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Studies in Extended Metapsychology

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The work of Wilfred Bion, by its very nature being a major step forward in the psychoanalytical model making of the mental apparatus, will undoubtably require many years for its full assimilation into the thought and practice of workers in the field. To assist this process of assimilation two types of exposition are required: to help students read Bion's work in a comprehending way; and to show the way to the clinical application of this revolutionary modification of the working mosel of the mind.

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1. Field or Phase – a Debate on Psychoanalytical Modes of Thought

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The rationale for shifting from theorising to model making has been pleaded at some length in The Kleinian Development and I will not repeat these arguments. In brief it seems clear that psychoanalysis, as a method for studying the workings of the human mind, is essentially a descriptive science and its field of study is phenomenologically infinite by its very nature. That is, the range of phenomena which this method is peculiarly suited to study by means of the transference is that embraced by the capacity of the mind to form symbols for the purpose of representing the meaning of emotional experiences so that they may be stored as memory (rather than held as recall), used for thinking (rather than merely being manipulated by computation and logical operations), and transformed into a variety of symbolic forms for communication of ideas (rather than being transmitted as bits of information). If this symbolic area be taken as the essence of mind as differentiated from brain its extensive development would appear to be the crucial function which marks off man from other animals. That it is a capacity not uniquely possessed by the human animal is evidenced by its indubitable, though limited, development in animals who live in close domestic relationship to man. Whether any computer yet developed can exhibit it I do not know, but see no reason why it should not be a potentiality of such machines.

 

2. What is an Emotional Experience?

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It is always a great relief to be forced to undertake a task that one has been ingeniously evading for years. The present one, of clarifying my thoughts about the origins of personality structures is highly personal. However, in committing these to print there is also the hope that the ideas have not become so eccentric or strayed so far from their anchorage in the tradition in which one grew, as to be of little or no interest to others. My own tradition has been medicine, child psychiatry, American and British psychoanalysis, and finally that particular line of development associated with Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion. When one's teachers have gone there is only their internalised representation to keep one within the bounds of a living tradition, but narcissism being as subtly invasive as it is, one can never be quite sure.

The problem in hand is at the phenomenological level and is, I believe, of great clinical importance. If it is stated in terms we know best, the consulting room, it would go something like this: how is one to distinguish those items of behaviour which are meaningful manifestations of the thinking personality, from those which are instinctual or learned social adaptive manoeuvres? Is that too vague and general? Let me try again: how is one to distinguish phenomena in our patients and ourselves which are the consequences of emotional experiences which have been subjected to symbol formation, thought, judgment, decision, and possibly transformation into language, from others which are habitual, automatic, unintentional? Of course this is no clearer but it does expand the vocabulary and allow for a wider investigation of the meaning I am pursuing. For convenience I arrange them in two families, thus:

 

3. A Klein-Bion Model for Evaluating Psychosomatic States

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The outlines of a model for construing the significance of disturbances in somatic functioning lie distributed throughout the writings of Wilfred Bion from Experiences in Groups to the last volume of A Memoir of the Future: The Dawn of Oblivion (Clunie Press, 1979). The steps in its development cannot be well understood without some reference to the model of the mind as an apparatus of thought that he constructed during those thirty years. The total excursion of his creative flight of imagination has a strikingly circular orbit which started with the discovery of the mindlessness of the participation in basic assumption groups, and ended with the suggestion that pre-natal parts of the personality tend to become split off at the ‘caesura of birth’ and to remain in a state of primitive social organisation without the means of mental representation (the ‘soma-psychotic level’ of mental life, equivalent to the earlier formulation of ‘protomental apparatus’ as the substratum of basic assumption mentality).

 

4. The Protomental Apparatus and Soma-Psychotic Phenomena

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When Wilfred Bion's life-work in psychoanalysis made its full amazing circle towards his last years, this was nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in his return to the early interest in group phenomena. By applying what he had then discovered about groups to what he later learned about the structure of the mind of the individual, he was able to formulate, in the fictional presentation of A Memoir of the Future, a conception of group life within the individual person as a distinct level of mental functioning allied to narcissistic organisation but not identical to it.

This idea had perhaps been implied in his earlier formulations on basic assumption groups. There, in Experiences in Groups, he had suggested that of the three BA groups only one may be active at a particular moment while the others are confined to the ‘protomental’ level with its intimate relation to bodily processes. This constituted his indication of direction for research into psychosomatic phenomena. It was not stated explicitly but in retrospect one can discern a hint of internal BA group life. This evocation of primitive, perhaps tribal, life in the depths of the mind which can surface as group behaviour or, conversely, express itself through bodily processes, has a frightening, even haunting, impact. Bion seems to suggest that we must think of the stages of bodily development, even the embryonic stages, and certainly the pre-natal months or weeks, as having distinct representation in the structure of the self.

 

5. The Conceptual Distinction between Projective Identification (Klein) and Container-Contained (Bion)

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with Giuliana Milana, Susanna Maiello, and Diomira Petrelli

During seminars in Rome in the spring of 1982 students of the Rome course in child psychotherapy (related to the Tavistock Clinic, London) presented several cases which Martha Harris and I had periodically monitored over the previous three years. Two of them, Mario (Giuliana Milana) and Francesco (Diomira Petrelli) were clearly approaching the termination of therapy while the third, Antonio (Susanna Maiello), a child who had had many autistic features, seemed to be in crisis regarding depressive anxieties and the capacity for thought. Not only were the three boys of similar age (nine years plus or minus a few months) but the form of the material was also strikingly similar. Resentment of dependence upon a thinking object, hatred of being small and weak, envy of the mother's richness and fertility, and jealousy of prospective siblings were all gloriously displayed in the sessions presented to the seminar. But the strategic significance of the material was quite different in the three children and offered a background for the investigation of this important conceptual problem concerning which there was much confusion: how do these two concepts, projective identification and container–contained relate to one another? What are the clinical indicators, and how may the distinction be utilised in the clinical situation?

 

6. Clinical use of the Concept of Vertices: Multiplication of Vertices as a Method Reality of Testing; Shifting of Vertices as a Mode of Defence

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In that extraordinarily difficult and in many ways unsuccessful book Traniformations, Bion gave considerable space to the concept ‘point of view’, or ‘vertex’ as he preferred to call it, as a parameter of perception and a creative aspect of thought. His ideas were further developed in Attention and Interpretation and illustrated in a kind of Shavian debate in A Memoir ef the Future, particularly in the third volume, The Dawn of Oblivion. But before discussing his formulation of the concept and its diverse points of reference it would be useful to cite a clinical example for the sake of clarity and vividness.

A woman in her forties, five years in analysis and anticipating its termination, perhaps within the next year, had always filled the holiday gaps with interesting activities with her many professional friends all over the world. The phenomenon which appeared in the consulting room, quite against her intention and much to her own disappointment, was a closing down of the material and a diminution in the vibrancy of the contact for several weeks before a break. And so it also threatened to be now as this, perhaps ultimate, summer break approached.

 

7. The Limits of Language

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Psychoanalysis has been left a legacy by Ludwig Wittgenstein which, as yet, has scarcely been investigated, let alone exploited. In his great works, the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations, he broached the problem of the limits of language and made two different approaches to it, the first logical-mathematical, the second purely linguistic. He was attempting to define the limits between what could be said and what could only be ‘shown’. In this brief paper I wish to make a purely psychoanalytical approach to the same problem hoping then to see where it has brought us, first vis à vis Wittgenstein and then to examine the light that it may throw on the psycho-analytical method and process. I wish to start with two pieces of clinical description from two patients, each in the fourth year of analysis but facing the problem of the limitations of language from opposite poles.

Mrs D had come through the crucial struggle with the omniscience which had split her emotional life, and recovered the early and passionate love for her parents that characterised her infancy. The split between an area of dutiful object-relatedness and secret perversity had severely restricted her emotionality so that she was coolly devoted as daughter, sister, wife, mother, co-worker and analysand. On the other hand her sexuality had a wildly perverse quality, secret and defiant. The third and fourth years of analysis had undone this split with the result that she had become sexually disengaged from her partner and emotionally cold to everyone while a prolonged struggle took place in the analysis to overcome the omniscience, with its attendant delusion of clarity of insight and independence of judgment, which promoted her resistance to dependence upon the mother and breast at infantile levels and in the transference.

 

8. Facts and Fictions

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All of psychopathology could be said to be the consequence of self-deception, but the detailed study of the mechanics of defensive operations is probably more correctly described, as Money-K yrle has done, as enquiries into the sources of misconceptions. These conceptual errors can readily be seen to differ from, say, perceptual errors resulting from such pathological states of mind as projective identification – the ‘delusions of clarity of insight’ (Meltzer) or hallucinosis (Bion). The term ‘self-deception’ seems too valuable to allow it a vague and popular general meaning. We would probably like to reserve it for situations in which we can define, from the evidence, the intention of self-deception. Freud clearly thought that this played a part in the operation of repression, with its consequence of amnesias covered by paramnesias, but the hydrostatic aspects of the libido theory required that the amnesia be a consequence of a mechanism called into play automatically by the economics of mental pain. Only the filling of the gap by the paramnesia could be taken as intentional, and he compared it with the ‘bowdlerising’ of theological texts.

 

9. An Enquiry into Lies, their Genesis and Relation to Hallucination

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with Francesco Scotti

In giving us the Grid and the Theory of Thinking to enable us to think about thinking, Wilfred Bion has set us a hard task to fill it out with psychoanalytical clinical realisations. Even more difficult is the exercise that he has only hinted at, namely forming a Negative Grid to describe the genesis of lies, or misrepresentations of the truth. In this enquiry I will assume that the truth with which we are concerned is the immediate state of mind of the subject and its primary representation in dream and unconscious phantasy (Row C of the Grid). It is necessary at the outset to exclude the category described by Roger Money-Kyrle as the ‘misconceptions’ derived from the mating of a preconception with an inadequate realisation. I am not concerned with errors in conception or, if they exist, of errors in representation. Rather I wish to approach the problem which Freud sometimes thought lay at the basis of repression, namely tampering with the truth, ‘bowdlerising’ as it is called in relation to history and its documentation.

 

10. Clinical Application of Bion's Concept ‘Transformations in Hallucinosis’

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In every field, science or art, the vision of the genius requires a backup from workers in the field to give to the ‘imaginative conjecture’ its practical realisation. In psychoanalysis this takes the form of discovering the clinical phenomena which correspond to the theoretical formulation derived from inspired reflection. Freud did much of this ‘field-work’ himself, while Melanie Klein's strength lay in the discovery of phenomena for which precise theoretical formulations had to be achieved later. Bion is different from either, for on the basis of clinical practice a massive conceptual framework was gradually constructed, from Experiences in Groups to Attention and Interpretation, for which clinical reference was largely implicit rather than explicit. It is certainly from no preconceived plan that I find myself, in the last five years, giving lecture after lecture and writing paper after paper illustrating Bion's ideas with clinical material. Clearly his ideas are the current diamonds in the cutting head of my tool for exploring the unconscious with myself, my patients and supervisees. I confess without shame that the concept ‘transformations in hallucinosis’ left me blank for years, while Bion's more specific ideas about the phenomenon of hallucination proper seemed immediately to link with my clinical experience. Only recently has its meaning dawned, no, burst upon me with a particular patient, lighting up an obscure area from many clinical experiences in the past.

 

11. Clinical Application of Bion's Concept ‘Reversal of Alpha-Function’

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When a new theory is proposed in psychoanalysis it can be said to undertake two functions: one is to organise in a more aesthetic (beautiful?) way the clinical phenomena that have already been observed; the other is to provide a tool of observation that will open to view previously invisible phenomena of the consulting room. Bion, beginning with his papers on schizophrenia, sought to amplify the model of the mind which we employ in psychoanalysis so that processes of thinking and disturbances in this capacity could be investigated. The first systematic presentation of this effort, Learning from Experience, formulated an ‘empty’ concept of alpha-function by means of which the ‘observation of the sense impressions of emotional experiences’ were converted into elements, building-blocks for dream thoughts, which could be used for thinking, might be available for storage as memory, and whose continuity formed a ‘contact barrier’ that separated conscious from unconscious mental processes.

 

12. Psychotic Illness in Early Childhood: Ten Years on From Explorations in Autism

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with Anna Sabatini Scolmati

The clinical work and seminars of the research group (John Bremner, Shirley Hoxter, Doreen Weddell, Isca Wittenberg and Donald Meltzer) which eventuated in Explorations in Autism took place between 1965 and 1974 in an atmosphere of enthusiasm about the illumination shed by the conceptual tools made explicit in Melanie Klein's paper ‘Notes on some schizoid mechanisms’. It was largely by the extrapolation of her implicit model of the mind that we developed such concepts as dimensionality, dismantling of the senses, and primitive obsessional mechanisms. Bion's ideas, which had stunned us but had as yet not been assimilated, played a very little part in our conscious conceptualising but were already at work, underground as it were, as was Esther Bick's idea of skin containment.

In the last ten years no such formal research study has been carried on, but a different type of experience has given rise to new ideas which now seem ‘ripe’ to be shared. But I wish to make it clear that they do not have the same status scientifically as the earlier work and will require clinical confirmation to assess their usefulness. They derive from the conscious use of Bion's Theory of Thinking as a clinical tool and have proved, in my opinion, to be astonishingly clarifying and therapeutically effective. The experience of which I speak, which I have shared with my wife, Martha Harris, has been one of teaching analytical child psychotherapy at various centres in Europe, North and South America and India, following cases over periods as long as ten years at a frequency ranging from one to five times a year. The main centres have been in Oslo, Paris, Novara, Rome and Pisa. I would estimate that we have followed about twenty cases fairly closely and seen another thirty cases in a more diagnostic way. This experience, of course, has taken place on a background of regular supervisory work once a week or fortnightly with young colleagues in London and Oxford. But I mention the foreign teaching in particular because the long-term but infrequent contact, the carefully prepared material of those occasions, and the cross-cultural data, have conspired to form very clear-cut conceptual ideas.

 

13. A One-Year-Old goes to day Nursery – a Parable of Confusing Times

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with Maura Gelati

The assumption of the unity of the mind must have had, one would think, a fatal blow from Charcot and the hypnotists had it not been rescued by Freud with his view of the stratification of consciousness. But in his last years he came round to the view that the mind does in fact ‘split itself’ into segments so isolated from one another that health and illness, for instance, can exist side by side in the individual personality. When Melanie Klein, in 1946, gave a new firmness to the concept of splitting in the personality, and thereby promoted the phenomenon of narcissism onto a structural rather than an instinctual plane, the consequences for the psychoanalytical model of the personality were extensive. First of all it brought the function of ‘attention’ into focus, and limited consciousness to what Freud had called ‘an organ for the perception of psychic qualities’. Consequently ‘narcissism’ could be viewed as an organisational phenomenon, bringing infantile parts of the personality into collusion against the authority, experience and values of the parental figures (internal, external in the family, or cultural representations of such figures). The directional implications of narcissism under the earlier libido theory were now transformed into ‘egocentricity’, a view of the world in which the self stands at the centre.

 

14. Family Patterns and Cultural Educability

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with Martha Harris

When in 1977 Beresford Hayward, of the Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development (OECD) asked us to prepare a psychoanalytical model of the relation of the family to the community, he had in mind an instrument for use in an international study of educational processes, a model which could be used to integrate findings of a multidisciplinary approach. This request was timely for us as we had embarked on a plan to produce a revised diagnostic system for child guidance clinics which would bring together knowledge and methods of study directed variously towards the individual, the family and the community. The result was called ‘A Model of the Child in-the-Family-in-the-Community’.1

This chapter aims first to display the classification of family patterns we described in the ‘Model’, and then to explore the relation of these patterns to learning processes and corresponding educational conflicts. The theoretical model employed was the Kleinian–Bionic model as described in The Kleinian Development. Family life was envisioned as a more or less stable organisation of three general types: (1) the family proper (couple family); (2) the narcissistic gang; (3) the basic assumption group (BA). Within these three types of organisation we made the distinction between individuals occupying special roles and fulfilling particular functions. The roles are assumed to comprise culturally defined prerogatives, responsibilities and privileges, and therefore variable from culture to culture. The functions, however, we named as follows:

 

15. Concerning the Perception of One's own Attributes and its Relation to Language Development

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with Eve Cohen

The differentiation in the clinical setting of psychoanalysis between the manifestations of delusions and the reporting of primitive perceptions would seem to be an area of observation and description opened up by Bion's Theory of Thinking. By offering us a model that enables us to conceive of such a differentiation he has made possible our monitoring the phenomena of our consulting room for their realisations. The theory of alpha-function and beta-elements has already proved itself fruitful for clinical observation in the area of communication of meaningful messages versus communication-like missiles of meaningless stuff. In work with psychotic children it has helped us to recognise their response to bombardment with emotional experiences for which they have no capacity either of containment or thought. It also gives us a basis for distinguishing between immaturity and psychosis.

A report presented by Mme Eve Cohen at a seminar held in Paris in April 1982 throws some valuable light on the problem. Mme Cohen's material concerned her patient, Henri, aged 26, who had had a breakdown while abroad after six years of aimless wanderings following upon his mother's departure from the family home to live with a lover with whom she had had a secret liaison for over ten years. Among his complaints at the time of hospitalisation there were none of the usual delusional ideas nor was his demeanour and mode of communication bizarre or unfriendly or secretive. On the contrary he was very open in describing the many phenomena of perception of himself and the world which troubled him and prevented him from maintaining any settled mode of life.

 

16. On Turbulence

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If Bion's Theory of Thinking has some essential truth in it one m ust expect that new ideas, the ones which have an impact to produce catastrophic change, would appear first in dream form, only later to find some verbal and and abstract representation. This is no more than to say that symbolic representations of ideas are most likely to be generated by borrowing formal elements from the outside world to portray internal world phenomena. These formal elements may implicitly include abstractions which lend themselves to analogical use in dream-life. Thus do artists and poets operate to perform their social function of giving communicable form to the new ideas nascent in the culture. To succeed in this function they must disturb us, frame questions in order to set the audience in motion to seek the answers, answers which, of course, mainly take the form of new readiness for new questions.

Psycho-analysis has come some considerable distance in defining the spectrum of emotional nuances which hold the meaning of our mental experiences. It would be a cogent view of our so-called theories that they are merely descriptive devices for outlining the structure of the variety of internal and external experiences which manifest themselves within us as emotion. But I would suggest that one whole area of emotion has as yet found no place in our body of theory because it has been assumed to stand merely in a quantitative relation. I am speaking of passions. If we adopt Bion's basic formulation of L, H and K, these passions would be ‘in love’, ‘in hate’ and ‘in awe’, each with its negative counterpart, ‘anti-in love’, ‘anti-in hate’ and ‘anti-in awe’. I think I am correct, certainly with regard to my own ideas, in stating that it has been assumed that passions were merely very intense emotions.

 

17. A Swiftean Diatribe

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Although the magnitude of the threats that this planet and its population face seems to have escalated beyond anything previously known, it is perhaps not always useful to approach the problems facing mankind from this quantitative vertex. The difficulty lies in our limited capacity for thought and its foundation in adequate emotional responsiveness. It may seem, superficially, that cataclysm stirs us deeply but careful examination suggests something quite contrary. Such spectacles, descriptions, statistics and prophecies of doom excite rather than stir. That is, they excite in us the orientation of opposition to what is already known but do not stir us to discover the unknown. In that sense they activate perverse tendencies of mind, the negative links, minus L, minus H, minus K.

The ‘end of the world’ can be stated in megatons rather than, as by Laputa's astronomical mathematicians, in terms of the temperature of the tail of a comet – or, in the language of the Old Testament prophet, as God's wrath, but this does not make the concept any more stirring of emotion. For horror is a perverse state of excitement as is amply testified to by TV, film or pulp magazines and their addicted population. Individual mentality and the individual's participation in groups is somehow contaminated by the perverse appeal of modern warfare and its obvious kinship to magic.

 

18. Denouement

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This sort of book, which is the residue of clinical and teaching experiences rather than of any systematic research, seems a kind of compost heap. It is primarily intended to increase the fertility of the next developmental steps of others, to help them to bring to life their nascent creativity. But one also tends to hope that something alive of one’s own may be found, unexpectedly, to be growing on the heap, a clump of mushrooms or a surprise of daffodils. Does the book add up to anything other than what it claims: a series of studies illustrating the use that Bion’s ideas have found in my consulting room?

Bion himself was very opposed to a distinct ‘school’ growing up around his ideas, perhaps partly because the adjective ‘Bionic’ had such comic overtones of science fiction, gardening, electronics and quackery. But chiefly he felt, and I feel perhaps even more strongly, that the formation of ‘schools’ is a miscarriage of science. It is naive to suppose that deep and significant differences exist. It is political to exploit them within the organisations of psycho-analysis. It fails to understand the impossible task of rendering in language the ineffable phenomena of the mind. And finally it shows little comprehension of the history of art and science. In so far as the metaphor of progress as forward movement is permissible, the development of art and science, or, in the case of psycho-analysis, art–science, moves forward in spiral fashion in some respects, or like a caterpillar in others. Those in the vanguard of development think they are miles ahead of the rear-guard when they reckon linearly, but they need only look sideways to see they are only inches in advance. Furthermore it is necessary for them to pause, and teach, and help the others to catch up before they can go on. If they fail to do this, their language, and soon their thought, becomes so idiosyncratic that they find they have departed from the social field and must find their way back. In a way this happened to Bion with Transformations and had to be rectified by altering his metaphors in Attention and Interpretation.

 

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