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New Left Review I/79, May-June 1973

Russell Jacoby

The Politics of Subjectivity

The intensive and extensive interest in psychology is too vast to characterize; it includes those who seek relief from a malaise with society as well as disenchanted radicals who seek an alternative to the impoverishment of past political praxis; and this only begins the list. The very size and diversity of the list, however, if it resists characterization, promotes one conclusion: psychology is not a passing fad on the fringes of society; rather it is deeply entangled in the social reality. For this reason any study of psychology must simultaneously study the society and culture of which it is a part. The shift in social attention towards psychology is no accident, it testifies to a shift in the social structure itself. In baldest terms, the individual psyche commands attention exactly because it is undergoing fragmentation and petrification; the living substance known as the individual is hardening. The autonomous ego—always problematic—proves to be no match for the social collectivity which has at its call alternatively brute force, jobs, television, or the local newspaper. This is no conspiracy; rather it is ingrained in the social relations which both nourish and poison human relations. What haunts the living is the spectre of individual and psychic suffocation; this is the spectre that a conformist psychology seeks to put to rest.

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