Free Association and the Grand Inquisitor: A Drama in Four Acts

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The discovery that free association can undo dissociation is the psychological equivalent to discovering fire. Psychoanalysis began with this discovery, but its liberatory promise became constrained. With the shift in emphasis from dissociated knowledge to the unconscious, a cure through love became wedded to miracle, mystery, and authority. In the 1970s, as winds of liberation swept through society, the authority of psychoanalysis was questioned and its patriarchal underpinnings exposed. Free association, it turned out, had been bound to the voice and law of the father. The question raised by Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor becomes a question for our time: was he right in his assessment that people find love and freedom too burdensome? Research in developmental psychology and neurobiology suggests he was not and points to the ways that tensions within psychoanalysis mirror tensions between democracy and patriarchy and reflect the dissonance between a voice grounded in the body and emotion and a voice wedded to what we now recognize as a false story about ou rselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-333
Number of pages23
JournalContemporary Psychoanalysis
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2010


  • Development
  • Dissociation
  • Gender
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychotherapy
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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