Geographies of Psychoanalysis
#5 Furui Hiroaki - Japanese View of Life and Death

#5 Furui Hiroaki - Japanese View of Life and Death

November 8, 2021

With The  COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, the government was unable to impose a lockdown, but asked people instead to do same thing voluntarily.  Incorporated in this, sacrificial rituals can be seen .
The book “Voluntary death in Japan” (1984) written by Maurice Pinguet was very helpful to Furui Hiroaki in thinking about the Japanese view of life and death. Pinguet's idea of seeing vitality in voluntary death seems to be a suggestion with which to overcome the current pandemic. He picks up on two recent topics that have been talked about on the theme of saving people: The movie "MINAMATA" and The movie version of Demon Slayer- Kimetsu no Yaiba “Infinity Train”. Unlike suicide, voluntary death is, so to speak, a story of rebirth.




Furui Hiroaki is a psychiatrist specialized in psychoanalysis. For some decades he was dedicated to the treatment of in-hospital patients, then 15 years ago, he opened his own clinic and has to date treated  over 6000 patients there.  Within his career, he has spent  2 years, from 1997 to 1999, in the US for training as an international fellow at the Karl Menninger School in the United States. At that time, he also received training analysis. He is currently working as a full-time clinician in his psychiatric clinic, he also dedicates as much time as possible to doing psychoanalysis. In June of 2020, He was admitted as Member of the International Psychoanalytical Association. His major studies in psychoanalysis include: countertransference to aggression in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder,and psychotherapy processes in patients with borderline personality disorders who have experienced sibling sexual abuse.


I am a psychiatrist specialized in psychoanalysis. I have been dedicated to the treatment of in-hospital patients for decades, and after that, I open a clinic by myself 15 years ago.  During my career, I stayed in the US for 2 years at Menninger Clinic for training, and it is my great pleasure to have this opportunity to do podcast. 

I have a clinic as a psychiatric practitioner. During COVID-19 pandemic, I saw patients under various situations.  Some patients have implied suicide to escape from the hardships of their life.  Despite the severalty of their claim, their tone of expressions is very calm as if they are talking about daily conversation or a joke. COVID-19 has killed many people. Since the therapist and the patient share the social situation of being next to death. It may be changing the treatment space shared by the two. There may be a special sense of solidarity between the two. Such a special relationship and environment gave me the opportunity to reconsider the Japanese view of life and death.

This pandemic revealed that our government cannot use the method of “lockdown” in the Peace Constitution of Japan. Therefore, the government demanded that the people voluntarily refrain from going out in consideration of their surroundings. Most people obediently followed government instructions of “Jishuku”, which means voluntary restriction of oneself, despite confusion and contradiction. It seems that we can no longer think of the word as a volunteering to choose on our own initiative. In the history of Japan, we don’t prohibit suicide so strictly. I think that one aspect of the Japanese view of life and death is expressed in people's words and deeds for this pandemic. We can't just take it as a pathological mental condition.

French philosopher Roland Barthes discussed the characteristics of Japanese culture, using the example of his observation of eating habits of Sukiyaki in his “Empire of Signs”. For Westerns, forks are an extension of hunting, reminiscent of spears. For Japanese people, what they use are “hashi” chopsticks in Japanese, and it means the little thing and a tool to play. Freshly cut raw vegetables and thin slices of meat are prepared on a table, with the heated frying pan at the center.  People gather and surround the table, picked up the prepared veg and meat with their own chopsticks and fries them in a pan with sugar and soy sauce while enjoying conversation. The movement of the body with chopsticks is like a child's play which seems that the sacrificial ritual is taking place in front of them. Without this book, I wouldn't expect sacrificial rituals to be incorporated into our daily diet.


A book “Voluntary death in Japan” (1984) written by Maurice Pinguet who was a friend of Roland Barthes, a professor of philosophy at the Paris University and later taught at the Tokyo University, was very helpful in thinking about the Japanese view of life and death. Voluntary death was derived from the Latin mors voluntaria. In pandemic I began to imagine about the Japanese ceremony of “Seppuku”. But “Hara-kiri” or “Seppuku” is not unique to Japan. Pinguet presents an example of Cato, who was the first Roman to fight Caesar and was defeated, refused to submit to Caesar and be harassed by him. The spectacular situation that Cato's near relative tries to stop his behavior was drawn. In contrast, the Hara-kiri of Japanese samurai is ritualized, and some have the role of decapitating to shorten the time of the death agony. And he points out that historically Japan has never forbidden the freedom to die. In Japanese behavior, this ultimate act of death, often painful, is associated with rational and deliberate decision-making. The reason for living and the reason for dying are calmly planned. I hope this feeling may still remain in the current Japanese.

Suicide is a term that started to be in use in the 18th century and is influenced by Christian religious condemnation and prejudice linked to medical pathology. He looks back on the history of various suicide studies and arrives at the influence of Durkheim and Freud. Durkheim performed typology of suicide, in which he takes up anomie suicide as a hallmark of modern society. Anomie stands for undisciplined state. Modern society has given individuals freedom, but actually it has only driven him into loneliness and anxiety. It is said that the human group will collapse and increase the number of self-centered suicides aimed as an escape from reality and anomie suicides caused by the disappearance of collective obligations. Durkheim idealized a world of labor in order to escape from the chaotic suicide-prone world of the end of the century. Pinguet says that Japanese companies with seniority and lifetime employment have something close to that ideal.

Freud also helped free suicide from the category of mental illness that was previously trapped by psychiatrists. The hypothesis of the death instinct reveals that suicide is just the tip of the iceberg of primitive masochism. Some people see masochistic characteristics in Japanese culture. Japanese try to avoid the formation of Oedipus and delay its time to immerse it in the symbiotic relationship between the child and the mother. Heisaku Kosawa’s Ajatashatru Complex and Takeo Doi's Anatomy of Dependence are mentioned as references. From the point of view of current psychoanalysis, Japanese people tend to focus on the early Oedipus complex. That is, all dramas are in the mother's body.

Pinguet continues to carefully trace the history of voluntary deaths in Japan, its light and shadow. First of all, the legendary hero of Japanese history in Kojiki, Yamato Takeru, goes to the eastern expedition on a ship at the command of the emperor. Along the way, a storm occurs, damaging the god of the sea. The story is that his wife, Oto Tachibana, jumps into the sea and sacrifices to calm the wrath of the sea god. Subsequently, various stories of “voluntary death” will be taken up and discussed. The Tale of Genji, Bushido, Geisha, General Nogi, Special Attack Units, Yukio Mishima, etc. Pinguet said, "After careful observation of the various paths that have led the men and women of the Japanese archipelago to “voluntary death” for centuries, I can now clearly say: Of all the virtues of the Japanese, the most outstanding and beautiful virtues are their vitality. "


Maurice Pinguet's idea of seeing vitality in voluntary death seems to be a hint to overcome the current pandemic. Finally, I would like to pick up two recent topics that have been talked about on the theme of saving people by making self-sacrifice and discuss them as a summary. 



The movie "MINAMATA" starring Johnny Depp has become a topic. It depicts Eugene Smith, a photographer known for his collection of photographs of Minamata disease patients, "Minamata." The motif of the movie is a picture titled "Tomoko and the Mother of the Bath" (1971), in which a 15-year-old girl with fetal Minamata disease and her mother are taking a bath. Is reminiscent of Dante's Pieta statue of Mary holding Christ down from the cross. When Minamata City was asked to sponsor the screening, it refused to sponsor it because the creator's intention was unknown, and it was not possible to determine whether it would contribute to discrimination against victims or elimination of prejudice. The mother believes she was able to maintain her health because her daughter absorbed organic mercury on her behalf during pregnancy. The mother had her daughter play a role in informing the world of her Minamata disease, but she wanted to release her from that role. Tomoko passed away in 1976 at the age of 20. This parent-child photo contains a story of self-sacrifice and salvation, not just accusations. Tomoko does not save mankind like Christ does. The name of Tomoko means a baby of wisdom. The mother wanted to bring the poisoned sea back to the original sea of fertility. Fifty years have passed since the photo was taken, and now we can take fresh seafood from the Shiranui Sea.  Shiranui means mysterious lights on the sea. This is where darkness and light intersect. The dawn comes while the lone moon remains in the sky. The sun rises and the sun sets over the sea. There is the Pure Land in the West.



The movie version of Demon Slayer:Kimetsu no Yaiba “Infinity Train” became the world's number one in 2020 movie box office. In the movie a Japanese monster “Oni” goes into a dream and destroys the core of the spirit. Rengoku, the pillar of the demon Slayer corps, and his juniors exterminated the demon. However, an upper rank demon appeared. Rengoku fought and was severely injured by the demon. The illusion of his dead mother appeared before him at the time of death. Once Rengoku was taught by his mother that the strong will use his power to protect the weak. He asked his mother if he had completed the teaching and mother praised him for doing well. The idea is a kind of the spirit of Noblesse oblige, but different. The teaching is from an unnamed mother who died of illness. Rengoku said “Someday you guys will become HASHIRA and be the pillars of the Demon Slayer Corps.” This anime empowered many Japanese people to live. Given that the economic crisis is progressing and the number of people in need is increasing, it is possible that suicides will increase in the future. Reviving the vitality of Japan's history of " voluntary death " may lead to a decrease in the number of suicides.


After World War II, it became difficult for Japan to teach its own myths at school. Nowadays, young people who have lost their myths are free to create their own myths through manga or anime. The main character in the manga is mostly adolescents. The hero is about 14 years old. A long time ago, Japanese samurai’s children at the age of 14 performed a coming-of-age ceremony called genpuku. And now, the ritual of genpuku is gone, but I think that children create psychologically, their own myth of Parental Killing: The Japanese version of the Oedipus Myth, through manga and grow up to be adults. Unlike suicide, Voluntary death is, so to speak, a story of rebirth. To conclude this text, I would like to express my condolences to the victims of COVID-19 by quoting the words of the Master of Demon Slayer. At the beginning of the movie, he visits the grave of Demon Slayer corps. And he said “No matter how many lives a demon takes, the one thing they can never crush is a human’s will. No matter how battered we are, we will rise up and fight again.”


Thank you.

#4 Mariano Horenstein - Worse Than Death

#4 Mariano Horenstein - Worse Than Death

May 3, 2021

Latin America’s particular relation with death implies something even worse: the practice of disappearing people in connection with State terrorism. The disappearance of rituals, which has reached an unprecedented extent, further exacerbated in times of pandemic, only increases contemporary anxiety. In this context, the analyst’s role is to function less as archaeologists—as Freud imagined—than as forensic anthropologists.”




Mariano Horenstein has published three books (Psicoanálisis en lengua menor; The compass and the couch. The necessary strangeness of Psychoanalysis; and Funambulistas. Travesía adolescente y riesgo). He has received some awards, among them Lucian Freud, Ángel Garma, Elise Hayman and FEPAL. He has given seminars and conferences in institutions  from Latin America, Europe, EEUU and Asia. Former chief editor of Calibán-Revista Latinoamericana de Psicoanálisis. Current Training Director of the Asociación Psicoanalítica de Córdoba.


I If we had to pick just two words as the focal points of an ellipse that might serve as an approach to comprehend the subjects comprising the human species—at least the human species as conceived by psychoanalysis—they would be sex and death. Not only are these words focal points in terms of two points equidistant from the center of the ellipse; they are also sources of illumination that shed light on a large part of the phenomena that psychoanalysis has always engaged with, those inherent to clinical practice, and to daily life.    
The center of the ellipse can remain empty. There we can put Lack, Castration, and the hole that sex is insistent on refuting, only to encounter it again and again. There also can go death, almost a mute echo of that hole, an impossible representation of the only certainty that inhabits within us.

Although psychoanalysis has usually been identified with sex, almost to the point of caricature, death is no less present in its theoretical structure.

With his habitual insight regarding psychoanalysis, Woody Allen once said “There are only two important things in life. The first is sex and the second I don’t remember.” Of course he doesn’t remember the second one. And the artist himself offers a clue when he says “My relationship with death remains the same. I’m strongly against it.”
It’s well worth approaching the topic of death with humor, because there is nothing funny about what I’m going to discuss.  

II Sex and death then: Psychoanalysis’ Two Crucial Themes

There is no place here for generalizations, because what matters from a psychoanalytical standpoint are the particularities—even more so in a project that emphasizes the value of a Geography of Psychoanalysis, like the one that Lorena Preta imagined—the place where enunciation occurs. Although I have the good fortune to work in different geographical contexts, I speak from one in particular: Latin America, a continent that has proven to be fertile ground for psychoanalysis.
Unfortunately, the same has shown to be true for death, to the point that we can consider Latin America to have a certain particularity in relation to death.
Here I do not refer to folklore of any kind or to how the Extreme West—as we have sometimes been named—may look through European eyes, from a perspective habitually tinged with a degree of ethnocentrism.
This has nothing to do, then, with the greater or lesser visual impact of Mexican culture’s festivities or with the extreme melancholy in some our tango or zamba music, or with sacrificial rituals or anthropophagy practiced by some of this land’s original inhabitants.
I want to talk about a particular contribution—if you will permit me a bit of irony—that Latin America’s recent history has made to the human species, showing that it is as capable of committing marvelous gestures as it is of committing abhorrent crimes. Here I am referring to something even worse than death: disappearance. Specifically, I mean the forced disappearance of people, which became a specialty of this continent and my country in particular during the dictatorships in the 1970s.
After briefly commenting on why I think this Latin American “contribution” of sorts is even worse than death, I hope to be able to infer several consequences that are important for psychoanalysis as a whole and for the position of the analyst, moving from specifics to generalities.
For any geography of psychoanalysis, the same should apply.  
It isn’t that we Latin Americans are the ones to have invented disappearing people on our own accord. With different variants, Latin American dictators have looked upon the Nazi regime or at least the Prussian military tradition with admiration. It is no coincidence that many Nazi war criminals found refuge in Chile, Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay. The idea that it is possible to make an Other disappear without a trace is not ours. Thucydides had already testified to how Sparta, fearing an uprising, made the Helots disappear from the face of the earth.
Nor was torture, as the tempestuous prelude to disappearance that was turned into an administrative policy of the State, invented in this region of the world. Latin American military personnel were trained in these practices by their French and North American peers.
In a somewhat perverse strain of anthropophagy--a process that has allowed us to digest knowledge, make it our own and produce something original as a result—a similar procedure has taken place here with massacre technology.  
That originality, Latin America’s barbarity, consists of disappearance as a messy State practice, imposing a sort of limbo that is even worse than death for thousands of victims, shutting them up inside an impossible space—as if they were condemned souls or zombies unable to die—the space of tragedy. As Lacan articulated in his studies, it is the place that Antigone demonstrates with her courage, while combating it at the same time.
Mourning relatives exist all over the world, but in Latin America, bodies nec nonine, buried—in the case that they were buried, many were thrown into the sea or the dark depths of man-made reservoirs—who knows where, are mourned. Latin America saw the advent of mothers who have passed decades asking to be informed of the whereabouts of their children; it was in Argentina and Chile that the Mothers of Grief would march in their endless circles in main squares, or would impotently search, digging in the desert, confronting the authors of the genocide, demanding to know where their disappeared children are. The mothers of the Bosnians massacred in Srebrenia under European safe haven came afterward.
As a result, our forensic anthropologists had the dubious privilege of becoming the world’s most experienced team in this field. They gained so much expertise in my country that people from all over the world called upon them to identify remains in mass graves.
And they taught us psychoanalysts that there is something worse than physical death: symbolic death, because symbolic death can also lead to biological death, but by being made impossible to name, it generates an anguish that is infinite. Death that cannot be named permits no jokes, nor does it leave any room for grief work, the particular manner that Freud chose to refer to the task that every human must undertake in the face of loss.          

III On more than one occasion, Freud identified with Heinrich Schliemann, the man who discovered Troy, and assimilated the analyst’s task to that of the archaeologist. However, maybe we should admit instead that as psychoanalysts we work more like forensic anthropologists than archaeologists.
If we agree that a progressive loss of ritual exists in a large portion of the West, and that practices of mourning as collective ways of dealing with death are insidiously dissolving away, we must be aware that it cannot occur without bringing subjective consequences along with it.    
French psychoanalyst Jean Allouch has studied the implications of this desritualization, allowing a glimpse of the extent to which the cases reaching psychoanalytical practice today have to do with this disappearance of rituals.
There are very few places that currently respect timeframes for the mourning process, the prescriptions all religions have developed in order to accompany those who have suffered a loss and which is the closest way we humans have to imagine our own deaths, always without a unconscious inscription.
Contemporary wakes are a formality; almost no one dresses in black, mirrors are not covered and lloronas (funeral wailers) are a thing of the past. Obituaries are very seldom published in the newspapers, and if they are, they are seldom read. Death has ceased to be a collective question and has gone on to be—just like everything else in the mass individualism we live in—a personal issue. It is an issue that each person has to manage as best they can, and the quicker the better. The less evidence there is of the fracture that the loss of a loved one causes in us, the better; the sooner that the utilitarian logic of capitalism is reestablished, the better.  
Not to mention this era of the pandemic; on the one hand it has multiplied the scale of death, the number of bodies piling up in morgues and the never-ending digging of graves that never suffice, while contemporary society also suddenly finds itself practicing medieval forms of protection. On the other hand, the same virus that shows how fragile the human species is with minimalist simplicity also makes a hug impossible, the accompaniment owed to any survivor along with the rituals of paying last respects. The Other—even dead—has turned into a source of danger.
Here as well, the lack of rituals intensifies grief and diminishes the efficacy of the symbolic tools we have constructed over time in order to face horror.                    
If at least part of the contemporary angst and anguish, the existential void, widespread anxiety and profusion of addictions that currently reach our offices is an articulation of this desritualization of our lives and of the degradation of the symbolic that invades our selves, perhaps we should ask ourselves about what we are losing when we believe we are winning.
A few ancient verses from Ecclesiates, attributed to Salomon, are usually recited during Jewish funerals, when the deceased’s relatives tear apart a garment as a visible sign that something within them has been rent asunder:  


All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

A time to kill, and a time to heal.

A time to destroy, and a time to build.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh.

A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather.

A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

A time to get, and a time to lose.

A time to keep, and a time to cast away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew.

A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

A time of love, and a time of hatred.

A time of war, and a time of peace.


Any intent to shorten the time to weep has its consequences. The same is true for not paying due attention to having been advised that, almost like a premonition, there is “a time to be far from embraces”…
A psychoanalyst today offers patient, archaeological listening, but not that alone. We function as forensic anthropologists, unearthing pieces, helping those who come to us for consultation to reconstruct lost or impossible identities.
The invention and consolidation of analytical methods practically coincided with the degradation of an empire that used to give meaning to its inhabitants and with the disasters of a war that left those who survived it speechless, incapable of assembling an account of their experience, which had also been destroyed. Freud’s invention, then, was offering a space in order to restore that destroyed experience.
Without proposing to do so, Freud may well have invented a new secular ritual as well, one that remains valid even in an era that is determined to leave them behind.      


#3 Gohar Homayounpour - Persian Blues

#3 Gohar Homayounpour - Persian Blues

March 24, 2021

Upon any discussion on the elaboration of “death” in Iran, one inevitably comes face to face with the often argued and examined notion that Iranians symptomatically suffer within a culture that is obsessed with the celebration of death, nostalgia and mourning. Many interdisciplinary scholars in recent decades have examined and provided data which proves such tendencies and their disastrous consequences for Iranians. Here, Gohar Homayounpour attempts to delve deeper into the various palettes of the “Persian Blues”, in the name of integration and a continuous re-examination of our comfortably established notions, she attempts to add a but, referring to the various derivatives of Eros’s footsteps upon the Persepolis of Persia, dreaming that this but might become a possibility for “linking”, a sense of orientation, inspiration, out of these particularly destructive and melancholic aspects of the Iranian culture, orienting us towards a voyage from melancholia to mourning.



Dr. Gohar. Homayounpour is an author and psychoanalyst and member of the International Psychoanalytic Society, American Psychoanalytic Association, the Italian Psychoanalytic Society and the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. She is the Training and Supervising psychoanalyst of the Freudian Group of Tehran, where she is also founder and former director.
Homayounpour has published various psychoanalytic articles, including in the International and Canadian Journals of Psychoanalysis. Her book, Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran, published by MIT Press in August 2012, won the Gradiva award and has been translated into many languages.
Homayounpour is a member of the scientific board at the Freud Museum in Vienna and a board member of the IPA group Geographies of psychoanalysis.

The first thing that comes to mind when one is asked to elaborate on “death” in my geography is the often discussed and examined notion that Iranians symptomatically suffer within a culture that is obsessed with the celebration of death, nostalgia and mourning. Many scholars in recent decades have examined and provided data which proves such tendencies and their disastrous consequences for Iranians.
I have also written about this exact notion in my book Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran, with reference to our famous myth, “Rustam and Sohrab”, from Ferdousi’s Book of Kings (Shahnameh, the most celebrated Iranian source of mythology), which has a storyline quite similar to that of Oedipus Rex, the main difference being that it is the father who unknowingly kills his son in the end. My extensive research shows that Greek mythologies appear to be populated with myths about the actual killing of fathers, while it is impossible to escape the common patterns of killing sons right across Iranian mythology. The wish to kill each other between fathers and sons is common across both mythologies, but who actually gets killed at the end and who gets rescued and is granted the right to life, is where the culturally specific element can be observed across these mythologies.
I am convinced of the universality of the Oedipus complex, and the struggle for power and control it represents while embodying within it the universal fear of castration; the culturally specific element seems to be the reaction to this fear. My premise is that the Iranian collective fantasy is anchored in an anxiety of disobedience that wishes for an absolute obedience. The son desiring to rebel knows unconsciously that if he does so he might be killed, and so, in a way, he settles for the fear of castration.
Is this not also seen in the differences between Catholicism and Islam? Islam means submission and demands absolute obedience to God the father, while in Christianity the demarcation between God the father and Christ the son is not quite as clear. This is clearly a very complicated and nuanced discourse, beyond the scope of this podcast. However, it appears that religions were socially constructed to fulfill the collective fantasies of these differing cultures. An analysis of Iranian history reveals it has always been a one-man show, while democracy was born within and is the essence of Greek society.
In Iran one can observe a moment of discontinuity from the past, and also from the future, because we have killed our sons, our future. Ferdousi’s discourse communicates a great deal of pain, tragedy and mourning. We symbolically killed our sons, became alienated and thus became a culture of mourning, for we have destroyed and killed the best part of ourselves. We destroyed our future and imprisoned ourselves in the past, eroticizing pain and suffering, and celebrating nothing that is not past.
Could we say that Ferdousi’s discourse provides a diagnosis of the Iranian society? He is trying to warn us, awaken us; his discourse is often that of a depressive.
Daryoush Shaygan, the late famous Iranian philosopher, informs us that the Iranian past is full of the myths and epics represented in the Shahnameh, in which there are continual allusions to the good attitudes of our ancestors, the beliefs and actions of our heroes and the myths of our great kings. This is a very nostalgic recollection: in a sense a very nostalgic collective unconscious.
One has to bear in mind that in countries like Iran the past is everything, and unfortunately we do indeed breathe in the air of regrets, as Shaygan puts it.
I still think all of the above assertions are significant, true and noteworthy, but… This but becomes significant, for in the name of a continuous re-examination and integration, or, as Lorena Preta puts it as the raison d’être of the Geographies of Psychoanalysis project: to put psychoanalysis to work in different geographies in the wish for a reciprocal contamination, not in the name of cultural relativism where we are categorizing, naming and therefore identifying the other but in the name of a non-humanitarian hospitality, to use Derrida’s term, in the name of a de-territorializing where borders are delineated as barely visible lines.
Within this discourse and above it, this but becomes a necessary act. A but that for me has only become visible after more than a decade of living in Iran and doing psychoanalysis in Tehran, certainly not mutually exclusive to the above assertions, but as an attempt to thicken the plot.
To just provide a few examples for the aforementioned but, can we escape the resilience that we observe when working with Iranian patients under an excruciating socio/political climate? Can we forget that this is inherently a culture of storytelling and is bestowed with a magical ability to play with language, encapsulated within Scheherazade and the Thousand And One Nights? Can we also remember that this is a culture of an exceptional cinema, of hospitality, breathtaking architecture, of marvelous poetry and of wine, yes of the best of Shiraz wine, of pleasure, of Sufism, Zarathustra and of the alluring, quintessential Persian Garden, an uncanny ability for humor and a hierarchy of friendship, just to name a few derivatives of Eros’s footsteps upon the Persepolis of Persia?
This is masterfully elaborated in Abbas Kiarostami’s film “Where Is The Friend’s Home?” The title is taken from a poem by the celebrated contemporary Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri. To return to my ideas at the beginning of the paper on absolute obedience and authoritarianism, possibly anchored in the Iranian collective unconscious, well, the Kiarostami film is about a little boy, Ahmed, who accidentally takes his friend’s notebook home. Upon realizing his mistake, he becomes terrified of the punishment that might await his friend from their severely punitive and cruel teacher if his friend isn’t able to complete his homework due to the missing notebook. Our protagonist spends the rest of his day after school unsuccessfully trying to find his friend’s house. The next morning, we the audience anxiously join Ahmed in his classroom, hurriedly returning Reza’s notebook under our horrified gaze.
We are terrified to see the punishment that awaits Reza, only to discover that Reza’s homework has been completed by his friend. The movie ends here, with Reza flipping through the pages of his finished homework and finding a lovely dried flower, also left there by Ahmed.
We can speculate that to find one’s friend’s home metaphorically to be an investment of the psychic apparatus’s search and re-search for the linking process, or, to put it in Andre Green’s terms, the “objectilizing function of the drive”. This desire for linking indeed prevalent within the very being of the Iranian culture is an antidote to authoritarianisms and the death-oriented-ness of my geography. A binding that comes along as a cure to the unbinding of the death drive.
All I want to convey within this but is that inherent within the Iranian culture is also the desire and the courage to search for a friend’s home. In short, just as we cannot speak of pure destructiveness or creativeness, attempting to stay away from such binaries, in Iran we clearly don’t even have any exclusivity to Thanatos, as such a thing would be an impossibility in any case. We all have an internal compass (Eros) that could be our guide out of these particularly destructive aspects of this culture into the true meaning of the Orient, Eshragh, which in the etymology of the word means both inspiration and the place where the sun rises. In short, perhaps in the Orient there is still a sense of orientation to be discovered for all of us, as we put psychoanalysis to work, even if, like Ahmed, we don’t find our friend’s house, perhaps the road we take will indeed lead us to his home.
Over the years I have attempted to delve deeper into the Persian Blues; a word associated with melancholia, a mysterious Persian color, and indeed a genre of music which is as much a representation of life as death, encapsulating triumphs and laments, loss, love, friendships, loyalties, betrayals, joys, and fears.
Just like my beloved tunes of the blues from the Deep South; the sound of the slaves, the lyrics of the laments of the formerly enslaved and their descendants; Persian Blues is associated with depression, melancholia, misfortune, betrayal, pain and regrets. But we should not forget that inherent within Persian Blues, as it is within the tunes of the Blues, there is also a sense of orientation to be re-discovered, possibly not only for my geography but for yours as well, where pleasure, passion, humor, dreams, and friendships are celebrated.
Central to the idea of blues performance is the concept that, by performing or listening to the Blues, one is able to overcome one’s sadness: to lose the “Blues”. It is precisely this inherent duality of life and death, Eros and Thanatos, that makes the Blues such a joy to hear. Persian Blues is not about merely eroticizing sadness; it is not about drowning in it; it is about transforming it, feeling it, making music with it. Ultimately, it means going beyond the “Blues”.Like Abbas Kiarostami, I have a hunch that in getting us to this beyond, from melancholia to mourning, a newly discovered sense of orientation/inspiration will be instrumental; towards a linking inherent within the project of geographies of psychoanalysis.




Ferdowsi, A. (2016). Shahnameh: The Persian book of kings. UK: Penguin Press.

Green, A. (1999). The work of the negative, Weller A, translator. London: Free Association Books. [(1993). Le travail du négatif. Paris: Minuit.]

Homayounpour, G. (2012). Doing psychoanalysis in Tehran. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Derrida, J., & Dufourmantelle, A. (2000). Of hospitality. California: Stanford University Press.

Kiarostami, A. (1987). “Where Is The Friend’s Home?”[Film]. Home for the intellectual development of children and adolescents Productions.

Shaygan, D. (2005, 12 Dec). The depth of ordinary. Tehran: Shargh magazine, 294(20). [In Persian]

Sepehri, S. (2008). Eight books. Tehran: Tahoori publication. [In Persian].

Hezaar va Yek Shan (Thousand nights and a night) (2011). Translated by Mirza Abd-al Latif Tasuji Tabrizi. Reprinted of Kolaale Khaavar Publications (1936): Tehran


Definitions and the symbol of Eshragh. (2018, 6 Jan). Tehran: Eshragh Institute of higher education.


#2 Rubén Gallo - Death and Dying in Mexico

#2 Rubén Gallo - Death and Dying in Mexico

February 22, 2021

Rubén Gallo is a writer, the author of Freud in Mexico: Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis (MIT Press, 2010), and a professor at Princeton University. In this podcast, he explores the meaning in death in Mexico, from the well-known images of joyful skeletons painted by artists like Diego Rivera, to the more somber political and social manifestations of deadly impulses in contemporary society, including drug-related violence.



I am Rubén Gallo, a writer and academic, and today I would like to share with you some reflections on the culture of death in Mexico. Without a doubt you have read and heard about the special place death has in Mexican culture. You might have seen photographs or paintings of the Day of the Dead, when families visit their deceased relatives in the cemetery to bring them food, thus transform mourning into a festive occasion. And you are probably familiar with the many joyful depictions of skeletons, skulls, and other symbols of death, in the paintings of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and other Mexican artists. In popular music, such as ranchero songs from the north, singers cheerfully announce that they are not afraid of death, and if they die, it should happen while they are drinking and dancing.

But, as I would like to suggest today, beneath this appearance of a unique and joyful approach to death, there lies a darker reality, one that is closer in spirit to traditional accounts of death. Octavio Paz, one of Mexico’s greatest poets, made a similar argument in his essay The Labyrinth of Solitude, published in 1950. Paz argued that many of the images associated with Mexico —the celebration of life, the passion for fiestas with music and dance, the raucous drinking —conceal a more complex psychology. Mexicans, he argued, are melancholic beings, and these outwards explosions of joy are attempts to cover-up an unresolved mourning emerging froma series of historical traumas that hark back to the conquest of Mexico and to the violent encounter that ended with the destruction of the Aztec civilization.

Paz, who was a passionate reader of Freud in his youth, believed that these unresolved historical traumas resulted in a repetition compulsion that can be observed in many of the most famous Mexican rituals: bright celebrations full of music, song, and dance can easily degenerate into fistfights leaving revelers dead; and, in one of his most poetic images, Paz draws attention to how at every fiesta, there comes a point when the life of the party, he who has been drinking and eating and singing, inevitably plunges into an explicable melancholia, an irrational feeling of solitude. The singing gives way to a taciturn state for which the Spanish language has a beautiful word: ensimismamiento, becoming trapped in oneself.
Paz believed that the nation’s unresolved traumas led to a repetition of scenes of violence, which can be seen at various points in Mexican history. After the 1968 student massacre, a dark day in which the Mexican president, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, ordered the army to shoot on peaceful student demonstration, and left dozens of young men and women dead, Paz read this event — which was one of the bloodiest in the twentieth century — as a repetition of something that had occurred before. He noted that the massacre took place steps from an Aztec pyramid, one of the few remaining structures of a city that was once called Tlatelolco and which is now part of Mexico City. This was not a coincidence: the Aztecs used pyramids as temples for human sacrifices and, five hundred years after the conquest, the student massacre was another form of sacrifice.

México: Olimpiada de 1968

A Dore y Adja Junkers


La limpidez

            (quizá valga la pena

escribirlo sobre la limpieza

de esta hoja)

            no es límpida:

es una rabia

            (amarilla y negra

acumulación de bilis en español)

extendida sobre la página.

¿Por qué?

            La vergüenza es ira

vuelta contra uno mismo:


una nación entera se avergüenza

es león que se agazapa

para saltar.

            (Los empleados

municipales lavan la sangre

en la Plaza de los Sacrificios).

mira ahora,


antes de haber dicho algo

que valga la pena,

            la limpidez.



And now in English:


Mexico City: The 1968 Olympiad

for Dore and Adja Yunkers

            -- Translated by Eliot Weinberger



(perhaps it’s worth

writing across the purity

of this page)

is not lucid

it is fury

(yellow and black

mass of bile in Spanish)

spreading over the page.


Guilt is anger

turned against itself:


an entire nation is ashamed

it is a lion poised

to leap.

(The municipal employees

wash the blood

from the Plaza of the Sacrificed.)

Look now,


before anything worth

it was said:



Paz noted that sacrifices — with their share of sadism and destruction — continued to be repeated, though in different form and with different purposes, at the foot of the pyramid, which remained an important archetype in Mexican culture. Most importantly, Paz read this persistence of political violence as the underside of the famously joyful Mexican attitude towards death: a culture that does not respect death is a culture that cannot respect life, and the underside of the insouciance with which Mexicans treat death is the ease with which human lives can be cut short.
Octavio Paz died in 1998, and he did not live to see the drastic changes undergone by Mexico in the past twenty years, which have been both positive and negative. On the positive side, Mexico has moved away from poverty and has become the world’s fifteenth economy — an impressive jump that can be compared to India’s progress in the same period. On the negative side, economic prosperity has not done away with the country’s endemic problems — corruption, social disparities, the marginalization of Indigenous minorities —, and has actually intensified some of them. In the past twenty years, Mexico has witnessed an unprecedented wave of violence linked to drug trafficking: over 275,000 people have been murdered since 2006, and thousands more have disappeared, including many students and young people. Traffickers engage in a sadism that makes the pages of Dante’s inferno read like a fairy tale: torturing victims, amputating fingers and ears, murdering them in the most gruesome scenarios and filming the entire ordeal before uploading it to social media, where the images are seen and circulated by tens of thousands of willing spectators, in a phenomenon that has been described as “violence porn.”
Drug-related violence has become part and parcel of everyday life in Mexico, and the gruesome images can be found in the press and even on reputable television news programs. Recent literature, including the novels of writers like Elmer Mendoza, Yuri Herrera, and Heriberto Yépez, provide a chilling account of this generalized sadism, while sociologist and political scientists struggle to find a cause and an explanation: is it related to the 1994 signing of the free-trade agreement with the United States and Canada? Did it stem from the 2000 transition to democracy? Is technology to blame?
I would opt for a different explanation, one that recalls Octavio Paz’s ideas about Mexican culture. The recent explosion of violence has coincided with a precipitous rise of drug use in the country. During the 1980s, Mexico was simply a transit point for drugs traveling from Colombia and South America to the United States, a situation that changed in recent years with the development of a local market for cocaine. Cocaine has now become an integral part of the raucous fiestas analyzed by Octavio Paz, which are now louder and more dangerous affairs. And if in the past a celebration could suddenly explode into a fistfight, the threat of violence has now been amplified by automatic weapons and military-grade ammunition, combined with the possibility of filming and distributing the images on social media.
Octavio Paz was right: a repetition compulsion structures Mexican history, and we can draw a line connecting the many episodes of violence in the last five hundred years, starting with Aztec sacrifices, continuing with the Conquistadors’s destructive drives and with the million people killed in the Mexican Revolution, and arriving at the current drug-fueled violence. And all of these episodes can be read as the flipside of Mexico’s famous attitude towards death.
Many people abroad are familiar with the graphic depictions of death by artists such as José Guadalupe Posada, who made hundreds of woodcuts and engravings featuring elegantly-clad skeletons and other curious images of death. But audiences abroad would be less familiar with the work of Teresa Margolles, a visual artist who has spent the last thirty years making installations and performances about the presence of death in Mexico. One of her pieces from 2009 is called Cards for Cutting Cocaine: it consists of small, plastic-covered photos of victims of drug-related violence, close-ups of bludgeoned faces and disfigured heads. By suggesting that these images could be used for “cutting cocaine,” Margolles links the recreational use of drugs —called “partying” in slang —, to the sadism present in the drug trade. Once again, death emerges as the reverse of the boisterous fiesta.
This dialectic between life and death, joy and sadism, can also be seen in other geographies. I am thinking for instance of social media: on the one hand, users tend to use apps to disseminate an image of a perfect life, posting photographs full of smiles, taken in striking beautiful settings, accompanied by what appear to be adoring friends and perfect partners. On the other hand, we know that social media have unleashed an unprecedented amount of aggression, of which there are countless examples ranging from teenage bullying to adult smear campaigns. Here, too we see sadism as the unacknowledged underside of festive celebrations.
The culture of death has been a constant in Mexican history over the past five hundred years, but in the last decades it seems to have reached a breaking point, with hundreds of thousands of drug-related deaths and an unprecedented sadism, celebrated involuntarily by those who share and re-post videos of tortures and executions. Where will this destructive drives lead Mexico? As Sigmund Freud was fond of saying, quoting a Spanish expression whenever he stumbled upon a thorny question that seemed unresolvable, quién sabe.

#1 Sudhir Kakar - Death in India

#1 Sudhir Kakar - Death in India

January 22, 2021

Death, its fear and the efforts of human imagination to address the fear is a universal that has been addressed differently by different civilizations at different times of history. In modern scientific West, the cultural home of psychoanalysis, death is not only the end of body but of all consciousness. Its terror is a separation from everything we know, love and are attached to. But what happens when the cultural imagination, such as that of the Indic civilization, envisages death as a form of union as much as it is also a moment of separation?



Sudhir Kakar is an Indian psychoanalyst and writer. He has been a Lecturer and Visiting Professor at Harvard University, Visiting Professor at the universities of Chicago, McGill, Melbourne, Hawaii, Fellow at the Institutes of Advanced Study, Princeton, Berlin and Cologne and is on the Board of Freud Archives. His many honors include the Kardiner Award of Columbia University, Boyer Prize for Psychological Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association, Germany’s Goethe Medal, McArthur Research Fellowship, and Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Kakar is the author of fourteen books of non-fiction and six novels. His books have been translated into 22 languages.


"As an Indian born Freudian analyst I live a professional life that is peculiarly bi-cultural. I was born and raised in India but my education has been in the cultural home of psychoanalysis, the post-enlightenment West. Non-western analysts like me are not heirs to the Judeo-Christian civilizations, but we practice in enclaves of Western modernity in our civilizations that have similarities to the small subset of the human population that the Harvard psychologist Joseph Heinrich and his colleagues in an influential article in 2010 called WEIRD.
The acronym WEIRD stands for western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. The WEIRD are a small group of statistical outliers who are generally non-religious, and share traits such as being individualistic, believers in free will and personal responsibility. As Heinrich tells us in his recent book “The Weirdest People in the World” the WEIRD are the primary producers and consumers of psychological knowledge.
For non-western analysts whose origins are less weird, their professional socialization as analysts is often in conflict with their cultural upbringing; The cultural part of their unconscious then sometimes rubs against fundamental ideas about the fulfilled life, human relationships, family, marriage, male and female (and others) which psychoanalysis regards as universally valid but which are essentially cultural constructions.
Human universals do exist but they are parsed differently by different civilisations at different points of time, sometimes coinciding and at others deviating significantly from each other. Death, its fear and the efforts of human imagination to address that fear is one such universal.
We are all familiar with Freud’s observation in his Thoughts for the Times on War and Death on the incapability of humans to imagine their own death.

‘It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death: and whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators. Hence the psychoanalytic school could venture on the assertion that at bottom no one believes in his own death, or, to put the same thing in another way, that in his unconscious, every one of us is convinced of his own immortality. (Freud 1915/2001, p. 289)

We are less familiar with similar sentiments voiced in other cultures. In 7th century Syria, the Sufi saint Uwais al-Qarani is asked,

‘What has Grace brought you?’

‘When I wake up in the morning I feel like a man who is not sure he will live till evening,’ Uwais replied.

‘But doesn’t everyone know this?’

‘They certainly do,’ Uwais said. ‘But not all of them feel it.’

And in north India, sometime between the 6th century B.C.E. and 4th century C.E. (the dates assigned to the Hindu epic Mahabharata) King Yudhishtra is asked the question, ‘What is the most amazing thing in the world? He answers,’Day after day, countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama [God of Death], yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more amazing than this?
For most thoughtful people, in all civilizations, the fear of death no longer lies in the torments of hell that await the wicked. These torments gruesomely detailed, sometimes with relish, in the texts of all religious traditions have also been represented in the visual arts of the major cultural traditions; in Western art, most notably in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Signorelli.
Psychoanalytic speculations about the fear of death begin with Freud’s reconsideration (l923, pp.56- 59;l927,129-130,140) as to whether the fear of death is primary, or whether that generalized fear is actually about something else. Analysts have speculated on the human dread of death as a disguised and symbolic expression of other fears, which have become a part of our unconscious mental life since infancy: the fear of castration, the fear of losing our caretakers or their love, the fear of overwhelming sexual excitement, the fear of a punitive conscience or, as with the adherents of the theories of Melanie Klein, the fear arising from the inner working of a death instinct.

But perhaps the most plausible explanation of the ‘nightmare’ of dying and death lies in death stripping the self of memories of which the most vital are of persons we have loved and who have loved us. In psychoanalytic language, the dread lies in the self being emptied of the mental representations of our most important attachments. In India, this has also been the position of one of its greatest writers, Rabindranath Tagore. Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross, the author of the popular and widely influential On Death and Dying, was so convinced that no one had thought more deeply on death than Tagore that she printed quotations from Tagore at the head of each chapter of her book.

For Tagore, what a person cannot imagine about death but vaguely senses is an annihilation of his psyche, an emptying of the self of its past, obliterating memories, attachments, fears, hopes, a process that is deeply unsettling. Tagore’s ideas came from a near-death experience. I believe Tagore’s sixty-hour sojourn in the borderland between life and death, haunts these poems.
Tagore pictures it vividly in the very first poem of Prantik, the cycle of eighteen poems on death, dying and ‘afterdeath’, written when Tagore was 77, eight days after he recovered from a serious illness, which had put him in a coma for sixty hours.

With the light of the world extinguished,

in the heart of darkness,

quietly came the envoy of death. Layers of fine dust,

Settled in the sky of life, extending to the horizon, Were cleansed with the solvent of pain—

This quiet scrubbing continued every moment

With firm hands, like a nightmare. (Tagore 2003, p. 27)


Whereas most Weird people believe there is no other alternative to accepting or resigning oneself to ‘being nothinged, unselved, unparented, unsonned.’ (Bertrand Russel), Buddhist and Hindu thought offer the possibility of rebirth and thus a continuation of consciousness in a different form. A common attitude towards death is that of an old village woman who says to the anthropologist (Das, 1977) ‘ It is like being shifted from one breast of the mother to the other. The child feels lost for that instant, but not for long.’

Most psychoanalysts, I imagine, reject the idea of a continuation of consciousness after death on the basis that the mind is indistinguishable from the brain so that with brain death all consciousness is forever extinguished. While the dismissal of any kind of consciousness surviving death is associated with the modern West and especially the WEIRD, it has also been present in other civilizations. In 600 C.E. in India, the popular Lokayata school that had a large number of adherents dismissed any possibility of the existence of a soul separate from the body. ‘He that maintains, owing to error, that the Soul is distinct from the body and exists after the loss of the body, cherishes an opinion that is unreasonable…’.

The Lokayata school however is not mainstream. In the mainstream of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain thought, where ideas on the nature of the soul are not identical but share a strong family resemblance, death is dehanta—end of body, not end of what was called soul and is now often called Consciousness or Self with a capital ‘c’ and ‘s.’
In the mainstream of Asian thought is the idea of a personal consciousness being part of a universal consciousness—whether alayavijnana (‘storehouse consciousness’) of Mahayana Buddhism or brahman (‘cosmic self’) of Hindu thought-- from which individual consciousness emerges at birth and into which it ultimately, after many lives, dissolves at death. In more modern language, one would say that for Hindus and Buddhists the brain is but a filter, through which the ‘Universal Consciousness,’ ‘Cosmic Self,’ filters in space-time to form individual, personal selves. In this model, my individual consciousness is not an emergent fragile property of brain processes, as conventional neurosciences would have it, but exists independently of the brain that has filtered it through neurological, cognitive, cultural and social processes.

While Freud, in his Beyond the Pleasure Principle posited the twin forces of Eros and Thanatos in eternal conflict in the psyche, Hindu and Buddhist thought has had no trouble in accepting that life and death are closely intertwined; they are twin brothers. In Indian conception, though, there is no conflict between Eros and Thanatos. Death is as vitally engaged as life in the further evolution of personal consciousness into the universal consciousness. As Tagore observes, ‘The mercy of death works at life’s core, bringing it respite from its own foolish persistence. The opposite of death is birth, not life. Death and birth both belong to life of the self: ‘the walk is in the raising of the foot as in laying it down.’ Death is negation of life, not its antagonist. He writes, ‘Life as a whole never takes death seriously. Only when we detach one individual fact of death do we see its blankness and become dismayed. It is like looking at a piece of cloth through a microscope. It appears like a net; we gaze at the big holes and shiver in imagination. But the truth is, death is not the ultimate reality. It looks black, as the sky looks blue; but it does not blacken existence, just as the sky does not leave its stain upon the wings of the bird.’
The joining of the individual consciousness into a universal consciousness echoes in the Hindu moksha and the Buddhist nibbana. The refining of consciousness necessary for this union is believed to happen through many lives. As such the focus of the religion is not solely on the reality of this life. The reason why there are no tombs, sarcophagi or pyramids in these civilizations to mark the end of a life is that this particular life is only one among many. Rebirth, through which the process of refining consciousness takes place is not desirable in itself but as an unavoidable means to a desired end, a scrubbing of individual consciousness in a solvent of pain. In the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cases, the dread of rebirth is multiplied by the prospect of dying again and again. The reason for the goal of moksha or nirvana is not weariness with life but weariness with death. The sacred Hindu texts speak of punar mrityu—‘re-death,’ long before they speak of punar janma—‘rebirth.’ (Doniger 2013, p. 90)”

A culture’s view of death is an integral part of its overarching ‘vision of reality.’ Visions of reality are composites of certain verifiable facts, acts of speculation and articles of faith that unite groups of human beings in specific cultural consolidations. A culture’s vision of reality, absorbed as an intuitive inner orientation in early childhood, continues to color a person’s life and death. In the tragic, WEIRD vision, which is also that of psychoanalysis, each of us lives in our own subjective world, pursuing pleasures and private fantasies, constructing a life and a fate that will vanish when our time is over. A cornerstone of this vision is the necessity and painfulness of separation.
This vision is in contrast to the Indian vision, which sees life not as tragic but as a romantic quest with the goal and possibility of undoing separation by uniting with the universal self from which it emerged. A thoughtful Indian would agree with Freud's opening sentence in Family Romances (1919): "The separation of the individual as he grows up, from the authority of the parents, is one of the most necessary achievements of his development, yet at the same time one of the most painful.", as long as the words ‘is one of the most necessary achievements’ were omitted.

The Indian vision does not doubt the reality of separation but refuses to admit that separation-individuation is the higher level of reality, and asserts that union or oneness is. Even in the Punjabi proverb about death being the shifting from one breast to another, it is the continuation of breastfeeding rather than the aspirations of weaning and the independence implicit in weaning that dominates the Indian imagination
As a Freudian analyst, I have misgivings about many Hindu and Buddhist views of death and after death. But somewhere in my cultural unconscious, I resonate to the idea of death as a change of consciousness just as I am deeply moved by Tagore’s imagery of death gently carrying the self into the great silence, ‘as the Ganges carries a fallen flower on its stream, washing every stain away to render it, a fit offering to the sea.’
In the Indian geography, the appeal of metaphors around death—such as this one by Tagore—is not in their promise of rebirth, but in their deeming the yearning for union as a fundamental need of the psyche."

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App