sabato 24 dicembre 2011

The intellectual table: why we eat as we talk. Part three: how can we propose our cuisine?

What language for Psychoanalysis? How can a talking practice like Psychoanalysis produce effects in different parts of the planet? How can Psychoanalysis be relevant for Hong Kong, or any other place? If we go back to our parallel with the food, we might have the impression that the only food that can be successfully exported at any latitude is the fast-food. Apparently this is a paradox, because fast-food means generally lack of quality, and to a lack of quality one would not associate a worldwide success. How is it possible? But we can consider another example, an experience that probably most of us share. When we taste our cuisine abroad we are easily disappointed; the restaurant could have a good reputation among the locals, but we just don’t like it. We might laugh when we notice that some dishes’ names are spelled incorrectly, or have been changed with some others, maybe easier to remember but definitely bizarre for us; then we might make some observations about the ingredients used, and some dishes are clearly an invention of the chef and not a traditional dish of our country; and finally we think that even the music in background is outdated, old fashioned. We then perceive that everything is settled to match the customers’ image of the place they want to buy, but this place is ideal, is a fantasy place, and not the place we used to know. There is an image to sell, rather than a cultural difference to promote. Then, the cuisine should be at the same time “exotic” but still accessible, different but not too much, not far from the taste of the customers. It should leave the customers the illusion of having really met the different (an extreme experience), while they have been given what already belongs to their world (what preserve from the anxiety of the discovery).  The final result is a hybrid far away from the original. And interestingly, I found this both for Chinese restaurants in Italy, and for Italian restaurants in Hong Kong, as to say that this is common worldwide, we all represent the other, continuously.
Preparation of home made dumplings, Shuhe, China
This premise to say: can we practice Psychoanalysis in China without losing quality (the fast food mentality), and without turning Psychoanalysis into something bizarre? How can we avoid the logic of the fast-food, of pre-cooked food, for which everything should be easy, ready-to-use and have a quick effect? What is the border between simplicity and simplistic? And how to propose Psychoanalysis here in Hong Kong, where the thinking, the attitude toward life, and the questions are remarkably distant from the European and American culture?

Why given the same ingredients a Chinese chef and an Italian chef will prepare two different meals, or: why we treat theories as we treat food.
In Hong Kong the common attitude is to combine together practices, theories, and knowledge regardless to their very different backgrounds. I was very surprised when I realized that in Hong Kong professionals do not generally choose only one elective approach, but they rather mix two, three or four different approaches together. This is rather unusual in the West, where on the contrary we tend to choose one theory and specialize in that. We tend to believe that different theories cannot match because they are grounded on different premises, and so this “practical” attitude of Chinese leads to create what we, Westerners, may consider syncretism (which is syncretism only at our eyes, but it is not. I will further this point in a future post).
To be noticed that in Europe and in Hong Kong we have different conceptions of “efficacy” (Jullien, 2004), which generally brought us to a continuous and mutual misunderstanding. Generally, westerners consider the Chinese thought as “mysterious” and “abstract” (which is interesting because Chinese culture is one of the most materialistic and goal oriented in history). And the Chinese probably do not clearly understand the speculative attitude of the Westerners, who appear to them as always willing to discuss again and again about the same issue, and not very prone to action. (My impression is that in most cases Westerners have approached this completely different system with their own words and categories, and have had in the end the perception of a culture that lacks of logic, a culture less sophisticated, less developed. But very surprising, I have found that most Chinese share this vision; many Chinese have a picture of their country, which is absolutely mediated by the West. And by the way, when we say “West” in Asia, it mainly refers to one country, the US).


Then, we simply pose differently toward the speech, toward the theory, and toward the food as well. It’s because our word proceeds differently. While the Western thought has arose and developed around the Greek philosophy and Christianity, proceeding per integration (things cannot have opposite meanings at the same time, the Aristotelian third excluded: this or that, true or false. Consequence is that things must be re-thought, such that they all share the same premises), the Chinese thought proceeds for combination (this and that. Things that are considered somehow useful are included in a practice, even though they arise from totally different grounds, because attention is oriented to obtain a result instead of producing theory). And same as for eating also in religion the Chinese tend to combine different practices and rituals together.
At the very beginning of my arrival in Honk Kong a friend of mine, Christian and quite serious about that, she once told me that she frequently used to go praying in the Buddhist temple “because it’s closer than the church”. Not that this is the norm, but it is significant of a different approach to life, even toward something (for us) as radical as faith. 

The intellectual itinerary

Riceballs from Yunnan, China
As mentioned before, there’s a general tendency to consider everything coming from “the West” as coming from the same place, so that everything can be combined. It happen the same in Italy, where people at the same time want to practice Yoga, learn about the Feng-Shui and eat Sushi, but of course they have no idea where these traditions come from: it’s all “oriental”. Of course also Psychoanalysis can be attractive because it is a practice that originates in a western culture, but this can be at the same time an advantage and a limitation, as it might be always perceived just as one practice among many. But the point that I want to focus is another, because I find no interest in “exporting” Psychoanalysis in China, while I find more interesting investigating what China can give to Psychoanalysis, and most of my work goes in this direction. But here the question that I want to pose is yet slightly different. For instance, instead of questioning if Psychoanalysis can be effective in China, I would reverse the question and ask: is China ready for Psychoanalysis? If we consider when Psychoanalysis emerged in Europe, more than hundred years ago, it raised a big debate around it, which involved every aspect of cultural life. From its birth psychoanalysis has been considered much more than just a treatment for mental diseases (Roudinesco, 2003). Many scientists, artists, philosophers, literates, directors, have taken into account psychoanalysis for their work. Psychoanalysis has always had a big role in societies and many people were aware of its relevance even thought if they never considered beginning an analysis. Even some movies showed some psychoanalysts at work; psychoanalysis was not unfamiliar. So, how to create a culture for psychoanalysis in China?

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