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Wild Thoughts Searching for a Thinker

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Freud, Klein and Bion have provided the most relevant and substantial contributions to psychoanalytical theory and praxis. Klein was very much Freudian and Bion was both. There is undoubtedly a progressive epistemological evolution in their creativity; it will be similar to observe the same phenomenon by changing the objective of a microscope from a lower to a higher resolution power. It will be of lesser advantage for the understanding of the mind, to disregard this analogy and to accept as true that psychoanalysis, like religion, represents different beliefs. There is only one mind, but different viewers. Wild Thoughts Searching for a Thinker is essentially a clinical book that explores the connections between some of Bion's novel theories and those from Classical Psychoanalysis, mainly contributions from Freud, Klein and Winnicott. It also represents a substantial endeavour to make Bion not only more accessible to readers, but also and very important, to see his theories at work, in direct practical use during the here and now interaction throughout the consulting hour. Clinicians and theoreticians interested in Bions work as well as in psychoanalysis in general, will find the original approach used in this book extremely valuable.

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CHAPTER ONE: Murdering the mind. From the perspective of Bion’s container-contained theory

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“Science … commits suicide when it adopts a creed”

(Huxley, 1907)

The need to diminish feelings of persecution contributes to the drive to abstraction in the formulation of scientific communications.

(Bion, 1967, p. 118)

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses And all the king’s men Couldn’t put Humpty Together again.

(Nursery rhyme)

Introduction

**here are “mental confusions” that interfere with and destroy the faculty to think rationally, that hinder the positive T growth of the mind, and that obstruct the capacity to discriminate between reality and phantasy. Bion (1963) described Growth (represented as Y) as a “preconception in search of a realization”. For Bion the tendency of such realizations could be either negative (-Y) if directed towards narcissism, or positive (+Y) if aimed toward “social-ism”. For instance, a nice-looking, intelligent young woman who, as a child, had a surgical intervention to correct a genetic defect around her genital area, was very resentful towards both parents and herself, found her body ugly, and had difficulties in establishing lasting relationships with men. After a year of psychotherapy, she managed to resolve an important confusion between her early traumatic experience and her present situation as an accomplished young woman. As a consequence she now sustains a relationship with a man and feels very fond of him. At a critical moment she had a dream where she was playing Monopoly with her boyfriend’s relatives and was trying very hard to be attentive to the game. She concluded that perhaps she was trying to fit into her friend’s life, and I add that she seems to be seriously taking a chance. She was starting to shift from the vertex of a narcissistic involvement with herself to a more social form of linkage.

 

CHAPTER TWO: The forgotten self. With the use of Bion’s theory of negative links

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What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is?

(Plato)

If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you.

(The Gospel of Thomas: 53)

The false sub-selves

Winnicott polarized between false and true selves. However, in a previous paper (López-Corvo 1996a), I presented the hypothesis that Winnicott’s false self could be considered as containing two false sub-selves, one complying or pleasing, to which I referred as the “complying false-self”, and the other aggressive, which I called the “negativistic false-self”. The latter is often confused with a true self.1

In summary we have: (a) a “complying false self” that attempts to deceive an imaginary castrator projected into the object by providing the object with what he believes the Other wants. This false sub-self is related to early oral fixations; (b) the other negativistic false self is hidden, revengeful, and related to anal-sadistic early object relations (Meltzer, 1966), usually determining certain forms of acting out. This negativistic false self is the complete opposite of the complying false self. Between the two false selves a paranoid-schizoid sort of circularity takes place, in which a great need to comply and deceive induces castration anxiety and fear of fusing with the Other, of just becoming the Other s wish and changing into a lie. This fear increases the need for a negativistic false self as a way of attacking the castrator and providing an identity, even if it is a negative and false one.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Preconceptual traumas and the “internal traumatic object”. From the point of view of Bion’s concept of “caesura”

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“DOCTOR; You see her eyes are open GENTLEWOMAN: Aye, but their sense are shut”

(Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1)

“God is a circle whose circumference is everywhere and whose centre is nowhere”

(Nicholas of Cusa)

In this chapter I will be referring to clinical issues that obstruct the normal process of “mental growth” by hindering the mind’s capacity to reason. Bion (1963) described mental growth (represented by Y) as a “preconception in search of a realization”, where the tendency of such realization could sway like a pendulum, being either negative (-Y) if directed towards narcissism or positive (+Y) if aimed towards “social-ism”. There are certain mechanisms that will result in enhancing while others will deter the process of mental growth. I will now consider those aspects that obstruct growth and which result in murdering of the mind, such as the psychotic part of the personality containing the non-psychotic part, abhorrence of reality identification with inanimate, self-envy mechanisms, and, most of all, splitting and projection of the mind and body as a defence against realization of traumatic events. This last aspect is the central theme of this chapter.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Self envy. From the point of view of “part objects” and “link” theory

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“As a dog was crossing a river with a piece of meat in his mouth, he saw, as he thought, another dog under the water upon the very same adventure. He never considered that the one was only the image of the other; but, out of greediness to get the two, he jumped at the shadow and lost both. One because it had not existed, so he could not get it, the other because the current took it away”

(Aesop: The Dog and his Shadow)

“There are people whose contact with reality presents the most difficulty when that reality is their own mental state”

(Bion)

I

have previously referred to self-envy (López-Corvo, 1992, 1995, 1996b, 1999, 2003) as a condition resulting from an envious interaction between different part objects composing the Oedipus structure. Let us suppose, for instance, that there is an important increment in the amount of envy that a child who is feeling excluded experiences towards his parents, and that this envy is mostly directed to what the child acknowledges as feelings of harmony love, sexuality, creativity, communication, etc., between the couple. As the years go by, these feelings could become idealized and remain in the self as “foreign” elements not completely assimilated by the ego. When this child grows and becomes an adult, just like his parents, the envious element that remains unassimilated inside could again be reactivated, but this time, however, such elements previously envied in his parents are now part of himself.1 This condition is always reflected in the transference as a sustained attack against idealized links between analyst and patient, experienced as a “creative”, “productive”, and “harmonious” analytic couple. This situation could either turn into a negative therapeutic reaction, or induce a premature disruption of treatment.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: “Nameless terror”

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Roland: Seems clear that the attempt [to evoke the memory of the terror] is inherent to avoiding making conscious something that produces fear or terror, and that behind this, the object is nameless. There are many formulations of fear not formulated or ineffable.

(Bion, 1975, p. 77)

Wild or unthought emotions

B

ion’s notion of “nameless terror” represents a certain kind of dreadful, “unremembered memory” related to the ineffable or the thing-in-itself, and should not be confused with other forms of fears, like phobias for instance, that already carry the signature of the unconscious representation of the feared object, which could be eventually named. Nameless terror is mostly related to a state of “mindlessness” resulting from splitting, projection, and murdering of the mind, as I have already described it in Chapter Three.

Freud originally stated that all anxieties are traumatic and become chronic as the result of a state of alertness towards a possible danger continuously fabricated by the mind and related to childhood traumas. He said:

 

CHAPTER SIX: Murdering “gangs” and narcissistic conglomerates. From the point of view of Bion’s saturated-unsaturated theory 91

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An attempt is made to clarify confusions related to the definition and metapsychology of narcissism, following statements made in classical theory in relation to primary and secondary narcissism, and by object relation theory about the intro-jection of ideal and bad objects. Pathological and destructive narcissism is considered following concepts introduced by Rosenfeld in relation to the death instinct, as an internal organization that insistently and relentlessly commits murders of the self. A differentiation between normal and pathological narcissism is attempted. Using these theoretical contributions, a description of what might be considered a “narcissistic unit” or “narcissistic conglomerate” is introduced. Finally, the clinical concept of narcissism is examined from the point of view of Bion’s theories of “narcissism vs. socialism”, “psychotic vs. non-psychotic part of the personality”, as well as “saturated vs. unsaturated”.

Narcissism

A series of misconceptions and misunderstandings have largely contributed to the confusion still present in the psychoanalytical notion of narcissism. There are, since Freud, at least two qualities that define narcissism. One refers to the quality of fusion between different part object representations, as opposed to separation or differentiation: a concept implicit in Freud’s description of primary narcissism; the second and more important one within classical theory refers to the expansive quality induced by the incorporation, within the self, of libido attached to the outside object or object libido, just as it is clinically observed in what Freud described as secondary narcissism. From the point of view of object relations theory, secondary narcissism represents an impossible condition, because the drive-object relationship constitutes an unbreakable unit, meaning that there would never exist a clean cleavage between libido and the cathected object, because there will always subsist a meaningful trace of the original object. Such an idea induced Klein to prefer to rely more on the quality of the object introjected, and to explain the expansive quality observed in what has been described as narcissistic pathology as a consequence of the introjection of the “ideal” object.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Excessive projective identification

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“Struggling against the call to be exactly where the projections bounce back”

(López-Corvo, 2006, this volume)

Introduction

Before attempting an investigation about the concept of projective identification, it would be important to comprehend what Bion implies when he discriminates between “the psychotic and the non-psychotic part of the personality”.1 The two parts, psychotic and non-psychotic, are always present in all individuals regardless of whether they are diagnosed as psychotic (schizophrenic, for instance) or are considered normal. In this sense, the discrimination between the two parts of the personality is based on the “contained-container” theory, in the sense of wondering which part contains which, meaning that there is a quantitative gradient between both parts. In the psychotic individual, for instance, the psychotic part “contains” the non-psychotic, whereas in the “normal” or non-psychotic person, the psychotic part is “contained” by the non-psychotic part. However, the dynamic inside the psychotic part itself, regardless of the diagnosis of the person, is always the same. In other words, what takes place inside the psychotic part of the personality—meaning the defences involved—regardless of the individual’s diagnosis being psychotic or normal, has absolutely the same dynamic; what changes is the relation or the ratio between container and contained.2

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: The relativity of the vertex. From the point of view of a binocular vision

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Introduction

In his work on transformation (1965) Bion presents arguments to explain situations where patients could alter their position in relation to outside objects by changing their view-point as a result of splitting of time and space dimensions. Bion refers to this mechanism as “reversible perspective”, where the patient’s time and space operates in a different dimension to that of the analyst, similar to Rubin’s vase, where you can see either a vase or two faces looking at each other, depending upon what you choose as a figure and what as its background.

Bion also refers to a “binocular vision”, such as, for instance, the capacity to consider the breast and its absence as two different spaces, an attitude possible only when there exists the capacity to symbolize the absent object; because, after all, to observe the absence of the object and to name it at the same time is precisely the result of a binocular vision. Such form of vision is absent in psychotic patients (or, following Bion, in the psychotic part of the personality) because thinking is then dominated by a blind void that Segal (1957) has referred to as the “symbolic equation”. It is also indispensable for the analyst to keep a binocular vision about the session, in relation to transference for instance, with its twofold time component about what has occurred in the past and what is happening now in the session; or in similar terms, between unconscious and consciousness, or between phantasy and reality.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The unconscious. Denouncing consciousness’s fear of truth

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“We are concerned not with what the individual means to say so much as with what he does no intend to say, but does in fact say”

(Bion)

“Le á traduire primordial, nous le nomons: l’ inconscient”

(Laplanche, 1992, p. 139)

An epistemological notion of the unconscious

What exactly is the unconscious made of? According to classical theory the unconscious represents a reservoir of repressed unfulfilled impulses, which are continuously pressing to achieve satisfaction, albeit not always capable of attaining it due to strong rejection from super-ego demands; as a consequence there will be a continuous reappearance of its disguised derivatives. Restricted by a static quality, the unconscious lacks the possibility of reaching consciousness by itself, and will require the help of preconscious mechanisms in order to mutate “thing representations” into “word representations” (Freud, 1915e).

We now seem to know all at once what the difference is between a conscious and an unconscious presentation. The two are not, as we supposed, different registrations of the same content in different psychical localities, nor yet different functional states of cathexis in the same locality; but the conscious presentation comprises the presentation of the thing plus the presentation of the word belonging to it, while the unconscious presentation is the presentation of the thing alone. [ibid., p. 201]

 

CHAPTER TEN: Interpreting or translating the unconscious?

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Introduction

Referring to dream analysis, Meltzer (1983) has questioned the use of “interpretation”, because this term seems to suggest that the analyst has added some meaning of his own; a sort of theoretical sin of which no analyst is ever innocent. “Formulation”, according to him, might be a better choice, because the process of formulation implies the acknowledgement of a transformation, which in dreams, for instance, will imply the change of a visual image into a verbal language. Along the same lines, Webster’s Dictionary defines interpretation as a way “to conceive on the light of an individual belief, judgment or circumstance”. “Formulation”, the word Meltzer suggested, would connote “change from one place, state, form or appearance, to another.” The psychoanalytic act of making conscious the unconscious would imply all of these actions: clarification, formulation, interpretation and translation.

Originally Freud used the word deutung, very close to deutlich, meaning “clarification”, although different from interpretation. Deutung was initially conceived as tramdeutun, meaning “clarification or dream interpretation”, a concept that was already implicit during the time of the cathartic phase, when interpretations, influenced by the dynamic of the steam engine model, were used to induce a “discharge of accumulated libido”, while the symptom would act as a pressure valve. It was an instrumentation close to neurophysiology and to mechanisms originally described in the Project, when the analyst was conceived as not different from a medical doctor, responsible for a symptomatic resolution and a future cure. At the same time, the influence brought to bear by Darwin’s theories made the instinct’s need for an immediate satisfaction the main purpose behind any animal behaviour, including that of humans. In this way, dreams were considered a simple satisfaction of repressed instinctive wishes, or, in other words, its interpretation or traundeutung was given by its deutung (direction or sense), because it would always be known that the meaning of a dream represented the satisfaction of a repressed wish, something that, as a consequence, left “anxiety dreams” without any logical explanation.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The three faces of the preconscious. From the point of view of Bion’s theory of functions

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“Nothing is totally under our control except for our thoughts”

(Descartes, 1614)

The three faces of Amarna

The village of Amarna, some time located between Memphis and Thebes in Middle Egypt, has been lost under the sand of the Sahara desert for the past three thousand years. Early in the 1800s fragments of unknown pottery, beautiful modelled statuettes, and mud walls of buildings began to be found, together with pieces of glassware, cartouches, stone or clay tablets covered with unfamiliar writing, and names of kings never revealed before. Carried by the enthusiasm of tourists and later instigated by Baron Alexander von Humboldt himself, the Germans started excavating the place around the middle of the year of 1800. The fragmentary mutilation of all the sculptures, the systematic suppression of all the names, including those of Akhenaton, Nefertiti, and Tutankhamen from all the walls, graves, and public monuments, induced the reflection that it might have been a methodical aggression directed towards the city, its treasures, and its inhabitants. Amarna had not vanished as other cities from the past had, due to entropy, abandonment, or natural disasters; instead, it was suppressed, totally abolished by men’s unmerciful vengeance and pitiless envy.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Listening to “O”

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“Take, for example, this piece of wax; it is quite fresh, having been but recently taken from the beehive; it has not yet lost the sweetness of the honey it contained; it still retains somewhat of the odor of the flowers from which it was gathered; its color, figure, size, are apparent (to the sight); it is hard, cold, easily handled; and sounds when struck upon with the finger. In fine, all that contributes to make a body as distinctly known as possible, is found in the one before us. But, while I am speaking, let it be placed near the fire—what remained of the taste exhales, the smell evaporates, the color changes, its figure is destroyed, its size increases, it becomes liquid, it grows hot, it can hardly be handled, and, although struck upon, it emits no sound. Does the same wax still remain after this change? … no one doubts it, or judges otherwise. What, then, was it I knew with such distinctness in the piece of wax? … nothing of all that I observed by means of the senses, since all the things that fell under taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing are changed, and yet the same wax remains”

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: O or countertransference?

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“An electron moving between orbits would disappear from one and reappear instantaneously in another without visiting the space between. This idea—the famous quantum leap—is of course utterly strange”

(Bohr, 1913)

“Think, what a testimony of spiritual elevation we might express, if we reveal that we are made of the same material of those we shape”

(Lacan, 1966)

More than one countertransference

As far as I can tell, Bion has not provided a specific and elaborated account on the subject of countertransference, only isolated statements in some of his conferences or perhaps implicit in other contributions. From his experience in groups and later in his seminars in Brazil (1974-1975) and New York (1977), he discriminates between those feelings experienced by analysts towards their patients of which they are conscious and thus are able to use in interpretations, and those feelings of which they are not aware and thus are unable to make use of. In the latter case there is no other alternative but to make these feelings conscious with the use of psychoanalysis. This last condition is what Bion refers to as countertransference:

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Using the Grid

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The more I investigate the Grid (see over), the more I become aware of the presence of a genius. It grants a sense of guidance, support, and strength approximating to what Gaea provided to Anteaus, a structure and conceptualization that carries the competence of clearing the mind. Bion, similar to Pythagoras, attempted to apprehend the two sides of the psyche, on the one hand the noumenon, the intuition or the ineffable, which he has referred to as “O”; and on the other hand, the phenomenon, or the observable fact. Bion tries to portray this in the Grid, perhaps inspired by Mendeleyev’s Periodic Table. The Grid is a true monument to Bion’s greatness, but as a monument can only be looked at and admired, and nothing else.

There are two combined axes, one horizontal, and another vertical, which can be read from left to right and from top to bottom. There are a total of fifty-six squares, eight verticals, and seven horizontals, most of them already filled by Bion, with the exception of a few left to be filled, according to him, “by someone in the future”. The Grid does not represent an indispensable element for the understanding of how the mind works; it stands more as a curiosity, as a brilliant attempt to reticulate what has been said during an analytic session; there is however, a particular issue that I will consider later,1 related to the appraisal of “mental growth”, a concept very much contingent upon the relativity of the observer, which could be measured in a more reasonable fashion if the vertical axis of the Grid is used. There is a common dismissal by analysts and students of Bion towards understanding how the Grid works, perhaps more as a form of resistance than a justified view, because, once its ways and reasoning are properly understood, the Grid becomes an easy and interesting tool to follow. Bion often sustained a sort of ambivalent manner in relation to the Grid, very optimistic at the beginning, but rather pessimistic in later years. In 1974, during a conference in São Paulo, he stated:

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Dreams: stray thoughts in search of a thinker

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“A propos de sommeil, aventure sinistre de tout le soir”

(Baudelaire)

“Dreams and visions are induced in men for their advantage and instruction, and their rules are not general, and this is why they cannot satisfy everybody, although very often, and depending on the moment and the individual, they allow a great variety of interpretations”

(Artemidorus of Daldis, 140 AD)

“You meaner beauties of the night, That poorly satisfy our eyes More by your number than your light You common people of the skies, What are you when the sun shall rise?”

(Sir Henry Wotton, from “Elizabeth of Bohemia”, www.englishverse.com)

Introduction

As a warning to anybody undertaking an evaluation of Freud s monumental contribution to the meaning and significance of dreams, Meltzer (1983), in his book Dream-Life, points out with justice that unless such evaluation starts on firm ground, it faces the risk of not going any considerable distance (p. 11). Facing the possibility of such a downfall and ending saying little, I will attempt to discuss some issues I feel deserve some consideration.

 

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