Beware of hidden wishes

Psychoanalyst Hilda Fernandez Alvarez is giving a talk this fall about the dangers of falling into consensus when resisting oppression.

The lecture, originally slated for June, will be given as part of the Spectre of Fascism Free School organized by professor Samir Gandhesha and poet Stephen Collis for the SFU Institute of Humanities. The purpose of the free school is to examine how fascism and authoritarianism form a part of the current political discourse and climate.

Fernandez, an associate with the Institute of Humanities and PhD student at Simon Fraser University, hopes to contribute to this discussion through the critical approach of psychoanalysis.

“It’s all about bringing into discussion the unconscious,” says Fernandez. “Those things that we don’t know we know, that are imprinted in our history.”

Cultural expressions

Fernandez frequently incorporates unconventional means of presentation and performance into traditional academic contexts. Previous lectures have employed costumes, music and dancing to impact the audience in various ways.

Hilda Fernandez, psychoanalyst. | Photo courtesy of Hilda Fernandez

“I feel profoundly critical of rigid kinds of structures,” Fernandez says. “I always like to challenge those ways of delivering information, because I think that if you incorporate some sort of performative aspect it can bring about things that are not addressed simply by traditional ways of speaking.”

Her first foray into such a nontraditional program in 2014 with her talk “Superheroes on the Couch,” where she dressed up as Batgirl to discuss the symbolism of superheroes. Her most recent lecture at the Spectacle of Fascism conference last April featured five flamenco dancers and a singer.

“That was the most elaborate,” says Fernandez of the conference presentation. “Because I had five professional friends that came who are dancers. I dance flamenco, as well.”

The reaction to the performance by the audience was overall positive, but many were astonished by the emotions flamenco elicited.

“The strength in that type of dancing was quite surprising, especially for men,” Fernandez recalls. “It was interesting because there was a guy, 18 years old, another probably 70, who both said they felt a little bit intimidated by the strength of the women that were dancing. And I found that interesting because it’s also putting into discussion things that we might not talk much about.”


Fernandez’s own history begins in Mexico City, where she was born and raised before moving to Canada with her husband and daughter.

“At that time we wanted to explore different cultures and a different country,” Fernandez says. “We were very happy here in Vancouver.”

She has been a practicing psychoanalyst in Vancouver since 2007, working ten years for Vancouver Coastal Health. She currently runs her own private practice.

“Coming from a specific background is very useful in Vancouver because it allows you to understand the divergent perspectives a culture can have,” says Fernandez. “I feel very privileged to have worked with pretty much all cultures in my practice, people from every continent.”

“It’s a really rich experience because you learn the specific values and practices that are embodied by people from different cultures.”

Fernandez specializes in Lacanian psychoanalysis, a form of clinical therapy pioneered by French philosopher Jacques Lacan in the mid-20th century. The therapy focuses on language as central to the patient’s experience of the world and employs techniques developed from Sigmund Freud along with innovations by Lacan.

New masters

In her talk So, Do You Want a Master? for the Spectre of Fascism Free School next fall, Fernandez will be critiquing how groups resist the spectre of fascism and totalitarianism.

“It is about challenging the ways in which we very easily fall into consensus,” she says. “And how often that consensus leads us to building other forms of totalitarianism. Sometimes we create other masters. As Lacan would say: You want another master? You will have it.”

Fernandez believes that a Lacanian understanding of the unconscious and discourse will help account for these behaviours and provide a path to correct them.

“While we bond with others and make some consensus about people or things, such as resisting oppressive practices, we sometimes enjoy the drama too much,” Fernandez says. “Sometimes our unconscious is at work and if we don’t have a proper methodology for understanding the unconscious we cannot pass the problematization of issues.”