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Exploring the Work of Donald Meltzer

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This book is a tribute to Donald Melzer's extraordinary contribution to psychoanalysis. It includes many of the papers given at the Tavistock Centre in London to celebrate Meltzer's 75th Birthday. Among the contributions, Margaret Rustin and Michael Rustin write on the work of Samuel Beckett; Gianna Williams elaborates upon Meltzer's thinking about the meeting of mother and baby; Didier Houzel discusses the aesthetic conflict and its connection with beauty and violence; and the Psychoanalytic Group of Barcelona describe their experience in working with Meltzer as a visiting supervisor. There are also several papers discussing the clinical relevance of Meltzer's thinking, particularly in work with children and adolescents.Apart from these papers, the book also contains a candid review by Meltzer of his own writing and thinking. This book provides a unique set of perspectives on his work and influence, and the sheer diversity of fields in which his thinking is now being used. It will surely be of continuing value to anyone interested in the state of psychoanalysis

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1. A review of my writings

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Donald Meltzer

It’s been absolutely lovely seeing so many people I know. It links immediately with the consulting-room, where you get one person after another that you know. And so different from wandering around airports with thousands of people you don’t know, and being reminded of how many people there are in the world. No, it’s lovely to know so many people; and, as I said yesterday, if women still wore lipstick that came off, my face would have looked like a barn door!

I am going to indulge myself in an attempt to review my experience of the past forty years. It won’t be a gallop, it won’t even be a canter—it will be an amble through these forty years, for myself to notice what has changed, because the changes are usually so slow and so different from patient to patient that one never bothered to pull them together, but I’ll try to do that for you. I don’t know how accurate it will be—the changes probably won’t fit any one patient, but a sort of aggregate of experience.

The first thing that comes to my mind is, of course, that when in 1965 I wrote The Psycho-Analytical Process (1967) it was written primarily with my experience with children in mind, and the idea of the gathering of the transference seemed absolutely correct; but as my practice moved more and more into work with adults, it’s fairly clear that nothing so effortless takes place with adult patients. It becomes clear that instead of this effortless attracting to the analytic setting all of the transference processes of the patient’s life, it seems necessary to dismantle something that I’ve come to think of as the “preformed transference” of the adult patient; the preformed transference, based on greater or lesser knowledge of or fantasies about the analytic method and the analytic experience, has to be taken down like an old shed at the bottom of the garden before anything new can be constructed. It can occur very quickly, in a few weeks, or it can take months or years to dismantle this preformed transference, a component of which is sometimes the erotic transference whose dismantling both analyst and patient tend to resist. As with Keats’s “pleasant pain”, it requires a certain ruthlessness to get rid of, and to establish the analytic situation, as Mrs Klein called it, which is the situation into which the transferences of a person’s life are sucked, rather like a vacuum-cleaner; it can be called “the gathering of the transference”, although it does seem to involve a much more active process with adults than with children.

 

2. Experiences of learning with Donald Meltzer

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Shirley Hoxter

In this chapter, I hope to convey to you the very substantial contributions that Donald Meltzer made to the development of the Tavistock Clinic’s training course concerning the psychoanalytic therapy of children and young people. I shall concentrate mainly upon Meltzer’s direct teaching activities, as supervisor and seminar leader in the period between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s. My accounts of these learning events are based largely on my own memories of encountering the mind of such a highly intelligent, original thinker and my personal emotional struggle of slowly learning how to learn from him.

I hope that this may throw some light upon what brought Meltzer and the Tavistock child psychotherapists together and what has continued to hold us together over such a long period. Surviving painful times, this relationship has been maintained even when we have been “absent objects” to one another for long periods.

This conference may be regarded as an affirmation of our relationship and our wishes to maintain it as a living experience. Using the language of Bion’s concepts, I consider that the “container-contained” aspects of our relationship could often be categorized as “symbiotic”, following Bion’s definition as quoted by Meltzer (1978a, Part III): “Symbiotic—the thought and the thinker correspond and modify each other through the correspondence. The thought proliferates and the thinker develops” (p. 111). This seems an apt description of the reciprocal nature of the relationship between Meltzer and ourselves when functioning at its best. By “ourselves” I mean not only the psychoanalytic therapists of children here at the Tavistock, and elsewhere in Britain, but also the many from other lands who have formed a learning relationship with him.

 

3. Development is beauty, growth is ethics

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Clara Nemas

When I received the invitation to participate in this celebration of Donald Meltzer’s work, I thought it would be a good idea to make it into an invitation to explore. The penumbra of associations surrounding the word “exploration” seemed to me to involve romantic ideas of unknown, wild, and virgin lands, a compass in my hand, a survival kit. I imagined myself as part of a team with all my colleagues throughout the world with whom, though I may not have actually met them, I would be sharing this project of exploration. I am not sure whether this made me feel more accompanied, but it did give me a measure of courage, not only for the task at hand, but also for overcoming my shyness in this regard, which instead of easing only increased when I tried to “go beyond the prelude”.

In the process of trying to find the North on my compass, a starting point from which to orient myself, the subject of ethics came into view. The subject of values—their detailed scrutiny, their development in the psychoanalytic process, the challenge they represent—is one that constantly interests and concerns me in my work as a psychoanalyst. In my personal and professional history, I have had analysts, supervisors, and teachers whose close contact with Meltzer’s ideas has had an impact on me, and these ideas, in turn, extend and enrich the theories of Klein and Bion. Their presence in my training, the reading of Meltzer’s work, and personal contact with him in recent years have been important factors contributing to my way of thinking about an ethical position in psychoanalysis. All this has influenced my choice of the contents of this chapter; however, beyond any possible explanation, once I had thought of this subject it ensconced itself in me, insisted, and gained its place in the expedition party, with the result that ethics is to be the name of our journey through a territory whose boundaries are not very well defined.

 

4. The beauty and the violence of love

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Didier Houzel

Melanie Klein was fundamentally original in the way, for example, she so quickly adopted the second theory of the instincts as proposed by Freud in 1920 in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in spite of the fact that, at the same time, it was rejected by most psychoanalysts. Klein’s support for the theory of the death instinct constituted one of the sources of her remarkable gift for exploring the world of psychosis and the more primitive levels of psychic development. That said, she never really succeeded in integrating the concept of the death instinct with her own metapsychological model; she endeavoured to assign to all mental suffering and to every defence mechanism some degree of fantasy content based on a libidinal or aggressive cathexis either of the individual’s own body or of the object. She did this, for instance, in her earlier writings where, following Karl Abraham, she described the aggressive impulses of infancy in terms of oral, anal, urethral, and muscular attacks, this sadistic phase reaching a climax at the end of the first year of life. Once she had adopted the theory of life and death instincts, she was able not only to investigate the deepest layers of the unconscious even more thoroughly, but also to draw up such an outstandingly coherent map of the mind and its development that, even today, its riches are far from exhausted. Nonetheless, Klein did to some extent fail in her attempt to formulate a concrete description of mental and psycho-pathological processes, in so far as her sole reference was to zones and functions of the body; it was only at a much later date, when she introduced the concept of envy (1957), that she went some way to remedying this situation. But even then her description remained incomplete, given that she still felt obliged, in her account of its pathogenic and non-pathogenic effects, to claim that envy was constitutional in origin; in so doing, she moved away from the field of investigation specific to psychoanalysis, something that never fails to generate serious epistemological, theoretical, and even technical difficulties.

 

5. Keats’s “Ode to Psyche”

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Meg Harris Williams

Keats’s “Ode to Psyche” is one of the most beautiful and original poems in the English language, though rarely recognized as such. More usually it is taken as his slightly stumbling first effort at a personal ode form before the better-known Great Odes: more straightforward in its emotional tone, and less susceptible to convenient forms of cynical modernist interpretation. The poem is a joyous hymn to inspiration. It has its doubts and its questions, but they are answered immediately by the poet himself—leaving nothing for the critical intellect to do. Indeed, nobody could answer them but the poet, since they are questions of vision, not of value or interpretation—asking, what is he seeing? not, what does it mean? What can a well-qualified critic do with a poem in which he is so evidently regarded as superfluous? There are, of course, cynical solutions which can help the reader evade the impact of the poem. It has been taken as voyeuristic self-indulgence; it has been taken as a political or social allegory of literary pedigree—the lower-middle-class young poet claiming that it is time for him to supersede those jaded old Olympians (Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, etc.). “Quite the little poet!” as one of Keats’s acquaintances described him (to his humorous disgust) during his lifetime (letter in Gittings, 1987, p. 212.).

 

6. “Song-and-dance” and its developments: the function of rhythm in the learning process of oral and written language

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Suzanne Maiello

Preliminary remarks on rhythm

Singing and dancing are both rooted in rhythmicity. In music, rhythm is the element that organizes and structures the melody and the body of its underlying harmonies. In dancing, the rhythm determines the moment when a movement begins or ends or changes direction, and when the dancers’ feet leave or meet the ground. We shall see how the rhythmic elements in song-and-dance have a holding and sustaining function, and at the same time introduce discontinuity and change.

“In the prehistory of the race”, Meltzer writes, “the first leaps of imagination … were enacted in song-and-dance” (Meltzer et al., 1986, p. 184). This may be equally true for the “prehistory” of every human individual—that is, prenatal life.

A dream that the dreamer, a woman, associated with possible intrauterine experiences, may illustrate this. She dances with a man:

We are in perfect harmony with the sound of music that comes from somewhere, our bodies moulded to each other. There is nothing sexual about our closeness, no tension or excitement, just a deep and total sense of well-being. Our legs and feet are in such perfect agreement that they sometimes step out of the beat of the music, without ever losing their harmonious correspondence. The most wonderful of all sensations is to feel our steps moving in syncopation with the rhythm of the music while effortlessly maintaining their movements in perfect accord. [Maiello, 1995, pp. 28-29]

 

7. Clinical notes on the organizing function of time during puberty

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Paolo Carignani

It is my intention to present in this chapter some ideas on the development of the perception that preadolescents have of the passing of time. To do so, I refer to the theories that Freud, Klein, and Bion had about the concept of time; furthermore, I try to explore some of Meltzer’s contributions on the subject. Starting from this theoretical background, I discuss some clinical material from the psychotherapy of an 11-year-old girl.

In a report commissioned by the Organisation of Economic and Cultural Development, Meltzer and Harris (1976) suggested that there could be four kinds of attitudes that the individual, the family, or the social group can maintain towards the passing of time. These four attitudes were described by means of four operative concepts: timelessness, oscillating time, circular time, and linear time. Each of the operative concepts corresponds to a different way of perceiving time and to the development of a different mental condition:

Timelessness tends to promote sensuality and the pleasure principle into a dominant position in values, favouring a mindless acquiescence in the compulsion to repeat that disregards prior evidence of consequences.

 

8. The light meter, the thermostat, the tuner: the compositional aspects of communication with very disturbed adolescents

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Roberto Bertolini

A 10-year-old boy commented passionately to his female therapist at the end of his therapy, “I shall never forget you, because you have taught me how to give the correct weight to things”. In Banana Yoshimoto’s 1989 novel about two adolescent girls, the main character, Tsugumi, says in what is apparently the last letter she will write to her best friend Maria, “I wonder all the time how, in spite of your stupidity, you always seem to know the correct weight of everything; it must be a mystery” (p. 49).

In these two situations, one real and one imaginary, a young patient and a very disturbed adolescent girl see the therapist and the friend as being capable of giving things their correct weight. They recognize their ability to inject a special dimension into their communications which they feel to be beneficial to their well-being. Both the patient and Tsugumi say that being able to experience this special quality in their communications has enabled them to feel deeply understood. By this they mean that when they find themselves in an atmosphere of mutual interest and sympathy, they are able to discover something true about themselves from the way things are given back to them. I believe that when we observe healthy interaction between a mother and her child we are looking, in fact, at something very similar to the two experiences I have described above.

 

9. Love and destructivity: from the aesthetic conflict to a revision of the concept of destructivity in the psyche

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Jean Begoin

I first heard Donald Meltzer speak about the “Aesthetic Conflict” when he presented this new concept in Paris, at a meeting of the GERPEN1 in March 1986, almost fourteen years ago. This paper became the second chapter in his book The Apprehension of Beauty, written with Meg Harris Williams and published two years later, in 1988. As did many others who were listening to Meltzer on this day, I felt that moment deserved to be considered historical, and I still think it was. Many elements were new in this concept, but what was most striking was his evident inspiration: we were listening to a new Meltzer—not so much in his theories, with which I had been familiar for more than twenty years, after having had supervisions and having translated his two first books into French—but especially in what I have to call his “spirit”, a new way of thinking theories, comprising a newly integrated mixture of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and poetry. Actually, it would be more precise to say that we were present at the birth of a higher degree of integration of qualities we had in fact always known in Meltzer since his first papers and his first book, The Psycho-Analytical Process: a unique Meltzerian mixture of science and art.

 

10. Reflections on “aesthetic reciprocity”

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Gianna Williams

I intend to focus this chapter on the theme of aesthetic reciprocity in the context of the aesthetic conflict as it was described by Meltzer in The Apprehension of Beauty (Meltzer & Harris Williams, 1988a). I will begin by quoting Meltzer’s attractive and imaginative conjecture about the proto-thoughts of the newborn:

I have always found my world basically congenial ever since I began to find it interesting. When I was a fish I just swam about and had no thoughts. But once I found my friend placenta we explored and shared our findings. … We decided to leave (placenta and I) though we both suspected we were being forced to emigrate to make room for some newcomer. I felt pretty angry for this usurpation for I had lived there since the beginning of time, after all. …

My body became suddenly dense and heavy, immovable. I heard myself not humming but screaming. They must have thought I was screaming at them, those huge and beautiful creatures, so strong they could lift me with one hand while I couldn’t even lift my head. But it was the beauty of one that overpowered me and I could see from the way she looked at me that I was tiny and ugly and comic, [pp. 43-44, emphasis added]

 

11. Beckett: dramas of psychic catastrophe

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Margaret Rustin and Michael Rustin

Donald Meltzer has demonstrated how a psychoanalytic perspective can illuminate works of contemporary theatre in his essay on Pinter’s plays, published in Sincerity and Other Works (1994). We shall be drawing on some of his ideas in our discussion of Samuel Beckett [1906-1989], who was Pinter’s most important forerunner and exemplar in the contemporary drama. Anthony Cronin’s (1996) biography of Beckett refers to Pinter’s admiration for Beckett and his friendship with him.

What are Beckett’s plays about?

Even forty-five years after the first production of Waiting for Godot, the question of what Beckett’s plays are about remains a challenging one, though many people—including Beckett himself—have thought that this was not necessarily a productive question to ask, since it threatens to lead one away from the plays themselves. We might see this as analogous to Bion’s distinction between knowing about and getting to know. But the question arises because of Beckett’s break with our previous expectations of what a modern play was supposed to be—that is, a representation of a more-or-less familiar patch of social life (usually taking place in a house or a room) with characters who are at least in part identifiable versions of social types that we recognize. This apparent correspondence between the staged play and recognizable social and domestic reality had become especially the case for modern drama in the work of its great masters, such as Ibsen, Chekhov,1 and Miller. Indeed, part of the achievement of modern dramatic writing had been to invest with tragic dimensions the experiences of characters whose social identities were not so different from those of the majority of their audiences.

 

12. Living in intrusive identification

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Carlos Tabbia Leoni

It is difficult for me to unite the term “living” with that of “intrusive identification” as I consider that the relation between both is practically exclusive. The “living” of projective identification is a mere reflection or a parody of the “living” in relation with the objects. “Living” being able to tolerate the conjunction of the “links of relationship” with the “anti-links”— anti-emotion, anti-knowledge, and anti-life (cf. Meltzer et aL, 1986)—favours not only the development of the mind, but also the capacity to experience love, joy, hope, pain, aesthetic pleasure, conflicts, and so on, all of which is impossible while one is “living in intrusive identification”. One only lives outside the object. Inside the object one only survives, only lives badly.

“Living inside an object” is an omnipotent fantasy correlative to “intrusive identification” in an internal object,1 transformed into a “claustrum”; this fantasy differs from the communicative function of projective identification. Some of the queries that emerge from this nuclear theme are the following. Is claustrophilia2 an omnipresent fantasy? Does the object of the claustrophilia always become a claustrum? Into which internal objects is the intrusion carried out? What is the motive that drives one to lose one’s life in order to attain a pseudo-existence? What are the consequences of intrusion for that part of the self that penetrates intrusively into the object? My contribution will be centred on this latter query. I would like to present, using different material, what happens to the intrusive part that seeks, to a varying degree, to live inside the other. In this chapter, I show the relationship of the self with its objects, or the paralysation of the self as a result of masturbatory-intrusive attacks on the internal objects; subsequently, I discuss the mental state of the inhabitants of the claustrum; and, finally, I illustrate all of this with the clinical material of a borderline patient. One could reformulate the claustrophilic motivation giving as an example a “joke” attributed to Cantinflas (a Mexican comedian): “What do we come into the world for?—to suffer? If that’s the case, we’re going back!” The subjacent fantasy of return-intrusion-confusion3 with the object seeks to eliminate pain, implicit in the differentiation subject-object. But, the price paid for avoiding mental pain is high. Once the patient has worked his or her way inside the internal object, he or she remains trapped there. Meltzer pointed out in a seminar4 that once Jane, the patient he was discussing, had penetrated the object, she remained separate from other people by a glass division, referring to the glass divisions of the compartments where she worked, inside which she adopted the necessary social behaviour but was incapable of maintaining intimate social relations. Inside the object one is protected from the world, but one also loses it—like the Wolf Man, who felt fortunate to have come into the world protected by a foetal lining, a veil that hid him from the world and hid the world from him (Freud, 1918b [1914]). The flight from the world in intrusive identification is so great that there is neither any contact with reality nor any idea of psychic reality (internal-external); there is a lack of the idea of nature, and reality is anthropomorphized; one does not live sufficiently in the external world, therefore access to meanings and value is banned; time, if it exists, is circular. Meltzer (1992a) enumerates other consequences of intrusion: “… the intruding part of the personality suffers from anxieties that are contingent on the fact of being uninvited. He is a trespasser, an impostor, a poseur, a. fraud, potentially a traitor. But he is also an exile from the world of intimacy, from the beauty of the world, which at best he can see, hear, smell, taste only second-hand through the medium of the object” (p. 72, emphasis added). The intruder feels as much a prisoner as Segismundo in La vida es sueno, by Pedro Calderon de la Barca [1600-1681], in his tower:

 

13. Reading Donald Meltzer: identification and intercourse as modes of reading and relating

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James Fisher

If a lion could talk, we would not understand him” (Wittgenstein, 1953, p, 223). Ludwig Wittgenstein’s intriguing remark invites us to wonder at the mystery of communication. One response, of course, would be to think that if a lion could talk, he would be like us. And if he is like us, would we not, more or less, understand him? But would he be like us—or should I say, would it be like us? What sort of social intercourse could we have with a lion? What would we talk about? For some people, the more they think about such questions, the less sure but more intrigued they become. For others, there is nothing to puzzle over. Either the lion could make itself understood or it couldn’t. Stanley Cavell suggests that Wittgenstein’s remark indicates a sensibility rather than an assertion to be debated (Cavell, 1969b, p. 71). In this chapter, I want to explore the sensibility to reading as a form of relating that resists a premature wish for sameness, that understanding the other involves an openness to intercourse as well as a capacity for identification.

 

14. A learning experience in psychoanalysis

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Psychoanalytic Group of Barcelona

This chapter is in fact part of a more extensive work, the gestation of which commenced in 1991 when our first contract with Donald Meltzer came to an end. We had the prospect before us of publishing a book that would expound some of the teachings that he had transmitted to us through clinical work. We held a meeting during which Meltzer showed little interest in this book; he did, however, show interest in a book that would give an account of our experience of working together as a group in psychoanalytic training. He put forward his idea of training based on the model of an atelier (Sincerity had not yet been published) and encouraged us to describe and define our experience.

This surprised us. We were not very convinced. We feared that it exceeded our abilities. We therefore went on with the tasks we had previously planned (the “case” book, as we called it within the group, was published: Meltzer & GPB, 1995). In spite of our perplexity, astonishment, and doubts, the idea was not abandoned; it was put off and at times forgotten, but it kept on reappearing with increasing force throughout the years. From 1991 on we held a series of meetings designed to elaborate our ideas around our experience as a training group. We felt that we did not meet the necessary requirements for observing ourselves—and even today we still have similar doubts. We do not feel that we can answer the question about the group’s particularity; this query remains.

 

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