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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Psychanalyse, État de droit et démocratie

by By Sophie Aouillé

Psychoanalysis, Rule of Law and Democracy

Translated by I. Offord

Translated Wednesday 8 February 2006, by Ian

A conference organised in Beirut by Élisabeth Roudinesco and Chawki Azouri raises the question of the subject in Islamic culture.

“Psychoanalyse dans le monde arabe et islamique.” [Psychoanalysis in the Arab and Islamic world.]
Edited by Chawki Azouri and Élisabeth Roudinesco, Presses de l’université Saint-Joseph, 2005, 184 pages, 14 euros. 42, rue de Grenelle, 75343 Paris Cedex 07.

This collection of papers was delivered at a conference in Beirut, Lebanon, in May 2005, amidst great turbulence as the country mourned its late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated just three months earlier. The articles, each more fascinating than the last, bear witness to what was, in the words of the historian Élisabeth Roudinesco, co-organiser of the conference with psychoanalyst Chawki Azouri, an incredibly rich moment of debate and reflection within and around psychoanalysis. One can only wish, just as she does, that French psychoanalysis continues to take up debates of such quality.

Throughout the conference, researchers from various fields attempted, each in his or her discipline, to consider an “object” of thought (language, religion, representation, the veil, etc.) and to define just what the position of psychoanalysis might be in the Arab and Islamic world, questioning the different types of discourse of authority and freedom at work in these cultures, the repression engendered by a certain conception of religion, and questioning also the status and position of women in these cultures. As Sophie Bessis so rightly points out: “the fate reserved for [women] is the best measure of what is changing in society.”

The theme running through these different papers is that of democracy and of a certain practice of freedom: if psychoanalysis teaches us that our freedom as subjects is slender, since we are determined by our unconscious, then in order to express itself this unconscious needs democracy. Psychoanalysis, let us not forget, has only ever taken root in countries that respect the rule of law. “Psychoanalysis”, as Chawki Azouri mentions in a very telling formula, “is democracy”, in the sense that psychoanalysis, beyond relieving a subject’s symptoms, is supposed to allow him or her to free him- or her-self from all allegiance to any kind of master. As Jalil Bennani says in his excellent paper on psychoanalysis in Morocco, “Thanks to speech, everyone acquires language, along with what it allows us to construct in our lives. And is this not the reason why, since time began, barbarism and totalitarianism have undertaken to silence people, by imposing a single way of thinking, with the same words, on everyone?” Fethi Benslama for his part, asking what the priorities might be for the psychoanalyst working in today’s Arab and Islamic world threatened by obscurantism, sees as absolutely essential the task of reactivating, in the world of Arab discourse and in Islamic civilisation’s body of knowledge (which is not limited to Islam), the understanding of the question of the subject, as well as that of awakening dormant or forgotten thoughts which have carried within them a subversive and liberating dimension.

This subversive dimension within psychoanalysis, which reacts against all forms of totalitarianism, is something of which the journalist and historian Samir Kassir, assassinated shortly after this conference in which he had participated, was convinced. This volume is dedicated to him.

Sophie Aouillé, psychoanalyst

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