Writing in Psychoanalysis

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Writing in Psychoanalysis is the first volume in the projected Monograph Series, Psychoanalytic Issues, the Rivista di Psicoanalisi (the Journal of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society) is undertaking in conjunction with Karnac Books. The series constitutes a major effort to bring about a dialogue among psychoanalysts who while ultimately bound together by a common psychoanalytic heritage nonetheless are separated in their thinking by different idioms, whether linguistic or theoretical. While featuring writers of very different idioms, this series will also present a venue to make some important Italian voices known to English speaking analystsA beautiful and thoughtful collection of essays on writing, reading and learning, it grows out of a colloquium. The results are wondrous and impact on the reader at many different levels. In the act of writing, we all discover something about what we know previously unknown to us, and we learn more about our inner world than we knew before we set pen to paper (or hand to computer). Patrick Mahony goes as far as to argue that Freud's self-analysis was essentially a "writing cure".

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CHAPTER ONE. The reveries of a solitary scribbler

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JohnE. Gedo

I suspect it is the sheer volume of my psychoanalytic publications that elicited the invitation to contribute an essay to this symposium. I was fortunate enough to earn my psychoanalytic qualifications at a relatively early age, so that I have had almost four full decades of opportunity to practise the craft of writing in psychoanalysis. My career could well be characterized by the mocking bon mot once used to deprecate Edward Gibbon, “still scribbling. …” How many pages have I published? (How many trees have I caused to be destroyed?) I have not kept count, but I suspect that, among living colleagues, none is guilty of greater volubility. It is not for me to claim that my output has been weighty, but it certainly occupies more than my fair share of shelf-space. Consequently, I feel justified to approach our topic from a very personal vantage point,

Nothing angers me more than overhearing detractors who dismiss my contributions because, according to them, I “know how to write”. (The implication is that this skill is an illegitimate trick through which hollow ideas are made to seem solid.) Not that I am alone in suffering such attacks: the American analyst whose work I most respect, Robert Gardner (see Gardner, 1983, 1984, 1995), is frequently put in his place by his writings being called “poetry”. I read them as cogent essays in epistemology, stated with the clarity and economy sadly lacking in most psychoanalytic texts. W. B. Yeats has reminded us that one cannot separate the dancer from the dance—neither can the writer's concepts be separated from the form in which they are communicated. Over 90 years ago, Freud rightly asserted that good writing is the consequence of clear thinking about one's subject matter (Freud, 1901b, p. 101). Nobody is born with a talent for scientific discourse.

 

CHAPTER TWO. Psychoanalysis-the writing cure

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Patrick Mahony

According to a medieval maxim, anyone who claimed to have read the whole corpus of St. Augustine would most probably be a liar, since the writings of that great thinker were so voluminous. I believe that a similar maxim might hold true today for Freud, if we were to have also at our disposal the stupefying quantity of both his destroyed manuscripts and his extant but still unpublished writings. But there is another pertinent reason that I have started my presentation with Augustine. He made two incisive comments about what writing can mean to an indefatigable author, and Freud could just as well have said them about himself. The first comment, coming from Book Three of the Latin treatise De Trinitate, can be rendered this way: “I myself avow that in writing (this work) I have learned many things which I did not know” [“Ego proinde fateor me ex eorwn numero esse conart, qui prqfldendo scribunt et scrtbendo projlciunt”—Augustine, Omnia Opera, 2: 690], The second, more poignant citation comes from Letter 143, which I translate as follows: “Admittedly, therefore, I try to be among the number of those who write as they progress and who progress as they write” [“Egoque ipse multa quae nesciebam scribendo me didicisse conjltear”—Augustine, Omnia Opera, 8: 1218].

 

CHAPTER THREE. From analytic dialogue to published text

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“Death and life are In the power of the tongue”.

Proverbs 18:21

To write and publish case histories is Just as important for psychoanalysis and its development as is doing analysis. However, all candidates and analysts have experienced how difficult it is to describe an analytic session in writing. Many misunderstandings among non-analysts concerning psychoanalysis are due to the fact that many case histories that are informative and inspiring for analysts appear as undocumented statements to the reader without psychoanalytic training or without personal experience of the psychoanalytic process. Due to the uniqueness of the analytic process, we can only with difficulty publish the so-called raw data, whatever they may be. To report about the analytic experience in writing is still, after 100 years, a challenge for psychoanalysis. The analytic session cannot be told with all its details and nuances, any more than a dream can. And sometimes the details appear just as elusive (cf. Stein, 1988, p. 108; Olinick, 1980, pp. 38, 40).

 

CHAPTER FOUR. Writing in psychoanalysis

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Antonio Alberto Semi

The theme of writing in psychoanalysis is at once clearly delimited and quite broad. However, before dealing with the more specific question of this main focus, I would like to make a few observations on the broader issue of writing—that is, the problems that writing itself, from its very origins, has posed for mankind. It must have been a truly ecstatic moment when man understood that a concrete fact—a mark on a tablet or a rock, a carving on a tree—could be linked to a thought. No activity is more consistently symbolic than writing, and no activity more consistently recalls the original reality of the symbol, in both its material and its psychic make-up.

Narrowing the field, I will give only two examples drawn from our two main cultural roots: ancient Greece and Judaism. Indeed, these two cultures—or some of their important representatives—have dealt, in quite different ways, with the problems and possibilities offered by writing.

The classic reference point of the Greek tradition is a text by Plato on writing. I have taken the liberty of citing it at length because at least two passages concern us quite closely. In the first, Socrates, according to Plato, tells Phaedrus (in the dialogue of the same name) the following story:

 

CHAPTER FIVE. An “ethical code” for authors?

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Parthenope Bion Talamo

When I first started thinking about the possibility of producing a paper on writing in psychoanalysis, I had something very simple and practical in mind; not exactly along the lines of an American-style course on “creative writing”, but something of that sort. So I was aiming to speak about writing considered as interpersonal communication, which is the area that the people on the board of editors of the Rivista diPsicoanalisi usually find themselves dealing with, inasmuch as they function as editors rather than as analysts—and it is also the level on which they find that they have trouble. As I slowly mulled over the (few) ideas that I had on the subject, while being influenced by recent vicissitudes in the Italian Psychoanalytic Society, gradually some thoughts that were connected a little more clearly with the ideal, triangular relationship between the writer, psychoanalysis, and the reader, emerged. At this fatal point (in the sense that chance plays its part, too) Alberto Semi asked me, without the slightest warning, what the title of my paper was going to be … and the outcome is something of a hybrid, perhaps rather unpleasant title in fact, even though softened by Alberto's having wisely added a question mark to the original.

 

CHAPTER SIX. Experiences and considerations of a ‘reader" of psychoanalysis

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Fausto Petrella

The foremost purpose of a meeting between the individuals concerned with the publication of a psychoanalytic journal—the editors and the “readers”—should, in my view, be an eminently practical one. The aim is not to investigate the role of psychoanalytic writing in the emotional life and fantasy of the psychoanalyst, perhaps by invoking Derrida. Nor is it to discuss and formulate a standard of scientific rigour for psychoanalysis, with an appeal to some updated thesis of epistemol-ogy. My intention is to have an open discussion about our experience as “readers”—that is, individuals who have agreed to perform an anonymous, largely unrecognized task on a text written by an equally anonymous author. When I speak of the “reader”, it is to this figure that I refer and not to the imaginary addressee of the text or to any particular living reader. My starting point will be the specific experience of this reader, who must formulate and express an opinion, and whose tasks are at once well- and ill-defined. This should give a pragmatic orientation to what I have to say. The overall aim should be one of improvement. But in which direction? One might be that of defining this function, determining the existence and efficacy of generally acceptable evaluative instruments and criteria, clarifying the way evaluations concerning each contribution evolve, and making explicit the characteristics and limits of such evaluations. The goal, then, is to arrive, if not at a relative homogeneity, at least at a certain transparency in the reader's operations, thereby promoting competence and mutual trust. This does not mean that we should strive for an impossible harmonization or a monotonous unison: what is needed is not so much a set of commonly agreed-upon criteria as an occasion to meet and discuss the criteria that are already being employed. The reader's function, if not privileged, is certainly specific and allows a few observations from a particular perspective. It is this specificity and the way it is made use of by both the readers and the editors that concerns me here. To do this, it will be necessary to set aside our mutual anonymity and to share experiences.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. The evaluation of psychoanalytical texts and the imaginary scenario in which their writing takes place: observations of an editor

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Francesco Barale

Since the editor's point of view is rather different from that of the “readers”, I thought I, too, might have a say in the matter of the evaluation of the papers that are sent to the Rivtsta. In the Rivtsta, work is organized in such a way that the first task of the editor, when evaluating an article for publication, is to consider the opinions and comments of the two “readers” of the Board of Readers. These opinions are then reported and compared during the editorial meetings where the editor contributes his own impressions and appraisals.

In this way, the editor works on an “extended” text, composed of the original work under examination, as well as the opinions of those who have read it. The anonymous “readers” (together with the cohort of fantasies as to their identity) assume the role of narrators in this extended text. The editor knows, however, that his general evaluation is Just another element contributing to the decision-making procedure; his point of view will be discussed with the second editor also working on the same text, with the entire editorial staff, in the course of regular meetings, and with the chief editor. Issues of political timeliness, which are always detestable and, indeed, detested but, alas, never completely avoidable, may also be taken into consideration.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT. Psychoanalytical visions of reality and styles of writing

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Giorgio Sacerdoti

Several years ago, Roy Schafer published an article in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (1970), subsequently included in his book, “A New Language for Psy-choanalysis” (1976), in which he outlined four psychoanalytical “visions” of reality described, respectively, as “comic”, “romantic”, “tragic”, and “ironic”. If we were simply to ask ourselves to which of these “visions” a large number of the articles written for the Rivista dt Psicoanalisi in the course of the last ten years might belong (above all, from the stylistic point of view), I believe that, more or less, the romantic vision would have first place. Consequently, it is worth while briefly outlining its main characteristics according to Schafer.

More recently, Strenger (1991) has spoken of the romantic vision in psychoanalysis (to be distinguished from the classical vision) as something that began to develop with Ferenczi. It was taken up again by Balint, developed by Winnicott and, in particular, by Kohut, whose work lends itself excellently to describing the main characteristics of the romantic approach. The tension between “romantic” and “classical” attitudes would

 

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