Call – Migration


Call for papers – spring symposium in Barcelona March 20th-22nd  2015

“Philosophy, drama, and psychoanalysis each examine exile and return in the grand scheme of the life cycle – exile from the womb, from symbiosis with mother, from motherland, but also from our own reason and passions,” writes Spergel (2012). “Self‐imposed exile is usually a metaphor for the journey of self‐discovery, toward autonomy and self‐empowerment – to explore the forbidden, unacceptable, and transgressiveAvian-migration-Swans parts of ourselves, our sexuality, our will to power, our hidden identities.” Where ‘exile’, though connoting the pain of banishment, has a ring of individual nobility, ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’ suggest people conceived as members of herds, deprived of individuality. “Our age,” states Said (2000:174) “is indeed the age of the refugee, the displaced person, mass immigration”. Arendt reflects on the loss of being recognised as ‘someone’ that follows such a loss of ‘a place in the world’:

The best criterion by which to decide whether someone has been forced outside the pale of the law is to ask if he would benefit from committing a crime. If a small burglary is likely to improve his legal position, […] one may be sure he has been deprived of human rights. […] He is no longer the scum of the earth but important enough to be informed of all the details of the law under which he will be tried. He has become a respectable person. A much less reliable and much more difficult way to rise from an unrecognized anomaly to the status of recognized exception would be to become a genius. […] it is true that the chances of the famous refugee are improved just as a dog with a name has a better chance to survive than a stray dog who is just a dog in general (Arendt [1951]1979:286-287).

Displacement is central in the distortions of the manifest material in the dream work (Freud 1917d [1915]). It consists of the movement of elements from the centrality to the periphery of the dream as well as the replacement of these for an element that merely alludes to them. Analogously, migration and exile may serve similar purposes in the narrative of the individual. Geographical shifts may sometimes follow from defensive movements against anxiety producing or inadmissible motives, impulses and desires. Lacan, however, likens displacement with metonymy, used to explain the ever-moving dynamics of desire. In this sense, a defensive move against inadmissible desire may be another movement in the flow of desire itself. This appears clearly in Greek tragedy as Ananke, or necessity, and is personified by Oedipus who simultaneously runs away from desire in exile, yet unwittingly runs towards it.

Madness and madmen have been described as occupying a liminal topos, or place. In Madness and Civilisation ([1961] 1988), Foucault recounts how during the Renaissance madmen were exiled to wander the rivers of the Rhineland and Flanders in what was called the Ship of Fools. Foucault describes the madman as “the prisoner of passage”, a figure caught in an eternal crossing of a threshold. The eternal passage results in the land of origin and destiny becoming unknown. Besides being a depiction of eternal exile, the loss of origin and destiny is also, notably, the endeavour of the deconstruction of Social Sciences and Western metaphysics (Derrida 1993).

Foucault depicts the madman as enclosed within the limits of the city, or excluded from the city but imprisoned in eternal travel. The same liminal topology remains at play not only in the relation to the mad, insane or disabled, but in the relation between subjectivity and madness as such “if we are willing to admit that what was formerly a visible fortress of order has now become the castle of our conscience”. Lacan’s neologistic notion of extimacy, an external intimacy or an intimate externality, points to a similar topology. He characterises the relation between the subject and the symbolic order and between the subject and the object of desire as internal yet external, and vice versa (1962). These topologies presuppose displacement from traditional notions of belonging as well as dimensions of exile and foreignness at play at once within and without the subject.

Recounting how ‘leprosy’ in medieval Europe corresponded to no precise diagnosis and description, Douglas shows how the category was assigned to vagabonds, beggars and heretics. As part of a generally increased control on sexuality, lepers were held to be incestuous, rapists and highly infectious, and were made to wander or live in segregated settlements (1992:96). Thus ideas of madness, foreignness and disease can be seen to be linked as ‘matter out of place’, again associated with physical segregation, or continuous wandering. Fonseca’s suggestion that Roma narratives may be unique in not referring to a (lost or intact) homeland is of interest in this context:

Nostalgia is the essence of Gypsy song, and seems always to have been. But nostalgia for what? Nostos is Greek for “a return home”; the Gypsies have no home, and, perhaps uniquely among peoples, they have no dream of a homeland. Utopia – ou topos – means “no place”. Nostalgia for utopia: a return home to no place. O lungo drom. The long road (Fonseca 2006:5).

As opposed to the exile, “those who have never been displaced,” writes Kelley (2004:6), “can continue to ask “who am I” from their place of origin.” Yet even people who have remained settled suffer losses due to the passing of time, internal and external. Thus Burkeman remarks on how discourses of cultural nostalgia hook on to, and draw on confusion with, images of one’s own lost childhood, perhaps idealised as a psychic pastoral:

The hazy memory of a simpler past is enormously powerful in politics: see the Tea Party, or the hate-nostalgia of the Daily Mail. But look closely at the era being praised, whether it’s the 40s or the 90’s, and you’ll frequently find the praise-giver was about seven at the time (Burkeman 2014).

In this sense, to Kelley “Exile is the metaphor of the human condition”, the immigrant “a painful reminder of a truth that awaits us all but which we do not quite want to know – just yet (2004:8). Although many psychoanalysts throughout the history of the discipline, Kleimberg observes, were and are immigrants and exiles, they have largely refrained from writing about it, perhaps due to the pain associated with the experience (2004:46). Yet the condition of immigration or exile leads to questions on cultural complexity, compatibility, adaptation or colonisation. “Every emigrant becomes a natural anthropologist, observing, or more pertinently sensing such nuances, and the minute but not insignificant differences in cultural modes of being” (Hoffman 2004:58-59). The question of psychoanalysis’ relation to universality and difference is raised by Borossa, who cites from the Indian analyst Bose’s letter to Freud:

I do not deny the importance of the castration threat in European cases; my argument is that the threat owes its efficiency to its connection with the wish to be a female […] my Indian patients do not exhibit castration symptoms to such a marked degree as my European cases. The desire to be a female is more easily unearthed in Indian male patients than in Europeans. The Oedipus mother is very often a combined parental image and this is a fact of great importance. I have reasons to believe that much of the motivation of the ‘maternal deity’ is traceable to this source (Bose, cited by Borossa 1997:5).

Questions of the impact of specific cultural conditions and differential histories on the workings of one’s ‘inner world’ are also raised by Preta, who describes the task of contemporary psychoanalysis as that of “establishing a comparison between different anthropological positions”:

In the Western world, where we can see a fragmentation of the subject, psychoanalysis should, above all, help to recompose the Self. The individual tries to find not only a personal meaning but a collective one. On the contrary, in the Eastern world people are oppressed by totalitarian regimes which suffocate individuality. For this reason psychoanalysis is asked to free them from this control of the group. The Iranian psychoanalyst Gohar Homayounpour opposes “the unbearable lightness of being” of the West to the unbearable weight of the Eastern experience. (Preta 2010)

Such considerations may be seen to extend to subtler details of social interactions. For instance, can there be a cross-cultural, or cross-subcultural understanding of what ‘neutrality’ means in the analytic setting? Do the patient and analyst shake hands, do they kiss on both cheeks, or neither? What is the potential for accidentally communicating ‘coldness’ or ‘warmth’ in interactions and in the lay-out of consulting room interiors, depending on the cultural reading of the situation? Emphasising a positive element of the condition of exile, Said remarks on its potential to “diminish orthodox judgment and elevate appreciative sympathy”:

Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that – to borrow a phrase from music is contrapuntal (Said 2000:186).

Where Said describes how, via the exile’s memory, both the new and the old environments may occur together contrapuntally, Lacan stresses how, in addition to a horizontal linearity of a discursive chain, there is a “polyphony” of discourse that aligns each signifier vertically along the several staves of a musical score at any point, constituted through the metaphorical substitution of one signifier by another. Thus the occulted signifier remains present through its connection with the rest of the chain (Clark 2014: 507/157). The coexistence of several languages, and of multilingual subjects, furthermore, raises questions of the role linguistic frameworks plays in one’s thoughts, imaginings, feelings and symbolic elaborations. Consider the role of words in Freud’s study of the Rat Man:

What the rat punishment stirred up more than anything else was his anal eroticism […] rats came to have the meaning of ‘money’. The patient gave an indication of this connection by reacting to the word ‘Ratten‘ [‘rats’] with the association ‘Raten‘ [‘instalments’]. […] Moreover, the captain’s request to him to pay back the charges […] served to strengthen the money significance of rats, by way of another verbal bridge ‘Spielratte‘, which led back to his father’s gambling debt. […] Moreover, all of this material, and more besides, was woven into the fabric of the rat discussions behind the screen-association ‘heiraten‘ [‘to marry’] (Freud 1909:213-215).

Reading these passages makes one wonder to what extent the patient’s symbols and associations would have changed if his native language had been a different one. And what if his analysis had been in a language other than German? What works and what dies in translation, and what elements are musical or preverbal? Perhaps another form of polyphony occurs in the following exchange, as reported by Szekacs-Weiss:

Alice came from Sweden. […] Whenever she felt it was important that I understood what she really meant she stopped and repeated the word in Swedish. Associating to the shades and acoustics of these words took us further, but somehow did not satisfy her wish to be held and understood. One day having given me another word of her mother tongue she expectantly looked at me and I did not think: just said the same word in Hungarian. It had a transformative effect. […] it made it possible for us to go back in time to an age when her basic trust had not been broken into pieces (Szekacs-Weisz 2004:24).

We invite contributions on these and related questions.

This is an interdisciplinary conference – we invite theoretical contributions and historical, literary or clinical case studies on these and related themes from philosophers, sociologists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, group analysts, literary theorists, historians, anthropologists, and others. Perspectives from different psychoanalytic schools will be most welcome. We promote discussion among the presenters and participants, for the symposium series creates a space where representatives of different perspectives come together, engage with one another’s contributions and participate in a community of thought. Therefore, attendance to the whole symposium is encouraged and priority will be given to those who plan to do so. Due to the nature of the forum audio recording is not permitted.

Presentations are expected to take half an hour. Another 20 minutes is set aside for discussion. There is a 10 min break in between each paper. Please send an abstract of 200 to 300 words, attached in a word-document, to moc.liamgnull@scitilop.sisylanaohcysp by November 1st 2014. We will respond by, and present a preliminary programme on November 15th 2014. If you would like to sign up to participate without presenting a paper, please contact us after this date.

This is a relatively small symposium where active participation is encouraged and an enjoyable social atmosphere is sought. A participation fee, which includes two shared dinners, of £160 (or €200) before December 31st 2014 – £200 (or €250) between January 1st and February 15th 2015 – £250 (or €315) after February 15th, is to be paid before the symposium. Fees must be covered by bank transfer/international bank transfer. Your place is only confirmed once we have received your completed registration form as well as your payment. Additional information will be given after your abstract has been accepted or after the programme has been finalized.

We would like to thank the Spanish Psychoanalytical Society.

Unfortunately, we are unable to offer travel grants or other forms of financial assistance for this event, though we will be able to assist you in finding affordable accommodation after January 1st 2015. Please contact us if you wish to make a donation towards the conference. We thank all donors in advance!




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Auestad, L. ed. (2013) Nationalism and the Body Politic. Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia. London: Karnac.

Borossa, J. (1997). “The migration of psychoanalysis and the psychoanalyst as migrant” Oxford Literary Review, 19(1-2), 79-104.

Burkeman, O. (2014) “It’s not that life used to be simpler, or people less narcissistic. It’s that you got older” on the blog Jan 29th, first published in Guardian Weekend Magazine.

Clark, M. P. (2014). Jacques Lacan (Volume I)(RLE: Lacan): An Annotated Bibliography (Vol. 1). London/New York: Routledge.

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Fonseca, I. (2006) Bury Me Standing. The Gypsies and Their Journey. London: Vintage Books.

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Hoffman, E. (2004) “Between Worlds, Between Words” in Szekacs-Weisz, J./Ward, I. eds. (see below)

Kelley-Lainé, K. (2004) “Preface in Three Voices” in Szekacs-Weisz, J./Ward, I. eds. (see below)

Kleimberg, L. (2004) “From Cottage Cheese to Swiss Cottage” in Szekacs-Weisz, J./Ward, I. eds. (see below)

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Lowe, F. (2014) Thinking Space. Promoting Thinking about Race, Culture, and Diversity in Psychotherapy and Beyond. London: Karnac.

O’Neill, M. (2009). Making connections: Ethno-mimesis, migration and diaspora. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 14(3), 289-302.

Preta, L. (2010) “Geographies of Psychoanalysis” Special issue of Psiche, Journal of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society.

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Said, E. (2000) “Reflections on Exile” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Spergel, M. (2012)”Exile and Return: The Intersection Between Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and the Dramatic Imagination” in Other/Wise vol. 7.

Szekacs-Weisz, J./Ward, I. eds. (2004) Lost Childhood and the Language of Exile. London: Imago East West/ The Freud Museum.