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The Experience of Time: Psychoanalytic Perspectives

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In contemporary psychoanalysis, the concepts of time and history have become increasingly complex. It is evident that this trend offers us an opportunity to think about the intercrossing of the different temporal dimensions imbuing the subject, an inevitable aspect of the analytic process. History is time past but what is recovered is now the working through of the subject history, which carries the mark of both passing time and re-signifying time. It is precisely the notion of history that gains different dimensions when a purely deterministic analysis is disassembled.We find continuities and breaks between subjective time and chronological time; between the inevitable decrepitude of the biological body with the passing of time and the timelessness of the unconscious; between linear, circular times and retroactive re-signification; between facts, screen memories, memory and the work of constructing history; between the times of repetition and the times of difference; between reversible and irreversible time; between the timelessness of the unconscious and the temporalities of the ego. The time arrow points toward an irreversible time, with no return, but coexisting with circular times and the times of repetition.These plural, heterogeneous dimensions of time also enable us to think in terms of generating a prospective, future space of the time of becoming, of a desiring project or of anticipation, based on new versions of the past. In this context we are interested in underscoring the timespace relation in the psychoanalytic field (psychoanalytic space, space of the session). The papers collected in this book illustrate these concepts with all the theoretical variations characterizing state-of-the-art psychoanalysis.ContributorsIngeborg Bornholdt, Andre Green, Charles Hanly, Otto Kernberg, Jose E. Milmaniene, Michael Parsons, Rosine Perelberg, Janine Puget, Satish Reddy, Jean-Claude Rolland

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CHAPTER ONE: From the ignorance of time to the murder of time. From the murder of time to the misrecognition of temporality in psychoanalysis

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André Green

It is striking that the problem of time has been the source of far I fewer discussions than themes relating to space. We have talked about the construction of analytic space (Viderman, 1970), of transitional space (Winnicott, 1953), but there is nothing analogous applying to time. It would seem that this theme has been avoided. Freud developed his ideas in a fragmentary and unsystematic way, as they appeared to him, and never brought together his diverse conceptions on time into a single presentation. Thus, he left us with a mosaic of temporal mechanisms without conceptual unification. After him, and profiting from this fact, analysts preferred, it seems, to circumvent the difficulty by not expressing an opinion on the unity to be identified in the diverse aspects described, instead of endeavouring to put the different facets of this concept into perspective. A tendency to return to the past—a regressive process—made analytic thinking return surreptitiously to a pre-psychoanalytic conception of time. In a more recent inspiration, it seems that the genetic approach, which for Freud was only one of the procedures for treating the subject of time, has progressively imposed itself in a predominant manner as the one that necessarily supplanted the others by eclipsing what stood out as specific to the theorization of the whole.

 

CHAPTER TWO: A problem with Freud's idea of the timelessness of the unconscious

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Charles Hanly

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asks, I know not”

(Augustine, Confessions)

“Nature's bequest gives nothing, but doth lend”

(Shakespeare, Sonnet 4)

It is natural for human beings to resent time and to phantasize about timelessness. We are biologically driven to seek to preserve ourselves. Even Freud's death instinct (1920g) was thought by him to be bio-chemically committed to preserving individual life from accidental death in order to bring about the end of it in its own way and time, like an avenger who wants to do the murderous deed himself. But even in the absence of a death instinct, the instinctual aim of self-preservation cannot be satisfied, because we depend on our perishable physical bodies for the existence we seek to preserve. Accordingly, we phantasize about timelessness both individually and collectively. These phantasies give rise to credence in seductive ideas such as Plato's imperishable soulor Descartes's mental substance linked to, but ontologically independent of, the body. In addition to the unavoidable neurotic anxieties consequent upon our individual development and the relations that are necessary to it, among the realistic anxieties caused by the dangers of our circumstances and the frailty of our ability to deal with them, there is anxiety about death. This anxiety is ontological; it is an anxiety about being a finite individual creature biologically destined to annihilation even if the species persists much longer. We resent being the finite, temporal, somewhat rational animals we are born to be and we seek to patch up this flaw in our being with ideas: among others, of an immortal soul. Anxiety about death is to natural reality what anxiety about our ownership of the Oedipus complex is to psychic reality.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Why did Orpheus look back?

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Michael Parsons

Winnicott's (1971, p. 38) statement, that the aim of psychoanalytic therapy is to develop a capacity for playing, is famous. His wife commented that Winnicott's work was founded on his own capacity to play, which was part of his way of relating and being related to, and which was there in “his whole style of life”. She says “It seems important to note that in his terms the capacity to play is equated with a quality of living” (Winnicott, C, 1989, pp. 2-3). She quotes Winnicott's own statement that “Playing is an experience, always a creative experience, and it is an experience in the space-time continuum, a basic form of living” (Winnicott, D., 1971, p. 50). In a lecture in 1963, Winnicott said,

It is work with borderline patients that has taken me (whether I liked it or not) to the early human condition, and here I mean to the early life of the individual rather than to the mental mechanisms of earliest infancy. [Winnicott, 1965, p. 235]

The idea emerges that central to psychoanalysis is the attempt to help patients develop their capacity for living.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Unconscious memory from a twin perspective: subjective time and the mental sphere0

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Jean-Claude Rolland

Whenever we set up a psychoanalytic situation, what else are we doing but having, first of all, recourse to the formal notion of time as measured by clocks and calendars? We say to the patient, “We'll be meeting on such and such a day, at x o'clock, and each session will last y minutes; there won't be any sessions during my holidays—I'll tell you the dates well in advance—or on public holidays.” We add that he or she will have to pay for all sessions when the analyst is available; this, therefore, excludes any subjective freedom, flexibility, or arbitrariness with regard to this physical time that we make into an implacable reality.

However, once that temporal setting is implicitly established, with its aim of conferring optimal effectiveness on the analytical method, there begins to emerge a vast number of temporalities that have nothing to do with real time; they blur our traditional experience of time and might even appear to “suspend its flight”, replacing it not only with the obsolescence of anachronism, but also with a mysterious atemporality, given the evanescence of every means and of every desire to measure it. When, with quite surprising consistency, analysands about to embark on psychoanalytic treatment ask, “How long will the analysis last?”, the only answer I cangive—because it seems to me to express in the simplest and most accurate terms what I have to say on the topic––is, “Well, you'll see, once we begin, that will no longer be an issue.”

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The time of the past, the time of the right moment1

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Janine Puget

Stagnant time

Some comments we hear in everyday conversations reflect a belief/conviction that the past (whether one's own or historical past) was better or easier than the present. “Everything was easier,” said a patient. “There were no computers, traffic wasn't so bad …” “It's true,” I answered, “but there was no penicillin, and people died younger.” A remark like the patient's contains the idea that the present should be like the past, and is a sign that the present poses an obstacle. Regardless of its specific, contextual meaning, it betrays a difficulty and a dissonance: a difficulty in thinking of the present and in the present and in doing something with it, and a lack of harmony between present and past. Present and past might even be separated by an interface, and progress by leaps and bounds.

An Argentine bolero (singer), a source of popular wisdom, speaks about this type of nostalgia: “There is no worse yearning than longing for what has never, ever happened” (Sabina, 1990). Another songwriter mentions being “trapped in my yearning for what couldn't be” (Gonzalez, 1996). Such longing speaks of animaginary past, a bygone past, or one that never happened. Perhaps this past provides comfort in that it is deprived of the uncertainty of present-day vicissitudes, and does not demand great effort. It is recalled, but not experienced, in the here-and-now, and it removes us from the complexities of the present.

 

CHAPTER SIX: The impact of the time experience on the psychoanalysis of children and adolescents2

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Ingeborg Bornholdt

Although time experience is part of psychism from the newborn period to old age, the notions of present, past, and future (as differentiated time dimensions) emerge gradually during personality development. With the purpose of discussing the impact of time experience on the psychoanalysis of children and adolescents, I focused on two convergent lines of investigation: the construction of temporality during development and some possible impacts of the identifications with the current adult world.

As early as 1927, in The Future of an Illusion, Freud stated that man is “built up from the material of memories of the helplessness of his own childhood and the childhood of the human race …” (1927c, p. 18). “What he is entering into is the heritage of many generations, and he takes it over as he does the multiplication table …” (ibid., p. 21). The current studies on transgenerationality embrace this idea of unconscious transfer of stories, knowledge, goals, and anxieties that belonged to parents and to the chain of previous generations. The gradual conquest of temporality can also be understood through the exchanges between the baby and his/her environment: the mother, according to how Winnicott understands it. The basicexperiences with time take place during the interplay of deep and fundamental relationships of psychism. Therefore, I would like to analyse some important aspects of the gradual development of psychism, considering temporality as one of its outcomes.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Time and the end of analysis3

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José E. Milmaniene

One of the basic objectives of psychoanalytical treatment is to create the necessary conditions for the patient to be able to accept his own historical time on the horizon of acknowledging his own finiteness. This effect of subjectivity, which supposes the appropriation of his singular historic time, implies his transcending to the same degree his submission to the alienating time of his parents and his stay in the sterile timelessness of narcissism. (The concept of subjectivity alludes to the complex process of the constitution of the subject. It means the transition that goes from the primitive narcissism of the child, who lacks language and is fused symbolically with the phallic figure of his mother, and is established thus in the drive order until his definitive configuration as a subject of the word. This process of entering into the symbolic order requires the symbolic operation of cut-castration, which should be carried out by the symbolic figure of the Father, who represents the Law.)

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: The first narrative, or in search of the dead father4

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Rosine Jozef Perelberg

“Can one tell—that is to say, narrate—time, time itself, as such, for its own sake? That would surely be an absurd undertaking …”

(Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain)

Time and space are central dimensions in psychoanalysis, indissolubly linked to each other. The enigma of one's origins, the beginnings of desire, sexuality, and loss introduce the dimensions of space, time, and phantasy. They constitute the fundamental questions that human beings have asked about themselves since the beginnings of time, the answers to which ultimately provide a view of the individual that is not constituted solely in terms of linear development. The individual in Freud's formulations is de-centred and ruled by various temporalities, most of which escape his conscious awareness.

In observing a game played by his eighteen-month-old grandson, Freud noticed that the child threw a cotton reel and said fort (disappeared), and then pulled it back and said da (found). This is understood by Freud as the attempt to master the comings and goings of the mother. It is in the space created by the absence ofthe object that a sense of time is instituted and the activity of fantasy takes place. Recent discussions of this game have stressed how the child is indeed throwing the cotton reel inside the cot and thus, perhaps, also exploring the nature of his own disappearance from the mind of the mother. Who is she with, when she is gone? The beginnings of the awareness of time, linked to the comings and goings of the mother, are also connected to the awareness of the existence of the father. In the space that is thus constructed, the beginnings of the Oedipal situation are also being created. The father is already there, as a presence in the mother's mind, in her desire for him. Time, space, phantasy, and sexuality are completely intertwined. In the analytic situation, this is represented in the comings and goings of the analyst, and the beginnings and ends of sessions; weekends and holiday breaks become a metaphor for this very first narrative that is filled with our patients’ desire.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The destruction of time in pathological narcissism5

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Otto Kernberg

Introduction

As Elliot Jaques (1982) pointed out in his overview of psychoanalytic views of the experience of time, it is important to keep in mind the difference between objective time as a scientific concept characterized by the uniformity of linear intervals as defined by the units of measurement of time, on the one hand, and the subjective sense of time, that has very different characteristics, on the other. The subjective experience of the duration of time is irregular and depends on multiple psychological factors.

Throughout the life cycle, a remarkable yet gradual change occurs in the subjective experience of the duration of time. The multitude of early experiences that bombard the infant and small child gradually settle into longer cycles between the past and the future, such as, for example, the long time in between weekends, and the endless time between birthdays, thus taking on a quality of “endless time”, the correlate to the naturally assumed permanence of childhood. With developing growth and maturity, and a more predictable succession of tasks and personal investments, cycles of past experience seem to accelerate. The expectation of future developments, that are now more firmly embedded in consciousness by the individual's own life trajectory, planning, and task investments, matched with active work towards the transformation of such a projected future into the present, decreases the subjective experience of the duration of time so that it seems to be passing more rapidly. There is a clearer sense of what to expect in the future, and a sharp linkage between past experience and its expected repetition. The sense of acceleration of the passing of time increases with age, and becomes a significant conscious experience in old age (Harto-collis, 1983). Now time “flies”.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Hindu concepts of time6

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Satish Reddy

“I am time grown old to destroy the world,
Embarked on the course of world annihilation:
Except for yourself none of these will survive,
Of these warriors arrayed in opposite armies.
Therefore raise yourself now and reap rich fame,
Rule the plentiful realm by defeating your foes!
I myself have doomed them ages ago:
Be thou the mere instrument, Left-handed Archer!”

(The Bhagavad Gita)

Iwill start with the simple and intuitive notion that the past determines the present and the present determines the future. This is as true in Hinduism as it is true in psychoanalysis. The Sanskrit word for time is kala. Time in Hinduism is considered to be cyclical, rather than linear. Time is viewed on a macroscopic cosmo-logical level, consisting of vast cycles that repeat eternally. On the individual level of human existence, however, time functions both linearly and cyclically. Four critical concepts of Hinduism— Samsara, Karma, Dharma and Moksha—introduce us to the concept oftime in Hinduism. These concepts broadly determine Hinduism's existential stance and are the starting point, framework, and context within which a Hindu views, structures, and lives his life. They are both the fundamental presuppositions of Hinduism and the emotional driving force of Hindu religiosity.

 



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