Psychoanalysing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan

“Covering everything from Aristotle to zombies to Breaking Bad, Carol Owens and Stephanie Swales have written a masterpiece unlocking the secrets of ambivalence. In Psychoanalyzing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan, they demonstrate that ambivalence is perhaps the central category in social relations. The need for this book is especially urgent today, in an era characterized by its various ways of refusing ambivalence, which are, Owens and Swales make clear, ways of refusing the price of interacting with others altogether. Psychoanalyzing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan speaks to the contemporary political catastrophe better than any book I’ve read.” –Todd McGowan, Professor, University of Vermont, USA

Taking a deep dive into contemporary Western culture, this book suggests we are all fundamentally ambivalent beings. A great deal has been written about how to love—to be kinder, more empathic, a better person, and so on. But trying to love without dealing with our ambivalence, with our hatred, is often a recipe for failure. Any attempt, therefore, to love our neighbour as ourselves—or even, for that matter, to love ourselves—must recognize that we love where we hate and we hate where we love.

Psychoanalysis, beginning with Freud, has claimed that to be in two minds about something or someone is characteristic of human subjectivity. Owens and Swales trace the concept of ambivalence through its various iterations in Freud and Lacan in order to question how the contemporary subject deals with its ambivalence. They argue that experiences of ambivalence are, in present-day cultural life, increasingly excised or foreclosed, and that this foreclosure has symptomatic effects at the individual as well as social levels. Owens and Swales examine ambivalence as it is at work in mourning, in matters of sexuality, in our enjoyment under neo-liberalism and capitalism. Above all, the authors consider how today’s ambivalent subject relates to the racially, religiously, culturally, or sexually different neighbour as a result of the current societal dictate of complete tolerance of the other. In this vein, Owens and Swales argue that ambivalence about one’s own jouissance is at the very roots of xenophobia.

Peppered with relevant and stimulating examples from clinical work, film, television, politics and everyday life, Psychoanalysing Ambivalence breathes new life into an old concept and will appeal to any reader, academic or clinician with an interest in psychoanalytic ideas.