Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran
- Winner, 2013 Gradiva Award given by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis
A Western-trained psychoanalyst returns to her homeland and tells stories of displacement, nostalgia, love, and pain.
Is psychoanalysis possible in the Islamic Republic of Iran? This is the question that Gohar Homayounpour poses to herself, and to us, at the beginning of this memoir of displacement, nostalgia, love, and pain. Twenty years after leaving her country, Homayounpour, an Iranian, Western-trained psychoanalyst, returns to Tehran to establish a psychoanalytic practice. When an American colleague exclaims, “I do not think that Iranians can free-associate!” Homayounpour responds that in her opinion Iranians do nothing but. Iranian culture, she says, revolves around stories. Why wouldn't Freud's methods work, given Iranians' need to talk?
Thus begins a fascinating narrative of interlocking stories that resembles—more than a little—a psychoanalytic session. Homayounpour recounts the pleasure and pain of returning to her motherland, her passion for the work of Milan Kundera, her complex relationship with Kundera's Iranian translator (her father), and her own and other Iranians' anxieties of influence and disobedience. Woven throughout the narrative are glimpses of her sometimes frustrating, always candid, sessions with patients. Ms. N, a famous artist, dreams of abandonment and sits in the analyst's chair rather than on the analysand's couch; a young chador-clad woman expresses shame because she has lost her virginity; an eloquently suicidal young man cannot kill himself.
As a psychoanalyst, Homayounpour knows that behind every story told is another story that remains untold. Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran connects the stories, spoken and unspoken, that ordinary Iranians tell about their lives before their hour is up.
Was Scheherazade a precursor to Freud? Psychoanalysis is a laboratory made of narratives. It offers the possibility to connect the stories of all those who suffer—whatever their anxiety, their traumas, their desires—and to give birth to individual freedoms—despite the religious, social, and economic obstacles presented by various political regimes. The roads to freedom found on Gohar Homayounpour's analytic couch are unexpected, secret, and ultimately irresistible.
Julia Kristeva, psychoanalyst, philosopher, novelist, and author of Tales of Love and Murder in Byzantium
In Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran Gohar Homayounpour puts Iran on the couch: through her eyes and ears the reader will discover an extraordinarily rich, complex, and sophisticated culture, inhabited by famous artists, passionate intellectuals, bored socialites, and even ordinary neurotics. This masterful book—beautifully written and eloquently narrated—will even fulfill the ultimate fantasy: to eavesdrop into the analyst's consulting room.
Rubén Gallo, author of Freud's Mexico
The censors of this fascinating book are not ulamā with long robes and beards, but the egos of the author's analytic patients. Gohar Homayounpour offers our Western gaze a more profound look into the psyches of people living in the Islamic Republic of Iran than we could ever have imagined; she permits us to glimpse their very core, that place where they are no longer graspable, least of all to themselves. In this way the patients she 'reads'—and she herself as she tries and fails, tries and fails to catch up with her own nostalgia for her native Tehran—become wonderfully exotic, not in the Orientalist but in the psychoanalytic sense, the one that matters. A rich, multi-layered memoir.
Joan Copjec, Director, Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture at the University of Buffalo; author of Read My Desire and Imagine There's No Woman
In this brilliant work of analysis, memory, and association, the Iranian psychoanalyst Gohar Homayounpour navigates between East and West, conscious and unconscious, English and Farsi, and other poles of subjectivity and objectivity that define the condition of individuals and their interior/exterior worlds. Psychoanalysis is the vehicle, but culture, curiosity, pain, and authenticity are the real protagonists of this unique book.
Dr. Stefano Bolognini, President, International Psychoanalytical Association, and President, Italian Psychoanalytic Society