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Thinking with Freud

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Hannah Zeavin:  So the social, to open it up at all, and I don't just mean like asking your analyst or therapist, "Did you vote for X or Y?" but the actual social field in the US is seen as both now a conversation that's happening and worth happening, but maybe even six years ago, five years ago, would have been seen as kind of wild and left. Whereas for almost any person, it's the absolute way they relate to their life.

Alex Chambers:  That's Hannah Zeavin. She recently started a magazine trying to think through those questions, trying to uncover the psychosocial dimensions of our lives. This week on Inner States I talk with Hannah about the magazine, about growing up in a family of psychoanalysts and more. That's coming up, right after this.

Alex Chambers:  There was a time when psychoanalysis was the thing. Americans coming back from World War II, who'd gone through all kinds of violence and trauma. They could come home and talk with an analyst and there was evidence that those sessions really helped with their struggles. We would probably now call those struggles PTSD. Anyway, that high point of psychoanalysis lasted until about the 1960s. Now, most therapy is not specifically psychoanalytic, but psychoanalysis has never just been about the individual patient. Even Freud used his theories to try to understand society. His practices may have fallen out of fashion, but his thinking stayed alive in the academy and now there's a new magazine, it's called "Parapraxis," that wants to remind us how psychoanalysis can help us think about society now.

Alex Chambers:  So I decided to bring in the magazine's founding editor, Hannah Zeavin, to make the case for psychoanalysis and social analysis. Hannah taught at Indiana University this past year and she came into the studio in February, a couple of months after the magazine's release. We talked about how growing up in a family of psychoanalysts shaped her relationship to her own feelings, gender panics, whiteness in psychoanalysis and the space she's created for thinking together. This is not Hannah's only project. Her first book is called "The Distance Cure". It's about the interwoven histories of communication technology and therapy. She's got another book in the works called "Mother's Little Helpers: Technology In The American Family." She's written for "The New Yorker," "The Guardian," "Harpers" and more. I asked Hannah to introduce herself.

Hannah Zeavin:  I'm the founding editor of Parapraxis Magazine, along with six other incredible editors and it's really nice to be with you today.

Alex Chambers:  It's so great to have you. I thought you were going to say six other projects, at least six other projects.

Hannah Zeavin:  We don't have to talk about those.

Alex Chambers:  So yes, I want to talk about the magazine. How Freud can help us move toward the radical horizon of political emancipation, as you put it. But, as I think any good analyst would want to do, I think maybe we should start with some origins. You grew up in a household of psychoanalysts. How did that affect how you understood your own feelings?

Hannah Zeavin:  What a question?

Alex Chambers:  To just start.

Hannah Zeavin:  Actually, it's an impossible question, but it's one that, to some extent, drives my intellectual and emotional life, since you asked about my feelings. I am the child of two analysts, my mom and my stepfather, and grew up in New York City in the 90s, with them and also all of their friends who are also analysts, more or less. Or they're translators of French analysts into English; one I was just speaking to on the phone last night. And they had this beautiful way of raising their children that I deeply admire and resonate with, which is that sure, there's a biological family. And within our family, in fact, not all of us are biologically related. But the family also had this kind of capacity to it. It didn't have to be exactly nuclear and that was its aspiration. To be bigger and extend beyond the confines of a home and a group, but to be a bigger one.

Hannah Zeavin:  So lots of analysts were very influential and around and when you're a young child, you may or may not have that awareness as to what your parents are doing somewhere else. But at least, for me, and I've spoken with my younger brothers about this, the somewhere else that parents went to work was fascinating and a secret. Because when you'd ask them, "What did you do today?" all they could say was, "I saw some patients". Lacan says, "Desire is predicated on a lack". There was this extreme lack, this under-featured knowledge of what they were doing and it had this kind of quasi-mystical status in the family.

Alex Chambers:  Which was already clear, even when you were really young?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. You would have to ask Ivan and Isaiah about this but I certainly would go and sleep on their couches after school or after preschool, play with their diagnostic cards, talk to them about what they were reading with Dora aged ten, things like this. It really was like being raised within any kind of weird minor form. Almost a cult, we could say. And So we had a great deal of awareness of what we were a cult and cultish around, which was more or less Freud. I've dodged your question which is how it impacted my feelings and my understanding of my feelings, which I can just say very briefly was all about knowing what they were. So I think people not raised by analysts, when you have a feeling you might feel it.

Alex Chambers:  Right.

Hannah Zeavin:  I don't know that I feel things before I know what they are. Not consciously. And it's something I'm trying to work on. What is a feeling before you know what it is? I don't know. But there was this understanding, and I write about this in the first issue of Parapraxis. My brother calls it roots not fruits. That in order to have an emotion or a symptom, we had to be able to locate it, why we were having it, to have an explanation and a narrative around it. We couldn't just feel. This isn't so malicious as it sounds. Parents today especially, often try and help their children locate what they're feeling. We just had that on steroids.

Alex Chambers:  To the degree that it almost didn't even count as a feeling until it was articulated?

Hannah Zeavin:  I think there are shades of that problem, not that it didn't count, but that no one can help you when you are feeling without language. And I think that that, to some extent, may be true. How is someone to begin to assist you in unpacking and narrativizing a feeling before you have narrativized it? So what my parents didn't do was interpret us without us interpreting ourselves. That would have been worse, certainly. "I'm sad." "Well, it must be because of your mother." No, there was none of this kind of reductive interpreting the child before the child is willing and interested. But it did mean that if you were crying and not zero years old, but crying and a little bit older, the request might be "Do you think you know what's happening?"

Alex Chambers:  I think that makes sense. It does make me curious about there's this idea that we have different people have different kind of modalities and is it necessary to narrativize? Maybe you use something other than language to narrativize it. Maybe there's imagery or something.

Hannah Zeavin:  Certainly. I can only really speak for myself but I think my parents were lucky in that this parenting style happened to agree with both my life and what was happening in it. Starting out, I can really start to remember this coming up at age four and maybe a little bit before when my parents divorced when I was three. But certainly how I've lived my life has been centered around this question. You have to ask the subsequent question which is, Is it because that's how I was raised or was it more organic than that? Freud would say, "It's multiply determined." So at least I have something to do with it. But I think if I had been a different child it may have worked better and it may have worked much worse. And I can't say that my parents wouldn't have adapted or that they didn't. They say that each child has different parents, even if they have the same parent. Me and my brothers actually do have different parents, which makes it even more a fine point.

Alex Chambers:  Actually different people?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes.

Alex Chambers:  That's true. So there was this intrigue around it as you were growing up and as you got older you avoided Freud and psychoanalysis as an object of curiosity, as something you might pursue?

Hannah Zeavin:  Oh, certainly. Auden calls Freudian psychoanalysis an entire climate of opinion. That even if we try and get rid of it, we really can't. And all you have to do is go to a bar and overhear 40 minutes of conversation anywhere I've ever been in the United States, and you can start to hear the Freudian paradigms translated through a game of telephone, mind you, over a century start to appear. "Oh, she's dating someone just like her mother." On and on and on like this. But beyond that kind of colloquial element and that kind of cotillion exposure both within the home that I've just described and beyond it, yes, I wasn't that interested. I was a poet and I was very, very interested in American poetics. So Freud, okay. But it wasn't Alice Notley or John Ashbery or Diane di Prima or Bernadette Mayer, so I didn't really care all that much. It wasn't Amiri Baraka.

Hannah Zeavin:  And that all changed, like things do. I had a kind of moment with my object re-found. I re-found Freud at age 19. I was in a class, the course was on the US family portrait from the start of photography in the 19th Century to the present that was 2009, with Dr. Laura Wexler. She assigned us in relation to, I can't remember, death portraiture maybe, "Mourning and Melancholia" by Freud. And it's a really difficult essay. It's a deceptively difficult essay, as much of Freud is, and I had never, and probably still until this day, have never wanted so badly to understand every element of the text. I was 19 and it changed my life. I really abandoned poetry after that and turned very hard towards critical theory.

Alex Chambers:  And what was it in there that hooked you?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes, it's the thing that I think has hooked me about psychoanalysis. It's the thing my parents were trying to give me as a child. Psychoanalysis is often about trying to name something a phenomenon, that might have some universalizing tendencies. It sure does. But that people, let's just say not all people, but some people, some of the time, in some places and sometimes are experiencing and trying to really think about the psychic mechanisms at play so that we can deal with them. Not undo them, not necessarily mitigate them, but work within them. So "Mourning and Melancholia," is Freud trying to understand the difference between mourning. We can use this word with asterisks because it's a little problematic, productive mourning. Mourning that is very sad, of course it is really depressed. And melancholia, which becomes set up as the more pathological outcome.

Hannah Zeavin:  Freud has this line that there is very little, maybe nothing, that distinguishes mourning and melancholia, so it's a good set up for let me understand this. You think, Really? Why are you writing the article Freud? But that the melancholic does not know this is Freud, what is lost in him. And So melancholia, for Freud, and lots of people have come afterwards to work in the aftermath of this essay, critiquing it, extending it, thinking about melancholia and race, melancholia in the post colonial, melancholia in gender, but Freud's idea is that the melancholic takes all of their feeling towards the lost object and turns it in on the self. And so becomes this kind of pathological difference. Not knowing what he's lost, but that he's lost it in him. And I don't know why this, of all the essays. I could speculate, but that's all it would be. But I remember at 19 and kind of lazy at the time reading this essay again and again again and still can remember the excitement of I must understand this.

Alex Chambers:  Your new-found need to understand this and psychoanalysis, maybe more generally, how much of it was about a desire to understand something about the self and the individual experience versus the ways that it offered you an opportunity to think more broadly about society and politics?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. So for me, this is something I'm also really attracted to about psychoanalysis generally. And I don't know if I consciously got that at 19, but that you can think psycho-analytically about the world, about society, about groups, extending a kind of furtive work that Freud had started, especially towards the end of his life. You can think very much psycho-analytically about oneself or another, an individual, also about art. So it's a way, it's a hermeneutic and, of course it's also a therapeutic practice. And mostly, I think statistically, in terms of numbers, it's now a way of looking at the world. There are actually very few people, about 10,000, in a true analysis. Only 10,000. And there are many more people interested in thinking with psychoanalysis, at least a little bit. But it is a pretty minor form of care.

Hannah Zeavin:  For me, the work of "Mourning and Melancholia" immediately became about thinking about the Vietnam War and the United States and a series of artworks that veterans were making upon returning to the United States, given the absolute break up of mental health care in that period and were making these melancholic artworks. And I was trying to theorize what one might be doing when they made these highly repetitive self-violent artworks. So both the social and the history of mental health care and also aesthetics, which I mostly turned away from after that point when I became a historian.

Alex Chambers:  This is Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers and I'm talking with Hannah Zeavin about Parapraxis. It's the magazine she founded to bring psychoanalysis into conversation with the social elements of our lives. Things like racism, gender and sexuality and more. Let's take a quick break.

Alex Chambers:  Welcome back to Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers. Let's get back to my conversation with Hannah Zeavin. I asked her why she decided it was time to start a general interest magazine devoted to psychoanalysis.

Hannah Zeavin:  The Deputy Editor of Parapraxis is someone called Alex Colston and Alex put these very cute screen shots on the day Parapraxis was announced, Released, when the issued dropped in December, which was, then and now how it started, how it's going, following that kind of medium. And it's just me direct messaging him in November 2021, "Hey, I have a work question for you. Do you have time for a call?" And then the issue that you have over by you. My stepfather, who is my very beloved person, was doxed in the summer of 2021 and he was doxed because he wrote a paper trying to think about the psychic mechanisms of whiteness. He received dozens and dozens of violent death threats. I don't know that you can have a non-violent death threat. He certainly didn't get those. He got these very graphic, upsetting death threats. There was a lot of confusion around what he might want and be representing. A great deal of fantasy. Was he a Nazi who was a Jew? Was he a Marxist who sided with Hitler? The kind of confusion in tongues around what Dr. Donald Moss was up to was a whole question.

Hannah Zeavin:  And it was very frightening obviously, on a personal level, but it was also frightening on a political level and a social level because it wasn't just the far right and Tucker Carlson who did indeed pick up the story. But also the way psychoanalysts, near colleagues, reacted to it. And it felt clear to me that there are great peer-reviewed psychoanalytic journals that are more or completely on the left. That there are institutes all over the United States, all over the world but not many that are really interested in thinking about the psycho and the social together. But there wasn't a place to do the work of thinking through the social, the political, the clinic, the cultural from a psychoanalytic point of view on the left. And so what do millennials do but make little magazines? It's an available form. We could have made a podcast. Write and I'm invested and that was what I proposed to Alex on that day in November was to start a magazine that would do just that. Would be the first mainstream popular magazine of psychoanalysis on the left in the US and that's what we've more or less done.

Alex Chambers:  It also looks really good.

Hannah Zeavin:  When each editor got it, there are pictures of each editor successively crying with joy as they opened it. It was really a pleasure to receive the first issue which is yes, on the family and the problem of the family.

Alex Chambers:  Right. So let's talk about that. The first sort of basic question, what made you decide to start with that?

Hannah Zeavin:  I think the two things that you've gestured at, the great news is the tyranny of being the only editor ended immediately at Parapraxis.The whole thing was this first phone call with Alex Colston. But I had to have a pitch. You're about to get a bunch of people on board to do a ton of work for free, myself included. It's a volunteer group. Well, you had to have an idea of what we we would be addressing and I thought that the family problem made a lot of different kinds of sense. It's a problem on the left, it's a problem in psychoanalysis, you can't live with the family, you can't live without it. The entirety of Freudian psychoanalysis starts from the idea of the nuclear family, which has subsequently been shown to be a fiction. There's a lot of opportunity to get into the remit of the magazine, which is not just psychoanalysis on the left. But also to really think thoughtfully and redress the errors of psychoanalysis, which are legion, which are multiple.

Hannah Zeavin:  They might not be the ones we think. There was a kind of fantasy that psychoanalysis is Charlatanism or that's it's navel gazing. I would disagree with that. But there are real problems that are endemic to the field and endemic to the theory and so we took the name of Parapraxis, which means a productive slip as the sign that one thing that the magazine is trying to do is really work through those errors by resurfacing them rather than repressing them, which Freud tells us is typically a mistake. So the family felt like the thorniest thicket. The place to start and a place where we could try and see what it would be like to think about both the family and, of course "my family" and do that interchange of the psychosocial for both the writers in the magazine but also, we hoped, our readers.

Alex Chambers:  Let's talk about some of these errors. I think it's a challenge maybe for people to think about Freud as being someone who can help us think about political emancipation on the left, think through racism, patriarchy, capitalism, all these things because some of those very things that you already mentioned that we see psychoanalysis as coming out of this bourgeois family structure and world. So talk about some of the errors. I'm also curious about how Freud can help us think through this.

Hannah Zeavin:  I think the first thing to say is that there's both Freud's errors and then psychoanalysis errors and where and when. So the magazine is very much in conversation with international psychoanalysis. Some of the contributing editors, certainly some of the advisors are not in the US. But within our kin, it's a magazine that's predominantly based, most of its writers, most of its editors are in the US and it's also redressing a very particular set of problems in US psychoanalysis. Freud went through a very interesting game of telephone when Freudian analysis arrived and re-arrived and re-arrived in the United States. Freud came to the US only once, with Ferenczi and Jung. He gave a very famous series of lectures at Clark University in Massachusetts. He hated America. He thought we had terrible toilets and he thought that the nation would only be at all workable if it became majority black and had black leadership. That was Freud's take on the United States.

Hannah Zeavin:  But he also loved how much US citizens went wild for Freud, which Americans did. And so then there were these kind of homegrown US psychologists, psychoanalysts, but also really interestingly, the clergy loved Freud.

Alex Chambers:  Really?

Hannah Zeavin:  And there was a great investment in thinking the psycho-religious. So most famously, Norman Vincent Peale of the "Power of Positive Thinking" fame partnered with Smiley Blanton who has the best name ever. I try and say it in literally any piece of media I do. Smiley Blanton. Blanton, who was a patient of Freud's and had gone to Vienna to be analyzed by him and maybe was one of the last patients Freud saw before he died from jaw cancer in London. Blanton and Peale set up an entire clinic in New York to train protestant clergy to become Freudian or Freudian inflected psycho-pastoral figures. That clinic still exists, that training program still exists to this day. And there's lots more to say about that. So there was this kind of evangelization. People went wild for Freud in the 1920s. That was attenuated. It came back big in the 30s. In World War II, psychoanalysis debuts on its biggest ever stage. Not just in the US but also in Europe because psychoanalysis was the theory that helped deal with war trauma, which would later go on to be thought of as PTSD.

Hannah Zeavin:  And so suddenly in the US psychoanalysis was conceptualized as greatly evidence-based. It was understood to be completely effective and there was money behind it. That's when we enter into what's called Freud-mania, which lasts through maybe the 1960s and then ends and has been declining ever since. So within that time psychoanalysis, in order to deal with both the trauma of World War II, so lots and lots of Jewish emigres who come to practice here, to deal with the decline of the field have in the major tendency, responded by taking on a cloak of neutrality. Doing that universality around the psyche, which is a white psyche. Even pathology is a kind of white-- you're calling it bourgeois-- psyche, absolutely. So both classed and raced. Hugely normative around gender and sexuality. Contra-Freud himself, who definitely wouldn't have shared in that set of opinions at all, nor would have Lacan. But lots of Lacanians afterwards too, have this kind of conservatizing tendency.

Hannah Zeavin:  And so I think one thing that Parapraxis is trying to do is really locate the errors and from whence they come, socio-politically and theoretically, and when they get introduced. It doesn't mean Freud is free of errors. Not at all. But in the US much of what we would think of as the problems of psychoanalysis in the clinic come belatedly. They come in the 40s and remain. And remain to this day. So no surprise that in even addressing whiteness at all, my stepfather received this outpouring of shock and dismay and outrage around such an article. And all it was was an article. Or recently, a colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Lara Sheehi, too is going through this exact same sort of play book around redressing violence in Palestine. To even speak about Palestine is beyond the kind of conservative American psychoanalysis.

Alex Chambers:  Partly because psychoanalysis should only be about the individual and the family?

Hannah Zeavin:  It should only be about the individual and then their medically relevant family.

Alex Chambers:  Right.

Hannah Zeavin:  So the social, to open it up at all, and I don't just mean asking your analyst or your therapist, "Did you vote for X or Y?" but the actual social field in the U.S. is seen as both now a conversation that's happening and worth happening, but maybe even six years ago, five years ago, would have been seen as kind of wild and left. Whereas, for almost any person, it's the absolute way they relate to their life.

Alex Chambers:  So tell me about some of the writers. In the magazine there are questions about motherhood, questions about family policing, there's a long afterlife of slavery, queer mothering. There's a lot also about fatherhood.

Hannah Zeavin:  So in the magazine, for the family problem we have a sort of classic books review at the front. Two of which are really beautiful and more revisiting. Older scholars or scholars who have passed. So one is a remembrance of Sara Suleri by Noor Asif, who is one of the associate editors of the magazine. And another on Juliet Mitchell, who's a more prominent British psychoanalyst, who is the person who tried to reconcile for the first time feminism in psychoanalysis. "Does Freud really hate women?" Her answer was a resounding, "No." And that, in fact, feminist liberation cannot happen without Freud. And that was her contribution in the 70s, so there are these two sort of more revisited book reviews and then features on the recent re-panic around trans children by Max Fox. I'm biased, obviously, because it's my magazine, in part, but I think Max does this unbelievable job articulating why this panic, why now?

Hannah Zeavin:  Features by, you mentioned Joy James' captive maternal and the afterlives of slavery and family policing now. A beautiful interview with Dorothy Roberts. The sort of most prominent scholar, not only of family policing, but also science and technology studies and black feminism. A beautiful interview. There's also an advice column, if that's your thing.

Alex Chambers:  You've got to have the advice column.

Alex Chambers:  Okay, let's take a quick break. I'm talking with Hannah Zeavin. She's the founder of "Parapraxis." A magazine that uses psychoanalysis to think through social issues. When we come back, Hannah talks about the controversy that erupted when her stepfather published an article about psychoanalysis and whiteness.

Alex Chambers:  Welcome back to Inner States. To better understand how psychoanalysis can help us think through social issues, I asked Hannah to tell me about the controversy that erupted when her stepfather, who is a practicing psychoanalyst himself, wrote an essay about the problem of whiteness in psychoanalysis.

Hannah Zeavin:  I wrote this essay for n+1. That essay is called "Unfree Associations" and it tells the story of what happened with Don, which is just that. And I think it does work as an example towards your question, like. So what can psychoanalysis do for us, at the social level, rather than as individuals in the clinic, if I understand your question?

Alex Chambers:  Yes, exactly.

Hannah Zeavin:  So Don in May, 2021, published an essay called, "On Having Whiteness" and it's very kind of complicated. It's a clinical, technical paper. It is not meant to be read outside the field. It is not addressed to anyone who is not a psychoanalyst. It's in a pay walled journal called "The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association". This is like nerd level stuff. It's a beautiful paper. And Don had, in fact, I should back up and say, had given the paper a lot, so it was surprising when, having published the paper, almost immediately Don received a phone call from someone at this little far right website called The Federalist" having all kinds of questions about the paper. And Don, and one can't blame him, didn't know what was up. What's The Federalist? I don't know. They're interested in the paper. I'll answer anyone's questions. That's the kind of default attitude. And they ran some little notice of the paper as being completely pejoratively using this word "insane". Look at this kind of mad psychoanalyst.

Hannah Zeavin:  From there, the article leaped to Newsweek, to the Daily Mail, to Tucker Carlson. Again, exploded all over Twitter. I found out about the controversy because I was being rude and looking at my phone under the table at dinner, where I was scrolling through Twitter and saw re-tweet after re-tweet after re-tweet of Don's abstract. And he was, in the words of a friend who didn't know he was my stepfather, "Them main character of the Internet" and for more than a week. So that was in May and in June of 2021, when that settled down and, as I said earlier Don received death threats, there were bomb threats against his institute. The institute had to shut. My parents were asked to consult with the FBI. They never did. But it was serious. When that started to die down, when the voicemails started to stop, institutional psychoanalysis sort of picked up their side of things. So was it out of respect for Don while he was an actual target that they waited? It was on a kind of tape delay. I don't know. I can only sort of suggest. Or that it takes time to read long analytic articles and people had to have some weekends in the summer to do that.

Alex Chambers:  Some people were actually ready the article?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes, good point. A few. A kind of very similar kind of outcry over the idea that whiteness might be a problem, might be something to think about, might actually have psychic properties, sort of exploded all over all the analytic Listservs which, because of my relationship to psychoanalysis, I have been on for quite some time. Not recently. So I started reading all of these messages that were addressed to the kind of concern of the community surrounding him and they went on for quite some time. From time to time they still come up. It never quite seems to be over. Just recently, a colleague republished a whole essay about this article "On Having Whiteness."

Alex Chambers:  So what is the concern?

Hannah Zeavin:  I think the concern is quite basic, which is that to make whiteness part of the drive, to make whiteness at all something that's a psychic process is a bridge too far. It's a way of politicizing-- this would be the negative argument-- it's a way of making social that which is not social and it's like those on the social side of psychoanalysis versus we would put them against the neutrals-- that's how I referred to them in my n+1 essay-- who believe that you should just be a blank slate for your patient. That you shouldn't engage with the social field, that that falls beyond the can of what psychoanalysis can do, were outraged. This seemed like the most "woke psychoanalysis run amok." And what was really shocking. It shouldn't have been, but what was shocking was how many colleagues really found that by addressing whiteness of the self Don as a Jewish white American and of patience was just unbelievable and should be stopped at all costs.

Hannah Zeavin:  So psychoanalysis can tell us about that. It can tell us something about the outrage surrounding the naming of whiteness. It can tell us something about the kind of reading practices that emerge. I mean, I'd have to pull up my charts to show you these screen shots. But it can help us understand that, actually, what Don was talking about began to play out. The narcissistic defense of whiteness was unbelievable. It was almost funny. It was almost funny if you weren't terrified that your beloved stepfather was going to be harmed. Don called me in the middle of it and said, "I think I'll be okay if I don't get hit in the head with a baseball bat." I mean, it was that level. But psychoanalysis can't bring on the emancipatory horizon on its own. There's no claim that way in this magazine. But, for a very long time, there's been an interest in braiding say Freud with Marx. Or not not just with Marx. Freud stands in for a kind of cyclical interest with the material interest of someone like Marx. And it doesn't have to be Marxist.

Hannah Zeavin:  And the magazine is interested in being part of that tradition of failure. That has been a failed project for 100 years. No-one thinks that "Parapraxis" is going to be the place that pushes it into the next phase. But instead, it's a place to begin to think again. That's the remit.

Alex Chambers:  Is there a particular piece that came out in this issue, and maybe it's Max Fox's piece.

Hannah Zeavin:  It is.

Alex Chambers:  Tell me about that piece and how you feel like bringing that psychoanalytic lens to this question of fear and trans kids. It takes us another step further.

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. So when did we commission this? A little under a year ago, there was this return and this re-uptake of this panic around trans children.

Alex Chambers:  The Spring of 2022.

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. Which we are still living, as every single state, it feels is passing completely terrifying legislation.

Hannah Zeavin:  And this was the start of a new cycle around Abbott in Texas putting these kinds of hard recommendations in place for trans children to be taken away from their families and offer gender affirming care. And the question is why now? What is happening? And so Max wrote this beautiful essay called, "The Traffic In Children" and so behind the scenes, Max had an account of why from a more left perspective and we had commissioned Max, who is not someone who all the time thinks with psychoanalysis at all, but Max began to really try and work through knowing this is the remit of psychoanalysis and it's the thing that we've offered to our authors, which is you don't have to be a practicing analyst or the most fluent theory head to write for us at all. Max started taking up the work of Jacqueline Rose, who's a psychoanalyst and critic in the U.K. and her work on children, to try and think about what is so terrifying about a child and their sexuality.

Hannah Zeavin:  And you can make the argument, or Max does, that you can't understand the traffic in children. The panic around the trans child as a figure end, as a reality, without having that question of what the fear is, which is a cyclical question. And so it's a really painful but beautiful example of trying to really bring these two things together and I think we were all so moved by Max's writing and then Max came to our release party in New York and I got to tell Max that dozens and dozens and dozens of people have told me whether they're the parent of trans children or trans themselves or an interested reader or whatever, that this is the piece of all living pieces that has helped them the most with this really horrific social resurgence.

Alex Chambers:  But just to get a little farther along in the essay itself.

Hannah Zeavin:  Shall we read some of it?

Alex Chambers:  Yes, let's.

Hannah Zeavin:  I can just start. So this is Max Fox with "The Traffic In Children" from "Parapraxis" Issue One.

Hannah Zeavin:  "How do you diagnose a panic? Perhaps you know it when you see it. Canonical approaches describe panics as scapegoats from more fundamental conflict that cannot be addressed on its own terms. Exciting but never touching the displaced topic, a panic gathers momentum, spiraling outward, lurching towards its furtive objects and away from the liberal commitment to reason, even threatening to overturn reason's vaunted place in public discourse. You cannot reason with panic stricken people we tell ourselves, but perhaps the serene are no more amenable to it. In the irrational mode of panic, something finds expression that can otherwise not be spoken. The current panic over trans people presents itself as a concern over the proper relation between adults and children."

Hannah Zeavin:  So that's Max's thesis and thinking about the kind of interrelationship between owning and controlling and knowing childhood sexuality and the way that the Abbott onwards control over gender affirming care for trans children is interrelated. And it's beautifully done, but all the way back down to this work of Jackie Rose's on the kind of fantasies and pressures and ideations surrounding the "child" and so there's a lot of work trying to think through child liberation, child sexuality and the family and the family under attack, which many, many different kinds of families are. So family policing as being really understood as interrelated to the struggles to protect trans children. Dorothy Roberts talks about this. There are all these kinds of pickups across the issue, none of which were planned, and I think really, also reflect the moment we're in, which is part of why we wanted to start with the family problem. The problem the family poses when the family has a sight of violence. That's the kind of history of psychoanalysis starts with Freud being why is everyone coming into the clinic talking about abuse? This is one of the first questions of Freud's.

Hannah Zeavin:  And then also, what do we do to protect the family from the violence being directed at it? Which is a classic question since Malcolm X's autobiography in 1965 and black study through Dorothy Roberts' work now, but also has all of these new implications in Florida, in Indiana, in Oklahoma, in Texas and so on.

Alex Chambers:  And I think this question of even what do we mean by "the family" and the challenges of articulating that because, on the one hand, there's the concern about reinforcing this idea of the nuclear family that's exclusive of other kinds of family relationships that are equally necessary to good relationships and raising children and so on, but also the ways that if we just threw out this idea of a natal family that can also be an attack on black families. So how do we think about how to articulate what the family is or kind of what it is that we even want to protect?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. But also there's been this resurgence and return to the most infamous proposition of family abolition. Sophie Lewis was here talking about their recent book "Abolish the family." One of the pieces in the family problem features section deals with this question. Dorothy Roberts raises it. What's the interrelationship between family abolition and abolishing family policing. This is a sort of open-ended, both theoretical and very practicable question that you're raising and one that the magazine was really interested in, in proposing this title, the family problem. That it would allow for us to think across rather than only on one side or the other with psychoanalysis and beyond it's ken as well. So there are a lot of different ways to address that question.

Alex Chambers:  Yes. It's a lot to figure out. Psychoanalysis can't completely help us get better, but it can help a little bit.

Hannah Zeavin:  That would be one way to put it. Or the other way to put it is that psychoanalysis itself isn't the means of kind of societal transformation, but that it can also help clear out the way for what prevents us. It can help us better understand suffering and this would be what some people on the left would critique it for. That it would ameliorate that suffering.

Alex Chambers:  To the degree that then people wouldn't feel the need to go try to actually make social changes. Just to finish that sentence.

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. And then you would have to say then, psychoanalysis would have to be working in one paradigm, that people would feel that way. But the transformative notions of psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis beyond the individual, psychoanalysis beyond the bourgeois family has always been there from Freud onwards. What's called the activist generation of psychoanalysts, that we're all taught by Freud, including Wilhelm Reich, but many others. Traditions of psychoanalysis that don't just run through Freud but run through Fanon, say, all have had this kind of question in mind and one thing that we're trying to do in the magazine is sit with that apparent contradiction and again, 100 years of thought which has successfully pushed theory forward and pushed the clinic forward in certain ways, but is also a story of failure. But to participate openly in that work and so plenty of our less psycho-analytically oriented or even anti-psycho-analytically oriented friends on the left have happily made that joke and we make it right back with them.

Hannah Zeavin:  You asked about this mission, "What can psychoanalysis do?" So it's one thing to think about that on the grounds of a magazine. The magazine is also published by-- and I'd be very happy for people to know about this-- the Psychosocial Foundation, which Alex and I co-direct and co-founded at the same time. We initially just made it to house the magazine? Someone's got to take the money and make it tax deductible and whatever. But very quickly. And the first thought was to have these seminars that work in parallel to the magazine. The first one was on the family problem-- where we all sat and thought across what does psychoanalysis add to the picture of the family as thought through on the left and all of these different ways and black feminism in terms of Marxist depictions of the family on and on.

Hannah Zeavin:  What does psychoanalysis add? Right now, we just started our second seminar. You can still join it on repair and the problems and impossibilities of repair. And so we've heard from a Kleinian psychoanalyst. Klein coin for psychoanalysis, the term reparation. Next week we'll have Michelle Stephens, who's a psychoanalyst who teaches at Rutgers come talk about black rage and so on, for ten weeks. And that's one way to do some of the work of thinking together, where thinking is really hard. It's actually much harder than people I think actually in the university context give it credit for. Thinking is really difficult and so one thing we wanted to do was have a place to think. The magazine, but also these foundation courses, the seminars, we have lecture series, short courses, all of which practice in this one way what they take as their mission, which is they're all sliding scale down to free.

Hannah Zeavin:  And so we've had 1,000 students at this point come through in just over a year to learn about the psychosocial, without being enrolled in anything. Without having to pay. Some people pay, which is great. That's how we keep the lights on. But as great, if not more, is that over 50 per cent of our students come for free and it's been really brilliant. It's been one of the joys of my life. So I think it's these things together that then are about thought, if that helps, rather than about anything else. The wish is rather small, except it's so dear and difficult to find people and the time and the place and the remit for thinking and that's what I think we cherish within this paradigm that we've elaborated.

Alex Chambers:  The seminars are over Zoom?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes.

Alex Chambers:  So people can join from wherever?

Hannah Zeavin:  They can join from wherever. So actually, the Psychosocial Foundation and the magazine are technically both based in and published out of Oakland, so the infrastructure has been made completely mobile. It was born on Zoom and it will be there until-- and if you know of any listeners, let us know. A bazillionaire buys us a building. That would be great. We have all plans for what would happen if that happened. But, for now, it really is this gathering via WiFi and every other Sunday 300 of us meet and it's been totally incredible.

Alex Chambers:  That's great. Is there breakout rooms as well?

Hannah Zeavin:  Yes. So everyone listens. Just use this past Sunday as an example. Everyone listened to Grace Lavery speak for 35, 40 minutes. Some people are shorter, some people go longer. Then we ask questions. We have breakout groups and then we come back and ask the speaker some more questions. So there are these brilliant facilitators who donate their time. The speakers donate their time. I mean, the whole thing is really voluntary and yes, again, it's just been supremely moving. I think especially in these moments where the questions we're asking are highly present all the time. When we're working on the family problem for a year, basically, while various families unevenly and differently were under all kinds of threat and remain so okay, this is a thing to do, is to think about why this is happening, why it's happening now, how it's happened historically, what it feels like inside, from every aperture. And similarly with the question of reparations in this country and what are the possibilities and impossibilities of repair of genocide and in the wake of enslavement.

Hannah Zeavin:  So who knows what topic three will be? But that will be the similar procedure. There will be a seminar and while that seminar is happening an issue will commissioned and edited and you can read us for free or subscribe at

Alex Chambers:  Alright Hannah, thank you so much.

Hannah Zeavin:  My pleasure.

Alex Chambers:  Hannah Zeavin. She's the founding editor of "Parapraxis." A magazine devoted to uncovering the psychosocial dimensions of our lives. Issue Two comes out this summer.

Alex Chambers:  And that is our show for this week. You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. If you have a story for us or if you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at And hey, if you like the show, you can review and rate us on Apple or Spotify. And what's even more fun than that is telling a friend. Okay, we've got your quick moment of slow radio coming up, but first the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Avi Forrest, LuAnn Johnson, Sam Schemenauer, Payton Whaley, and Kayte Young. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music. Special thanks this week to Hannah Zeavin. Alright, time for some found sound.

Alex Chambers:  That was kittens purring in stereo. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks, as always, purr-lessly.

Detail from the cover of Parapraxis Magazine Issue 1

Parapraxis, a new magazine that examines the psychic dimenions of our social lives (Alex Chambers)

Psychoanalysis has never just been about the individual patient. Even Freud used his theories to try to understand society. His practices may have fallen out of fashion, but his thinking stayed alive in the academy, and now there’s a new magazine, called Parapraxis, that wants to remind us how psychoanalysis can help us understand the social dimensions of our lives.

So I decided to bring in the magazine’s founding editor, Hannah Zeavin, to make the case for psychoanalysis and social analysis. She taught at Indiana University this past year, and she came into the studio a few weeks after the magazine’s release. We talked about how growing up in a family of psychoanalysts shaped her relationship to her own feelings, how psychoanalysis can helped us think about social problems, about gender panics, whiteness in psychoanalysis, and the space she’s created for thinking together. Hannah’s not only the founding editor of Parapraxis. She's also a scholar, writer, and teacher. Her first book is called The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy. It’s about the interwoven histories of communication technology and therapy. She has another book in the works, called Mother’s Little Helpers: Technology in the American Family, and she’s written for The New Yorker, The Guardian, Harper’s, and more. She'll be an Assistant Professor of the History of Science in the Department of History and The Berkeley Center for New Media at UC Berkeley starting this fall.


Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Avi Forrest, LuAnn Johnson, Sam Schemenauer, Payton Whaley, and Kayte Young. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey.

Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music

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