Gohar HomayounpourDoing Psychoanalysis in Tehran

MIT Press, 2012

by Anna Fishzon on December 19, 2014

Gohar Homayounpour

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In Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran (MIT Press, 2012) — part memoir, part elegy, and part collection of clinical vignettes — Gohar Homayounpour takes a defiant position against the Orientalizing gaze of Western publishers, editors, and journalists who search in her book for the exotic Iranian subject and the trauma of the Eastern Other. She turns a critical eye on the expectation that she perform an unveiling and reveal knowledge about the Other’s otherness. Insisting that “pain is pain” everywhere and that the Other’s foreignness also resides in oneself, she instead talks about her own sense of dislocation and loss upon returning to Tehran to start a clinical practice after twenty years in the United States. Iranian patients face problems specific to their country’s politics and culture, to be sure, but for Homayounpour, experience in the consulting room confirms the universality of the Oedipus complex. In response to a colleague in Boston who questioned whether “Iranians can free associate,” Homayounpour quips that “they do nothing but, and that is their problem.” While in the United States neurotics are rumored to have disappeared from psychoanalytic couches, replaced by patients with supposedly more “primitive” narcissistic organization and borderline personality disorders, in Tehran, claims Homayounpour, consummately neurotic analysands dominate the clinical landscape, speaking constantly of sex, sexuality, and typically Oedipal conflicts. The resemblance of Iranian analysands to the patients of Freud’s Vienna has nothing to do with Eastern essence or backwardness, of course, and everything to do with collective fantasy, analytic training, cultural structures, and varying iterations of capitalism.

In the book as well as in our interview, Homayounpour’s poetics and politics brim with warmth and hospitality – not a humanitarian hospitality, or altruism, that too easily transforms into guilt and then sadism, she hastens to clarify, but one that emerges from gratitude and an ability to be with the other’s difference.

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