Illness as Irony in Psychoanalysis

in Social Analysis
Restricted access

This chapter examines the ironic reversals found in many psychoan- alytic interpretations, looking especially at their construal of the rela- tionship between illness and agency. Freudian interpretations take two different forms, one associated with the current uses of illness, the other with its infantile origins. I argue that these two ways of reading illness draw their structures from the two most influential forms of irony in Western literature. Interpretations stressing the cur- rent uses of neurotic symptoms follow a pattern laid down by rhetor- ical irony, in which the ironist’s seeming innocence or incapacity conceals a strategic aim. Those tracing neurosis to its infantile origins follow the pattern of dramatic irony; here the concern is with hidden forces shaping a victim’s destiny.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology