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Of Things Invisible to Mortal Sight

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Dr James Grotstein (1925-2015) was the foremost Bion scholar, and one of the most noted and honoured psychoanalysts in the world. His prolific writings and generous encouragement to other analysts has had an enormous impact. He was among the first to examine Bion's most controversial concept - O - in particular the mystical aspects of O. The title of this book, Of Things Invisible To Mortal Sight: A Celebration of the Work of James S. Grotstein, inspired by a line from Milton's Paradise Lost (Book III), reflects Grotstein's decades-long examination of the most profound aspects of the human mind.Dr James Grotstein's erudition and depth of understanding made him one of the most revered psychoanalysts throughout the psychoanalytic world. He was well known and appreciated for his prolific writings, so it was only fitting to honour him through writing, and the fifteen articles in Of Things Invisible To Mortal Sight are written by esteemed analysts from Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, and throughout the United States. They vary from examinations of Grotstein's theories and his historical place in psychoanalysis, to detailed clinical accounts and creative theoretical works. To honour James Grotstein is also to honour Wilfred Bion, for we might say that Bion was his muse for a half century, as well as his teacher, analyst, and the inspiration for Grotstein's encyclopedic writings about Bion's work in countless articles and books. Grotstein's insatiable curiosity and passion for learning, however, led to his studying and contributing to the literature of many other psychoanalytic orientations as well, ranging from Klein to Kohut to Intersubjectivity, but until the end of his life Grotstein continued to find inspiration in Bion's work, and in Bion himself - the genius, mystic, and "extraordinary individual." Grotstein spent decades examining Bion's concept of O, and many other mysteries and states of mind "invisible to mortal sight," which must nonetheless be intuited and which Grotstein, and these authors, help psychoanalysts to do.

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Chapter One - The early psychoanalytic work of James Grotstein (1966–1981): Turning a Kleinian/Bionian tide away from American ego psychology

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Joseph Aguayo

Introduction

To begin to contextualise the psychoanalytic and historical importance of some of the early, significant, and important publications of James Grotstein, we first of all must remember something of the analytic climate in which he came to his analytic maturity. I also limit myself here to Grotstein's early publications, which during this time, both preceded and occurred contemporaneously with his analysis with Wilfred Bion. I restrict my contribution to the years between 1966 and 1981—from the publication of his first co-authored article on projective identification (Malin & Grotstein, 1966) to the publication of his two books in the same year: Splitting and Projective Identification and Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? (Grotstein, 1981a, 1981b). The former book was the first extensive American presentation of Kleinian ideas to an audience of analysts in the United States, while the latter book was the one and only formally published Festschrift in Bion's honour that appeared after his death in 1979. To avoid having the current contribution become an impossible mission, as Grotstein was a prolific writer, I restrict myself to his analytic beginnings in the warm climate of southern California and his first institute home, the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Later on he was an important member of the Psychoanalytic Center of California, an IPA-affiliated institute in Los Angeles whose curriculum was based primarily on British object relations theory.

 

Chapter Two - Into the depths of a “black hole” and deadness

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Ofra Eshel*

“And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 279

This chapter explores the vicissitudes of a difficult analytic encounter with massive, devouring deadness in the self-m/other relationship, which I have named and characterised by metaphorically applying the astrophysical “black hole” to interpersonal psychic space. It describes my search and struggle to meet this “black hole” experience and to find a deep understanding and analytical response within the overwhelming depths of deadness and emptiness.

I have chosen this particular paper because Grotstein's writings on these topics have greatly enriched my thinking. I have often experienced in his writing a daring spirit of exploration that has the potential to engender markedly new possibilities from those we conventionally embrace. It was also a paper that he very much appreciated (1999, personal communication).

 

Chapter Three - Reaching the transcendent position by a borderline patient in reading Beckett

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Rudi Vermote

Introduction

Dr. James Grotstein lived Bion's legacy in his own way, adding several new insights to what Bion wrote. He knew him from many perspectives: he had been in analysis with Bion and they were close colleagues in LA from 1968 to 1979, when Bion lived there. When Bion died in 1979, Grotstein (1983) had the idea of editing a monumental book in honour of Bion entitled, Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? Having written numerous lectures and papers, Grotstein (2007) wrote his seminal book, A Beam of Intense Darkness: Wilfred Bion's Legacy to Psychoanalysis, in which he explored the impact of Bion's ideas from a mystic-psychoanalytic perspective. He tried to interact with patients from the numinous experience of knowing and being in the world. As far as I knew him, he practised from this way of being, coloured by his wit, generosity, and serenity.

This text starts from a psychoanalytic experience with a patient with a severe so-called borderline personality disorder. After I made an intervention in her analysis that made a link with Beckett's work, she started to read Beckett's (1952) novel, The Unnamable. This led to a remarkable and long-lasting change, a new experience that in Bion's terms can be called a transformation in “O” (Bion, 1970; Vermote, 2011).

 

Chapter Four - A Beam of Intense Darkness by James S. Grotstein

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A review by Antonino Ferro *

The title of this book, A Beam of Intense Darkness, and its dedication—“To Wilfred Bion. My gratitude to you for allowing Me to become reunited with me—and for encouraging me to play with your ideas as well as my own”—deserve some preliminary comments.

A “beam of darkness” constitutes an antidote to the tendency, often found in the human species, to carry out “transformations in hallucinosis” (Bion, 1965), to impose meanings on what has no meaning because of our incapacity to wait for shreds of meaning to emerge. Like snails which produce slime, we are a species that continuously “slimes” meanings because we cannot bear the darkness of our not-knowing. In the book's title we find a sort of celebration of that “negative capability”, the capacity, that is, to remain in the paranoid-schizoid position without feeling persecuted—the mental state which, more than any other, should belong to the psychoanalyst (and, indeed, to any man or woman).

 

Chapter Five - The Weltanschauung of James S. Grotstein

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Lawrence J. Brown

“All psychopathology is the result of a failure in dreaming.”

Grotstein, 2014

Grotstein's Weltanschauung: the importance of binocularity

In the last chapter of New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud (1933a) raised the question of whether psychoanalysis offered a new Weltanschauung, or world view, in addition to existing perspectives, such as those offered by religion and philosophy. He could have answered this query in many ways, perhaps by speaking about the profound implications of unconscious motives in human behaviour or how the discovery of infantile sexuality altered our views of childhood “innocence” or how psychoanalytic ideas influenced culture, art, and literature. But he did not credit himself or the profession he founded with such lofty achievements and instead asserted that psychoanalysis was a science that promoted:

A Weltanschauung erected upon science [that] has, apart from its emphasis on the real external world, mainly negative traits, such as submission to the truth and rejection of illusions. (1933a, p. 182; italics added)

 

Chapter Six - On talking-as-dreaming

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Thomas Ogden

“Auntie, speak to me! I'm frightened because it's so dark.” His aunt answered him: “What good would that do? You can't see me.” “That doesn't matter,” replied the child, “if anyone speaks, it gets light.”

Freud, 1905d, p. 224, fn. 1

I take as fundamental to an understanding of psychoanalysis the idea that the analyst must invent psychoanalysis anew with each patient. This is achieved in no small measure by means of an ongoing experiment, within the terms of the psychoanalytic situation, in which patient and analyst create ways of talking to one another that are unique to each analytic pair at a given moment in the analysis.

In the present chapter, I will focus primarily on forms of talking generated by patient and analyst which may at first seem “unanalytic” because the patient and analyst are talking about such things as books, poems, films, rules of grammar, etymology, the speed of light, the taste of chocolate, and on and on. Despite appearances, it has been my experience that such “unanalytic” talk often allows a patient and analyst who have been unable to dream together to begin to be able to do so. I will refer to talking of this sort as “talking-as-dreaming”. Like free association (and unlike ordinary conversation), talking-as-dreaming tends to include considerable primary process thinking and what appear to be non sequiturs (from the perspective of secondary process thinking).

 

Chapter Seven - Moving in Darkness: Working with patients with primitive catastrophic traumas

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Carole Beebe Tarantelli

“An ‘act of faith’ has as its background something that is unconscious and unknown because it has not happened.”

Bion, 1970, p. 35

For some time, there has been increasing attention in psychoanalytic thought to primitive traumas. Although these traumas leave indelible traces, they are blank, ineffable, and inenarrable; they are extra-spatial and extra-temporal; they are incapable of being represented as memories, because there was no subjective mind at the time when they occurred which could register, process, and then remember them. They remain inscribed in the psyche as “memor[ies] without recollection” (C. & S. Botella, 2005, p. xv). In this chapter, I would like to discuss the technical problems arising in the analyses of patients who have undergone pre- or immediately post-natal catastrophic traumas, which I would define as experiences sensed as a threat to life. These traumas can only be present as mute symptoms without content. There is no possibility of connecting the emotions unleashed by the trauma to memory, of thinking about the psychic events at the origin of these traumas. How do we treat these patients? How do we manoeuvre between the twin analytic dangers, on the one hand, of treating the patient's more accessible symptoms while never penetrating to the underlying agony, and, on the other, of offering a premature interpretation of the trauma so that it becomes a tale told by the analyst which the patient defensively appropriates as a story in which she is not involved?

 

Chapter Eight - Ferenczi's “astra” and Bion's “O”: A clinical perspective

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Annie Reiner

Sándor Ferenczi's often radical ideas, greatly admired by some, were questionable to many. However, numerous aspects of them have gained credibility, not only as part of the foundation of object relations and relational therapies, but in certain ideas of Winnicott, Bion, and other contemporary psychoanalysts. I will explore some of the intuitions with which Ferenczi struggled mightily in the early 1930s, their prescience as well as their similarities and differences in regard to Bion's work particularly. More specifically I will show how aspects of Ferenczi's concept of the “astra”, perhaps his most daring and mysterious idea, are reflected in Bion's equally mysterious concept of “O”. Although Grotstein wrote almost nothing about Ferenczi, he recognised that despite Ferenczi's own “unique schemata…[he] never captured the fancy of mainstream psychoanalysis” (Grotstein, 2009, p. 167). Grotstein did, however, write extensively about the mystical aspects of O, and was one of the first to do so in depth despite the often negative reactions it engendered. I chose to include this chapter in a Festschrift for Grotstein in part because of a personal conversation I had with him months before his death, about Ferenczi's idea of the astra. He was not familiar with it but was intensely interested, and it was a pleasure for me to be able to present an idea that was new to this erudite scholar. Grotstein's curiosity was legendary, and I could think of no better way to reciprocate in this small way for his generosity to me over the years, than with ideas. I include this chapter as a sort of continuation of our conversation, which in my mind is still ongoing.

 

Chapter Nine - The internal world of terror

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Albert Mason

Introduction

A version of this chapter was presented as a paper at the 2005 James S. Grotstein Conference on Terrorism at UCLA. Now, as then, terrorism is much in the news and the subject of a great deal of writing that deals mainly with the making of terrorists and their states of mind. The terrorists’ belief in the decadence of the material world and the part they think the West has played in the corruption of their civilisation and of mankind in general plays a large part in their hatred, as does the lure of an idealised afterlife as a reward for acted-out violence.

My chapter, in contrast, addresses the experience of the terrorised and what I believe differentiates terror from fear and anxiety, the latter of which are often appropriate states of mind. Melanie Klein points out the value of a certain amount of anxiety as necessary and useful, as a spur to healthy development. Appropriate fear can lead to the elimination or evasion of what is frightening or dangerous: one can kill a rattlesnake or avoid its habitat. Appropriate anxiety about feelings of helplessness or inadequacy can motivate the development of knowledge or skills leading to increased ego strength and the development of real sufficiency and potency.

 

Chapter Ten - Notes on the contribution of antenatal states to the expression of totalitarian behaviour

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Michael Ian Paul

In an attempt to elucidate elements of the totalitarian state of mind, I have found clusters of experience that, while seeming to involve discontinuities, nonetheless continue to come together in clinical observations. Certain familiar signs of both antenatal and autistic phenomena arise and emerge especially strongly in several of my patients who are in advanced stages of the psychoanalytical process. These patients have lived their lives as though they had never been exposed to the outer world and have lived in simulation behind a sophisticated barrier meant to avoid incursion. In a previous article, I have detailed some of the processes associated with breaking through the barrier to contact (Paul, 2002). These patients allow us a study of the process involved in this particular barrier breaking down. I mean to link a totalitarian state of mind with phantasies of the antenatal world. I will begin at the juncture associated with the lysis of the barrier. “Reality” or experience from the outer world penetrates without the primary deflection and reinterpretation which is observed in association with the dominance of the barrier. Not only is reality (or the reality principle) deployed in its initial form, there is also increasing awareness of certain specific internal phantasies. One specific phantasy involves being inorganic, robotic, mechanical, often electronic. While this discovery is initially greeted by the patient with apprehension and disbelief, these mechanical phantasies serve as a hedge against vulnerability and the awareness of being subject to the laws of nature. Suddenly the patient experiences a breakdown of the barrier, the intrusion of intolerable pain (which we would do well to study), and a loss of “control” which had as its primary method of operation the phantasy of being able to stop the incursion of experience. I have reason to think that experience does penetrate but is blocked from awareness.

 

Chapter Eleven - On toleration

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Avedis Panajian

Philosophical and psychoanalytic thoughts on toleration

This chapter explores the meaning of, and philosophical and psychoanalytic thoughts on toleration, and discusses their significance in Bion's psychology and clinical practice. It will link these concepts to Bion's notes on thinking, exploration of experience, the expansion of mental pain to emotional suffering, and to concepts and thoughts about the analytic relationship.

Historically, tolerance is rooted in religious controversies, as noted by two influential philosophers, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. Locke (1689) contends that the Church and the state deal with different aspects of life and must remain separate from each other. John Stuart Mill (1859) argued that we should tolerate individual freedom as long as the individual did not harm others. His arguments, like Locke's, fell short of answering some important questions. Other scholars such as Karl Popper (1987) and Heyd (1996) continued to take forward this discussion. Popper views intolerance as a form of intellectual arrogance and blindness to the possibility that one may be wrong. He said that toleration should not be extended to those who deny it to others. Popper reminded us that too often agreements between people were based on fears of intolerance and violence.

 

Chapter Twelve - The analyst's mind, theories, and transformations in “O”

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Celia Fix Korbivcher

“Since I don't know what that reality is, and since I want to talk about it, I have tried to address this position by simply giving it a symbol ‘O’ and just calling it ‘O’, ultimate reality, the absolute truth.”

Bion, in Aguayo & Malin, 2013

Introduction

I often ask myself what characterises our work as psychoanalysts. After all, what is this strange activity—psychoanalysis—whose features on the one hand intend to be scientific and on the other rely on subjective, imprecise working tools? What work is this in which the analyst's main tool is his own mind, subject to the same characteristics as his patient's mind, and where vulnerability and intimacy are necessarily part of the analyst's field of work? What work is this in which uncertainty and imprecision predominate, since the phenomena observed by the psychoanalyst in the session will be distorted by his own observation (Bion, 1965)? What activity is this which proposes to develop the capacity to think, when “thinking” itself contradicts another human tendency to avoid thinking? And what activity is this in which the patient comes seeking relief from his pain and the analyst proposes to increase his capacity to tolerate it? These questions have occupied my mind during the practice of this work to which I have dedicated myself for decades.

 

Chapter Thirteen - Figments, facts, interruption, hints, and…

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Michael Eigen

I think it was in the 1970s that I first saw James S. Grotstein speak in New York City. I felt here was a man I could listen to again and again. I tried to attend whenever he gave a New York talk and when I became program chair for the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, he was one of my first invited speakers. I took advantage of my post by inviting people I most wanted to hear. We were also on a panel of the first international relational psychoanalytic congress, invited to speak on the subject of “relational unconscious” by Adrienne Harris (Eigen, 2004a, 2004b). His wife, Susan, told me after the meeting, “You two make a good team.” He could be funny and profound, at the same time searching boundaries at the centre.

Something I got from the very first talk I heard stayed with me all these years. He spoke about the id having to be protected from the ego. Loosely speaking, more broadly, the unconscious needing protection from consciousness. I have myself written of unconscious processes that include a background subject that supports and/or fails to support the growing personality (Eigen, 1998, 2009, 2011). Jung already had passages on the ego's exploitation or use of unconscious work in the creation of art, poetry, philosophy, and I would add, depth psychology. Exploitation of psychic depths for the creation of “products”, wondrous and nourishing as the latter may be, Taj Mahals of the psyche. Winnicott (1971) pointed out the danger of equating process with products. For example, transitional experiencing goes on and keeps developing long after the teddy is abandoned. Jung, too, contrasted profound individuation processes from mere pilfering the depths.

 

Chapter Fourteen - Alpha function and mental Growth: The aesthetic dimension of the mind

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Lia Pistiner de Cortiñas

“El sueño, autor de representaciones en su teatro sobre el viento armado sombras suele vestir de bulto bello.”

Góngora

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

W. Shakespeare, The Tempest

“The dream, author of representations in its theatre built on the wind, dresses up shadows as a beautiful bundle.”

Góngora, author's translation

“…If somites could write, the book would be ‘Interpretations of Reality’ and the theories would all be what we call dreams.”

Bion, 1979b

Bion's contribution to clinical practice introduced what he called a “catastrophic change”, which provides the mental equipment of the analyst with new tools. Some of these new conceptual instruments, like “container-contained”, the oscillation of the positions “PS↔D”, “transformations”, “thought without a thinker”, “reverie”, “negative capability”, “alpha function”, and “dream-like memory”, are also clinical tools.

 

Chapter Fifteen - Bion crosses the Rubicon: The fateful course—and curse—of “O” in psychoanalysis and the furies left in its wake

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James S. Grotstein

“The rising world of waters dark and deep Won from the void and formless infinite.”

John Milton, Paradise Lost

“I am not interpreting what Milton says but using it to represent O.”

Bion, 1965, p. 151

Caveat

This contribution, as the title suggests, deals in part with Bion's change both in geographic location and, more saliently, in his theoretical stance in psychoanalytic theory and practice. He indeed underwent a “sea change” on both accounts, yet it can be argued parenthetically that his first published formal psychoanalytic contribution, “The Imaginary Twin” (Bion, 1950), convincingly reveals an individual, complex, and unusually creative mind that precociously adumbrated a major feature of future psychoanalytic practice, that of internal psychic twins in “the here and now”. His immediately subsequent so-called “Kleinian Bion” publications, in my opinion, arguably amply demonstrate “late Bion”. Already one could realise that this was no ordinary Kleinian just presenting his institute graduating paper.

 

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