How can collectives make something together, including difficult objects, such as a scene of mourning or a scene of bringing psychoanalysis to a marginalised community or to political refugees close to a country border? While becoming immersed in our ethnographic fieldwork and getting to know the practices of many free psychoanalytic clinics around the world, such questions move to the forefront of our minds. Free clinics have existed since Freud’s times (Danto, 2005), from Vienna to Berlin, Budapest and London. They often functioned as autonomous collectives in relation to psychoanalytic societies, and enlarged access to psychoanalytic treatment. The past decade has seen a remarkable expansion and intensification of free psychoanalytic clinics, especially in the global South. Facing societal and clinical challenges, the free clinics collectives have invented new ways of being together in the everyday. A vocabulary on collective creativity is needed to make sense of these forms of invention.Footnote 1

In what follows, we draw conceptual and ethnographic maps for terms such as infrastructural thinking, inclination, orientation and disorientation, and we articulate a psychosocial vocabulary of creativity. We arrive at a postural theory of subjectivity: how we orient ourselves to one another matters. We differentiate infrastructures from institutions, and trace how they differ in ‘the liveliness of [their] world-making activity’ (Berlant, 2022, p. 95). As the ecological crisis is deepening, many thinkers turn to some idea of ‘infrastructure’ to capture and reimagine how life changes from within itself, from the everydayness and the concreteness of social relations. Infrastructures are durationally extensive spaces, they do not differentiate between the productive and the reproductive, and they are spheres for generating pliable and porous norms and rules for the everyday. These pliable norms, as they are put into use, extend the world-making activity; they create new contexts for life and pluralise forms of life. We ask: what does psychoanalysis have to offer to this ‘infrastructural turn’? What kind of orientations do psychoanalytic collectives of free clinics have in their everyday work? What does it mean to have an orientation or inclination away from the global North in psychoanalysis? What happens when psychoanalysis leans toward its outside, engaging other modalities of knowledge?

The free clinics we look at are in a state of friction with institutionalised psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic societies and training institutes. Since 1910, with the founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), the field of psychoanalysis has been in a state of strong institutionalisation, which was furthered in 1922, by formalising a ‘three-pillar’ system of training (that includes personal analysis, supervision of training cases, and theoretical training), known as ‘the Berlin system’. While this formalisation has had an important role in the dissemination and maintaining of the profession, it also functioned as a defensive reaction, a kind of hyperinstitutionalisation, a response to the lack of structure and clear boundaries of the first two decades of psychoanalysis (Balint, 1948). Hélio Pellegrino (1978), the late Brazilian medical doctor, psychoanalyst and public left-wing intellectual, in a draft of an article found in his personal archives, spoke of ‘the psychoanalytic establishment’, which guarded the ‘interests of the dominant classes’, misunderstanding the psychoanalytic project altogether, reacting with suspicion to any attempts of working psychoanalytically, or, opening a space for listening to the experiences of suffering of the poor, the workers and the marginalised.

The free clinics we evoke here are also in friction with state power and with capitalistic principles and practices. By friction, we mean a form of relating to state agendas and resources, in which a semi-autonomous collective of practitioners show a kind of ‘up-againstness’ in relation to the demands of the state (Estarque & Soreanu, 2022). This friction is often experienced as a creative force, as it allows the collective’s members to engage in their own thinking, instead of attempting to adjust to the demands and discourses of government funding schemes. The early psychoanalytic clinics of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe were themselves in friction with the state. They were not entirely absorbed in negotiation with state bureaucracies, nor were they relying on state funding in order to function. Those psychoanalysts were part of a new social contract within their own local communities, of a fundamental revision of the social contract at large; and they experimented with anticapitalistic principles and practices.

Our observations take place in a temporal glitch. Following Lauren Berlant (2022, p. 24), we understand glitch as ‘an interruption within a transition, a troubled transmission’. The glitch marks a collectively held sense of a crisis in the ‘reproduction of life’. The glitch is a micro-event happening in a frame of transitional time, be it the ecological crisis, or the profound reconfiguration around racial relations. The glitch brings a focus on the ongoingness of life and the everydayness of action. We are called to ‘attend to the difficulty of being with the ordinary not just as a microecology of disaster but a scene of ongoingness that includes catastrophe, comedy, awkwardness, intimacy, work, care work, noticing, dissociating, demanding, shrugging, and working it out in real time’ (Berlant, 2022, p. 8). In terms of the history of psychoanalysis as a field, this means an attention to micro-stories, slips of the tongue, pulsating words, minor figures, rather than masters and events that ‘make or break’ the field, catastrophic fragmentations, and the emergence of new psychoanalytic schools.

The idea of the glitch produces a creative disturbance in a narrative of psychoanalytic transmission as a straight line, one that comes from Freud as its founder and has a few important ramifications, such as from the work of Klein and Lacan. It is at times deeply relevant to consider what was not transmitted, what associations were broken, what figures or movements were repressed or foreclosed or fell out of History (Soreanu et al., 2023; Harris & Kuchuck, 2015) – including the free clinics movement.

We first theorise psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking, pondering on its qualities as a particular kind of orientation to action, and showing its capacity to consider multiple transferences as well as ambivalence, and on the new fantasies on gain, accumulation and redistribution that it allows. We then articulate the relationship between infrastructural thinking and a postural theory of the subject, centred on considering orientations/disorientations in relation to objects. Finally, we trace psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking on the ground, while following the orientations of practices and speech acts. While a lot of our account captures orientations of contemporary psychoanalysts in Brazil, and also some of the 1970s in Brazil, we make analogies with other spaces and times of psychoanalysis, conceiving of the free clinics movements as a global one. We have a stake in ‘thickening’ the associations between different spatio-temporal referents, as we believe they can contribute to a social memory of the free clinics movement globally. We draw on material that comes from different sources: 12 free-association interviews conducted with psychoanalysts in Brazil in 2023; archival documents, including papers, notes and letters in the Arquivo Hélio Pellegrino (Arquivo Museu de Literatura Brasileira, Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, Rio de Janeiro); and archival material, including institutional reports, working papers and newspaper cuttings held by the Biblioteca Anna Katrin Kemper (Círculo Psicanalítico do Rio de Janeiro).

Infrastructural Thinking: Infrastructural Practice

Infrastructural thinking is a particular kind of orientation of action, which looks at institutions ‘slantwise’ (Ahmed, 2006). This means that it does not fully entrust itself to formalised rules, statutes, or official guidelines. Instead, it stays with disorientations that usually accompany the moments when collective work can be done, in order to carve out zones of alternative lifeworlds, or to invent new forms of alter-lives within existing forms of life. Infrastructural thinking is a mechanism of amplification and of intensification. It is what Berlant (2022, p. 95) calls ‘the heterotopian impulse’. It is also what Castoriadis (1975/1987) has called the emergence of ‘new drives’, the ‘radical imagination’ of the psyche and the ‘radical social imaginary’, referring to the inexhaustible capacity of the psyche and of the social to generate new forms. In this logic of action, the boundary between the inside and the outside of a collective is not given by a list of membership, or by statutes and membership fees, but by an intensification of fantasy, free association and analogy, which creates, even if momentarily, an effect of ‘inside’. It is ‘the liveliness of world-making activity’ (Berlant, 2022, p. 95) that differentiates infrastructures from institutions. This difference is of course itself a matter of perspective, and it is variable. An institution that looks at itself ‘slantwise’, questioning its practices and ways of assembling resources, can acquire the qualities of an infrastructure; and, vice versa, an infrastructure can solidify and de-intensify into an institution.

Berlant (2022, p. 95) captures the different atmospheres of infrastructures and institutions, in a way that we will stay with and expand in the following pages:

Institutions enclose and congeal power, resources, and interest, and they represent their legitimacy as something solid and enduring, a predictability on which the social relies. Institutions normalize reciprocity. What constitutes infrastructure, in contrast, are the patterns, habits, norms, and scenes of assemblage and use.

To bring an image from our fieldwork, one of our interviewees recalled the practices of the free clinic he was part of during the military dictatorship in Brazil in the early 1970s. He spoke of how, periodically, the staff of the clinic would gather together in the large yard of the clinic, at night, to burn any documents of process that they held in the building. This enabled the protection of the patients who frequented the clinic, who, in the event of a turn for the worse of the regime, could have been identified and persecuted; and it also protected the clinicians working there, and their collaborators, by erasing the trace of their presence and also the trace of the scale and processes of the clinic. This act of burning documents is an instance of infrastructural thinking. It makes possible to carry on offering free psychoanalysis to marginalised populations. It is an intensification of fantasy (here, a fantasy of protection) that goes alongside the material destruction of the records of the clinic, of any statutes, process notes, lists of patients, clinical notes, minutes. By fantasy we mean new imaginative figurations that are productions of the unconscious in its encounters of the world, rather than only repetitions or symptomatic bridges (Tosquelles, 1991; Minozzo, 2022).

The collectives we look at in our fieldwork have a boundary that is also a line of fire – an incandescent, dynamic, moveable, pliable boundary, and one that enacts complex forms of reciprocity, or allows hidden resources to be tapped into. We will follow such boundaries formed by an intensification of fantasy production, and that remain ‘in the line of fire’, meaning that psychoanalysis often finds itself ‘in trouble’. The ‘trouble’ in this vignette was the political regime, a dictatorship that persecuted and ‘disappeared’ political opponents. But the troubles are varied, starting with wars, displacements of population, splits and quarrels internal to psychoanalysis, and also a racial schemata affecting the field. Thus, a pile of statutes going up in flames is not a marker of chaos or dissolution, but a moment of infrastructural thinking. This also marks the relation between thinking and materiality, as the most abstract principles of reciprocity in this example were maintained by an act of burning documents. Infrastructural thinking is bound up with material process.

As the ecological crisis is deepening and taking ever more forms, various thinkers turn to some idea of ‘infrastructure’ to capture and reimagine how life (including movements of resistance) changes from within itself, from within the scene of experience. Marxists, feminists, anarchists, cultural theorists are turning away from ‘structure’ and its heavier sociological definition and depiction as an external and often abstract ‘grid’ that entraps or conditions action, to the everydayness of the generation of forms of life in various fields of practice. This everydayness and the concreteness of social relations is referenced in the idea of ‘infrastructure’. We might say that we are in the midst of an ‘infrastructural turn’, as different theorists and practitioners realise that both stories of oppression and those of resistance and invention need to be told from within the unfolding of these concrete social relations. While we share this interest for everydayness, or for the ‘meanwhile’, or even for life at its most ordinary, we ask: what is psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking, how is it practised, and what does it have to offer to this important web of thinking of and through infrastructures?

Psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking is of course not an attribute of psychoanalysts alone. That would be an institutionalist reading in the midst of an infrastructuralist orientation. Psychoanalytic infrastructuralism is a kind of orientation to action that acknowledges the importance of fantasy and the productivity of the unconscious for any reconfiguration of resources and of concrete social relations. Psychoanalytic infrastructuralism recognises that fantasy intensification can set a boundary on fire. Within a burning boundary a collective can turn upon itself and upon its own action and creative capacity, generate a new form of life, or expand relationality. This is why semi-autonomous free clinics are so important here. In the free clinics, practitioners are turned upon their own action, often knowing how precarious and fragile this work is. At the same time, they often develop collective methods so as to intensify the ‘burning boundary’ of their coalescence, and to work with and across this boundary, so as to be in a position to offer that which defies the logic of capitalism, and is therefore an unlikely event: free psychoanalysis.

Our conception of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking has important resonance with the way Berlant has theorised this idea in their later work. They became passionate about infrastructures, and inflected their own ideas psychoanalytically, convinced that fantasy matters and that pondering on how it matters is akin to an everyday revolution:

Infrastructures are productive, durationally extensive spaces for the pliable forms of life that people use to make rules and norms and other means of extending the world. Infrastructures do not honor distinctions between the productive and the reproductive because they follow the elastic logic of cluster, of assemblage. Rules are stretchy and norms are porous. In our notice of this capacity for structural distortion and disturbance, infrastructural thought is a way of coming to analytic terms with the complex material and discursive dimensionality, temporality, and use value that constitute the disturbed, yet ongoing, forces of the ordinary. (Berlant, 2022, p. 23)

We too are committed to approaching the forces and the crisis of the ordinary from multiple points of entry. Below, we ask how we can discern the different qualities of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking. There is value in observing how psychoanalysts practise their orientation to the everyday.

Six Theses on Psychoanalytic Infrastructuring

The first quality of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking is that it can consider multiple transferences, and thus complexity. Collectives formulate problems that are seldom univocal. In the vocabulary of complexity, they cut across different strata of reality, refracting between the strata, be they material, ideal, or psychic. Psychoanalysis has a way of understanding this multiplicity of often contested processes involved in making substantive connections among people and lifeworlds. Psychic processes of identification and also projective processes are central to collective life. The presupposition of the operation of a ‘group illusion’ at the level of the collective brings together thinkers as different as Sigmund Freud, Donald Winnicott, Melanie Klein and Didier Anzieu. The group illusion refers to moments of symbiotic euphoria, based on identifications, during which all group members feel at ease together and happily consider themselves a good group (Anzieu, 1975/1984). A positive transference is concentrated on the group as a libidinal object, while a negative transference is usually directed outside, on the non-group. Or, we could say the death drive is projected onto the scapegoat. The group participants are able to feel a purely libidinal bond among themselves. The group becomes the lost or destroyed object, which newly found, produces feelings of euphoria. Psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking works with and in the group illusion, through organising suspicion in relation to this form of euphoria of collective process. It also works to transform the outwardly oriented negative transference. In other words, it looks at the group illusion ‘slantwise’, and it finds ways to experience non-identificatory euphoria. As we will see, our interviewees evoke infrastructural landscapes that contain multiple transferences, and they also detail how they oriented themselves in relation to them.

The second quality of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking is its interest in and acceptance of ambivalence. The pair inconvenience–ambivalence is at the core of Berlant’s understanding of infrastructural thinking. Making something together is hardly ever a harmonious, symphonic or conflict-free operation. There will be loose ends, disruptions, misalignments and reshaping of registers. As Berlant (2022, p. 27) writes: ‘Fantasy is … an infrastructure that points to and protects ambivalence without erasing it.’ Having a way of working through mutual inconveniences and ambivalence means moving away from the register of the ‘group illusion’ to one of heterogeneous alliance. Feminist thinkers have long insisted on a politics and ethics of alliance that acknowledges the fundamental difference and even partial conflict of the elements that come together to make the alliance. It is an ethics of cohabitation (Butler, 2012; Haraway, 2016). We inhabit a world that is not of our making or choosing, with others whom we also cannot either choose or change.

In an exchange between two psychoanalysts, Hélio Pellegrino and Katrin Kemper, the founders of the first free clinic in Brazil during the 1970s, we find an instance of infrastructural thinking at work. On 23 October 1974, Pellegrino writes to Kemper, his close collaborator and friend, with respect to what he believed to be an error of orientation she made in her approach to collective work. He writes: ‘This attitude … seems to me to indicate that, at present, you have difficulties of working in a team. For my part, I have to confess that I have difficulty to work in a team with those who have difficulty to work in a team’ (Pellegrino, 1974, our translation). Pellegrino also indicates that while he will abstain from taking part in one designated event of the clinic, once there will be a change of atmosphere, he will collaborate with enthusiasm and dedication. In this infrastructural act, ambivalence is not erased, it is named and contemplated, so that collective life, momentarily disturbed, can be restarted.

A third quality of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking is that it can hold up a frame where new answers can be given to the question: what do I gain? This question – a capitalist obsession – seldom invites creativity. But the very functioning of free psychoanalytic clinics is based on the fact that psychoanalysts have found creative answers to this question for themselves and for others. One of our interviewees recounted that as the Rio free clinic was expanding, a potential collaborator asked: ‘What will I gain with this?’ To this Pellegrino answered: humility and humanity; while the interviewee added ‘you will be able to say that you worked here’. What is happening here from an infrastructural perspective? Through the work of fantasy, the boundary of what a person can give is reconfigured. This boundary is an elastic one, and it is also often symptomatic. The collective can create a context of articulation for the act of giving, which has immediate material consequences for collective life.

Furthermore, psychoanalytic collectives have responded creatively to the challenges and paradoxes of money: they have set up alternative points of accumulation, principles of circulation and modes of redistribution, grounding an alternative economy of care. In the space of the free clinics, psychoanalytic currencies are created. By studying them, we can take steps towards a psychosocial value theory, which accounts for the interrelation between political economy and libidinal economy (Guattari, 1992/1995; Klossowski, 1970/2017). The psychoanalysts of free clinics have been reimagining currency and creating a series of innovative devices: vouchers, sliding scales for patients allowing for zero payments, quotas for free or low-cost sessions shared by all psychoanalysts, rules of conversion making it possible for psychoanalytic trainees to pay for their education by contributing to the free clinics, and complex micro-redistribution systems. The ethico-political implications of observing and theorising these practices are profound: they amount to a questioning and a dislocation of the primacy of economic semiotisations. Here, economic semiotisation is seen as depending on psychic collective factors and on affects that surpass capitalist ideological demands. The opposition between use value and exchange value is relinquished in favour of an acknowledgement of the plurality of modalities of valorisation: the values of desire, aesthetic values, ecological values, economic values and, importantly, the value of suffering. An artefact of the early free clinics is evocative here: we are referring to the psychoanalytic voucher (Erlagschein), a piece of paper that was in wide distribution in the 1930s. A psychoanalyst could endorse this kind of voucher to a free clinic, as a monthly financial contribution, substituting their gift of time, their donation for treatment hours they would ordinarily be expected to provide in person (Danto, 2005, p. 1). One of the consequences of this system of vouchers, used by Freud himself, was that the social clinic was endorsed and sustained by the psychoanalytic community in its entirety.

The fourth quality of infrastructural thinking is its capacity to invite fantasies about places where value can accumulate. And it is not any kind of accumulation, but one that goes against a capitalistic logic. Resonating with Michel de Certeau (1980/1984), we are interested in ‘practices that produce without capitalising’. The places of accumulation we have in mind allow value to pool and then be transformed, through a principle of conversion that the collective agrees on. An interviewee mentioned the dispositif of ‘Bank of Hours’: in this fantasy bank, what was pooling was the future hours that the clinicians were willing to contribute. Whenever a new demand came through, time was taken out of the Bank of Hours, and a new patient could be seen. Imagining a place of alternative accumulation also means detailing the conditions under which a value can be taken out. One social clinic in Brazil, the Institute of Complexity Studies in Rio de Janeiro, has a ‘caixa único’ (‘single pot’), a box where all the earnings of the collective are deposited for a month, to be redistributed according to a set of principles and rules. It is an artefact of an alternative redistribution system.

The fifth quality has to do with a kind of transversality of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking in relation with different knowledge discourses. This brings de-hierarchisation and democratisation of claims to knowledge, and it configures the relation of psychoanalysis with its others. We discuss this at length below in the section ‘Psychoanalysis and Its Others’. As for the sixth quality, we note that psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking pays great attention to orientations. How are bodies distributed in a scene? What does a scene of patriarchy look like? How are bodies arranged and oriented in a patriarchal scene? What does a scene of racial enactment look like? How do consistent orientations to whiteness appear and what might it take to interrupt them?

Infrastructural thinking changes the way we see the psychoanalytic couch and invites us to explore new orientations to this material and symbolic object. The couch is ultimately an infrastructural object, at once shaped and shape-shifting. It is a machine that makes speak, if we follow Deleuze’s (1992) notion of dispositif. Infrastructural thinking brings radical intervention, amounting to a theory of the psychoanalytic dispositif. It is worth noting that the term dispositif (or dispositivo in Portuguese) appeared in the speech of the psychoanalysts we interviewed. Although it could as well have arrived in their speech via Foucault, Deleuze or Agamben, what matters here is that it is not ‘philosopher talk’, but it made it into the day-to-day vocabulary of psychoanalytic practice. In the associations that psychoanalysts made, it often appeared close to references to change of psychoanalytic practice. Deleuze (1992, p. 159) sees the dispositif as a heterogeneous, dynamic and moving configuration: he calls it a ‘multilinear ensemble’. The dispositif is non-homogenous and defined in terms of a tangle of lines. Deleuze (1992, p. 159) notes that ‘each line is broken, submitted to variations of direction, changing tack and slipping, submitted to derivations’. He uses concretised, physical language to describe and pin down this tangle of lines. But he also uses a series of terms meant to capture a reorientation: change of direction, bifurcation, forking, drifting, going off balance. The couch is thus a machine for changing the direction of speech. And a machine for reorientation. Furthermore, describing the visibility aspects of the dispositive, Deleuze (1992, p. 159) writes that each ‘dispositive has its own regime of light, manner in which it falls, becomes blurred, and spreads throughout, distributing the visible and the invisible, giving rise to or disappearing the object which would not exist without it’. The boundary of the couch can be read as a phenomenon of intensity, and one that transforms whatever crosses it, by changing its directionality, like a prism. The dispositif opens possibilities of contact, participation, play, as well as bodily and sensual experiences (de Certeau, 1980/1984); and this is why we need a theory of the psychoanalytic dispositif and of the couch as infrastructural object.

To Orient and to Disorient

How do objects and bodies acquire orientations or inclinations to one another? How do they come to ‘point’ to each other? Reiterative action and the repetition of certain gestures are key. These repetitions have particular ‘objects’ in view, but these are only sometimes material or physical objects (the psychoanalytic couch, the chair, the consulting room door); other times they are psychic, or fantasy objects that bear an investment or identification (the psychoanalytic frame, the psychoanalyst’s position, the boundaries of the psychoanalytic process). In making sense of infrastructures, we draw on phenomenological ideas of ‘orientation’ and ‘inclination’, as they capture the tension between the fugitive and the reiterative nature of action. Sara Ahmed (2006) and Adriana Cavarero (2014/2016) are important partners of dialogue here, as they both use geometric-spatialised metaphors to rethink subjectivity and ethics (see also Dahms, 2023). Their explorations of subjectivity through postural (inclined) and spatial (oriented) lines and relations mean that we can make better sense of social histories of psychoanalysis, in different times and places, and while capturing different forms of infrastructural thinking. This brings an ethical bind. According to Ahmed (2014, p. 95), ‘to think with orientations is to think of how we are involved in worlds; it is to write from our involvement’.

It would be a dangerous illusion to think that orientations and inclinations are always readily visible. A psychoanalytic phenomenology insists on the force of fantasy in organising the geometric metaphors that Ahmed and Cavarero speak about. There is always something behind or beneath the field of perception that we need to pay attention to. In the case of the institutionalisation of psychoanalysis as a field, one of the stable orientations that we need to stay with is the institutionalisation of whiteness. Here, Fanon’s voice is important, pointing to the orientations beneath other corporeal orientations, which he calls ‘historical-racial schema’:

Below the corporeal schema I had sketched out a historic-racial schema. The elements that I used had been provided for me not by ‘residual sensations and perceptions primarily of a tactile, vestibular, kinesthetic, and visual character,’ but by the other, the white man, who had woven me out of a thousand details, anecdotes, stories. (Fanon 1952/1986, p. 17)

So how might we weave back in the black and marginal stories that were woven out? Our tactic is staying with moments of disorientation, with instances when what is straight or aligned becomes oblique or diagonal or gains a new angle. Focusing on ‘slips of the tongue’ is another element of our tactic, as these have the capacity to show the conflicted subject, who becomes disorientated by their own conflict, while also disorienting their audience or observer. Disorientation has an uneven distribution in the world: some bodies, those of minorities, black people, women, trans subjects get to be more often disorientated, or get to experience life in the ‘glitch’ with much more intensity. Orientation is thus more proximate to institution, while disorientation is more proximate to infrastructuralism.

What are the implications of the attempt to follow the disorientations? With Adriana Cavarero (2014/2016) we become aware of the gestures, alignments and disalignments of all those in history, who, through their work of care, are more visibly inclined toward others. What results is a hidden geometry of postural care. Cavarero looks at how Western philosophy has produced a core image of a subject that is vertical, straight and self-balanced, and that holds himself upright in relation to every other subject: the autonomous ‘I’. This ‘formal uprightness’ is also a paradigm of relationality: it configures the way in which care, social roles, norms, deviance, bodies will be grasped. What is here weaved out of the story is the ‘inclined I’, the subject who is not straight or vertical, but oblique or tilted. This is the obliqueness of care and preoccupation with others. Cavarero refers to a quality of this inclination that is ‘leaning toward the outside’ (2014/2016). It is this quality of subjectivity – leaning toward the outside – that interests us as well in telling minor histories of psychoanalysis.

On Losing One’s North

Orientation is language-bound. The very word contains a hidden ‘orient’/’Orient’, and with it the relationship between the West and the East, between the North and the South, and ultimately between minor orientalised languages and major languages. It is therefore appropriate to have as a starting place a non-translatable, or difficult to translate word, as used by one of our interviewees. This word is, in Brazilian Portuguese, ‘se desnortear’, which according to the Collins Dictionary (n.d.) can be translated as ‘to throw off course’, ‘to bewilder’, ‘to lose one's way’, or ‘to become confused’. None of these translations, however, consider how the word itself, in the situation of the interview, oriented itself, and in turn oriented our associations, as interviewers, as we were listening to its being uttered. In the situation, the word both dilated and became sharper. It seemed to sharpen our perception, to make it less unified and more differentiated. This happened also through the repetition of the word ‘se desnortear’ in our subject’s speech. This word came to acquire a surface, on which we could stop and think. It also came to acquire an edge, which means it divided the significant from the insignificant. Perhaps we were there so that this word could be uttered, and repeated several times. As we argue above, the difference between the inside and the outside is marked by an intensification of fantasy, free association and analogy. In this sense, se desnortear functions as an intensifier, constituting the inside of a fantasy space.

Let us follow and dream up this term, se desnortear, as it evokes the (counter)hegemonic relationship between the global North and the global South, between the establishment and marginality, between self-policed, purified practice and interdisciplinary practice permeated by a plurality of influences, and also between sanity and madness. The context in which this word was uttered was one where our interviewee was asking infrastructural questions about the conditions of possibility of an antiracist psychoanalysis. Here is our translation from Portuguese:

How will we practice an inter-racial psychoanalysis, that is also antiracist? How will we practice a queer psychoanalysis? How can cis people and how can heterosexual men such as myself listen to the clinical questions, not only the symptom, but the clinical questions of LGBTQIA+ people? How? … For this I need to affirm, in order to disaffirm my place. It’s to affirm myself heterosexual, to affirm myself cis, to disaffirm myself of this place. This is required of whiteness too, isn’t it, to racialise itself, so as to dis-racialise itself.

In what follows, we will practise an ethnographic dispositif of repetition. We invite you to repeat with us, to reread the quotes, but not only in the precise form in which they were translated, but also with a foreign inflection, by defamiliarising the words heard. As you will see, the requoting while transforming the reference to the North constitutes a phenomenological exercise of concretising the orientation, an exercise of feeling our bodies orienting themselves to the North, becoming the North, and then reorienting ourselves away from the North, un-becoming North. The un-becoming North itself needs to be a reiterative practice: one body needs to un-become North tens, hundreds, tens of thousands of times, so that it becomes a settled subjective possibility.

For the foreigner and for the child, words have a higher density, they are more concretised. At times this also happens for the analysand on the psychoanalytic couch. Our invitation to the reader is that of becoming-foreigner and becoming-child, and allowing the North itself to concretise, to become a ‘thing’, a ‘thing’ that drags the wor(l)d down, it contests any pretence to a furtive or flight quality of action. It is thus an exercise of temporarily ‘thickening the object’ (Berlant, 2022), bringing into focus something to do with suffering and marginality. The purpose of this double hearing is to hear up to the body of the word. Or to hear the bodies behind the words, whose suffering is materialised.

But who does the listening? The quotes below are taken from an interview collected in Rio de Janeiro, in spring 2023, by two psychoanalysts: a Brazilian-born analyst who lives in Europe, and a European-born analyst who lived in Brazil for a while. The interviewee was a Brazilian psychoanalyst with experience in the public health system in Brazil. Perhaps there was a quiet need for this entanglement of trajectories of the interviewers, and their pointing in different directions, so that the interviewee could articulate a ‘loss of the North’. The two interviewers and the interviewee are all three, in different ways, dropping or losing their North in their everyday practice.

First, hear the subject’s speech, in translation from Portuguese to English:

To affirm so as to disaffirm. Patriarchy needs an exercise, which is a very disorientating [desnorteador] exercise … Even from the times when I was 19 and I started as an intern in CAPS,Footnote 2 people arrived and said this: ‘I am here because I am disorientated [desnorteado] … I am here because I am disorientated [desnorteado]. I came here because I am disorientated [desnorteado]. I came here because I am disorientated [desnorteado].’ I kept hearing this for decades, I even hear this today. And here the disorientation [desnorteamento] has to do with madness. Madness is disorientating [fora do norte], isn’t it, for a colonised society such as our own. To have the compass pointing to the ‘North’ means to orient yourself in the direction of the ‘North’. I am speaking of the global North …, this road to Europe, the global North. What we need is to disorient ourselves [se desnortear].

Second, hear a (fantasised) and concretised retranslation, by the interviewers:

To affirm so as to disaffirm. Patriarchy needs an exercise, which is an exercise in which one loses one’s North … Even from the times when I was 19 and I started as an intern in CAPS, people arrived and said this: ‘I am here because I lost my North … I am here because I lost my North. I came here because I have lost my North. I came here because I have lost my North.’ I kept hearing this for decades, I even hear this today. And here the un-becoming North has to do with madness. Madness is out of the North, isn’t it, for a colonised society such as our own. To have the compass pointing to the ‘North’ means to orient yourself. In the direction of the ‘North’. I am speaking of the global North …, this road to Europe, the global North. What we need is to lose our North.

North is a noun that points to a political orientation. What happens in our speech when North becomes a verb? To make-North. To make-oneself-North. To align one’s body in direction to the North. And then to un-make North. To dis-North oneself. And to lose one’s North. Losing one’s North points to a possibility of mourning. Mourning for the violence of ever having been North or having made North, to oneself and to others. Mourning for the fact that the North is always trying to place ‘madness’ out of itself, to project it, to externalise it, to disown it.

Hear more of the subject’s speech, in translation:

We need to depathologise the idea that being disorientated is being mad. So, when I was hearing ‘I am here because I am disorientated [desnorteado]’, my work here was so that the person became even more disorientated [se desnorteasse ainda mais]. The person would become more disorientated [desnorteada] … so that she could possibly deal better with that which aggravated the psychic suffering, with racism, with patriarchy, with homophobia. For this, one does not need to become white, to whiten oneself, to Europeanise oneself, to masculinise oneself, to turn South-Easterner, in the sense of the [regional] divides that exist here in Brazil between the North and the North-East and the Central-East. … To disorient oneself [se desnortear] demands that not only the mad, the black, the LGBT disorient themselves. These have been disoriented [desnorteados] for a long time. It demands that we touch madness in a non-pathologising manner.

And then repeat by hearing the same excerpt in a concretised and fantasised retranslation:

We need to depathologise the idea that being disorientated is being mad. So, when I was hearing ‘I am here because I lost my North’, my work here was so that the person could lose her North even more. The person would lose her North even more … so that she could possibly deal better with that which aggravated the psychic suffering, with racism, with patriarchy, with homophobia. For this, one does not need to become white, to whiten oneself, to Europeanise oneself, to masculinise oneself, to turn South-Easterner, in the sense of the [regional] divides that exist here in Brazil between the North and the North-East and the Central-East. … To lose one’s North demands that not only the mad, the black, the LGBT disorient themselves. These have been losing their North for a long time. It demands that we touch madness in a non-pathologising manner.

There is a psychoanalytic dispositif mentioned by our interviewees which is in dialogue with this exercise of losing one’s North. It is called aquilombamento, referring specifically to an intervention in mental health practice, where race and racialisation processes are at the core of the psychoanalytic exercise, not a footnote, or an afterthought. It has gained force in the work of antiracist scholars and activists, as well as in the clinical work developed by the collective Margens Clinicas. Aquilombamento itself is an untranslatable word. The word ‘quilombo’ comes from Bantu languages spoken by communities in sub-Saharan Africa, and could be translated as ‘war camp’. Quilombo refers to the autonomous spaces and rural communities established by those who escaped slavery in the centuries before Brazil legally abolished it in 1888. It is the space of nomadic warriors who have freed themselves from slavery. The clinical dispositif of aquilombamento nas margens [making quilombo at the margins] aims to tackle institutional racism in public settings, while also taking care of psychic suffering. This is done through collective sitting together and discussing the matter of the repression of racial relations in public services. There is an ‘ethical reorientation’ (Yonatan, 2023, p. 259) toward infrastructural questions: how to rearrange our resources, while also acknowledging the presence of race in the institution and in the consulting room? This is the ethics of infrastructural improvisation: it is a matter of ‘the textured dynamic of an ongoing nonsovereignty to offer the affective idea of worldmaking as infrastructural improv, churning out a space as the worm does, through situational generative movement that requires an ethics and a politics’ (Berlant, 2022, p. 98). The analogy with the work of the worm here marks the everydayness of these actions and affects, which gain infrastructural scope through repetition. There is nothing extraordinary or heroic in this ‘churning of space’; it sometimes takes the form of a circle of clinicians sitting together, meeting every week, insisting on facing each other, constituting a fleeting nonsovereign zone through their orientations.

Psychoanalysis and Its Others

In listening and reading our interviewees’ accounts, there is another word that appeared in speech, capturing the dangers of a version of psychoanalysis that closes itself off to interdisciplinary encounters. One of our Brazilian interviewees referred to a psicanálise ensimesmada. The translation of ensimesmada is ‘self-absorbed’, or ‘lost in thought’. In a defamiliarising, concretising and perhaps also phenomenological translation, psicanálise ensimesmada points to a psychoanalysis that dwells mostly in itself. A self-dweller. A dweller whose orientation or inclination is to itself. This form of dwelling is a paradoxical one, as to dwell usually involves an external point of reference, or an implied relationship with the environment, or a relationship with what lies outside the dweller’s dwelling. In Tim Ingold’s (2021) reading, ‘to dwell’ does not entail a foreclosure to the outside, but precisely a capacity to be permeated by the outside.

There are many images and narratives in our interviews which engage this spectre of the self-dweller, of the self-inclined psychoanalysis. One of them is that of a psychoanalysis with an open door. This is meant to mark, in the first instance, the fact that interdisciplinarity is not just a fancy word, and it requires an orientation, a spatial-temporal inclination of material bodies. There are many questions related to this orientation. What are you reading? Are all your authors part of the psychoanalytic canon? Who do you take with you in the consulting room, as allies? Who do you remember when you evoke an institutional process? Do you recall mostly psychoanalytic masters, or also minor figures connecting the field to other practices? Are those who do maintenance or everyday work on your mind?

One of our interviewees tells us that within a CAPS he practiced psychoanalysis in non-traditional settings, in music groups, in football games, in walks, in eating meals with the patients. Ana Čvorović and Julianna Pusztai (2023) talk about ‘translucent walls’ of psychoanalysis, marking the complexity of the relationship between psychoanalysis and its environment: there is something mutually permeating that is at play here, circulating across the boundary, just like light across a transparent membrane. The psychoanalysts working in free clinics we interviewed, in iterating new forms of the psychoanalytic dispositif, were able to transubstantiate (Kristeva, 1998/2012) the walls and doors of psychoanalysis, part of the movement of the clinical imagination, but one that involves material things and processes as well. In a free clinic in São Paulo, our colleague Daniel Guimarães and his collaborators constructed chairs, sofas, dividing screens, and other elements of the psychoanalytic frame, in a free clinic that functioned in a sports centre. This psychoanalytic furniture was made of wood pallets and other recycled materials. The relationship with the environment is here a palpable, materialised one, while being at the same time able to do the work of transubstantiation, to transform a substance into another one. A fantasy of access, or of an open door takes shape. In this instance, psychoanalysis is not a self-dweller, it is not self-inclined, but it leaps out of itself.

To maintain the open door, psychoanalysis would need to complexify the relationship with itself, beyond the limitations of self-dwelling. This is captured by one of our interviewees through a reference to an autophagous psychoanalysis. Autophagy is the body’s recycling system: cells break apart into disposable parts that are discarded, but also into parts that can be repurposed for making new cells. A cell can thus do the difficult work of keeping what is useful and getting rid of what is unnecessary. This already seems like rather political work. The fantasy here is about a psychoanalysis that can renew itself: our interviewee talks about sitting down with psychoanalysts in autophagous groups. In these groups, they unlearned things together, and questioned the colonial aspects of their practice. What is important here is that the production of new knowledge and the renovation of practice is not grounded only in forms of accumulation: sometimes we need to dis-accumulate, to break down, to discard, to unlearn. This movement, however, is only possible when there is a disposition to commit to a living psychoanalysis, one that is propelled by the world of this praxis.

To maintain an open door for such movement, therefore, psychoanalysis also needs to complexify its relationship to its others, be it psychology, or psychiatry, or the public health system, or the medical discourse on the whole. The interviews we collected are traversed by a series of images of interdisciplinary relationality and by fantasies of permeable boundaries. As one of our interviewees articulates: ‘Interdisciplinarity does good to psychoanalysis.’ One recurrent utterance in the interviews with Brazilian psychoanalysts is ‘psychoanalysis as one among many’ [a psicanálise como mais uma], marking a type of humility in relation to other knowledge discourses, which is not unimportant once it digresses from North-bound efforts in keeping psychoanalysis faithful to a particular institutional canon.

To maintain an open door also refers to how psychoanalysis encounters the public at large. For mainstream psychoanalysis, this is often a missed encounter. In our interviews, one story of the early 1970s in Brazil stood out, showing what happens when psychoanalysis experiments with an invested orientation to the general public. Psychoanalyst Katrin Kemper imagined a course at the Candido Mendes University, open to the population of Rio de Janeiro. It aimed to create a space to discuss the child, the family and their problems. It was called ‘Psychodynamic Meetings’ [Encontros psicodinâmicos]. This course provoked effervescent questions on what can be done with psychoanalysis, for the wide public, for those who can be reached via the popular press. It had its own methodology and created a certain arrangement of bodies in space: three or four psychoanalysts were sat together in a large auditorium full of people. They would make a presentation and then they would ask the audience a question. Recalling the sequence of events, the voices of the psychoanalysts, and the rhythm of the exchanges, our interviewee tells us:

We are here, we are psychoanalysts. We want to listen to you and – who knows? – also respond to you. Does someone at the back want to say something? Do you want to ask a question? You, there, would you like to say anything or evoke a situation? [What came up] was a case of an unruly son. I can’t bear it anymore. I don’t know what to do with him. I think he’s lost. And so, once the question was posed, it was launched to the large group. What did you think of this question? Does anyone have anything to say to this person? And that generated a vortex, so that in the end the [four] psychoanalysts were left sitting on their hands and, in the crossfire, the group was discussing the question of the son. If you kill the son, you don’t … What are the alternatives, I also have a son at home even worse than yours. … It was a Babel, in the end the four, attentive, taking notes, etc, caught the right moment and weaved everything together: See how these things touch us? See how everyone’s view is different? The lived experience is not the same for everyone, and, therefore, the solution had to be something very particular, more or less weaved, warped in the family environment, in this particular group; and there is also another way to treat the son … It was a resounding success.

In this scene, the psychoanalysts have a public orientation, they face an auditorium full of people, not to teach, or to disseminate their concepts, but mainly to listen carefully to the others’ speech and to everyday impasses. Our interviewee remembers the orientations of the questions of the four psychoanalysts: they ask if anyone at the back of the room has a question. There is some phenomenological wisdom here: indeed, those who cannot speak, and who do not usually speak are sat at the back of the room. This resonates with Ahmed’s (2006) insistence on what is behind the philosopher’s table, and therefore behind our field of perception.

It is a matter of phenomenological rigour to not leave the reader in a state of feeling uplifted by such accounts about the orientation of psychoanalysis. Our interviewees also spoke about the ‘slips of the tongue’ of psychoanalysis, showing an exclusionary or colonial orientation. Or showing psychoanalysis as self-dweller. These slips of the tongue are necessarily a part of the story and of our contemporary disorientation around the close juxtaposition in psychoanalysis discourse and practice of resources for emancipation, alongside those of alienation. This tension is bound to endure. An instance of such a ‘slip of the tongue’ is an account of the local scandal in Rio de Janeiro that accompanied the opening of the free clinic in 1970. The clinic’s founders, Hélio Pellegrino and Katrin Kemper, named it the Clínica Social de Psicanálise [Social Clinic of Psychoanalysis], but the psychoanalytic establishment, the IPA society of Rio de Janeiro, reacted very strongly to this, by insisting that the word ‘psychoanalysis’ should be taken out of the name. The terms in which this complaint was formulated are important. As an interviewee recalls, the members of the IPA society who opposed calling the free clinic one of ‘psychoanalysis’ accused the collective of the clinic of ‘unfair competition’ [competição desleal]. This bizarre term, oscillating between a legalistic and an economistic discourse, is a true ‘slip of the tongue’: it betrays a mercantilist, protectionist and territorial orientation. A true case of self-dwelling. Psychoanalysis here appears a restricted territory that needs to be protected by means of the law, in the name of free-market capitalistic fairness. But whose law might this be? The founders of the free clinic resisted, and as psychoanalysts they self-authorised to give the name ‘psychoanalytic’ to the free clinic they created.


This paper is a manifesto for infrastructural psychoanalysis. It asks how psychoanalysis can mutate in order to encounter its radical others (Saketopoulou & Pellegrini, 2023; González, 2020). It draws on Lauren Berlant’s articulation of infrastructural thinking to discuss the meaning of psychoanalytic infrastructural thinking and practice. It also points to the fact that in order to renew itself, psychoanalysis needs to set its boundaries on fire, in the sense of turning them into points of intensification and points of questioning its orientations; but it also needs to practise pedagogies of unlearning, undoing some of its commonplaces of thought. This leads to better answers to a difficult question that we are traversed by while living in a ‘glitch’: how to make something with nothing or nearly nothing?