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Brazilian Lectures: 1973, Sao Paulo; 1974, Rio de Janeiro/Sao Paulo

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These lectures, delivered in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro during 1973 and 1974, reveal Bion in his most vital and challenging mode both in respect of the material he presents, and in his responses to the questions from his audience.

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TWO

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The sign K (é) denotes a complex idea, or series of ideas, in its most simple and uncomplicated form. Its most extended form suffers from requiring the whole of psycho-analysis, past, present and future, for its expression and elucidation. Its most economical formulation is incomprehensible without experience. In this way it is analogous to mathematical signs such as,

to represent a four-dimensional world of three space coordinates, and a fourth coordinate denoting time.

K represents a constant, or variant. é is an unknown component, a variable, an unconscious which remains unconscious, a source of speculation and disturbance. Variables depend on vertices such as religious, aesthetic and scientific, often represented in the world of reality by persons and their points of view.

Perhaps you wonder why I do not say what I mean in a way that you could understand. You may be thinking, on the other hand, ‘What about it? I know all this already—I can’t waste my time on it’. But if we go on together I shall try talking in borrowed fables, verbal formulations of visual images, stories like that of Oedipus, of the Tower of Babel, or the Garden of Eden. All these are reminiscent of ideogrammatic speech. They are open to the objection that they are easy to grasp, being dominated by the ocular senses and distorted accordingly. They are both easily comprehensible and false. This is probably one of the components of Plato’s hostility to the poet. I am now using the history of philosophy to tell a story. I can imagine that one of the grievances held against Socrates was that he was corrupting the youth by mobilizing visual imagery or poetry, both of which are powerfully seductive. Whether it is true I do not know, but it serves my purpose to construct the story as a method of making relatively simple something that I want to convey. I may be able to make it clearer while at the same time being misleading. Alternatively, I can resort to something which is so sophisticated that it has very little or no feeling; in that case the communication will be so theoretical (it may be true) that it will be incomprehensible. So, at the two extremes, I can either be comprehensible and misleading, or truthful and incomprehensible. But while it is possible, at a scientific meeting, to make an exaggerated statement of this kind, it is not like real life; the analyst should be talking about real life. No interpretation is any good unless it is reminiscent of real life.

 

SIX

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If psycho-analysis is to survive and develop, there has to be a contact with the reality with which we deal.That is why the practice of psychoanaysis is dependent on the analyst and the analysand being able to contact psycho-analytic facts. When we talk about ‘psycho-analytic facts’, that is itself a theory; it is a definitory hypothesis and practice depends on being able to recognize what kind of event falls into the category of Tact’. Unfortunately, all I can do here is to mention further theories, but in the practice of analysis carried on in the consulting room, there is a chance of being able to say, ‘That is what I call a fact’, or, ‘That is what I mean when I say ”anxiety”’, or, ‘That is what I would call ”sex”’. The reply can be: What about it? We all know that’, or, ‘What about it? It’s nonsense—typical of psycho-analysts to say it’s sex’. This situation can arise over and over again because we have to use words like hate, envy, jealousy, anxiety and it is difficult to say ‘I don’t really mean what you mean when I say ”envy” or ”sex”’. It is relatively easy to talk about physical facts such as the resemblance of the baby’s hand to that of the adult. But it is not so easy when it comes to mental facts like the feelings of the baby which grow up into the feelings of a man or woman. In the consulting room it is easier, because it is possible to say, What you have just said’, or ‘What you have just done is what I call sex’, or, That which you have just expressed in ordinary language is what I call evidence of envy’. The advantage of being able to do that is that the analysand can say, 1 don’t agree with you’, or, ‘I agree with you’, or, 1 think I see what you mean’. One could say, Tou don’t deny this, but you can’t confirm that what I have said is right. Perhaps later on something will happen which may show that we are both right about this, or perhaps that we are both mistaken.’

 

SEVEN

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Q.I would like to hear you speak about the realistic aspect of projective identification in relation to the mother with the baby.

B. The problem is how to formulate verbally what is a visual image—the mother and the baby. One of the advantages of such a visual image is that it is relatively simple and not as complicated as trying to trace the counterpart in the lives and mentalities of adults. Taking this simpler formulation, let us imagine that the baby is very upset and feels afraid of an impending disaster like dying, which it expresses by crying. That kind of language may be both comprehensible and disturbing to the mother who reacts by expressing anxiety—T don’t know what’s the matter with the child!’ The infant feels the mother’s anxiety and impatience and is compelled to take its own anxiety back again. Contrast this with a different situation. Suppose the mother picks up the baby and comforts it, is not at all disorganized or distressed, but makes some soothing response. The distressed infant can feel that, by its screams or yells, it has expelled those feelings of impending disaster into the mother. The mother’s response can be felt to detoxicate the evacuation of the infant; the sense of impending disaster is modified by the mother’s reaction and can then be taken back into itself by the baby. Having got rid of a sense of impending disaster, the infant gets back something which is far more tolerable. Susan Isaacs has described a situation in which the baby could be heard saying something like ‘oo el, oo el’, which the mother recognized was an imitation of herself saying Veil, well’. In that way the infant was able to feel comforted by a good mother inside and could make reassuring, comforting noises to itself exactly as if the mother was there all the time.

 

EIGHT

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QI would like to hear your views about the following. One group of analysts has a common medical vertex # related to certain ideas about illness, pathology, etiology, etc. Another group recognizes other vertices, such as the desire to earn money, to have power, to educate, to influence, to apply psycho-analysis to the individual or to groups. These form groups which are related and give rise to tensions in the practice of analysis when seen as a whole.

B. One fundamental matter with which we are all concerned is tension. Sometimes there can be so little tension between two people that they fail to stimulate each other at all. At the other extreme, the differences in outlook or temperament are so great that no discussion is possible. The question is, can the society or group or pair find the happy mean which is tense enough to stimulate but belongs to neither extreme, either lack of tension or too much? Can a nation achieve both sufficient homogeneity and sufficient tension?

This problem applies also to the categories of science and religion. How is a proper balance to be achieved between a scientific vertex which could be said to be devoted to truth or the facts, and a religious vertex which could equally be said to be devoted to truth? Similarly, the sincere artist is also concerned to depict truth. If Vermeer can paint the little street in Delft, and if people can look at it, then they will never see a street in the same way again. The painter has brought about a change in the individual which makes it possible for him to see a truth that he has never seen before. It would seem absurd if the tension between these three groups—science, religion and art—which are all fundamentally devoted to the truth, was either so slack or so tense that they were unable to further the aim of truth.

 

FOUR

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I want to discuss something which seems to be far removed from the topics with which we are concerned. In recent years there has been a mechanical development in astronomy analogous to the discovery of the telescope. Hitherto astronomy has been limited by what can be seen by the visual apparatus of the human being when extended by powerful instruments like the two-hundred-inch reflector at Palomar. It has now been further extended by the discovery of radio astronomy. Radio astronomers have discovered what they call ‘black holes’ in the spatial counterpart of the astronomical field; they believe that the ‘black hole’ is the space where a star has become so concentrated that it has fallen in on itself—it has collapsed. Where there used to be a star there is now a ‘black hole’ which, they suspect, is the source of immense power.

I am familiar with a psycho-analytic theory of the human mind which sounds like the astronomical theory of the ‘black hole’—as far as I can understand astronomical formulation. Why should a psycho-analyst invent a theory to explain a mental phenomenon and, independently, the astronomers elaborate a similar theory about what they think is a black hole in astronomical space? Which is causing which? Is this some peculiarity of the human mind which projects it up into space, or is this something real in space from which derives this idea of space in the mind itself? Perhaps someone may have time and the inclination to investigate this Tblack hole’. Of course, the investigation might result in a negative discovery, a discovery which made it unnecessary to look further; or perhaps psycho-analysts have already suspected a peculiarity about the human mind, and if their suspicion is correct it will lead to still further psycho-analytic investigation and theories. I have used this idea of modern cosmology as a model for psycho-analysis, but I would also use psycho-analysis as the starting point of an investigation of the human mind.

 

SIX

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Democritus of Abdera first put forward the theory that the brain had something to do with thought. Even today, some two thousand years later, we are still in a rudimentary stage of knowledge of the functions of the central nervous system. There are extensive accumulations of knowledge and experience of the anatomy and physiology of the brain. It is hard to say, however, what are the anatomical or physiological structures of the mind— assuming there is one—or what relation exists between the mind and the central nervous system. For example, has the sympathetic system, or the para-sympathetic system, anything to do with the mind or the personality? Is the mind (a theoretical concept) as important as the anatomical and physiological central nervous system?

As psycho-analysts we are concerned with trying to formulate why, and in what way, we think the ‘mind’ important. We assume that the vast amount of psycho-analytic literature is a product of the mind, a way of delineating the mind as a reality, as the reality that corresponds to the theory that there is such a thing as a mind or personality. One might argue that if there is a mind then it should be possible to find some event which could be regarded as the product of the mind, a result of the existence of a mind. Suppose that the psychotic person could produce some physical representation, would that representation betray the presence or the nature of that particular kind of mind? Would pictures drawn by a psychotic all betray a similarity so that if one looked at hundreds of pictures one would say, ‘Yes, I can put fifty, sixty, eighty of these drawings together and I think they would all of them show certain characteristics’? And if I could interpret what is the pattern of those characteristics, then I would discover that they were all the product of a certain kind of mind. Criminologists are confident that finger prints provide a means for identification of a physical being. They can compare, apparently to their satisfaction, the number of points which have to correspond to identify the one print with another. We have no similar scheme by which we can compare one mind with another. This is so even in what appears to be such a gross difference as might exist between male and female.

 

EIGHT

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The confusion which I described in lecture seven is such a prominent feature of human activity that we shall have to discuss the matter further. First, we must beware the danger of prematurely seeking a solution which would remove from discussion what may well be an essential feature of human mental activity. The discussion is not intended to terminate, but to illuminate the object of the discussion. As an analogy, it would be dangerous to substitute a portrait for the person portrayed.

The situation I want to describe, using the ordinary time-scale of weeks, months and years, is somewhere between the ages of sixteen or seventeen and twenty-three or twenty-four: Putting it in more pictorial and less mathematical terms, the period of adolescence. But the term ‘period’ falsifies the situation by simplifying it. I am trying to consider a state of mind which is in no way pathological, in no way diseased, and in no sense stable, although disease and pathological events may be a part of the ‘phase’ studied. I can imagine that a time may soon come when there will be no general psycho-analysts, only specialists in some particular aspect of psycho-analysis, such as particular phases to which particular psycho-analysts are appointed. But to use these categories and fail to observe that they are related to the limitations of the human mind, and not to the limits of the subject studied, contributes added confusion to the confused situation. This is particularly so when we have to study the human personality. Analogies taken from anatomy and physiology may illuminate, but cease to do so if their character is not observed.

 

NINE

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Q. Why is so much emphasis laid on the analysis of envy as if this were the earliest anti-life emotion; before envy made its deadly appearance in human life we had been sentenced to death for pride. If it is pride that is the basis of the extravagant and undisciplined desire for spiritual possession— and this desire is to be like God—why do we not look into the content of idealization which pride seems to be? Why do we omit to analyse boasting and vanity, described as two of the twelve degrees of pride?

B. I feel that the question itself depends on a certain cultural procedure about which I am doubtful. It seems to belong to the domain of a culture in which things have a beginning and a middle and an end; and an essential part of the same culture is a narrative account which also has a beginning and a middle and an end. I think it serves a purpose; indeed, we still talk a language belonging to the same kind of domain of verbal expression. But suppose one encounters some quite different form of expression. One could call it, say, the form of expression which is common to a Chinese way of verbalization using ideographs expressing ideas by graphic description. The direction from bottom to top, or from right to left, may be suitable for a mode of thinking which is fundamentally different from ours, but it becomes difficult to communicate when we are talking the language from top to bottom, or from left to right—or from pride to envy, or envy to pride, or sex to rivalry. In practical analysis the analyst may see which comes first—unless, of course, we defer to reality and wish to express an order, if there is one, which is general. There are disciplines which have satisfied themselves of the order. In the practice of psycho-analysis we are concerned with finding out. But the whole question of logical thought has to be revised. In so far as we are still learning, what we know is open to revision. For example, one can say today that it is an erroneous idea to imagine that the sun goes round the earth, but it was ‘correct’ once.

 

ONE

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The urgency of our work forces us to discriminate. We therefore have to consider only such topics as appear to be most economically relevant. Our problems more than keep pace with such progress or advances as we make. If one tries to match oneself against these problems a critical situation becomes more and more critical faster than we are able to develop our techniques and our ability to deal with it. We need some quick and efficient method of recording what we do—assuming that past experience would add to our store of wisdom. Not so many years ago people who wanted analysis seemed to have plenty of time and money with which to meet the requirement of the situation. Today even governments of states are confronted with problems which are beyond their control, or their capacity. Consider something which was once regarded as a simple matter of mechanisms of exchange and economics: when I was a small boy I once discovered a coin in one of my pockets. I had no idea that I was so fabulously wealthy—it not only made my day for me, but the next day too. Nowadays we feel well off at one moment; at the next our valuables have seeped away from our ‘store’. It appears that even states experience this descent from affluence to poverty.

 

TWO

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One technical term which is often used, and probably abused, is ‘counter-transference’. It is a term which should apply to the unconsciously motivated feeling which the analyst is having about the analysand in the analytic situation. The term should be correctly used, as should all terms used by the psycho-analyst.This is not a pedantic matter; it is dictated by the fact that our chosen tools, as it were, are words. If we use them wrongly we soon find ourselves in the position of a sculptor using a blunt instrument.

Someone mentioned to me a boy patient who ‘doodled’ on the table as if he were writing or drawing. The analyst might find it worth while doing something of this kind on paper dating it, say, April 15th, and putting it aside. Then at a later date, say, May 1st, instead of looking at notes made in a more conventional manner, one could write down one’s interpretations of the squiggles or marks made on April 15th. In that way one can make use of one’s conscious activities of May 1st to interpret the unconscious productions of April 15th. Drawing upon his own conscious and unconscious, the analyst would not be confusing two different analytic procedures; they are both recognized frames of mind and there is, therefore, a technical disciplinary framework.

 

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