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A Meltzer Reader

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'Donald Meltzer was a distinguished psychoanalyst and one of Klein's most productive and prominent analysands. He was a very influential teacher internationally and an extraordinary practitioner and theorist as well. He codified Kleinian technique, was innovative in the treatment of autistic children, and was the foremost metapsychologist for Klein's and Bion's works. Of his many outstanding contributions, The Apprehension of Beauty, which he co-authored with Meg Harris Williams, heralded a new age in psychoanalysis by providing its aesthetic perspective in relation to that of infant development.'- James Grotstein, Psychoanalyst, Los Angeles; author, A Beam of Intense Darkness: Wilfred Bion's Legacy to Psychoanalysis

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1. Psychoanalysis as a Human Activity

ePub

Introduction by Kenneth Sanders

The Psycho-Analytical Process (1967) was Donald Meltzer's first book. He and his colleagues were conscious that Melanie Klein had bequeathed a legacy of work to be done on the phenomenon she called projective identification, an infant's unconscious phantasy of intrusion into the interior of its mother which confuses identities. It was a time of great optimism and even excitement at the prospect of new discoveries and greater potency for psychoanalysis with both children and adults.

Yet the introduction to the book suggests that the term “intrusive identification” may be preferable to “projective identification”. It is evident that Meltzer's attention is also on the contemporary publications of Bion which are establishing a form of projective identification that is not intrusive but containing. In a few more years the view of the world seen from the intrusive “paranoid–schizoid” position, in conflict with the “depressive” position from the non-intrusive type of identification, will come to be seen as the essence of the analytic process, in which intrusions into the mind of the analyst are experienced and recognized as those of an internal child into an internal mother. Then they may be studied, through containment and thought, unconsciously, in the “counter-transference” of the analyst.

 

2. Dream Life: The Generative Theatre of Meaning

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Introduction by Miriam Botbol

Dream Life is one of the books by Meltzer that has most enriched clinical practice, owing to his formulation that dreams are generators of meaning in the analytical relationship. Written after The Psycho-Analytical Process and The Kleinian Development, it is sown with ideas that he will extend and pursue deeper in future papers and books.

In Part A he revises the theoretical basis of Freudian concepts, distinguishing “a baffling division between his tendency to form and prove rigid theories, and his extraordinary capacity for observation and imaginative speculation” (p.11). The chapter that deals with the expansion of Freud's metapsychology by Klein and Bion is a splendid summary of ideas in The Kleinian Development. Two important differences with Freud are spelled out: the dream is a real vital experience, and affects are previous to their representations. At the beginning of Part B Meltzer presents his new theory of dream life: dreaming is thinking; meaning is not captured from external reality, but generated by internal reality. He says: “In writing this I become increasingly aware of the magnitude of the task undertaken in this book and, with that, the impossibility of doing more than laying a groundwork of a new theory of dreams. Clearly I am attempting to formulate an aesthetic theory of dreams” (p.29). Part C examines the practice of dream investigation, the borderland between thought and action, and the difference between dream exploration and dream analysis. Meltzer writes: “I feel certain that the exploration is the more important, the more artistic aspect of the work. The patient's growing identification with the analyst's exploratory method is a far more important basis for his gradual development of self-analytic capacity than any striving towards formulation that he may evince” (p.147).

 

3. Temperature and Distance

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Introduction by Neil Maizels

This pivotal paper could be considered an experiment in notation. Selecting a session, with a view to analyzing his own technique, Meltzer attempts to find a way to observe and write down the non-lexical aspects of his communications to the patient. This takes on directly what had previously only been framed indistinctly and indirectly in psychoanalytic theory—the issue of tone, distance and “music” that is conveyed and modulated in the analytic interpretation. Meltzer conveys the possibility, and even necessity, of a constantly refreshed self-reflection by the analyst on the internal dynamics underpinning the range of tones intimated in one's interpretative offerings. Whilst this sort of reflective adhocracy is often present in supervisory moments, it had never been taken so fully seriously, on an equal footing with levels of anxiety “correctness” in interpretative work.

The paper belongs to the period when Meltzer was beginning to consider more seriously the nature and requirements of psychoanalysis as an art form. This encompasses such problems as crafting a private language, and developing a feel and pitch—through mysterious but ingenious identifications with one's internal guides—for addressing different parts of the patient's self, in the heat of the transference drama. It involves a constant re-sculpting of basic principles of technique into a more flexible resonance of holding-tone, within each session, as the analyst struggles with the limits of mere cleverness or adhesive theoretical adherence. This brings up the interesting question of how much of the psychoanalytic craft is teachable in seminars and lectures and how much can only be imbibed and developed through internal identifications.

 

4. A Psychoanalytical Model of the Child-in-the-Family-in-the-Community

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Introduction by Martina Campart

The work from which this extract is taken was commissioned from Donald Meltzer and Martha Harris in 1976 by the Organization for Economic and Cultural Development as part of a project to develop policies and programmes that would support families in their educational task.

The monograph presents a model of the learning processes as they take place in the child within the family within the community. The child's emotional, cognitive and social growth, as well as ethics and view of life, has its foundations in learning. We do not learn all in the same way and not all learning has the same value. Learning from experience is based on the ability to put up with uncertainty and mental pain, and promotes real growth. Other modes of learning, based on the denial of mental pain, are more imitative and superficial, and hinder or lead to a “fake” kind of development. These are classified as: learning by projective identification; by adhesive identification; by scavenging; delusional learning; and learning through submission to a persecutor.

 

5. Money-Kyrle's Concept of Misconception

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Introduction by Jon Morgan Stokkeland and Lars Thorgaard

How is it that a concept, such as Money-Kyrle's of “misconceptions”, can be of such extreme importance for our understanding of the psychoanalytic attitude? Meltzer poses the question, and he also gives elements of the answers, in this important discussion of Money-Kyrle's paper on “Cognitive Development”. He writes with tenderness and care about the influence that Money-Kyrle had both personally and professionally on himself, on his own work and on his psychoanalytic attitude.

Psychoanalytic theory, he writes, is influenced by “harsh and puritanical aspects that can enter in such a judgemental way into our work”. Meltzer wants us to use the concept of misconception to “increase the awareness of the complexity and the ineffable aspects of our work” and to help us “to distance ourselves even further from the vice of explanation, contenting ourselves with description and partial comprehension”. Money-Kyrle's paper suggests “that innocent, unintentional misunderstandings, based on primal misconceptions growing out of early developmental experience, can seriously distort the entire structure of ‘cognitive development’” [our italics].

 

6. The Delusion of Clarity of Insight

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Introduction by Tomas Plänkers

The Claustrum (in which this paper is reprinted) is a compendium of Meltzer's inspiring theoretical and clinical thinking. One of his late works, it demonstrates yet again his creative capacity to bring into flower the germinal Kleinian concepts.

Melanie Klein in her paper on schizoid mechanisms (1946) linked paranoid anxieties with the oral sadistic impulses in little children, which deprive the mother's body of its good contents and deposit the child's faeces inside her in order to control her internally. Insofar as mother now contains the bad parts of the baby, she is no longer experienced as a separate object: she is now the bad self. Based on these findings about projective identification and on Abraham's papers on the anal character (1923), Meltzer in his paper on the relationship of anal masturbation and projective identification (1966) mapped out a special Kleinian contribution to the concepts of narcissism and autoerotism. His central idea circled around projective identification with internal objects: masturbatory activities stimulate phantasies of intruding into the object, destroying what is assumed to be the cause of psychic pain and controlling it.

 

7. Tyranny

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Introduction by Irene Freeden

The chapter on “Tyranny” is the culmination of Meltzer's original thinking in his book Sexual States of Mind—a collection of lectures and papers set meticulously in a comprehensive structure. Its first part, “History”, succinctly summarises the theories of Freud, Abraham and Klein on sexual development. Using them as a springboard, Meltzer offers his novel reading of Freud's theory of sexual psychopathology, a reading that insists on the crucial distinction between polymorphism and the perversity of infantile sexuality. The fundamental nature of that difference lies in its definition of the structure of the internal world.

The second part of the book, “Structural Revision of Sexual Theory”, unfolds Meltzer's own view of psychosexual development. It emphasises infantile polymorphous sexuality as opposed to its perverse counterpart that tends to contaminate adult sexual life. “Dread, persecution and terror” (to reverse the original order) of the internal dead babies is the basis for his “structural revision of the theory of perversions and addictions” and their clinical manifestations in the “perversion of the transference”. The clinical and metapsychological basis of Meltzer's future book on the Claustrum is beginning to emerge here.

 

8. Dimensionality, Adhesive Identification, Splitting

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Introduction by Renata Li Causi

Explorations in Autism contains the case histories of four autistic children, treated by psychotherapists trained in Melanie Klein's psychoanalytic model of child therapy and closely supervised by Meltzer. By the end of this research the book has formulated a new way of thinking about this syndrome, with significant further implications.

Meltzer noticed that autistic children experience an object with only one sense at a time (an object is seen, or heard, or touched, etc.). This provides an early defence against painful or intense emotions, earlier than splitting, which he calls “dismantling”. They let their mental organization fall passively to pieces, resulting in a state of mindlessness which has devastating consequences for their growth. Autistic children fail to form three-dimensional concepts of objects which contain spaces, and their concept of time is also severely impaired; they cannot identify either projectively or introjectively. Their perception is of an object without an inside (bidimensional objects). The alternative identification which they create is of skin-to-skin contact, which was called by Mrs Bick “adhesive identification”. Bick demonstrated the need for the experience of a containing object before primal splitting-and-idealization (Klein) could take place. Meltzer says, on the strength of the clinical material presented here, that autistic children have either lost or never developed an adequate psychic skin. His description of these children's defective psychic skin is not quite the same as the phenomenon described by Bick, as it seems to be the result of deficient concept formation rather than of inadequate containment under stress and anxiety.

 

9. The Impact of Bion's Ideas

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Introduction by Meg Harris Williams

This chapter represents Meltzer's summing-up in Studies in Extended Metapsychology of Bion's impact on him personally over the previous decades. By contrast with The Kleinian Development. which was primarily theoretical in content, this book explores a spectrum of clinical cases presented by colleagues, as well as some of his own, and considers the ways in which Bion's formulations illuminate further than the previously existing models our understanding of both the psychoanalytic process and a variety of clinical problems, as well as some implications of Bion's thinking for psychoanalysis generally.

The diverse areas that thereby come into focus include: the nature of language and symbol-formation in childhood and in the analytic situation; ways in which symbol-formation may be averted or perverted; the distinction between communicative projective identification and the intrusive identification which makes a container into a “claustrum”; types of self-deception, and a consideration of lies as a reversal of alpha-function; the potential of an awareness of the Negative Grid for sustaining the analyst in the fight against perversity; speculations about prenatal and “invertebrate” personality structure and its relation to psychotic illness in early childhood and to evaluating psychosomatic states; the caesura between protomental and mental, and how their interplay constantly “competes for the soul of the child”; the social elaboration of this in terms of psychoanalytic group politics, and the role of “magic” and “irritability” in such hierarchical settings.

 

10. Aesthetic Conflict

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Introduction by Lennart Rambert

Meltzer had long recognized that patients in successful analysis, when approaching weaning, often had experiences of an aesthetic relation to the object—be it their partner, nature, or the analysis as such.

His experiences, especially from child-analysis and from studies of life in utero, and not least, his memory of experiencing his newly delivered grandchild looking into his mother's eyes, convinced him that the mind's first whole hearted launch into the outer world is to the mother-in-reverie. In the ensuing enchantment, links form between the epistemological drive for Knowledge and the Bionic vectors of Love and Hate, resulting in a strong—but the same time brittle—convergence of passionate feeling-thinking: an emotional experience, and food for thought.

This is the mould for all future aesthetic experiences, outer and inner, and is the most sought for relation to the object/outer world all through life. For in order to explore more deeply the nature of the creative process in psychoanalysis, especially the role of the internal objects—the thinking breast and the combined object—in creating an ego-ideal, he together with his stepdaughter, the psychoanalytically well informed writer and artist Meg Harris Williams, turned to poetry and literature. They wrote this book together, even if their thoughts are presented in separate chapters; and experiencing analysis resonates with the poet's relation to his Muse.

 

11. On Bion's Grid—Later Thoughts

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Introduction by Robert Oelsner

In this talk Meltzer reappraises Bion's achievement in capturing something of the essence of the process of thinking through a Grid that parallels Mendelejeff's Periodic Table in chemistry,1 making of both aesthetic objects.

Meltzer points out that in view of the evolution of Bion's later ideas and his own, the Grid needs some revision: one being that Myth formations (row C) seem nowadays to be a part of alpha-function (row B) rather than a distinct category. Mothers need to tell themselves little stories or private myths in order to establish a state of reverie with their infant: “the baby is hungry”, “you need to sleep, sweetie”, etc. Later more complex stories like the Oedipus myth, the myths of Eden, Babel, Ur and Palinurus cited by Bion capture essential aspects of the personality.

Another correction Bion had in mind, Meltzer reminds us, was Column 2 (lying), inserted oddly in the middle of the Grid, later to give way to the idea of an entire Negative Grid. Then, Action (Column 6) is the end of thinking, and could therefore be inserted in any column, with differing results. Action as a result of thinking has a different quality from acting-out, which precludes thinking. And finally, Meltzer suggests that Scientific Deductive System (Row G) and Algebraic Calculus—so far an empty category in the Grid, like Mendelejeff's then undiscovered chemical elements—should be replaced by aesthetic and spiritual values.

 

12. Sign, Symbol and Allegory

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Introduction by Grete Tangen Andersen, Morten Andersen, Trond Holm, Jon Morgan Stokkeland, Lilian Stokkeland, Eirik Tjessem

In this selection of extracts from some of his later papers and talks, Meltzer elaborates on the essential distinction between signs and symbols. This is perhaps a good place to start for new students of his work: it marks the difference between mind and mindlessness; mindlessness here signifying all the essential adaptational and conventional processes (the use of signs) which do not require the meaning-generating and symbol-forming mind.

This vital distinction has many different roots and ramifications. Among the sources that he mentions are Wittgenstein's linguistic philosophy, Cassirer and Langer on symbolic forms, and—of course—Bion's work. One of the many, and highly interconnected, implications is the difference between received (conventional) symbols and autonomous (original) symbols. What distinguishes the autonomous symbols is that they “are created in the mind of the speaker.” It makes one wonder; how is it that simple and even conventional words uttered, suddenly become true and meaningful? To convey emotional meaning by language is “not just a matter of symbol, not just a matter of words; it is also a matter of the music”. This leads on to the relation between “saying it” and “meaning it” (Wittgenstein, 1953)—being sincere—and to Bion's distinction between “learning from experience” and “learning about”. Learning from experience rests upon symbol formation, which in its essence is an intuitive and mysterious process. It cannot be controlled or negotiated. This gives an answer to the question about what kind of science psychoanalysis is: an observational and descriptive science—it cannot explain and predict.

 

13. Some Personal Statements

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On his analysis with Melanie Klein i

She was even in her 70's a handsome woman, fond of big hats and dressing well. She lived alone with a maid and a visiting secretary and her cat in a fair sized first floor flat in Hampstead, on a hill with views. With me, a patient, she was very formal but not cold, attentive and observing and talking quite a lot, always to the point and full of her observations. At time of collapse, catastrophe or misery she seemed very strong and fearless. I knew from public situations that she could be aggressive and contemptuous but she was neither with me in the sessions. She seemed immune to seduction or flattery but could be very ambiguous about personal feeling for the analysand. The result was that through years of analysis I never really felt that she liked me nor should. She played the piano and had a grand in the waiting room which it took me some years to see. Her cat occasionally came in to the consulting room which annoyed me. She was punctilious about punctuality, about her bills and holiday dates. Her memory seemed remarkable to the end.

 

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