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Post-Kleinian Psychoanalysis: The Biella Seminars

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Kenneth Sanders' book combines a historical approach to the literature of Freud, Klein and the Post Kleinian development, with demonstrations of the central role of dream analysis. Students and practitioners of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, educationalists, social scientists, doctors, and alll those who value the endeavour to enrich their work with imagination will find fine food for thought in these seminars, both in the survay of the literature, the case histories described, and in the concluding question and answer debates.

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1. Prologue and a consultation

ePub

”This in my view is the heart of the matter of Post-Kleinian psychology: that to Freud’s four categories of exposition— dynamic, genetic, structural and economic—there has been added in increasing detail the investigation of geographic and epistemological aspects of mental functioning. Whether the Aesthetic aspect will eventually take on sufficient distinctness to add a seventh category remains to be seen.”

Donald Meltzer, The Claustrum, 1992, p. 50

Psychoanalysis lends itself to a historical approach, and to following with awe the evolution of discoveries such as infantile sexuality, the transference, and the identification process that linked mourning and melancholia. There is also the drama of observing genius struggling with problems that only become clearer to subsequent generations.

In his autobiography, Freud (1925d [1924], p. 19) describes how his colleague Breuer told him about “the peculiar manner” that had allowed him to penetrate deeply into the causation and significance of hysterical symptoms, which also included “depressive confusion”. The peculiar method was to ask Anna O—a 20-year-old woman—to tell him, under hypnosis, the thoughts that she had suppressed at her father’s sickbed.

 

2. An adolescent emerges from confusion

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In contrast to the plight of the confused young man who was unable to imagine what psychoanalytic help might be, as described in chapter one, this situation with a confused 16-year-old allowed psychoanalysis to proceed.

* * *

I had first met “Jim” in a general practice setting when he was 5 years old. His parents’ worry then was about his enuresis, but they also told me that he was generally bad-tempered, he masturbated in front of the television, and sometimes he slept with his finger in his anus. When a star chart had been suggested—a star as a reward for a dry night—he had replied, “What’s the use? I’ll never be dry.”

I was told that Jim was very good with his two younger siblings and showed no jealousy, although his mother was still breastfeeding the baby. He was a bold and excitable little boy whose cheeks were rouged red, like a clown’s, and who prowled round the room as I talked to his mother. At one point he growled in a comical way, which his mother explained was an imitation of a detective dog in a television cartoon. At the end of our short talk I described the problem as a struggle in his mind between a naughty Jim and a good Jim: the naughty Jim takes control when he’s asleep and enjoys wetting the bed, in the same way that he enjoys the masturbation, while the good Jim is worried about the trouble and extra work for his mother—and might be willing to work with me as “detective’s assistant” in the investigation of the problem. Jim had been listening carefully and now joked that he would keep one eye open while he slept—he squinted and closed one eye in a comical fashion. He pointed to his genital and his bottom and said something about bad food coming out of them.

 

3. Dreams: who writes the script?

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The idea of structure, of anatomy of the mind, began in psychoanalysis with the ego, superego, and id (Freud, 1923b). From that beginning has grown a picture of the mind as a population of children and parents. The children of the mind experience externally and internally an oedipal problem that engages them in a flux of integration and disintegration, of projection and introjection, inside and outside an internal mother’s body, which combines in various modes with an internal father.

In 1897, Freud, engrossed in self-analysis, wrote to his confidante Fliess:

One single thought of general value has been revealed to me. I have found in my own case too, falling in love with the mother and jealousy of the father, and I now regard it as a universal event of early childhood…. Our feelings rise up against any arbitrary individual compulsion of fate, but the Greek legend seizes on a compulsion, which everyone recognises because he feels its existence within himself. Each member of the audience was once, in germ and in phantasy just such an Oedipus and each one recoils in horror from the dream fulfilment here transplanted into reality, with the whole quota of repression which separates his infantile state from his present one. [Freud, Letter, 71, 1950 (1892-1899), p. 265]

 

4. Identification and the toileting of the mind

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Tlhe history of toileting the mind in psychoanalysis begins with Freud’s colleague Breuer. His patient Anna O called it “chimney-sweeping”. “I used to visit her in the evening, when I knew I should find her in her hypnosis and then I relieved her of the whole stock of imaginative products which had accumulated since my last visit”, he wrote (Freud, 1895d, p. 30). But Anna O’s relief eventually threatened Breuer’s own composure, and he withdrew when the “stock of imaginative products” began to disturb his relationship with his wife. Evidently, the procedure was dangerous. Freud learned from this and his own experience that prospective analysts needed to be trained if a toileting function were to be offered to the mentally disturbed.

The psychological need for catharsis of the emotions has long been acknowledged—Aristotle described it as a function of tragedy in the theatre. The law and the religions have their own problems with confession, purging, punishment—and forgiveness. It was the insistence by Freud that “sin” and its punishment originated in the minds of children that eventually brought enlightenment to this area of darkness and confusion.

 

5. The mermaid and the sirens

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The series of dreams described here illustrates the themes of geographical confusion and the improvement in the structure of the personality following its resolution.

* * *

The analysand was apparently well, but she complained of a loss of meaning in the direction her life was taking. She likened herself to a mermaid who can see men on land but is unable to reach them. This thought came at a family wedding, when her attention was caught by a graceful, petite young woman in a full-length sequinned dress. As she approached her fortieth year, she described herself as a creature who might wish to be human and live on land but who was confined to her own watery medium and her gloomy asexual view of the world. Her sense of sanctuary came from identification with a group of like-minded friends: but evidence from her dream life was that her child self inhabited an interior world, inside her internal mother, and attempts to rescue her were frustrated by her timidity about life outside.

After this, I looked again at the Hans Christian Andersen story of the little mermaid, whose famous likeness in the form of a pensive adolescent sits on rock in Copenhagen harbour. Her story is that she is allowed on her fifteenth birthday to come to the surface and look at the world above. A storm blows up, and she rescues a prince from a shipwreck, swimming with him to the shore and to safety. The prince is grateful but has plans to marry a princess. The little mermaid returns, very upset, to her home in the sea. She meets an undersea witch, who gives her a knife and the ability to walk on land so that she can kill the prince on his wedding night. However, when the moment comes, she cannot do it, and for her good she deed lives happily ever after, but as a mermaid.

 

6. The combined part-object: from “the woman with a penis” to “the breast-and-nipple”

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This brief history of the psychoanalytic concept of the combined object—and the combined part-object—begins with a line from a letter Freud wrote in 1897 to his friend Fliess about his hope of discovering in witches a link with hysteria. “Their ‘flying’ is explained; the broomstick they ride on is probably the Great Lord Penis” (Freud, 1950 [1892-1899], p. 242).

This persecutory object—”the woman with a penis”—was taken up later by Klein but disappeared from Freud’s theoretical concepts: “the object” was seen as mindless, as, indeed, were the instincts. In 1905, the definition of the “object” was the person from whom sexual attraction proceeds (Freud, 1905d, p. 135). When the details of pregenital infantile sexuality, anal and oral, were worked out in the following decade, the “partial object” was formally established in connection with it in the developmental table drawn up by Abraham (1924).

By 1932 Melanie Klein had introduced the idea of “the object” as a parental presence that had a value—good or bad—and the term “combined object” signified the mother and father experienced in phantasy as a “bad object”—that is, the sexual couple in the “woman with a penis” tradition of Freud’s witch. “Splitting and idealization” of the mother saved the “good object”—the asexual mother, and at part-object level, her breast—from the depressive consequences of ambivalence.

 

7. The combined part-object in infant observation and practice

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Infant observation seminars were introduced at the Tavistock Clinic, London, in 1948 when the course in Child Psychotherapy began. In 1960 they were added to the curriculum of the London Institute of Psycho-Analysis, as their help to students in developing a psychoanalytical model of the mind was established (Bick, 1964, p. 240).

Melanie Klein had written in her paper, “On Observing the Behaviour of Young Infants”:

The new-born infant suffers from persecutory anxiety aroused by the process of birth and by the loss of the intra-uterine situation. A prolonged or difficult delivery is bound to intensify this anxiety. Another aspect of this anxiety situation is the necessity forced on the infant to adapt himself to entirely new conditions. These feelings are in some degree relieved by the various measures taken to give him warmth, support and comfort, particularly by the gratification he feels in receiving food and in sucking the breast. These experiences culminating in the first experience of sucking, initiate we may assume, the relation to the “good mother”. It appears that these gratifications in some way also go towards making up for the loss of the intra-uterine state. From the first feeding experience onwards, losing and regaining the loved object (the good breast) become an essential part of infantile life. [Klein, 1952, p. 94]

 

8. The Oedipus complex and introjective identification

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Introjective identification implies the enigmatic concept of relinquishment of a love object. If possession is surrendered, but not the desire, then the loved one is restored—but only as structure in the mind. The context is birth and weaning and their symbolic successors, and in each case the consequence is that in place of looking back at what has been given up, there is looking forward to development through identification. This mystery is familiar from theology, which suggests that religion is something to do with to psychoanalysis.

The Oedipus complex and internalization processes in the mind of the child were linked by Freud in a famous passage in which he recognized that the bisexuality of children required the renunciation of both mother and father and that structures identified with both of them would then be set up in the ego:

the broad general outcome of the sexual phase dominated by the Oedipus complex may, therefore be taken to be the forming of a precipitate in the ego, consisting of these two identifications in some way united with each other. This modification of the ego retains its special position; it confronts the other contents of the ego as an ideal or super ego. [Freud, 1923b, p. 34]

 

9. Psychosomatic and somapsychotic

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The term “psychosomatic” has lost its usefulness, as the range of disorders that might be so described is extremely varied. Bion’s reversal of the designation to somapsychotic has the advantage of being a reminder that the nature of the problem is likely to be an underlying thought disorder in the realm of the emotions.

The inability of even the most advanced human beings to make use of their thoughts, because the capacity to think is rudimentary in all of us, means that the field for investigation, all investigation being ultimate scientific, is limited, by human inadequacy, to those phenomena that have the characteristics of the inanimate. [Bion, 1962, p. 14]

To establish his theory about the genesis of thinking, Bion had returned to Freud’s paper, “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning”, which describes the conflict between the pleasure principle, and the reality principle:

The place of repression, which excluded from cathexis as productive of unpleasure some of the emerging ideas, was taken by an impartial passing of judgement which had to decide whether a given idea was true or false—that is whether it was in agreement with reality or not. [Freud, 1911b, p. 218]

 

10. Epilogue: claustrophilia and the “perennial philosophy”

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A historical approach to psychoanalysis and the study of confusion between internal and external reality leads the enquirer on to other related areas of thought: to the lives and works of artists and scientists, and to the history of religion and philosophy, where I imagine psychoanalysis lying dormant, awaiting discovery.

Freud wrote of religion as an illusion; he declared himself a pagan and wrote of man as “a creature of weak intelligence who is ruled by his instinctual wishes” (Freud, 1927c, p. 49). Hence his theory of dreams—wish-fulfilments—but in practice he largely ignored the theory and treated them as communications between inner and outer reality (Meltzer, 1983).

The two realities are the key to Klein’s work. She found 10-year-old Richard living in an internal world very different from that of his parents’ home, a world inhabited by superegos who had usurped his ego-ideals (Klein, 1961). Freud’s view that oedipal ambivalence to the parental couple is a source of pain was amply confirmed, and splitting of the ego was revealed as a primary mechanism of defence against it.

 

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