Psychoanalysis and the recovery of the subject

The term ‘recovery’ is often taken to refer to a process getting better or recovering from an illness.  There is also a whole ‘recovery’ movement in the field of mental health. 1  However, there is another meaning to the word ‘recovery’: as a return or to regain, as in, for example, the recovery of a lost object.  Of course, one might argue that this sense of the word ‘recovery’ is also being used by psychiatry and psychology; i.e. that one is regaining one’s health or one’s wellbeing.  But as the astute reader has probably already noticed, the emphasis has already shifted from subject to object.  We are no longer talking about the subject but the subject’s health or wellbeing – as if these were objects that existed apart from the subject.

But does this matter?  I think it does because once we start talking and thinking about health and wellbeing in terms of ‘something’ the subject ‘has’, then we are well on the road to objectifying the subject; in other words, we start to define the subject him or herself in terms of attributes or characteristics which he or she ‘has’.  Furthermore, such attributes or characteristics can then be quantified and measured.  But does this matter?  I guess for those people who would rather disappear beneath a set of outcome measures the answer is probably no.  But for those of us who think we are something other than a set of quantifiable and measurable attributes the answer has got to be yes.

This is not to suggest there is something especially comforting in recognising oneself as a subject rather than as an object; on the contrary, the allure of objectivity, of quantification and measurement, is precisely because it provides comfort and meaning.  The tragic irony, of course, is that it is the subject who craves comfort and meaning, not some objective measure.  But by desperately seeking comfort and meaning in objectivity, the subject obliterates itself, vanishes.

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