpretation, dreams and metaphors. Suggesting that within this milieu, the linguistic animal is alive as one but only truly human when interacting with another.

Knowing is now an interpersonal process in which one person’s bewilderment needs another for temporary clarification. Fostering the evolution of consciousness from an enslaved, past bound process to a future bound hopefulness.

Ricoeur more deeply examines the two-person linguistic animal through metaphor and multiple meaning, narrative and time (1983), intersubjectivity, the self as another (1992) and healing mutual recognition (2005). 

The Freudian community dismissed Ricoeur’s language dominated semantics of desire by arguing that meaning is not causality.  Remaining in the 19th century model of enlightenment knowing. Ironically 20th century science has embraced complexity, uncertainty and probability, which moved science closer to meaning interpretation or probability and further away from causality.

Corresponding clinical evolution
Clinical psychoanalysis has evolved over the last 50 years as a discipline separated from classical psychoanalysis and embracing an interdisciplinary influenced model. Sullivan (1953) and the Interpersonalists opened the door to social environmental forces as well as sociology, linguistics and field theory, unknowingly corresponding to Ricoeur’s major modifications of similar domains. Both embrace this linguistic/ interpersonal turn towards exploration of metaphor as the primary bridge of communication between self and the other. The metaphor or creation of meaning continues the shifts from the body and the unconscious to the two-person linguistic focus. 

Ricoeur offers another interpersonal shift from domination of unknowable words (called semiotics) to creation of sentences (called semantics) suggesting that humans, not words speak. This scholarly humanization or intersubjective interactive dependency serves as an unacknowledged meeting point between evolving contemporary psychoanalysis and Ricoeur’s growing opus. Each remains differentiated from classical analysis through a devotion to meaning making, not scientific causality.

Clinically, Intersubjectivists, Levenson (1972), Bromberg (2011), Stern (2019) and Hirsch (2002) introduce clinical evolution and incorporation of surplus meaning (fallacy of understanding), complex intersubjectivity (multiple self states), uncertainty of understanding (inevitability of enactments), and metaphoric interpersonal creating and sharing of meaning (co-creating moments). 

The Freudian community proposed a split between Freud’s scientifically inspired metatheory and human/ linguistic inspired clinical theory. Ricoeur remains unacknowledged by both communities.

Ricoeur’s clinical evolution
Ricoeur’s deeply inspired philosophical study, Oneself As Another (1992), examines the blending of interpersonal experience and human development, echoing Sullivan’s (1953) interpersonal pioneering voice. Ricoeur directly enters the clinical experience with his very tentative Course of Recognition (2005). Here he suggests the need to belong, communicate and be recognized, as well as mysterious role reversal, as the therapeutic engines of development and therapeutic evolution. He introduces the challenging question of misrecognition and dependency on the other for mutual recognition. Now both the clinician, as well as the patient, is interdependent and vulnerable towards each other (Sacks, 2019).

This collaborative vulnerability offers possibility and hope within the clinical hour. The clinical arena is offered as a utopian space fueled by productive imagination, and an exploration of a lived narrative process. This narrative blends a past influenced, currently created and future-lived synthesis. This linguistically interpersonal metaphoric and narrative process has just begun to be acknowledged by the clinical community. Clinically offering a creation of a liberated self through interpersonal synthesis, with opportunity to live and act in an ethical manner. 

Here multiple meaning interpretations clarify the clinician’s fallibility and vulnerability towards collaboration with the struggling patient. This dependency on the other shifts the analytic attitude from knower to grateful collaborator in which the future of contemporary analysis lies in the co-created future-driven synthesis. Ricoeur’s innovative paradigms of mutual recognition, role reversal, and intersubjective vulnerability offer the next phase of development in the psychoanalytic future.  

Bromberg, P. (2011). The Shadow of the Tsunami and the Growth of the Relational Mind. New York: Routledge Press.
Hirsch, I. (2002). Beyond interpretation. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 38, 573-587.
Levenson, E. A. (1972). The Fallacy of Understanding; An Inquiry into the Changing Structure of Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books. 
Ricoeur, P. (1966). Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 
Ricoeur, P. (1970). Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. 
Ricoeur, P. (2005). The Course of Recognition. Trans. David Pellauer. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press. 
Ricoeur, P. (1983). Time and Narrative. Volume 1. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer. Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press. 
Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as Another. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ricoeur, P. (1978). The metaphorical process as cognition, imagination and feeling. Critical Inquiry, 5:1 Autumn.
Sacks, J. (2019). The unrecognized analyst. In B.Willock, I. Sapountzis, & R. Curtiss (Eds.) Psychoanalytic Propectives on Knowing and Being Known. New York, NY: Routledge. 
Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. New York, NY: Norton.
Stern, D. (2019). The Infinity of the Unsaid. New York, NY: Routledge. 
Summers, F. (2013). The Psychoanalytic Vision. New York, NY: Routledge.

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