The Relationship between Psychoanalytic Visions of Subjectivity and Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity

The development of psychoanalysis in the 20th century produced a profound impact on the modern psychology as well as 20th century philosophy at large. At the same time the late 20th century brought considerable changes which affects consistently traditional psychoanalytic views and contributed to the emergence of postmodernist ideas grounded on modernist concepts which were adapted to the new, different environment of the late 20th century. In such a situation, traditions views which were the characteristics of psychoanalysis, including views on subjectivity, had changed dramatically. Nevertheless, it is hardly possible to estimate that the era of psychoanalysis has gone. In stark contrast, it is rather possible to speak about the evolution of psychoanalyst, especially its views on subjectivity and its fusion with new modernist and postmodernist trends.

On the other hand, it is impossible to underestimate the significance of modernism and postmodernism since they lay the foundation to the modern philosophy as well as modern psychology. Therefore, they cannot fail to affect psychoanalysis too as well as its main concepts. At this point, it is necessary to understand the fact that the modern era is a transformational epoch when traditional views and beliefs which used to be perceived as norms in the 20th century, are questioned now that is actually a typical characteristic of postmodernity. In such a situation, postmodernism can be viewed as the emergence of new, experimental concepts and ideas which aim at the re-evaluation of traditional concepts. In such a situation, traditional scientific postulates are often rejected and psychoanalysis as one of the mainstream trends of the 20th century is also under the impact of postmodernity, which in its turn originates from modernity which used to be particularly significant in the late 19th ”“ early 20th century.

In such a situation, the psychoanalytic visions of subjectivity, which was based on imagination and faith, today evolve into visions of individual’s perception of the world and surrounding reality which are deprived of a traditional scientific basis, but are deep-rooted in human emotions and unique individual perception of the world.

The psychoanalytic visions of subjectivity

On analyzing the essence of psychoanalysis and its fundamental concepts, it should be said that visions of subjectivity traditionally played a very important part in psychoanalysis. In fact, subjectivity occupies one of the central places in the theoretical developments of psychoanalysts. In this respect, it is possible to refer to one of the founders of psychoanalysis, Freud. It proves beyond a doubt that Freudian views on human psychology and human nature at large are, to a significant extent, grounded on the concept of subjectivity because it is through the subjective perception of the self and of the surrounding world an individual is able to shape his personality, his character and basic traits which can define the life of the individual. In such a way, subjectivity turns out to be an essential element of human personality or, to put it more precisely, human perception of self, other people and the surrounding world at large. At this point, psychoanalysis is, in a way, similar to modernist and postmodernist concepts.

At the same time, it is necessary to point out the fact that the concept of subjectivity arises in psychoanalysis as an antagonistic concept which psychoanalysts use to test the surrounding reality. In other words, psychoanalysis deals with a kind of dualism, which represents a struggle between subjectivity and reality. On the one hand, there is reality, but according to psychoanalysts (Elliot, 1992, p.25), the reality cannot be perceived by an individual objectively, because his consciousness is affected by subjectivity which distorts the objective reality. As a result, an individual perceives not the real, objectively existing world, but the world which the individual’s imagination interprets on the basis of external images an individual observes in the real world around him. In such a context, subjectivity is needed to test the reality since the difference of the perception of the surrounding world by different individuals is determined by the different effects of their subjectivity and subjective perception of the real world. Hence, on comparing subjective views of individuals it is possible to arrive to a relatively objective perception of reality, when psychoanalysts, by means of analysis, distinguish objective, real facts from individual interpretations of the surrounding reality. In such a way, psychoanalysts divide the perception of the reality into fragments which they sort on the basis of psychoanalysis and, then, create the image of the surrounding reality and the subjective world of an individual, which do not always coincide.

Thus, it is obvious that the concept of subjectivity in psychoanalysis is closely intertwined with the concept of reality, which is one of the main concepts of psychoanalysis and it is an essential element of psychoanalysis. In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the reality is perceived through visions of subjectivity. The visions are defined by psychoanalysts as judgments partly rooted in subjectivity, which, however, illuminating and complex they may be, necessarily involve looking at reality from certain angles and not others (Minsky, 1998, p.135). At the same time, psychoanalysts define subjectivity as acts of imagination and articles of faith.

In such a way, subjectivity is a product of the human imagination which is supported or based on human faith. In such a context, there remains no room for rationalism in regard to the human subjectivity. What is meant here is the fact that human subjectivity does not reflect the objective reality but is a sheer product of human imagination and faith, which are not grounded on real facts or things but rather on internal inclinations, beliefs, feelings and emotions of an individual.

At the same time, psychoanalysts point out that the perception of the surrounding reality and ideas as well as visions which actually shape individual’s subjectivity are often selective, provisional, labored, and, therefore, to a significant extent controversial. To put it more precisely, it is possible to speak about the selective perception of the surrounding reality by an individual because of his subjectivity. In fact, an individual can perceive what he considers to be important or significant for him under the impact of his subjective feelings and emotions. For instance, an event can be perceived by an individual as important only on the premise of his intuitive ideas and faith in the importance of this event, while, in actuality, an individual may omit or ignore facts which are objectively even more important for him at the moment.

Furthermore, on analyzing psychoanalytic visions of subjectivity, specialists (Frosh, 1991, p.112) single out four visions: comic, romantic, tragic and ironic. Speaking about the comic vision, it should be said that the comic vision seeks evidence to support unqualified hopefulness regarding personal situations in the world (Elliot, 1996, p.41). It serves to confirm that no dilemma is too great to be resolved, no obstacle to firm to stand against effort and good intentions, no evil so unmitigated and entrenched that it is irremediable. Basically, it is obvious that the comic visions are highly subjective and are rather oriented on the development of positive thinking than on the objective perception of the surrounding reality. Nevertheless, the comic visions are very important because they can improve the psychological state of an individual. On the other hand, it is necessary to remember that the comic vision increase the risk of the formation of false beliefs and views on the surrounding world and self-perception of an individual. Anyway, the comic visions distort an individual from the reality and enforce his subjective perception of the surrounding world and its adequate interpretation.

The romantic vision implies that the life is a quest or a series of quests (Frosh, 1991, p.134). The quest is a perilous, heroic, individualistic journey. Its destination or major goals combine some or all of the qualities of mystery, grandeur, sacredness, love and possession by or fusion with some higher power or principle. In such a way, it is obvious that the romantic vision of subjectivity also leads to the formation of a specific, highly individualistic vision which has little in common with the surrounding reality. At the same time, psychoanalysts (Frosh, 1991, p.137) point out that often people suffer from the sense of failed quest, which makes them unhappy and dissatisfied with their life, though the process of seeking for something idealistic is important since it can also form positive impressions and interpretations of individual’s achievements, which though are highly subjective.

The tragic vision is expressed in a keen responsiveness to the great dilemmas, paradoxes, ambiguities, and uncertainties pervading human action and subjective experience (Frosh, 1991, p.146). This vision manifest itself in alternatives to the inescapable dangers of defeat in victory and victory in defeat, the pain in pleasure and the pleasure in pain. This vision of subjectivity implies the justification of negative feelings or negative self-perception. For instance, guilt is perceived as a justified action, the loss of opportunities entailed by every choice and by growth in any directions, and so on (Frosh, 1991, p.141). As a rule, the person with a tragic sense of life knows the renunciations that are intermingled with the condition of gratification. The necessity to act in ignorance and bear the fear and guilt of action, the burden of unanswerable questions and incomprehensible afflictions, the probability of suffering while learning or changing are the characteristics of the tragic vision. Obviously, this vision leads to the formation of negative subjective perception of an individual himself and the surrounding world. In actuality, the tragic vision can produce a destructive impact on the personality because individuals develop a strong, negative self-perception which is extremely subjective and does not necessarily mirrors the reality and reveals the true personality of an individual.

Finally, the ironic vision is traditionally characterized as a readiness to seek out internal contradictions, ambiguities and paradoxes (Elliot, 1992, p.31). At this point, it overlaps the tragic vision, but the difference in the two lies in their aims. The tragic vision aims at seeing the momentous aspects and implications of events and people; it values total involvement and great crises. In stark contrast, the ironic vision considers the same subject matter as a tragic but aims at detachment, keeping things in perspective, taking nothing for granted and readily spotting the antithesis to any thesis so as to reduce a claim of that thesis upon us.

Theories of modernity and postmodernity

In spite of the huge impact of psychoanalysis on the development of psychology and philosophy of the 20th century as well as of the modern epoch, it was still accompanied by the development of modernism in the late 19th ”“ early 20th centuries and postmodernism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In this respect, it should be said that modernism and postmodernism are closely intertwined because postmodernism actually originates from modernist ideas, but it has emerged in a totally different epoch that determined substantial differences in the two. At the same time, both modernism and postmodernism have preserved certain similarities in their views on subjectivity with psychoanalytic vision of subjectivity and bring in some new shades of meaning to this concept.

Speaking about the principle differences between modernism and postmodernism, it is necessary to dwell upon the basic points which distinguish both movements. For instance, the concept of ”˜self’ is treated differently in modernism and postmodernism. The former admits the existence of stable, coherent ”˜self’, independent of culture and society, while the latter interprets ”˜self’ as a myth and largely a composite of one’s social experience and cultural contexts. Furthermore, reason and science provided accurate, objective and reliable foundation of knowledge that stimulated the development of such modernist movements as cubism, while postmodernism perceives reason and science as myths created by man that results in the trend to higher level of abstraction and symbolism and attempts to escape from rationalism and objective reality.

Also it is worthy of mention that science was perceived by modernists as the paradigm of all true knowledge while postmodernists are more skeptical about it and treats science as ideology which is not really trustworthy. At the same time, it is necessary to underline the difference of views of modernists and postmodernists on language both verbal and non-verbal. Basically, modernists stay on the ground that language is transparent and there exists a one to one relationship between signifier and signified. In stark contrast, postmodernists emphasize that language is fluid and arbitrary as well as meaning is that results in the belief that meaning is ”˜messy’ (Alloway, 1988, p.150).

Another important point that differentiates postmodernism from modernism is their attitude to truth. Postmodernists estimate that there are no eternal truths, no universal human experience, no universal human rights, overriding narrative of human progress. In general they believe that truth may exist independent of human consciousness but there is no objective means of nailing it down. Instead, modernists are more resolute in this respect, and definitely emphasize that truths does exist independent of human consciousness and can be known through the application of reason. Moreover, modernists believe that the application of reason leads to a progressive movement towards civilization, democracy, freedom, scientific advancement. On the other hand, postmodernists stay on the ground that there is no objective means upon which to predicate morality and just governance.

Also it is noteworthy that modernists and postmodernists have different views on such phenomenon as feminism. To put it more precisely, according to modernists, women are oppressed by patriarchy and can use reason to achieve both independence and regain their ”˜authentic selves’ (Harvey, 1995, p.59). As for postmodernists, they believe that the categories of feminine/masculine, male/female are themselves cultural myths and gender roles are culturally relative in all cultures and contexts.

At the same time, all these differences are important for the concept of subjectivity and its interpretation by both modernism and postmodernism. Unlike psychoanalysis which develops the idea of antagonism between subjectivity and reality and insists on the analysis of subjectivity to better understand reality, modernism and postmodernism are more radical in their views on subjectivity. Modernism basically lays emphasis on the purely scientific analysis of the surrounding reality and human personality. In such a way, modernism tends to deny subjectivity as an unreliable, imprecise, non-scientific category. In contrast, postmodernism lays emphasis on the significance of subjectivity because it is subjectivity that does mater, while all the scientific developments and analysis are unimportant or even totally denied by postmodernists and, at this point, postmodernity is similar to psychoanalysis in regard to its appreciation of subjectivity as an essential element of human personality (Elliot, 1996, p.35).


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the concept of subjectivity can vary consistently depending on the theoretical ground from which this concept is analyzed. At the same time, the psychoanalytic vision of subjectivity remains still very influential because it is less radical in its interpretations compared to modernism and postmodernism which differ consistently in regard to subjectivity. In fact, the difference between postmodernism and modernism is quite significant and art and design only reflect the profound change and shift that have occurred in human values, lifestyle, and ideology during the last century. Obviously, both modernism and postmodernism are the ”˜products’ of their epochs and are equally progressive and advanced but modernism rather symbolizes the development of art, culture and society at large in the 20th century, while postmodernism reflect the ideas and recent trends of the late 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. Moreover, it should be said that by the end of the 20th ”“ the beginning of the 21st century postmodernity had become the dominant trend, though the position of psychoanalysis and its views on subjectivity is still very strong and it is unlikely that the psychoanalytic concept of subjectivity will be totally abandoned in the nearest future.

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