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A Clinical Application of Bion's Concepts: Analytic Function and the Function of the Analyst

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'In this magisterial work Paulo Sandler continues to distinguish himself as a foremost scholar on the works of Bion. Already well known for his encyclopedic zeal, this present book continues Sandler's tireless search of Bion's contributions by this noteworthy clinical application of Bion's ideas.A major feature of Sandler's approach to studying Bion has been to contextualise the background of Bion's assumptions. In so doing, he extensively investigates the cultural and historical antecedents, especially including the philosophical and scientific points of view. From them Sandler selects Romanticism and its dialectical relationship with the Enlightenment. Among the many characteristics of Romanticism is imagination, at best creative, but also idealisation and hyperbole.Sandler discusses Bion's way of being "scientific", one notable aspect of which is his distinctive use of theories, which he distinguishes from models.Sandler has written another brilliant textbook on Bion's thinking that constitutes a highly useful and practical handbook on the subject.'- From the Preface by James S. Grotstein

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CHAPTER ONE: Introduction

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Agree with the argument or not, it is undeniable that in many quarters some of the theories proposed by Wilfred Bion are felt to be obscure. Most of them were intended to help the analyst’s observation and improve his or her powers of observation, like the theories of alpha function, the realm of Minus, transformations and invariance, and finally the theory of links (Bion, 1962, 1965, 1970). As I wrote elsewhere (Sandler, 2005, 2006), Bion’s contributions to psychoanalytic theory are comparatively few vis-à-vis his theories of observation for use by the practising analyst.

I suppose that some of the difficulties are on two accounts: (i) the integrative, and (ii) the developmental character of Bion’s work. It is a system of interdependent theories of both psychoanalysis and observation of psychoanalysis which function as a whole—like cogs in a car ‘s transmission. They were not presented in a rough and ready way. Rather, they were written in a compact form which evolved through accrued experience. This evolution, like that of Freud or of any branch of science, sprang from clinical facts which until then were not observed, but became observable due to the immediately preceding theoretical achievement.

 

CHAPTER TWO: The realm of Minus and the negative

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Minus in Bion’s parlance is by definition a non-concrete, immaterial realm that complements the positive “senseable” realm of the material reality. Mathematics serves as a model: the negative numbers expanded the perception that the universe of the natural numbers was not the only one that existed. The latter are easily apprehended through the basic senses. In Western civilisation, Parmenides and mainly Plato seem to have been the first to adumbrate this realm in written form. Neo-platonic Hebrew and Christian Cabala dwelt on it. Kant’s revival of Plato’s numinous realm defines it as a negative, a “limiting concept” (Kant, 1781). No serious research about the Minus realm could omit a reference, even just a passing one, to the work of Gottlob Frege. He finally resolved Kant’s ambivalence (pointed out by Hamann and scrutinised from a psychoanalytical viewpoint in Sandler, 2000a), as seen in the Antinomy of Pure Reason, and Hegel’s pregnant hints and ambivalent confusion that elicited a transcendent synthesis (in the movement from thesis to antithesis which is usually called dialectical; again, first pointed out and scrutinised under a psychoanalytic vertex in Sandler, 2003). In brief, Frege seemed to demonstrate (in philosophical terms) that what I call “the realm of Minus” (or “no” ) cannot be equated to denial; in other words, it contemplates the possibilities of impossibility and its propositional content cannot be seen on the same level because—as I suggest—it does not have the same nature as the “Plus realm” , what is affirmative; in other words, what occupies a position in space-time. Therefore, since it indicates “what is not” (an anti-positivism, so to say), it cannot have the properties assigned to what would be the opposite of “what is” . It is ineffable. To my mind, the best way to indicate its nature can be found in music, with what was discovered by some Italian composers and perfected into a climax by Bach: what is known as “counterpoint” .1 Art furnishes a further model:

 

CHAPTER THREE: Clinical sources

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Isuppose that more clinical examples must be given in order to enable one, according one’s own experience, to give meaning to the contrapuntal realm of Minus, and of −L and −H. The examples are also intended to show that the Minus realm, and especially Minus L and Minus K, is begotten by Greed and Envy. I will start with some examples seen from the vertex of Minus L and then proceed to examples seen from the vertex of Minus H because that is more suited to a written exposition. I stress that this schematic approach does not mean that they appear separated in practice.

One observes mothers whose behaviour moves from insensitivity to callousness. In short, the session usually degenerates into a situation of persecutory guilt which is not the manifestation of a real attainment of the depressive position but rather a depression coloured by paranoid feelings. That continues unabated. The analyst is invariably seen as a judge, with the qualities of a wrathful God. In minus Hate, Hate is not the dominant instinct.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: The hypothesis: a versus link

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Our question posed above was: what would be the link when Minus K is at work with the function of a transformation? If this link can be posited at all, is there any way to indicate in a synthetic way the simultaneous presence of both positive K, L, H, PS↔D, and their negative counterparts? Adding this to the incompleteness of Bion’s original descriptions, acknowledged by himself in his characteristically scientific posture, we see that his theory allows or even begs for a fuller comprehension and expansion.

When Minus K is functioning as a transformation, is it useful to carry on regarding it as also functioning as a link may be confusing both theoretically and practically to regard it as functioning both as a link and as a transformation, at least simultaneously. This leaves our earlier question unanswered: if it is true that one cannot manage some clinical situations with the aid of the theories that depict just Love and Hate, what would be the link when Minus K is at work as a transformation? Or, conversely, when Minus K is functioning as a transformation, I found it useful to hypothesise that a destructive link other than Hate may underlie the situation.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Bion’s Trilogy and its reception

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… you may be accused of insanity. Should I then be tough and resilient enough to be regarded and treated as insane while being sane? If so, it is not surprising that psychoanalysts are, almost as a function of being analysts, supposed to qualify for being insane and called such. It is part of the price they have to pay for being psychoanalysts.

(Bion, 1975, p. 113)

An analyst is not doing his job if he investigates something because it is pleasurable or profitable … anyone who is not afraid when he is engaged on psychoanalysis is either not doing his job or is unfitted for it.

(Bion, 1979, p. 516–7)

SHERLOCK … You heard that fellow Bion? Nobody has ever heard of him or of Psychoanalysis. He thinks it is real, but that his colleagues are engaged in an activity which is a more or less ingenious manipulation of symbols. There is something in what he says. There is a failure to understand that any definition must deny a previous truth as well as carry an unsaturated component.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Bion’s contributions to the formulation of analytic function

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Form follows function.

(Louis Sullivan, after Schopenhauer; adopted
as a fundamental principle of Modernist architecture)

Psychoanalysis is concerned with love as an aspect of mental development and the analyst must consider the maturity of love and “greatness” in relation to maturity.

(Bion, 1965, p. 74)

We consider the attempt to improve humans both worthwhile and urgent.

(Bion, 1979, p. 528)

Freud dwelt on the biological science of nature which is the foundation of psychoanalysis. Attention to these scientific foundations (which gave analysis its fundamental nature, that is, facts as they are, like any science) dwindled until it reached oblivion after Freud’s death. One manifestation which may serve as a proof of that statement is the quantity of printed communication through books and papers in specialised periodicals. We live in times where Kuhn’s “peer groups” still rule, with the political leanings of ruling administrative minorities clothed in scientific directions.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: An analytic “compass” and “sextant”

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P.A. I find it useful to make a distinction between meaning and fact. “Facts” are the name we give to any collection of constantly conjoined experiences which we felt temporarily have a meaning; then we consider we have discovered a “fact” .

(Bion, 1979, p. 235–6)

P.A. Being aware of facts has, I am sure, had an effect on me analogous to that of food on my physique.

(Bion, 1979, p. 330)

Psychoanalysis tells you nothing; it is an instrument, like the blind man’s stick, that extends the power to gather information. The analyst uses it to gather a selected kind of information: the analysand uses it to gather material that he can use (1) for purposes of imitation, (2) to learn the analyst’s philosophy, (3) to learn how to conduct his life in a socially acceptable manner, and (4) to become acquainted with his Self. Although it is true that it is not his intention to satisfy (1), (2) and (3), or any other desire other than (4), it is impossible to make any statement that gratifies only (4) because the lack of precision of spontaneous English speech. The analyst can try not to pollute his interpretation on the one hand, or to speak as if he were a living computer, stranger to human heartedness, or the life that the rest of our human companions are familiar with as members of our universe. Certain words and phrases appear to be necessary for the communication of “happenings” recurring in that part of human experience with which I am most familiar, and which happens also to be that part of my life that is my profession—what, for the lack of power to describe adequately, I call “mental suffering” .

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: “Binocular vision” and the practice of psychoanalysis

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One thought alone occupies us; we cannot think of two things at the same time. This is lucky for us according to the world, not according to God.

(Pascal, Pensées, p. 145)1

P.A. “Certainty” is a part of life as is “uncertainty” . We cannot avoid either; they are opposite poles of the same feeling. I do not know what name to give to the “same feeling” —that is, the feeling of which they are opposite poles. Perhaps if I were a poet or philosopher I could. It does not help that I am thought to be a psychoanalyst because that is my profession.

(Bion, 1979, p. 513)

The previous chapter suggested a metaphor and an analogy with a compass and a sextant to contribute to the one and only practical application of psychoanalysis: attempts towards the apprehension of both mental functioning and its entropic disturbances. This apprehension, which right from its start includes the discipline of treating formal appearances as just a provisional (and then disposable) step towards attaining underlying truths, resorts to intuition and, as such, empirical practice. It has some similarities to learning to play a musical instrument. It includes initial disorienta-tion and lack of knowledge; one may find it useful to use “orientation tools” . These are the purpose of this chapter and its analogies and metaphors, drawn from experience.

 

CHAPTER NINE: “Geography” to detect triadic syndromes

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Psychoanalysis tells you nothing; it is an instrument, like the blind man’s stick, that extends the power to gather information.

(Bion, 1958–1979, p. 361)

Melanie Klein’s proposed technique expanded Freud’s observations about the unconscious that may, analogically speaking, be used as if it was a kind of “geography” to orientate the analyst’s interpretation. The space-time realm of the mind is viewed as defences, anxiety, and unconscious phantasies. The following scheme tries to construct a kind of geography using Klein’s proposition and Bion’s suggestion as another attempt to improve the orientation, intended eventually to be used as an amendment to the “compass” and the “sextant” , and also with the “binocular view” , to include “depth” —an inescapable compound of psychoanalysis. Perhaps a better term, though not yet existing, but more in agreement with our times, could be “ecography” : psychoanalysts could well be regarded as the peculiar forerunners of Ecology, in its human manifestations and interest; respect for the basic natural and living events was and is its inborn feature. The orientation factor which underlies a utility of the analytic function as an expression of psychoanalytic nuclei may be indicated, however clumsily, by the term “geography” . Those features are also expanded in Part I of this volume, and will be further discussed in Volume 3.

 

CHAPTER TEN: An anti-alpha function

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If we look at unconscious wishes reduced to their most fundamental and truest shape, we shall have to conclude no doubt, that psychical reality is a particular form of existence not to be confused with material reality.

(Freud, 1900, p. 620)

The theory of functions and alpha function are not a part of psychoanalytic theory. They are working tools for the practising psychoanalyst to ease problems of thinking about something that is unknown.

(Bion, 1962, p. 89)

We do not know what is concerned in the transformation from inanimate to animate though we know, or think we know, something of the change from animate to inanimate.

(Bion, 1970, p. 129)

The distinction between two kinds of “existence” was seminal to the development of key psychoanalytic concepts, for example, transference: Freud regarded it as an unreal fact that nevertheless seemed materially factual to the patient (Freud, 1912, p. 108.) Freud has been accused of having little or no experience with psychotics. Nevertheless, his written contributions indicate that he was quite able to describe precisely the psychotic features of the so-called normal mind. In the observation just quoted, Freud illuminated hallucination and hallucinosis. Bion was a careful reader of Freud; this aspect, among many others, did not pass unnoticed by him. From this avenue opened by Freud—among so many others still unexplored—Bion made one of his expansions, with a dual-track theory of observation in psychoanalysis (Grotstein, 1981), under the names “alpha function” (Bion, 1961, 1962; reviewed in Sandler, 2005) and “transformations in hallucinosis” . Both are factors in the proposed function, an expansion of the model of alpha function, thereby described.

 

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