Who was Andre Green?


André Green (12 March 1927 to 22 January 2012) was a French psychoanalyst.

Life and Career

André Green was born in Cairo, Egypt, to non observant Jewish parents. He studied medicine (specialising in psychiatry) at Paris Medical School and worked at several hospitals. Then, in 1965, after having finished his training as a psychoanalyst, he became a member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society (SPP), of which he was the president from 1986 to 1989. From 1975 to 1977 he was a vice president of the International Psychoanalytical Association and from 1979 to 1980 a professor at University College London. He died, aged 84, in Paris.

André Green was the author of numerous papers and books on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis and the psychoanalytic criticism of culture and literature, many of which have also appeared in English translations.

Intellectual Development

Encounter with Lacan

In the early 1960s, Green could be found attending Lacan’s seminar, without abandoning his affiliation to the SPP – a bold decision which for some time enabled him to straddle the competing strands of French psychoanalysis from an independent position. As the decade progressed however, he moved further from Lacan, and finally broke with the latter in 1970 by criticising his concept of the signifier for its neglect of affect.

By doing so, he replaced the SPP’s normally defensive approach towards Lacanianism with a direct theoretical confrontation. Most tellingly, Green points out that whereas “Lacan is saying that the unconscious is structured like a language…when you read Freud, it is obvious that this proposition doesn’t work for a minute. Freud very clearly opposes the unconscious (which he says is constituted by thing-presentations and nothing else) to the pre-conscious. What is related to language can only belong to the pre-conscious”.

The Greenian Synthesis

Over the decades since, R. Horacio Etchegoyen concluded that what he called “the complex itinerary of Andre Green’s prolific work” has continued to demonstrate the intellectually independent way in which “Green is a Freudian analyst who has managed to integrate in a lucid synthesis the influence of authors as diverse as Lacan, Bion, and, especially, Winnicott”.

The result was to make André Green one of the most important psychoanalytic thinkers of our times – the creator of what has been called a Greenian theory of psychoanalysis (Kohon, 1999). Building on Freudian metapsychology, Green elaborated a further theory of the unrepresentable, relating thinking to absence as well as to sexuality.

While containing a multiplicity of local contributions – on the central phobic position; subjective disengagement; unconscious recognition; the dead mother; and more – the Greenian psychoanalytic framework has been seen as a totality, producing something greater than the sum of its parts.

Theoretical Contributions

On the Work of the Negative

A significant part of Green’s contribution to contemporary psychoanalysis has centred on his exploration of ‘the different modalities of the work of the negative’. He has highlighted the way ‘accepting the negation of what was there is necessary for relationships to new things to become possible’ – the way that ‘to accept the reality of lack…opens the door, through a process of working-through, to new experience, new ideals and new object-relationships’.

On the Analytic Setting

For Green, the analytic setting is in itself a recreation of psychic reality. ‘The symbolism of the setting comprises a triangular paradigm, uniting the three polarities of the dream (narcissism), of maternal caring (from the mother, following Winnicott), and of the prohibition of incest (from the father, following Freud). What the psychoanalytic apparatus gives rise to, then, is the symbolisation of the unconscious structure of the Oedipus Complex ‘.

On Dreams

Dreams are, ‘for Andre Green, negative states trying to accede to symbolization’, so that, as ‘summed up by Adam Phillips: “Dreams and affects, and states of emptiness or absence have been the essential perplexities of Green’s work because they are the areas of experience…in which the nature of representation itself is put at risk”‘.

Moral Narcissism

Green saw moral narcissism as the attempt to elevate oneself above ordinary human needs and attachments – an ascetic attempt at creating an impregnable sense of moral superiority.

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