The Inner World and Joan Riviere: Collected Papers 1929 - 1958

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Although best known as a disseminator of Freudian and Kleinian ideas, Joan Riviere also contributed important and original material to the body of psychoanalytic literature. This volume presents some of this material and highlights the importance of Riviere's contribution. With a foreword by Hanna Segal.

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Joan Riviere: Her life and work

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Athol Hughes

Joan Riviere, colleague of Melanie Klein and strong supporter of her and her ideas, was also the most articulate of Klein’s contemporary exponents, expressing ideas in a graceful and polished form. In addition to being able to interpret the ideas of others with elegance, Joan Riviere’s own papers contain original observations and original ideas. She is also known for her fluent and lucid translations of Freud’s writings. She considered that translation gave her ‘an acute sensitivity about the reader’s point of view’. She was a member of the British Psycho-Analytical Society from its inception until her death in 1962, and she played a prominent part in many aspects of its life.

She was born 28 June 1883 in Brighton, Sussex, the eldest surviving child of Hugh John Verrall and his wife Anna; she was christened Joan Hodgson Verrall. Her parents had had a son who died a few hours after his birth on 9 July 1882. A second daughter, Mary, called Molly, and a son, Hugh Cuthbert, were born two and four years after Joan. Joan’s only child, Diana Riviere, remembered with affection her aunt, Molly, and the part she played in her own upbringing. I am indebted to Miss Diana Riviere for much of the information about her mother’s early life. (Miss Riviere died in December, 1989, while this biographical chapter was still unfinished. She was 81 years of age.)

 

CHAPTER ONE: Early short papers

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The vignettes contained in Three notes’ were Joan Riviere’s first publications of a psychoanalytic nature. They show her contact with and understanding of the child in the three adult patients of whom she writes. They were published in the first volume of the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis.

Joan Riviere’s observations in The castration complex in a child’ and ‘Magical regeneration by dancing’ concerning phantasies of two young children of whom she had heard or observed herself also give clear indications of her interest in and understanding of children’s inner life.

The sixth entry among these early short papers was found recently and is included here since it shows how, even long before she presented public lectures on psychoanalysis with Melanie Klein in 1936, Joan Riviere was able to express complex psychoanalytic ideas in a simple, direct way that would find a sympathetic audience in the general public. Although it is undated, the illustrations on the reverse side of the paper indicate that it would have been published in approximately 1921 in a Women’s Supplement. It describes the relationship between childhood wishes and adult dream life.

 

A castration symbol

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The duplicating of an object in dreams is known to analysts as a representation (by means of an opposite idea) of its absence. It occurs particularly in reference to castration ideas and with penis symbols. The following instance of this mechanism coming up in a phantasy may point to a possible second motivation by which this form of representation comes to be used (the first being the characteristic unconscious one of representation by opposites).

A young obsessional girl said one day during analysis, pointing to the pattern on a curtain near her: ‘Do you see that thing hanging down like a little seal on a man’s watch-chain? I thought of it tied on to your husband’s penis, as if he had two penises; and then I thought the seal would rub against his penis and bruise it, and you would kiss the bruise, and his penis would be all bloody and mangled, and your lips would be covered with the blood.’ Unconscious phantasies of castrating a man and of becoming pregnant by biting off a penis were beginning to come out in projection on to the analyst. Rubbing was an important symptom in the neurosis (washing mania).

 

CHAPTER TWO: The beauty of translation

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Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego by Sigmund Freud (1921c) was reviewed in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis by S. Ferenczi and G. Roheim; Joan Riviere wrote a short, succint account of the translation, which had been made by James Strachey. She begins with some comments about the lack of intelligibility of the translations that had been made of Freud’s writings to date and that the recent war had prevented him from realizing these deficiencies.

She outlines incisively the difficulties of rendering the language of psychoanalysis—of the emotions—into an English that, apart from poetry, lacks a relevant vocabulary, and she speaks of the need for an accepted uniformity in the use of psychoanalytical terms. A clear and complete interpretation of the writer’s thought, free from ‘reminiscence of the original wording, has a beauty of its own’, she says, and ‘this Mr. Strachey had achieved most remarkably’.

Students of psycho-analysis who have not been able to read the works of Freud in the original, and have endeavoured to acquire some knowledge of his discoveries from the only translations available until recently, will feel a debt of gratitude to Mr. Strachey. Intelligibility in their writing is not required only of translators, but it is a consideration that ought to rank first in importance with them, and it is one that appears to have been neglected beyond all extenuation by those who had the privilege of first introducing so much of Freud’s work to the English-speaking public. Until recently, the war prevented any realization by Freud himself of the defects in the form in which his work had appeared to a great number of his readers, and efforts are now being made to improve matters in future. The fortunate circumstance that Mr. Strachey, who was lately studying with Freud, was willing to undertake the translation of one of the recent books, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (Freud, 1921c), leads us to hope that the high standard it sets may be maintained in further publications.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Four uncompromising book reviews

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Only in considering the first of these four books has Joan Riviere anything positive to say. Psychoanalysis had relatively recently attained public and medical attention, so it is understandable that it was distressing to those who were struggling to help it attain recognition as a science and a profession to have to deal with books that professed to be psychoanalytical but contained, as she says, ‘pernicious nonsense’. To the first she gives some faint praise for the author’s efforts to understand the complexities of the technique of psychoanalysis. Her assessment of the other three books shows her impatience with those who write on psychoanalysis in total ignorance. She is wittily scathing in her attacks on the authors who, as she says of Valentine, having heard and read little of psychoanalysis, find it ‘disagreeable and disquieting’; she suggests that readers with the same views may be soothed by the vagueness and prevarications of these authors.

Riviere shows her concern that the deficiencies that characterize these ‘little manuals on psycho-analysis’ (that ‘fall from the press like leaves in autumn’) should be made known. Her reviews belong to the history of psychoanalysis; it was a time when many were taking up its cause, sometimes out of misguided confusion, and it was important then that they be assessed with the wit and wisdom that Joan Riviere could bring to bear.

 

Review of F. Alvah Parsons, The Psychology of Dress

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A review of this book has really no place in this journal. The book is in effect a description of clothes and costume in the upper classes from mediaeval times to the present day, limited almost entirely to Western Europe. In a disarming preface the author, who is president of the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, disclaims any attempt at a history of costume or at ‘a technical psychological treatment’ of the subject. His title is therefore misleading. The quality of the psychology in the book may be gathered from the letterpress under the illustrations, of which the following are examples:

‘Our modern young women may find solace in Queen Victoria’s attempt to cover her ears.’

‘It was not given to the ladies to exploit the new and less autocratic fashion of dress, but it was arrested by the Empire.’

The author’s style is not adapted to the serious student, whether of costume or of psychology. The book is well produced, and as a popular work has its attractions. Its 150 full-page photographic illustrations, taken from paintings, portraits, and engravings, many of which are beautiful, have great interest, though this would have been increased by information concerning the title, creator, and present location of the originals.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Polemics

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This is Joan Riviere’s contribution to a symposium held before the British Psycho-Analytical Society in London, May 1927, in which Melanie Klein and four supporters (Ernest Jones, Edward Glover, Joan Riviere and M. N. Searl) replied to criticisms voiced by Anna Freud in a book Introduction to the Technique of Child Analysis, that she made from her lecture notes and published in Vienna in 1927. She used it ‘to bring the differences between her own approach and Melanie Klein’s into very stark light’ (Young-Bruehl, 1988). These differences were fundamental and concerned with the timing of the development of the superego and the child’s relationship to the parents of its internal world.

In her paper Riviere supports Klein’s theory of the early development of the superego and suggests a connection between the strength of the superego and deprivation. She argues against Anna Freud’s contention that the superego in the child is too little developed to restrain him from acting out when its roots are analysed. To Riviere the severity of the superego is modified by the analysis of anxiety and guilt, and the bitterness of frustration is thereby better tolerated; she shows how anxiety, guilt, and frustration all contribute to superego excesses. Riviere attributes ‘little importance to the adult’s conscious wish for cure’ and considers the differences in the attitudes of adults and children towards making the unconscious, conscious, in analyses are more apparent than real. The child’s transference to the analyst is similar to that of the adult patient, and the negative aspects of the transference need to be analysed in children as they are in adult patients.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Defensive femininity

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Joan Riviere’s creativity is evinced in this paper. She demonstrates with convincing clinical material a fraudulent femininity in a certain type of woman, not overtly homosexual, but not fully heterosexual. This bisexual woman hides a wish for masculinity behind a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and the retribution she fears from both men and women.

Riviere traces the roots of the homosexual development in women to frustration during sucking or weaning which gives rise to intense sadism towards both parents, particularly the mother. This results, as Klein reports in her paper ‘Early stages of the Oedipus conflict’ (1928), in an overpowering fear of her mother and consequent need to placate her.

This paper has been of interest to those who espouse a feminist cause. Stephen Heath, in his article, Moan Riviere and the masquerade’, in the book Formation of Fantasy (1986), quotes Riviere’s paper to substantiate his contention that sexual identity in women is precarious. However, he does not seem to see that the paper is exclusively about a certain group of women, neither clearly homosexual nor clearly heterosexual, in whom femininity is a masquerade. Riviere gave a broader understanding of the complexities of women’s sexual development in the paper she presented three years later, ‘Jealousy as a mechanism of defence’.

 

CHAPTER SIX: Possibly the first contribution concerning envy of the primal scene

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Riviere makes an original contribution here in understanding and demonstrating with remarkable clarity that it is oral envy that leads the morbidly jealous woman to search for unattainable love and to feel deprived. Envious attacks on the parents of the inner world account for the ‘acute and desperate sense of lack and loss, of dire need, of emptiness and desolation felt by the jealous one of a triangle’. Joan Riviere’s elaboration of envious spoiling that underlies seeming oedipal jealousy paves the way for Melanie Klein’s development of that theme in 1957 when she publishes Envy and Gratitude and describes the influence of envy and gratitude on the earliest object relations and on character formation, as well as their effects as seen in the negative therapeutic reaction and in the outcome of psychoanalytical interventions.

A type of jealousy which is not referred to in psycho-analytic literature first came under my observation in a marked form in one individual; when it had been elucidated by analysis, the now familiar mechanism could be seen, to a minor and hence less noticeable extent, at work in other cases, suggesting some conclusions of general validity.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Freud in the 1930s

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This paper is more than a book review-it is a lucid and incisive appreciation of Freud’s thinking as he supplements theories that he had presented in his original Introductory Lectures (1916-17 [1915-17]). Joan Riviere shows once again her acute sensitivity to Freud’s meaning and message, as well as her admiration for him and his work: Freud tells us repeatedly that none of his ideas claims to provide a final solution—not to anxiety, not to self-destructiveness, nor to the formation of the superego. She notes ambiguities and discrepancies in some of his hypotheses, ambiguities and discrepancies that he was the first to acknowledge. She points out, for instance, that in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930a [1929]), published three years earlier, Freud relates the severity of the superego to the individual’s own aggressiveness and here that aspect of its organization has hardly a mention. She also comments that it is difficult to see that ‘internal mental conflict does not arise in the child until the passing of the Oedipus complex’ and regrets that he does not accept the evidence concerning pregenital stages which confirm, extend and amplify his own hypotheses.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Those wrecked by success

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This is Joan Riviere’s most important and original contribution to psychoanalytical theory and practice. In it Riviere addresses the problem of certain types of patients who respond to improvement in analysis by becoming worse. Freud, in his discussion of the phenomenon in The Ego and the Id (1923b), considers that patients who become worse as a consequence of an improvement in analysis are narcissistic, and he implies that they are unanalysable. He attributes the inability to make use of the analysis to a deep sense of guilt that does not allow for the pleasures of improvement. Here Riviere discusses Freud’s point of view and shows that he considers that such patients must somewhere have the capacity to be analysed or he would not devote eighteen pages in The Ego and the Id to the phenomenon. She goes on to show the need to attend to these patients’ inner world of object relation and most particularly to the anxieties that underly their relationships,

Klein’s paper ‘A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states’ (1935) of the year before had demonstrated that the need to work through the depressive position imposes tremendous strains on the individual as he integrates loving and hating feelings towards the same object. Riviere sees this as the task from which the patients who show a negative therapeutic reaction are fleeing. They show a manic denial of a terror they fear, the depression that would overwhelm them. There is no better description of depression than the one given here. To read it is to understand the most powerful fears: the patient’s unbearable pain and guilt, his conviction that he needs to sacrifice his life for his objects, that cure will lead irrefutably to his death. Manic omnipotence masks such fears, and the persecutory component in the depression of patients who suffer the negative therapeutic reaction is tyrannically in evidence.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Freud’s autobiography

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Joan Riviere reminds the reader of her review that Freud’s Autobiographical Study (1925d [1924]) was written in 1925, when Freud was nearly seventy. It was a contribution to a series of studies of leading medical authorities of the time and is more an account of the history of psycho-analysis than it is of Freud’s life. Since the history of psycho-analysis is the story of Freud’s life, it is an autobiography. All the milestones in the stages of his discovery of psychic reality, the reality of the inner world, are given: his overcoming the confusion induced by the abandonment of the seduction theory, his courage in advancing his understanding of what he observes, are all clearly documented in this review.

Riviere expresses her admiration for Freud’s ability to tolerate uncertainty in his investigations of the human condition— studying first the individual, and then, as he grew older, in studying the expression of the same dynamics apparent in various cultures. She speculates about what it is that allowed him to ‘force a breach in barriers that had never before been pierced’. After speaking of character traits that balance and complement his gifts, she comes to the conclusion that perhaps it is his powers of adaptation, his ability to endure loss and bear frustration for the sake of greater gain, that allow him to reconcile the subjective experiences of men’s minds with the external reality of their lives. Through that process ‘he discovers a unity in human life’. Her incisive exposition allows one to see Freud’s contributions in a new light and to appreciate more clearly his gifts to us all.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Public lectures

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Joan Riviere and Melanie Klein gave public lectures in 1936 under the title, The emotional life of civilized men and women. Klein’s contribution was called ‘Love, guilt and reparation’, while Riviere spoke on ‘Hate, greed and aggression’. Although the two contributors divided their topics in such a way that Riviere seems to be emphasizing the destructive forces in man while Klein speaks more of the powerful forces of love and the wish for reparation, it is apparent in both contributions that it is impossible to separate the two. Love and hate constantly interact. Klein was emphasizing reparation, an aspect of human activity characterizing the depressive position, a stage of development which she had recently formulated. Joan Riviere considers such destructive forces as aggression, contempt, suicide, rivalry, love of power, and illustrates their operation in everyday life. As in her 1932 paper, she shows how envy and jealousy are closely allied, and how both are connected to delusional hate. She also speaks of how the individual’s sense of guilt is made more severe through suffering and deprivations, actual or imagined. Although her part in the talks stresses the destructive forces in man, she pleads for the need to understand them; only if they are accepted and their potential value appreciated, is the fear of them diminished and controlled,

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: A moving tribute to Freud

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Joan Riviere wrote this tribute to Freud a week after his death on 23 September 1939, in London. It is a moving account of her appreciation of his genius and of his vision but, most importantly, of Freud the man; he comes alive as a person of great integrity and inflexible honesty, of humour and sensitivity. He had expressed surprise (letter to Jones, 23 September 1927) that Riviere found Melanie Klein’s theories of child development relevant. Riviere however had no difficulty in reconciling theories of Freud with those that she considered extended his work. Her loyalty to the man and his enormous contribution to science and the world is apparent in this tribute. She never lost her appreciation of Freud although she was at the same time ready to admire and explore new ideas.

Her statement that ‘his power to see new facts and to check his observations diminished after his operation in 1924’ might be queried by some. However, it can be seen to echo what Freud himself had said in his ‘Postscript’ (1935a) to An Autobiographical Study (1925d [1924]): that since the time he had put forward his ‘hypothesis of the existence of two classes of instinct (Eros and the death instinct) and proposed a division of the mind into ego, superego and id’ he had made ‘no further decisive contributions to psycho-analysis’.

 

An intimate impression

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When I knew Professor Freud in Vienna in 1922, he was aged 65 and more or less at the height of his career. Soon after 1910 the solitary obscurity which had surrounded him and his work for something like 20 years had begun to lessen, while the war neuroses in Europe had generated, both in the medical profession and in the general public, an interest in the psychological approach to such disorders. This had brought his work into the foreground and made his name known. In 1922 he and his followers in Vienna, Berlin and Budapest were fully occupied with teaching and training (first and foremost by analysing them personally) the group of English, American and Swiss physicians, and others, who were taking up the new study of psycho-analysis. A few years later, in 1924, the serious but successful operation on his jaw caused him ill health at times, though it affected only slightly his capacity for work and his speech. He afterwards went about even less than formerly, and the future will probably judge his later work as falling short in various ways of his earlier achievement.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Bereavement

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The Second World War was just over, and psychoanalysts turned their attention to helping those who had suffered in it—women who had lost their husbands, and children their fathers. Susan Isaacs edited a phamphlet called Fatherless Children and addressed a paper to these children. Ella Freeman Sharpe also contributed, with a paper on ‘What the father means to the child’. Joan Riviere addresses the bereaved wife and shows her deep sympathy for the widows of World War II. She speaks in moving detail of the strain that such a catastrophe imposes, not only on the wife herself, but on her relationship to her children. She ends, reminding the reader that every woman was once a child, and that what every human being seeks to find again in life are the figures of the mother and father in the forms in which they have been ‘indelibly preserved’ in the depths of the mind. It is a part of Joan Riviere’s special talent that she could write so committedly on such a subject in a form available to the general public.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Freud-the questioner

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Freud’s small book had been written and first published in German in 1926 in response to a charge of quackery brought against Theodor Reik, a non-medical member of the Vienna Society. It was translated and published in the United States the following year, but it was not until 1947 that it was published in England, in this translation by Procter-Gregg which Joan Riviere found ‘accurate and readable’.

She comments in her review on Freud’s exquisite lucidity and simple exposition of the nature of psychoanalysis and regrets to a certain extent the book’s title. The medical profession may not care to attend to the problem of lay analysis, but she agrees with Freud that the general public do not mind whether the analytic therapist is medically trained or not so long as the practitioner effects a ‘cure’. Some would not consider that that assessment holds for the present-day public but, be that as it may, Riviere conveys Freud’s humour and suppressed irony in dealing with preconceptions as to what constitutes psychoanalysis. He opens up (using a Socratic dialogue) whole areas of inquiry concerning its nature. Joan Riviere stresses Freud’s point that certain ‘natural talents and character traits’ are indispensable in the psychoanalytic therapist, and emphasises his recognition that some of his hypotheses will be revised in time—his theories are not ‘revelations which may not be disputed’.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN. Kleinian thinking in the 1950s

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Joan Riviere introduces her readers to developments in psychoanalysis with a masterly survey. She uses her thorough understanding of Freud’s theories to show how Melanie Klein, who brought about many of the developments, is extending his ideas, not deviating from them, as some of Klein’s detracters declare. She points out that Freud often showed indecisiveness about his theories, and this is particularly true of his postulation of the life and death instincts. Nonetheless in his later works he expressed his conviction of ‘the instinctual duality as the foundation of intra-psychic conflict’. Joan Riviere’s makes a highly significant statement—that those analysts who dispute Klein’s findings most vehemently still ‘stand by Freud’s original formulations which were never formally retracted or abandoned; that where Freud later broke new ground and went ahead, sometimes in more intuitive recognition, they have not followed’.

Developments in Psycho-Analysis was conceived as a presentation of the four papers that had been written to elaborate, describe and present Klein’s ideas at the time of the Controversial Discussions in the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1943/44. The four papers were supplemented by three additional ones by Melanie Klein and a further paper by Paula Heimann. In introducing the book Joan Riviere perceptively describes the significance of Klein’s ideas and shows that her results stand on their own foundations; she produced an integrated theory which, although still in outline, nevertheless takes account of all psychical manifestations, including psychotic processes and mental development in infancy. The importance of infantile development is brilliantly outlined as she presents each paper with comments that are interesting to read as one studies the papers themselves. Her descriptions in simple terms of the difficulties inherent in attempting to understand and convey infantile pre-verbal communications and the expression of unconscious phantasy complement those of Susan Isaacs, who eloquently conveys this problem in the first chapter of the book.

 

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