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Reverie and Interpretation

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A text exploring the frontiers of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking: the experience of the analyst and patient in the dynamic interplay of subjectivity and intersubjectivity. The author shows how the development of sensitivity to the use of language is a necessary part of an analyst's development.

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1. On the Art of Psychoanalysis.

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Words and sentences, like people, must be allowed a certain slippage. I do not mean to suggest that words, sentences (and human beings) can be said to mean (or be) anything we wish them to mean (or be). Rather, I am drawing attention to the stifling effect on imagination of our efforts to define, to specify with ever increasing precision, what we mean (who we are). Imagination depends on the play of possibilities. In this volume, words and sentences at their best will be only loosely “fastened to the page” (Frost 1929, p. 713). I will use words such as “aliveness” and “deadness,” “human” and “perverse,” “sincere” and “inauthentic” without defining them except—and this is a large exception—except in the way they are used in sentences. I will at different times use the words “empty,” “stagnant,” “stale” and “stillborn” to talk about an experience of emotional deadness. The reader might reasonably ask, “Which of these feelings or states, if any, does Ogden have in mind when he speaks of emotional deadness? Moreover, isn’t the very idea of the experience of emotional deadness an oxymoron?” I will ask the reader to allow me (and himself) room in which a sense of emptiness might slide into a feeling of deadness, and then into a deadness of feeling, and then back again into an experience of emptiness, picking up shadings of meaning along the way. It is important that words be used (and read) in a way that allows their accrued meanings to be altered by (and to affect) each new emotional context in which they are spoken or written or read.

 

2. Analyzing Forms of Aliveness and Deadness.

ePub

We’ll hunt for a third tiger now, but like The others this one too will be a form Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not The flesh and bone tiger that beyond all myths Paces the earth. I know these things quite well, Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest, And I go on pursuing through the hours Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.

The Other Tiger,”J.L. Borges, 1960

I have become increasingly aware over the past several years that the sense of aliveness and deadness of the transference-countertransference is, for me, perhaps the single most important measure of the moment-to-moment status of the analytic process. In the course of four clinical discussions, I shall explore the idea that an essential element of analytic technique involves the analyst’s making use of his experience in the counter-transference to address specific expressive and defensive roles of the sense of aliveness and deadness of the analysis as well as the particular function of these qualities of experience in the landscape of the patient’s internal object world and object relationships. From this perspective, the problems of central concern to analyst and analysand tend to focus increasingly on such questions as: When was the last time the analysis felt alive to both participants? Is there a disguised vitality that cannot be acknowledged by analyst and/or analysand for fear of the consequences of its recognition? What sorts of substitute formations might be masking the lifelessness of the analysis, e.g., manic excitement, perverse pleasure, hysterical acting-in and acting-out, as-if constructions, parasitic dependence on the inner life of the analyst, and so on?

 

3. The Perverse Subject of Analysis.

ePub

It is by now widely accepted that the analysis of perversion is not fundamentally a process of decoding and interpreting the unconscious fantasies, anxieties, and defenses that are enacted in the perverse patient’s sexual activity. Instead, it has become increasingly recognized that the analysis of perversion centrally involves the understanding and interpretation of transference phenomena that are structured by the patient’s perverse internal object world (Malcolm 1970, Meltzer 1973). I believe it is important that this evolving understanding be developed a step further: in my view, the analysis of perversion necessarily involves the analysis of the perverse transference-countertransference as it unfolds in the analytic relationship.

In analyzing perversion, one cannot hope to understand what the patient is attempting to communicate without (to some extent) entering into the perverse scene that is being created in the transference-countertransference. As a result, an analyst attempting to write about the analysis of perversion must describe something of his own experience in (of) the perverse transference-countertransference; otherwise, he must content himself with presenting a desiccated, detached, and ultimately false picture of the analysis that fails to capture the experience of the Siren song of the perverse scene in which he has unwittingly participated.1

 

4. Privacy, Reverie, and Analytic Technique.

ePub

I hold this to be the highest task of two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.

R. M. Rilke, 1904

Debussy felt that music is the space between the notes. Something similar might be said of psychoanalysis. Between the notes of the spoken words constituting the analytic dialogue are the reveries of the analyst and the analysand. It is in this space occupied by the interplay of reveries that one finds the music of psychoanalysis. The current chapter represents an effort to examine some of the methods (techniques) that we as analysts depend upon to help us listen to this music.

In this chapter and the next, I shall attempt to describe three separate, but interrelated implications for psychoanalytic technique that derive from the understanding of the relationship among privacy, communication, and the experience of “the inter-subjective analytic third” (Ogden 1992a, b, 1994a, b, c, d). As will be discussed, I believe that the creation of an analytic process depends upon the capacity of analyst and analysand to engage in a dialectical interplay of states of “reverie” (Bion, 1962a) that are at the same time private and unconsciously communicative.

 

5. Dream Associations.

ePub

As in the discussion of the use of the couch and “the fundamental rule” in the previous chapter, I shall take as a starting point in thinking about the analysis of dreams the idea that analytic technique must serve the analytic process. I view the analytic process as centrally involving the interplay of conscious and unconscious states of “reverie” (Bion 1962a, b) of analyst and analysand leading to the creation of a third subject of analysis (“the intersubjective analytic third”) (Ogden 1994a, d). Further, the role of analytic technique in safeguarding the privacy of analysand and analyst is held to be as critical to the facilitation of the analytic process as is the role of analytic technique in creating and preserving conditions for conscious and unconscious communication between analyst and analysand. From the perspective of this conception of the analytic process, I shall in this chapter reconsider aspects of analytic technique related to the analysis of dreams.

For almost a century, beginning with Freud’s (1900) experience in the analysis of his own dreams, there has been general agreement among psychoanalysts that the analytic understanding of dreams presented in the course of an analysis must be shaped by the network of associations and linkages that the patient generates in response to his dreams (see for example, Altman 1975, Bonime 1962, Etchegoyen 1991, French and Fromm 1964, Garma 1966, Gray 1992, Rangell 1987, Segal 1991, and Sharpe 1937). Dreams, particularly the latent content of dreams, have been viewed as the patient’s unconscious constructions and the role of the analyst has been likened to that of the skillful obstetrician delivering a baby as unobtrusively and non-invasively as he can (S. Lust-man 1969, personal communication). The analyst must give the patient room to associate as freely as possible to his dream. In the absence of the patient’s associations, the analyst is left in the position of interpreting only manifest dream content, thus engaging in a superficial (and probably largely inaccurate) form of interpretation (Altman 1975, Garma 1966, Greenson 1967, Sharpe 1937). Given the importance of the patient’s associations to his dream, it is widely held that the analyst must not interfere with the patient’s associative process by making “premature” interpretations based on his own associations to the dream. If the patient does not provide associations, the analyst’s role comes to center on exploring the analysand’s unconscious anxiety/resistance to providing the associational linkages needed to understand and interpret his dream (including its transference meaning) (Gray 1994).

 

6. Reverie and Interpretation.

ePub

Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of me finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue. It is me very atmosphere of the mind; and when we mind is imaginative … it takes to itself the faintest hints of life

Henry James, 1884

I believe that we do well in psychoanalysis to allow words and ideas a certain slippage. This is particularly true of the term reverie (Bion 1962a, b). What I shall attempt in this chapter is not a definition of reverie, but a discussion of my own experience of attempting to make use of my own states of reverie to further the analytic process. In this way I hope to convey a sense of what I mean by the experience of reverie in an analytic setting and how I make analytic use of the “overlapping states of reverie” of analyst and analysand.

It is almost impossible not to be dismissive of reverie since it is an experience that takes the most mundane and yet most personal of shapes. These shapes, especially early on in the process of moving toward verbal symbolization of reverie experience (and we are most of the time early on in the process), are the stuff of ordinary life—the day-to-day concerns that accrue in the process of being alive as a human being. Reveries “are things made out of lives and the world that the lives inhabit… [they are about] people: people working, thinking about things, falling in love, taking naps … [about] the habit of the world, its strange ordinariness, its ordinary strangeness … (Jarrell 1953, p. 68, speaking about Frost’s poetry). They are our ruminations, daydreams, fantasies, bothly sensations, fleeting perceptions, images emerging from states of half-sleep (Frayn 1987), tunes (Boyer 1992) and phrases (Flannery 1979) that run through our minds, and so on.

 

7. On the Use of Language in Psychoanalysis.

ePub

The subject of the use of language in psychoanalysis touches on virtually every aspect of psychoanalysis. In this chapter, I shall make no attempt to be encyclopaedic; rather, I shall offer a few tentative thoughts concerning the way in which the conscious and unconscious experience of analyst and analysand is conveyed/created (in large part through language) in the analytic setting. I shall discuss some implications for analysis of the idea that language is not simply a package in which communications are wrapped, but the medium in which experience is brought to life in the process of being spoken or written.

This chapter does not represent an effort to apply analytic thinking to the field of literary studies. Instead, I hope to make a small contribution to an awareness of the life of words (and the life in words) that occurs in the analytic situation. Rather than attempting to look behind language, the effort here is to look into it.

Reading, Writing, and Psychoanalysis

I shall begin in a way that I realize is more than a little odd for an analytic paper: I will attempt to describe something of my experience in the introductory English courses that I took when I was a student at Amherst College. My experience in those courses remains at the core of the way I approach the use of language both within and outside of the analytic setting.

 

8. Listening: Three Frost Poems.

ePub

Joseph Brodsky (1995a) has referred to poetry as “a great disciplinarian” (p. 100) to prose. I would add thjuhnat poetry is a great disciplinarian to analytic listening. In this chapter I will look at the way language is used in the making of poetry in three Frost poems. My interest is not so much in what a poem is “about,” but rather in what a poem is. I will be discussing the ways effects are created in language and how these effects taken together create the unique experience the reader generates (with the poet) in listening to the poem.

I have written this chapter for the sheer pleasure of reading and writing about poetry and I offer it to the reader in that spirit. It is a chapter that has been written without concern that it be “useful” to the analytic reader. (I will leave it entirely to the reader to make what connection, if any, he or she is inclined to make between the experience of listening to poetry and the experience of listening to the language created in an analytic relationship.) Perhaps if this chapter does not aspire to being “useful,” the reader and I might be sufficiently free to make anything and nothing of it. The poet A.R. Ammons (1968) has put it far better than I am able to in his comparison of poetry to a walk:

 

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