by: DIANE SWIRSKY, PH.D.
You never know what is going to kick off a controversy. Like all organizations, NCSPP gets some interesting email, and we on the Board of Directors are sometimes caught off guard by members' responses. Most recently, this occurred in relation to the 2012 Annual Lecture. Alessandra Lemma will be here March 10th to speak about the psychic landscape of those who are compelled to body modification (e.g., tattoos, piercing, plastic surgeries, scarification). It isn't so much the lecture itself that is controversial, but rather the way we went about advertising it. We held a "tattoo contest" and invited submissions of tattoo art, which we featured on the brochure as well as in the last issue of Impulse. It certainly caught some attention and a number of members had strong reactions. The positive ones went something like this: "I want to thank you for your exciting idea,"' or "That's awesome, I thought NCSPP was too stuffy to do something like that," and "Finally, something I can relate to." The more critical went: "You are participating in a perverse enactment," "It was in very poor taste," and "I thought you were supposed to be engaged in analytic thinking."
These two positions raise interesting questions related to generational attitudes, differing theoretical models, cultural context and the like. Lemma herself takes on all of this in her writing. She never shies away from complexity, incorporating political, cultural and psychological critiques into her thinking.
I can find something to agree with in both the positive and negative comments. The contest might be a little lacking in "taste" (whose, though?) and it might be an enactment (of what, though?) and it certainly is not something we usually do (why not, though?) and maybe it is not analytically oriented (who decides if that is necessarily a problem, though?). Is NCSPP a big enough tent to accommodate all these views? I'd like to think so. At a time when psychoanalysis is generally disregarded and disdained, I hope we can make room for a plurality of ideas and attitudes.
Lemma will be discussing the sort of individual who cannot stop altering the body and is using the body in a particular way to communicate internal states and conflicts. When we asked members for tattoo art, were we sanctioning and encouraging the very acts she is trying to understand? The Bay Area is a culture where every soccer mom has a tattoo, and multiple piercings are the norm among the college-aged population. Is it wrong to find a way to appreciate the art, the humor and the creativity in body modification? In addition, we have a responsibility to be aware of participating in a trend that objectifies and harms the body. It is difficult to live in a both/and instead of an either/or world. I hope that Lemma will shed some light on how we can continue to do this with our patients and each other. Join us to find out.
Diane Swirsky, Ph.D.