Strangers to Ourselves: A Conversation with Author Rachel Aviv

Speaker: Rachel Aviv

Tuesday, June 6, 2023 at 8PM


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Rachel Aviv will be discussing her book Strangers to Ourselves.

Strangers to Ourselves poses fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs, Rachel Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. She follows an Indian woman celebrated as a saint who lives in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children’s forgiveness after recovering from psychosis; a man who devotes his life to seeking revenge upon his psychoanalysts; and an affluent young woman who, after a decade of defining herself through her diagnosis, decides to go off her meds because she doesn’t know who she is without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv’s gripping exploration is refracted through her own account of living in a hospital ward at the age of six and meeting a fellow patient with whom her life runs parallel—until it no longer does.

Aviv asks how the stories we tell about mental disorders shape their course in our lives—and our identities, too. Challenging the way we understand and talk about illness, her account is a testament to the porousness and resilience of the mind.

Rachel Aviv is a staff writer at The New Yorker who has written for the magazine about a range of subjects, including medical ethics, psychiatry, criminal justice, and education. She was twice a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Public Interest, and in 2022 she won a National Magazine Award for Profile Writing. Her 2022 book Strangers to Ourselves was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and named one of the ten best books of 2022 by the New York Times. Her writing on mental health has been awarded a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship, the Erik Erikson Prize, and an American Psychoanalytic Association award for excellence in journalism.

Orna Ophir, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst in private practice in NYC. She is an Associate Director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for Psychiatry: History, Policy and the Arts at Weill Cornell Medical College. She holds a Ph.D. from the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University. She has contributed weekly columns to Yediot Achronot Americaand has taught at the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University and at the Doctoral Studies Program in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University. She currently teaches at the Gallatin School for Individualized Studies at NYU and is the author of Psychosis, Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry in Postwar America: On the Borderland of Madness (2015) and the recent  Schizophrenia: An Unfinished History (2022).

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