HOPE, DESPAIR, AND UTOPIA
by Isaac Tylim
The 9/11 terrorist attack punctured America’s innocence, inflicting massive trauma on people across the country. Almost without delay, psychoanalysts felt compelled to shed their mantle of neutrality to better assist survivors, first responders, and those who were vicariously affected by the tragedy. The couch was taken onto the streets, and analysts engaged in the arduous task of processing what seemed impossible to do.1
Today, over eighteen years later, while the sequelae of 2001 continuous to claim lives and souls, climate change, gender inequality and discrimination, human rights violations, social injustice, mass killings, and the 2016 presidential election are all adding to the feelings of doom and despair. Under the current state of affairs, hope seems to be eroding, and time seems to stand still with no redemption in sight.
In the consulting room, just as in 2001, analysts become witnesses who are themselves exposed to a “radioactive” effect (Gampel) of sociopolitical destructive forces. Both analyst and patient are rendered impotent to resist recurrent floods of intolerance and injustice. Facing the futility of protest, detachment from external reality may appear as a protective device against deregulated affect states. Detachment impedes the necessary work required to mourn lost ideals and desecrated values. Without mourning, unmovable resentment — and its corrosive outcome on the psyche — may dominate. Are analysts able to stand against despair, fight detachment, and reinforce hope? If so, how do analysts nurture hope when they themselves are as vulnerable to its demise?
The privacy of the consulting room has the potential to offer a unique opportunity to co-construct a safe transitional space where hope could be restored. Waiting might be viewed as a container that embraces disruptive affects and as a means of mobilizing agency. Without waiting, hope gets diluted in despair (Tylim 2007). The Spanish word for hope is esperanza; esperar is to wait. Waiting is hope, and there is hope in waiting.
The connection between hope and despair unveils an inherent paradox that defies the logic of secondary process. Hope highlights the power of wishes, that is to say the logic of primary process (Green 1986). The logic of hope is thus propelled by a wish that points toward the future.
Yet hope is more than survival instincts at work. Hope harbors resilience and courage to go on. Bloch (1988) wrote on a distinction between abstract hope and concrete hope. Abstract hope pertains to the realm of wishes.
This version of hope propagates a romantic or optimistic view that fosters a rather passive position trusting the future will bring change.2 Contrary to abstract hope, concrete hope is closer to the present in its participation and awareness of current obstacles. While abstract hope may be viewed as manic defenses, concrete hope embraces the limitations one experiences in the now.
Thus, concrete hope partakes of the logic of primary and secondary process. Wishes are informed by the real; that means it is concrete in the sense that this form of hope acknowledges that which is felt lost or damaged, intimating the depressive position. Concrete hope aims at integration and reparation. It is about going forward despite disappointments, promoting activism while challenging passivity and detachment.
The therapeutic dyad may engage in exploring concrete hope under an umbrella of utopia (Munoz 2019). Utopia is a bedfellow of creativity. It opens roads to renewed hope and transformation of trauma. In utopia, a rejection of the traumatizing here and now leads to unfreezing cycles of resentment, which leads to opening vistas of change. Utopia delves into potentiality
for a better world, integrating past, present, and future in fluid continuity. When hope fails and the dangers of the present threaten the therapeutic dyad with despair, turning to the utopian imaginary may offer a lifeboat to navigate turbulent waters. Utopia helps to survive the impossible present while charting the course for a new and different future via hope of the concrete variety. ■
Isaac Tylim, PsyD, FIPA, is an IPTAR Fellow, IPA training and supervising analyst, member of the Argentina Psychoanalytic Association, and a clinical professor, training analyst, and consultant at NYU’s postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, where he cofounded the Trauma and Disaster Specialization Program. For the last five years, he has been involved in the theatrical dramatization of Freud and Ferenczi’s thirty-year correspondence, which is being presented internationally. He is a co-editor of Reconsidering the Moveable Frame in Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2018) and maintains a multilingual private practice in New York City.
(1) IPTAR’s response can be found in “Terrorism and the Psychoanalytic Space International Perspectives from Ground Zero,” edited by Joseph Cancelmo, Isaac Joan Tylim, Hoffenberg, and Hattie Myers. Pace Univ. Press 2003.
(2) Chambers-Letson, Nyong’o, and Pellegrini in 2019 Jose Mjunoz Cruising Utopia, p.p. X.
Bloch, E. (1988). The Principle of Hope. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chambers-Letson, J., Nyong’o T., and Pellegrini, A. (2019), Forward.
Before and After In Jose E. Munoz Cruising Utopia. NewYork: NYU Press.
Green, A. (1986). On Private Madness. London: Hogarth Press.
Munoz, J. (2019). Crusing Utopia. New York: NYU Press.
Tylim, I. (2007). Hope in a Time of Cholera. Amer. J. of Psychoanal. Vol 67 (!) 97-102.
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