Mari Ruti


Psychoanalysis has been shown – on film, in the clinic, and in the academy – to be a system that can help us to understand the individual. It has also been part of and even contributed to the culture of individualism, a symptom of a contemporary capitalism which discourages us from seeing the material conditions of our shared universal experiences of life and encourages us to enter into fantasies: fantasies about our own desires, identities, sexualities, ambitions and politics. Never have we lived in a culture more characterised by this denial of the material and fantastical focus on the individual. Against this individualising form of psychoanalysis that bolsters contemporary capitalism, isolates us from each other and prevents us from working together towards a better shared future, some people have spent their lives fighting for a psychoanalysis that would be collective, universalist and inclusive. Leading that fight was Mari Ruti, author of a dozen groundbreaking books, editor of an innovative series, teacher of thousands of inspired students and a supportive mentor to countless more who have and will continue to join this battle having read and engaged with her work.

In Penis Envy, Ruti showed that Freud could be the ally of feminism, and that the dream of equality is itself in need of psychoanalysis. We are all lacking, she shows, but some of us come with a penis. After that lottery of birth, a symbolic world fraught with contemporary politics dividesus and produces a world of resentment, fake optimism and jealousy in which our egos prevent us from reaching each other and starting the work of solidarity. In Distillations, she showed how so many of those discourses that celebrate revolt and revolution fail to make it happen, placating rather than inspiring us. Our libidinal world, she showed, often has us so tightly in its grip that it is nearly impossible to build affective relationships to each other and the world around us. Nevertheless, she shows that we can. In The Ethics of Opting Out, Ruti finalised a career in queer theory with a book that cut across the apparent divide between psychoanalysts and queer theorists, showing that each would redeem the other and that both would – as if from the grave – be furious with the contemporary world we live in. Writing also on love, desire, friendship and politics, Ruti’s career can’t be condensed into a brief article.

When I sought to start my own career in studying the ideas of psychoanalysis, I had a potentially damaging experience with a book proposal, as have so many of us working in the precarious world of a competitive arts culture unsupported by capitalist discourse. After getting the book contracted, it was later pulled by the series editor who opposed my own naivety about Hegelian scholarship. At that time, I was considering giving up on a career working on psychoanalysis in the academy, barely able to take what seemed to me to be a final rejection. The recourses offered to me by social media and the digital world were a tempting fantasy through whichI could give up on working with theory and seek the recognition I had been turned down by the dwindling world of academia. Ruti, dedicated to editing a series of books on psychoanalysis with Bloomsbury – called Psychoanalytic Horizons – picked up my book, encouraged me, refocussed me, and gave me direction at a time I needed it. I mention this only because I know I am only one among hundreds for whom she has served a similar purpose.

In April, at LACK conference in Vermont, Ruti spoke to the psychoanalytic theory community about identity and the task psychoanalysis faced in dealing with the condition of contemporary anxiety without falling into the traps of oppositional thinking. Everyone in the room left debating, arguing and opposing each other’s views, but without closing the door on each other or on the conversation. She also spoke powerfully about aliveness, weeks before her death, and what it means to be a living subject, living not individually but among many and together. That spirit ran through her work, teaching and personal life. There isn’t a need to write about what Mari Ruti leaves us, because she has written it herself. If the idea of a universal psychoanalysis in which all human subjects can be participants remains possible against the zeitgeist of oppositional thinking it is only because of Ruti and her work.