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A therapeutics of exile: Isaiah Berlin, liberal pluralism and the psyche of assimilation


  • Jessica Dubow


This paper focuses on the (now ‘unfashionable’) figure of the liberal political philosopher Isaiah Berlin. It argues the ways in which Berlin’s distinctive understanding of liberal pluralism carries a hidden spatial and therapeutic premise that bears upon the displaced life of the émigré/assimilated subject as upon the negotiations of internal dividedness and ‘nonviolent’ conflict effectuated by it. Set in the context of the meeting between Isaiah Berlin and the dissident Soviet poet, Anna Akhmatova, in St Petersburg in 1941, and reading Berlin via certain key concepts of another émigré subject, Sigmund Freud, I suggest that political pluralism and the therapeutic ‘cure’ share profound structural similarities. From this interpretative angle, I then draw a series of analogies which correlate the condition of exile to the state of melancholia and, conversely, the process of assimilation to the work of mourning. So understood, it becomes possible to translate Berlin’s political liberalism into psychoanalytic terms, viewing liberal identity as enabled by the subject’s release from the ‘monism’ of territorial attachment and thus by its enlivened embrace of psychic loss and dislocation. Keywords: liberal pluralism, psychoanalysis, exile, assimilation, melancholy, mourning, Berlin, Freud, Akhmatova

Suggested Citation

  • Jessica Dubow, 2012. "A therapeutics of exile: Isaiah Berlin, liberal pluralism and the psyche of assimilation," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(10), pages 2463-2476, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:10:p:2463-2476

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