From the Editor

by Shlomit Gorin, MA 

Issues of identity in the context of race and gender have recently taken the media world by storm, raising foundational questions about self-experience and self-representation while sparking considerable controversy, even among traditionally aligned groups. Certainly, there are significant differences between Bruce Jenner's transformation to Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal's racial identification as Black. Nevertheless, both cases exist within a culture that social critics refer to as "makeover culture" because of its increasing encouragement of self-reinvention.

In his lecture "Makeover Mantras," social theorist and sociologist Anthony Elliott asserts that "the growing, gradual cultural anxiety that women and men increasingly experience that they need to undertake a set of revisions...a set of restructurings, a set of recalibrations, a set of reorganizations of their professional and their personal identities in order to be able to get on with the core challenges and dilemmas that face them in their everyday lives." The institutional forces driving this cultural anxiety are, according to Elliott, globalization, the new economy, the communications revolution, and compulsive consumerism.

Reinvention culture, Elliott claims, is shaped by the increasing velocity of contemporary society. To illustrate this point, Elliott considers therapy culture, past and present: "Freudian psychoanalysis didn't fall on hard times because of the arrival of psychopharmacology. It's fallen on hard times because people are time-pulled today...because people don't have the money to undertake that kind of very lengthy investigation of the self. And yet, curiously...therapy itself is booming." Psychoanalysis, however, is not. Elliott points out that the kinds of therapy that are thriving are the ones that promise "the quick fix, the instant change, the buy one session and get one for free" kinds.

While it's unnecessary to evoke apocalyptic fantasies, it's fair to contend that there is increasing friction between psychoanalytic ways of working and contemporary global, institutional, political, and cultural forces. These forces don't just function as the cultural backgroup to our work; they inform our relationships to ourselves, to others, and to the societies in which we live. As Elliott argues, "These changes go all the way down, right into the very texture of lived experience, into the heart of human subjectivity, affecting identity, interpersonal relationships, friendships, family connections, intimacy, sexuality, and the body." In our work with and as patients, we ought to keep in mind the larger picture Elliott sketches, lest we forget or play down the powerful external drives and pressures characterizing the era in which we're living.