giovedì 1 settembre 2011

Starting from the end: why Psychoanalysis and Hong Kong haven’t met yet?

Psychoanalysis is the great unknown in Hong Kong. Apparently, one of the most influencing cultural phenomena from last century had no echo in this part of the world. People ask me what is psychoanalysis, a question that is really challenging for a number of reasons. At first I would say that no name can be translated; because Psychoanalysis is a name first of all, not a concept or an idea that could be explained. Or at least, it works as a name in many western societies, but not here, not yet. So, how to talk about psychoanalysis, in Hong Kong? How to speak the language of the Other, how to give others some understanding of psychoanalysis?
I like to say that psychoanalysis is a “talking cure”, just as one of the first patients of Freud has named it. It is a clear and quite straight definition, even stunning in its simplicity. But then the first question immediately arises: if centrality is given to the word, what is the peculiar attitude of Hong Kong culture toward the speech? Not only Chinese is a totally different language, a non alphabetic language, which already poses some questions; but Chinese culture arose and developed from premises sometimes opposite to those of the Greeks. So, how could be understood here the idea of a “talking cure”?
Sigmund Freud
Some previous efforts in trying to “export” psychoanalysis into Chinese culture served to confirm that at the base of communication there is a structural misunderstanding. Even Freud failed in exporting Psychoanalysis to North America, thinking that this process would have had no consequences for the Psychoanalysis itself. But translation of Psychoanalysis into other languages and cultures, its mutations into other practices, and even its rejection can tell us much about a society, its values and dominating discourses. And, as a consequence, about Psychoanalysis itself. Speaking of psychoanalysis in Hong Kong is challenging, being it a practice which has no analogies in the local culture; but it’s rewarding, because this pushes to re-think psychoanalysis from its basic premises, not giving anything for granted. Rather difficult to say what is Psychoanalysis. Much easier to say what is not: it is not just a technique for solving problems; it is not a philosophy, nor is a vision of the world; and it is not just “one of the many different psychotherapies”. Psychoanalysis is radically Other. But one thing we can try to say: does Psychoanalysis exists alone? Or should we rather say that Psychoanalysis can exist only beside another discourse, precisely as analysis of another discourse?
The history of psychoanalysis is inevitably tied to the Western discourse. Sigmund Freud gave officially birth to psychoanalysis with his revolutionary “Interpretation of Dreams” in 1900. Psychoanalysis became soon popular, having reflections far beyond the consultation room, influencing most of the western cultural, artistic and scientific production. Thanks to its critical power in investigating and criticizing the dominant discourse in society, it became quickly a cultural phenomenon that affected the whole century.
After Freud, many clinicians have felt the necessity to develop therapeutic techniques (which was a marginal aspect in Freudian psychoanalysis), and develop different schools that today we generally classify under the umbrella of Psychotherapies. Thus, all the modern forms of psychotherapies derived from Psychoanalysis, but the paradox is that Psychoanalysis is radically different from any psychotherapy (even though someone would not agree with that). And is not a case that in Hong Kong every art of psychotherapy is practiced, except for Psychoanalysis. I tried hard to understand what other dispositive works in Hong Kong but, with my surprise, I haven’t found anything that even vaguely can recall the psychoanalytic conversation, or the figure of the analyst. What are the causes for this general indifference toward Psychoanalysis in Hong Kong? What cultural, social, linguistic, philosophical or practical aspects hindered the interest toward Psychoanalysis? And, on the other side, how theories are normally assimilated in Hong Kong?
What can we say about Hong Kong? Can we say something better than the horrible (and simply false) stereotype that “Hong Kong is the place where east and west meet”? Sure, nowadays we assist to the diffusion of the western discourse worldwide, the so called Westernization. But, can we say that Hong Kong is westernized? And how we know that? We need to introduce a fundamental distinction: we can’t just watch a place, we have to read it. This is one of the first lessons from Freud: being in a listening position, not just under a hypnotic fascination. The eyes can bring us to meet the other, the similar, the semblant; but it’s only the word that can put us on the way to the Other, the other version of the telling. Then, what is the dominant discourse in Hong Kong? Let’s focus on discourses, not just habits, or outlooks. Let the place talk, let his people speak; listen to their stories, their values, beliefs, their telling. Because Hong Kong appears to be very modern; but what’s beyond appearances? 
Skyscrapes and a traditional boat: Hong Kong remains quintessentially Chinese
Hong Kong is very extreme. Steve Tsang, in his fascinating “Modern History of Hong Kong” (2004) wrote that Hong Kong people “remains quintessentially Chinese and yet share a way of life, core values and an outlook that resemble at least as much, if not more, that of the average New Yorker or Londoner, rather than that of their compatriots in China”. And already in 1969 Agassi and Jarvie noted that Hong Kong appears “superficially westernized but deeply Chinese”. Which at today this is possibly even more evident; I would say that Hong Kong is much more westernized than the West (at least compared to Italy or Europe), and more Chinese than Mainland China. It is westernized (or most likely Americanized, see Watters 2010) in the way it ideally assumes and exacerbates all the values founding the western discourse: technique and technology, capitalism, happiness, results, efficiency, fast-pace life. At the same time it remained very traditional because it did not know the Cultural Revolution and has maintained very traditional Chinese values, structure of social relationships, family organization, attitude to speaking, and relations between genders.
Westernization often meant improvement to people’s life, but also brought some significant changes in their lifestyles, desires, and expectations, and even symptoms (for example cases of anorexia were very rare in Hong Kong before the Nineties).
Many Hong Kong professionals are trained abroad, and they imported their western knowledge when they came back to Hong Kong. This was possible with some adaptation to the local context. But techniques cannot explain the specific of a symptom for an individual, as showed by failures of applying the DSM out of western contexts. Is this enough for thinking that any room for psychoanalysis in Hong Kong is possible? At today I would say no, for reasons I would expose in further posts. Paradoxically, probably psychoanalysis will gain more interest as long as the western discourse will spread. Anyway, to me it seems more challenging and interesting investigating why at present Psychoanalysis is still missing; and on the other side the question concern what Hong Kong can say about the western discourse. Hong Kong represents a unique chance for learning about the culture we come from, as it puts on evidence and it questions the premises that found our discourse. I abandoned the idea of exporting anything since I came here; Hong Kong is not missing of anything. Hong Kong has a lack which should not be filled, a difference that should be preserved, so to be our place Other.

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1 commento:

  1. Una città, una metropoli, una Meter Polis, una città madre per dire che la psicoanalisi non esiste.
    Città, Civis, citazione, parlare, viaggiare, scrivere.
    L'analisi della psiche non esiste, l'analisi dei problemi per poterli risolvere non esiste, ma esistono dispositivi, città per odorare e assaporare la materialità della Parola.
    La questione è colta da Italo Calvino nelle Città Invisibili, che così fa parlare Marco Polo “ Anche le città credono d'essere opera della mente e del caso, ma né l'una né l'altro bastano a tener su le loro mura. D'una città non godi le sette o settantasette meraviglie, ma la risposta che da ad una tua domanda ”
    E questa risposta non è un responso, ma un'apertura, un'idea, una traccia, un preambolo per continuare il viaggio, per non esaurire la domanda ma rilanciarla.

    Diego Busiol il nuovo Marco Polo...del resto un po' veneto lo è! :-)

    Gianluca Delmastro (