Fear of Breakdown News

Last May Columbia University Press published my new book Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis. Last month I learned that it is has won the 2020 Courage to Dream Book Prize by the American Psychoanalytic Association for the book that best promotes the integration of the academic and clinical worlds of psychoanalysis. My book is picking up that honor this coming Thursday at the APsaA national meeting in New York. There is also a session on the book from 2-4 that afternoon.

Last month the American Philosophical Association honored my book with a session with commentaries by Robyn Marasco and David McIvor.

So I am delighted and honored by all the accolades. But mostly this is a book about our times, trying to make sense of them, trying to understand how we got here, and what we all, just regular folks, can do. There is plenty. The CUP blog has a piece on this. You can read it here.

The key practices I suggest are these:

  1. Instead of seeing politics as a battle between good and evil that plays out in halls of governance, start seeing it as a public practice that each of us engages whenever we are thinking and talking with others about what kind of communities we want to create.
  2. Rather than seeing ourselves as victims of a broken or corrupt or nefarious system, see ourselves as political agents who can make a difference, people who can call a meeting of our neighbors, who can help constitute our political institutions and policies.
  3. As opposed to thinking that policy makers decide what policies need to be addressed, remember that it has always been publics and social movements that have put matters on the public agenda, and so that you and your neighbors, colleagues, and friends can work together to publicly identify what needs to be addressed and can help raise consciousness about the issues.
  4. Instead of treating policy debates as stark choices between what is perfect and what is terrible, start exploring how all choices involve some loss. To any problem, there is no perfect solution. Any direction will have costs. So, as you engage in conversation with others about what ought to be done, take seriously the imperfections and cost of any possible solution. Choose with a mind toward becoming willing to pay the price for what we want.
  5. Instead of waiting for public officials to do something, take whatever public will emerges from these practices and try to harness it for change. Often, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
  6. And finally, do not become complacent and settled in your convictions. Continue to learn from the past, question radically, and judge anew.

This way of approaching politics calls for a change in our attitudes both to problems and to each other. Where a politics bent on avoiding destruction splits the world into good and evil, a politics of working through anxieties calls for seeing shades of gray, nuances, and ambiguities.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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