Recognition and Psychoanalysis: An Interview with Axel Honneth (2009)

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2009

Inara Luisa MarinYou have shown a strong interest in psychoanalysis, especially after your book The Struggle for Recognition, where it takes the form of a discussion about the works of the American psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin and those of D. H. Winnicott about object relations. Afterwards you have written various texts in which you engage in a discussion with psychoanalysis (with Freud, Loewald and Mitscherlitch). But you are above all a philosopher; your project subscribes completely to social philosophy, from which you clearly claimed this heritage. Would you explain what has driven you to work with psychoanalysis, to discuss its contributions and its heritage with a certain number of its authors?

Axel Honneth. My interest in psychoanalysis goes back deeply into my philosophical and sociological education. I was greatly fascinated by the writings of Freud when I was much younger, namely when I started to study and to do philosophy. In the beginning, in my first semesters, I also did psychology, so I was confronted with the academic psychology and I greatly preferred the writings of Freud, which I took to be much deeper and much more relevant to our self-understanding as human beings. So even when in my first readings of Freud I wasn’t able to subscribe to everything he had written, especially not to his sociological writings, I was very impressed by at least three things. First, his wonderful way of writing—something you cannot match. I think he is the best German-language author in recent times. Secondly, by his radical mind: he didn’t give up working through his first intuitions his whole life, and by the openness and clarity with which he did that. And thirdly, by his view on the human psyche. It is extremely helpful in making sense of some of one’s own experiences. It allows oneself a better self-understanding, so it’s pertinent even when it’s quite away from our normal psychological descriptions, it is useful for stimulating more radical interpretations not only of one’s own psyche but also of several events in your life world and in the world around you.

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