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The Kleinian Development - Part III

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The Kleinian Development derives from lectures delivered at the Institute of Psychanalysis, London, and the Tavistock Clinic (1965-78). It is divided into three volumes that examine, in turn, the writings of Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, and Wilfred Bion.

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1. Experiences in Groups

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Experiences in Groups is the work of three different periods in Bion's life: military psychiatric, in wartime, age 40 (pre-view), civilian psychiatric in peacetime (experiences) age 50, and psychoanalytic (re-view), age 60. Never task- or result oriented, the key word is always ‘experience’, later to be formalized as the basis of ‘learning from experience’ as against ‘learning about’ things, and finally formulated as ‘transformations in O’ and ‘becoming O’. The military psychiatrist who had to form a training wing for the rehabilitation of neurotic soldiers saw his task as one of restoring these men to integration in a disciplined community from a state of subjugation to the ‘helplessness’ of neurosis. His thesis was that the restoration of discipline as an internal fact required participation in an external discipline, which in its turn depended on two factors: (1) the presence of the enemy and (2) ‘the presence of an officer who, being experienced, knows some of his own failings, respects the integrity of his men, and is not afraid of either their good will or their hostility.’

 

2. Re-view of ‘Group Dynamics’ and ‘The Imaginary Twin’

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In the first chapter an attempt was made to draw out the prepsychoanalytic Bion by the use of the first two sections of Experiences in Groups, the clinical work for which probably extended from 1942 through 1950. Some evaluation of the special equipment he brought into the field of psychoanalysis was attempted, bearing on his character, his modes of thought, the background of his special humour, his philosophy of science, his use of language and his basic differentiation between individual and group mentality.

In the present chapter we are concerned to examine Bion's transition into the field of psychoanalysis, which occurred through his association with John Rickman and his training analysis with Melanie Klein. The review of his work on groups in the light of the work of Freud and Melanie Klein should show us something of the impact of psychoanalytical experience and thought on his previous ideas and attitudes. His first clinical paper in analysis, ‘The imaginary twin’, might be expected to show him working in the consulting room so that we can compare the man in these two therapeutic settings, group and individual. It is perhaps worthwhile to remember the historical setting of his work. For instance, Melanie Klein's great paper on projective identification and splitting processes (‘Notes on some schizoid mechanisms’) had appeared in 1946 while the 1950s were characterized by the opening up of the phenomenon of the countertransference for clinical use by such figures as Winnicott, Paula Heimann, and Money-Kyrle. The severe disputes in the British Society over issues of theory and technique raised by Mrs Klein's work had settled down to a ‘gentlemen's agreement’ which held the society together and created a fairly electric atmosphere for research and discussion. Bion became director of the clinic a few years after qualification and stirred great interest by his papers on psychosis.

 

3. The Schizophrenia Papers

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It is perhaps difficult for people unaquainted with the use of the concepts of splitting and projective identification, as well as for those who have become perhaps a little blasé about them, to realize the electrifying impact of Mrs Klein's 1946 paper, ‘Notes on some schizoid mechanisms’, upon the analysts who were working closely with her. With the notable exception of Bion's later work it could be said that the history of the next thirty years of research could be written in terms of the phenomenology and implications of these two seminal concepts.

Thus in approaching the papers written by Bion in the years 1953 to 1958 one immediately is struck by this aspect of the content in its application to the phenomena of the psychotic, and especially the schizophrenic patient. The 1950s were in a sense the heyday of psychoanalytical interest in the psychoses and the literature swells with contributions to their metapsychology and reports of successful treatment by psychological methods. In the latter category, especially the work done in America at that time by people like Frieda Fromm Reichmann, John Rosen, Milton Wexler; or in France by Mme Sechehaye, turned largely upon the modification of the psychoanalytical method to the treatment of these disorders. While this was intended to be an adaptation in the technical sense, by which means the analytical method had been made suitable to the treatment of children by Mrs Klein and Miss Freud, for instance, a great deal of methodological confusion reigned. It was not perhaps realized that, at least as far as Melanie Klein's adaptation of the method was concerned, the intention had been to alter nothing in the method, but to facilitate the means of communication available to the patient. This was not so true of Miss Freud's early work, largely on the basis of an assumption that the child would not be able to form a transference in the same sense as the adult patient. That assumption was based in turn upon a view of the transference that stressed its ‘transfer’ from the past under the sway of the repetition compulsion rather than viewing it as an externalization of internal object relations under the pressure of the immediate operation of impulse and anxiety.

 

4. Approach to a Theory of Thinking

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The historical approach to Bion's work which we are following seems to reveal something of a latency period in his creativity contemporary with his apprenticeship in psychoanalysis proper, standing between the brilliance of his work with groups and the full-blown emergence of his thought in the books commencing with Learning from Experience. This period of reorientation was followed by the period of the papers on schizophrenia which reveal him more fully than in any other of his writings deploying his extraordinary capacity for concentration and observation. The result was his uncovering a plethora of phenomena as yet unnoticed in the consulting room, at first with frankly psychotic patients and later with the ‘psychotic part of the personality’ of less ill people. The consequence was a kind of adolescence of reborn creativity in which his expanding thought was struggling to stay within the bounds of existing concept, both Freud's model of thinking and Mrs Klein's model of the structure of the personality in conflict. The areas of incompatibility of the two and their fundamental inadequacy to cover the phenomena with which he was dealing was revealed in the manner in which concepts such as primal scene, splitting of the ego, projective identification and verbal thought were stretched to the breaking point.

 

5. Alpha-Function and Beta-Elements

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In the previous chapter we examined the approach to a theory of thinking that had been forced upon Bion from two directions, one coming from the torrent of new phenomena that he was observing in his application of the strict psychoanalytical method to the treatment of schizophrenic patients and the other coming from the manifest inadequacy of existing theory to cover these phenomena. By ‘cover’ it is not meant to convey ‘explain’ as much as ‘organize’ for the purpose of coherent description. As Bion says in Learning from Experience:

It appears that our rudimentary equipment for “thinking” thoughts is adequate when the problems are associated with the inanimate, but not when the object for investigation is the phenomenon of life itself. Confronted with the complexities of the human mind, the analyst must be circumspect in following even accepted scientific method; its weakness may be closer to the weakness of psychotic thinking than superficial scrutiny would admit (p. 14).

 

6. Container and Contained – The Prototype of Learning

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CHAPTER SIX

Container and contained: the prototype of learning

To complete our critique of Learning from Experience two major tasks seem to present themselves. The first of these is to build upon the description of alpha-function by examining its relation to the three functions – love (L), hate (H) and knowing (K) – which Bion selects as the three major types of emotional experiences to whose ‘sense impressions’ alpha-function is applied for the generating of dream-thoughts and the membrane of the contact barrier differentiating conscious and unconscious, thus making possible the binocular vision which psychoanalysis exploits in its method of study. The second would be to examine the prototype of relationship, namely the baby–breast as container–contained, in which learning from experience is conceived to come into existence as a possibility (phylo- and onto-genetically, one supposes), to see if Bion has succeeded in laying the foundations for a theory of the emotions for the first time in the history of psychoanalytical thought. It certainly is one of his intentions.

 

7. The Elements of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytical Objects

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The elements of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytical objects

In following the evolution of Bion's thought it has gradually become apparent that he has been pursuing a vision of refining and extending the model of the mind, as drawn up explicitly by Freud and modified implicitly by Melanie Klein, so that it might be used as an instrument for investigating disturbances of thought. Such a vision of course includes the possibility of using the psychoanalytical method, so akin to the clinical medical method, for examining pathology for the sake of forming hypotheses about healthy structure and function. Added to this, peculiarly Bionic, one might say, is the interest in formulating matters of the mind in a way that will allow for precision of communication and ‘mere manipulation’ by ‘arbitrary rules’ in what he calls variously ‘meditative review’ and the ‘psychoanalytic game’ (pp. 99 and 101). This duality of aim makes the present work dual in its essential nature, half scientific, i.e. towards the construction of a scientific deductive system, and half philosophic, i.e. investigating the system as a thing-in-itself. It seems unlikely that this joy in ‘mere manipulation’ would be a widespread phenomenon among practising analysts and it may not be amiss if its discussion is rather neglected here in our critique of the Grid, taking it as a method of exposition rather than an instrument meant for use. Our task in this chapter must be mainly to investigate the grid as the periodic table of psychoanalytical elements and then to trace its implications for the comprehension of what Bion calls the ‘molecules’ of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytical objects and interpretations. Having already constructed an apparatus, mythical and empty, namely alpha-function, which can operate on the sense impressions of emotional experiences to produce thoughts which can be used for thinking, Bion must now turn his attention to constructing an equally mythic and empty apparatus for manipulating these thoughts in a manner worthy of the name ‘thinking’ and capable of producing ‘truth’, the food of the mind. A daunting task!

 

8. The Role of Myth in the Employment of Thoughts

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In the previous chapter an attempt was made to describe and examine Bion's effort in The Elements of Psychoanalysis to imagine an apparatus capable of generating thoughts and producing growth in them in the direction of sophistication in both the level of abstraction and of organization. This he has given graphic representation by means of the Grid, where the possibility of growth in use and level of abstraction and organization is represented in a two-axis system, movement within which is conceived to be implemented by two mechanisms: container–contained (♀ ♂) and paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, plus selected fact (Ps↔D). He also attempted to give a cogent description of how such a system could have come into existence in the species and in the individual, using a quasi-astronomical model of the ‘uncertainty cloud’ and the ‘loose reticulum’. It was suggested that by thus emphasizing a structural metaphor and omitting the economic aspect related to emotional attitude towards value inherent in Mrs Klein's formulation of ‘positions’, he was setting himself an unnecessarily difficult task in regard to the ‘employment’ of thoughts in thinking, as contrasted with the problem of the ‘manufacture’ and ‘growth’ of thoughts. It was suggested that Bion's proposed model might be compared with Mrs Klein's description of the events which usher in the depressive position or the examination of the origin of the conception of psychic spaces as outlined in Explorations in Autism (Meltzer et al, 1975). We must now move on to consider the way in which Bion's apparatus is imagined to function to ‘employ’ thoughts and how this is seen to relate to the psychoanalytical situation and method. It should be emphasized again that in this discussion the Grid is being treated only as a method of exposition and not as a thing meant for use in ‘meditative review’ or ‘the psychoanalytic game’.

 

9. Psychoanalytical Observation and the Theory of Transformations

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CHAPTER NINE

Psychoanalytical observation and the theory of transformations

It was suggested in the chapters dealing with the Elements that Bion might be viewed from a rather military model as mustering forces, making sallies and skirmishes and periodically trying to take the citadel of the mind by storm. Perhaps this is too sanguinary a model to account for the experience of the reader who finds himself in a near constant state of exasperation eased by moments of delight and illumination. Perhaps we should imagine a present-day Leonardo designing his flying machines and incidentally producing marvellous drawings and paintings and entertaining fireworks shows and mechanical toys. Perhaps our exasperation will be less if we put to one side the desire to see him fly (or crash?) and enjoy the art and fireworks. To do that requires no critical guidance. Transformations has some masterpieces of clinical description, notably the twofold description of Patient B (p. 19), and sparkles throughout with little fireworks of observation and thought about the psychoanalytical situation and the world it inhabits. But our task in this book is to take Bion's main purpose seriously and to struggle with our resentment, suspicions that he is mad, feelings of humiliation at his citing authors whose work is hardly known to us as if it were as current as the news on TV, and above all exasperation with the mathematizing. He says explicitly that he rejects the dictum that a system cannot be considered scientific until it can be expressed in mathematical terms. It was not so difficult to forgive the plethora of confusing and sometimes seemingly contradictory signs in the Elements because behind it lay a model of the periodic table and the hope of a new order in chaos. In the present work no such hope sustains us in the face of the proliferation of mathematics-like notations, pseudo-equations, followed by arrows, dots, lines, arrows over (or should it be under?) words and not just Greek letters but Greek words. How are we to bear such an assault on our mentality? Is Bion Patient B in disguise? One could cite a hundred sentences that are at least as equivocal as the patient's ‘girl who left about her knickers’.

 

10. Analytic Truth and the Operation of Multiple Vertices

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In the previous chapter it was suggested that Transformations could be read as a series of experiments in thought aimed at describing the method of psychoanalytical observation as serial transformations of observable ‘facts’ into thoughts capable of ‘growth’ and accretion of meaning, and further that this series of experiments can be visualized as conducted in a particular way. The method seems akin to that of the mathematician who invents arbitrary signs and rules for their manipulation and sees how far they carry him before new signs and rules need to be invented. The first such experiment, in the Elements, employed signs called psychoanalytical objects composed of three grid categories from the ‘growth’ axis, sensa (A), myth (C) and passion (row G, mysteriously). It seemed never to get off the ground (if we may return to the model of Leonardo's flying machine intended to navigate the cosmos of the mind). The second experiment (Chapters 1–5 of Transformations) employed simple navigational instruments called transformations but soon discovered that they were somehow produced by love of the truth and an aesthetic sense which was a function of the analyst's total personality plus training and experience, and anyhow resulted in nothing grander than his ‘opinion’ of what was happening in the consulting room.

 

11. ‘Learning About’ as Resistance to ‘Becoming’

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

‘Learning about’ as a resistance to ‘becoming’

In the two previous chapters it was suggested that Transformations could be read as a series of experiments in mathematical modes of thought, beginning with the last part of Elements and continuing into Attention and Interpretation, aimed at evolving a language of precision for describing the methods of observation, thought and communication employed in the psychoanalytical method. The stimulus for this effort, starting with Learning, had been the recognition of the role played by disorders of thought in severe mental disturbance, (schizophrenia in particular), related also to phenomena described earlier as peculiar to basic assumption groups. What began as an attempt to avoid the ‘penumbra of existing meaning’ in ordinary words for the sake of positing an ‘empty’ hypothetical apparatus of thought: alpha-function, in Learning, expanded into a ‘periodic table’ of the ‘elements’ of thought, the Grid, from which Bion first attempted a description of ‘psychoanalytical objects’, tripartite ‘molecules’ compounded of sensa, myth and passion.

 

12. The Bondage of Memory and Desire

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An approach to Attention and Interpretation is probably only possible for someone already ‘hardened’ to Bion's extraordinary demands upon the reader, for he goes his way in this book not only in the expectation that no one ‘but a practising psychoanalyst can understand this book although I have done my best to make it simple’ but that the reader will have not merely read but mastered the previous books, the Grid and the other quasi-mathematical paraphernalia. It is a book in which one of the two terms in the title hardly ever appears in the text. And yet attention is the underlying theme of the work.

Insofar as this book represents Bion's most organized attempt to present a theory of psychoanalytical practice, it tends to read a bit like a handbook for pilgrims to a strange world. Until they actually arrive and begin to have the experiences and encounter the objects described, it is all meaningless. The practising psychoanalyst who, Bion hopes, will be his reader may have practised analysis for many years without ever entering the world of Bion's description. This is not merely because he may not have treated schizophrenics, say, but rather that his ‘vertex’ has been so different. He may be sophisticated enough to have realized that the medical model was too crude for application to this method and consequently have taken to referring to his ‘analysands’ rather than his ‘patients’. Readings in linguistic philosophy and philosophy of mind may have made him aware of the great difficulties inherent in the use of language for communication. His personal analysis may have humbled him to a state of tentativeness about his capacities to observe and understand himself and others. His study of the psychoanalytical literature may have warned him of the confusion and inadequacy of theoretical formulation in the field. Study of history may have enabled him to see or suspect that psychoanalysis had its historic roots more in philosophy and theology than in 19th-century science. But it is unlikely that any of this will have prepared him for the massive onslaught against his system of intellectual security that Bion's book represents.

 

13. The Psychoanalytic Couple and the Group

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The psychoanalytic couple and the group

The rounding out of Bion's views in Attention and Interpretation does not clearly declare itself until he begins to examine the relationship of the individual to the group. He means, in regard to the special problem of psychoanalysis, but perhaps to human relationships in general, the juxtaposition of the relations of individuals to one another as individuals to their involvements in group functions and mentality. The circling back to the work in Experiences in Groups shows again the internal integrity of Bion's life work and its progressive tightening and complexity, a fact which is superficially belied by the shifts in paraphernalia of exposition in the various major works. In the present book, where the language has shifted to the religious vocabulary, it is clear that the linguistic paraphernalia is the inevitable equipment of the religious vertex on the world. In Elements and Transformations Bion was inclined to hedge this with claims that the mathematical mode of expression was analogic rather than intrinsic. But in retrospect it is clear that he had a period of romance with a mathematical dream of a precise and quantifiable world of essential internal harmony threatened mainly by the failure of alpha-function, of containers to contain and of selected facts to be discovered to implement Ps↔D. It was not the case that he had abandoned the death instinct, the role of envy, innate destructiveness, etc. in his thought, but that the mathematical dream had no place in it for aught but confusion as the enemy of growth. In consequence the anti-growth elements in the mind could be relegated to a single ‘use’, column 2.

 

14. Review: Catastrophic change and the Mechanisms of Defence

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Review: catastrophic change and the mechanisms of defence

In order to bring to an end this study of the development of Bion's model of the mind, it is necessary to attempt to clarify the concept which is probably most central and least mentioned of all his ideas. Except for the paper titled ‘Catastrophic change’ which he read to the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1966, and which incidentally in its body never mentions the concept of the title, this phrase appears nowhere in the books. And yet all the books are about it, just as Attention and Interpretation is certainly about attention, although it is never mentioned in the text. The paper ‘Catastrophic change’ was a prelude to Attention and is virtually identical to Chapter 12. In so far as its focus is upon the relationship of container and contained, in the individual and in his relationship to the group, the dread of change and the tendency for change to manifest itself as catastrophe is brought out more clearly than in the later book chapter entitled ‘Container and contained transformed’. Bion's model of container and contained must be juxtaposed to his idea that the truth does not require a thinker to exist, but rather that the thinker needs to find the truth as an idea which he can make grow in his mind. Among the ideas which exist in the world awaiting thinkers are certain ones which, from the religious-historical vertex, he chooses to call ‘messianic’ ideas. The relationship of container to contained in the individual, in so far as ideas institute a conflict between thought and the impulse to action, is not so observable in the ordinary course of events, but becomes dramatically manifest when an idea of messianic significance enters. In order to describe these processes of catastrophic change induced by the messianic idea Bion employs the congruent relationship of the individual mystic to his group. The group, as container, must find some means of expanding to hold this new phenomenon in order, on the one hand, not to crush or squeeze or denude the messianic idea, or similarly to destroy the mystic or ‘sink him without a trace, loaded with honours’. But it also must avoid being fragmented or exploded by the mystic or the messianic idea. These relations of container to contained, whether of experiences in the individual, the individual in a group, the meaning in a word, the significance in a symbol, or the passion in a relationship – in whatever dimension of container and contained, the relationship can be categorized as parasitic, symbiotic or commensal. His application of these biological ideas to the realm of the mind is this:

 

Appendix: A Note on 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 organize the clinical phenomena that have already been observed in a more aesthetic (beautiful?) way; the other is to provide a tool of observation that will open to view previously invisible phenomena of the consulting room. Wilfred 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 (1962) formulated an ‘empty’ concept of alpha-function by means of which the ‘sense impressions of emotional experiences’ were converted into elements to be used in various ways: as building-blocks for dream thoughts which could in turn be used for thinking; to be available for storage as memory; and by their continuity, to form a ‘contact barrier’ that might separate conscious from unconscious mental processes.

 

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