Cogitations

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Cogitations, the last of the posthumous publications, is a collection of occasional writings representing Bion's attempts to clarify and evaluate both his own ideas and those of others by casting them in written form and frequently addressing them to an imaginary audience. Covering a period between February 1958 and April 1979, Cogitations delves into a wide range of material - psychoanalysis and science, mathematics and logic, literature and semantics. Some form a background to Bion's theoretical development, showing the doubts and arguments leading to the ideas expressed in his books, others highlighting and detailing some of the more abstract points in them, and some exploring topics destined for books that were to remain unwritten.

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February 1958

ePub

Psychotic mechanisms

At last I think I see daylight on a point that has baffled me for a long time: what does the psychotic patient think analysis is? Partly an activity that is followed by consequences such as those that attend on events in the realm of physical fact; partly a mental event in which consequences (as they exist in the world of physical reality) do not exist—there are only sequences. In a dream an act appears to have consequences; it has only sequences. What is needed is a spatial model to represent a dream. The verbal description would then be seen as an artefact in which certain elements, in an agglomeration that has no time component and no events that are consequent on other events, are highlighted by the imposition on them of causality and temporality. The capacity to impose on these elements both causality and temporality depends on the existence of a non-psychotic personality. This non-psychotic personality must be capable of (a) frustration, and hence awareness of temporality, (b) guilt and depression, and hence an ability to contemplate causality (since contemplating causes involves the possibility of having to contemplate one's own responsibility for certain events in the chain of causes). The capacity for verbalization is, as I have shown already, itself a function of the depressive position. [see ‘Notes on the Theory of Schizophrenia’, read at the Eighteenth International Psycho-Analytical Congress in London, 1953.]

 

10 January 1959

ePub

Scientific method

The patient said he couldn't find a pot to harmonize all the things in his studio. This would be a vagina or womb; an object like that sought by Poincaré [Science and Method, p. 30] which

must unite elements long since known, but till then scattered and seemingly foreign to each other, and suddenly introduce order where the appearance of disorder reigned. Then it enables us to see at a glance each of those elements in the place it occupies in the whole. Not only is the new fact valuable on its own account, but it alone gives a value to the old facts it unites. Our mind is frail as our senses are; it would lose itself in the complexity of the world if that complexity were not harmonious; like the short-sighted, it would only see the details, and would be obliged to forget each of these details before examining the next, because it would be incapable of taking in the whole.

He adds the opinion that ‘the only facts worthy of our attention are those that introduce order into this complexity and so make it accessible to us’.

 

16 May 1959

ePub

Common sense

On Friday X's anxiety was far more marked: he hated me, or felt I was not what he thought me; he was disillusioned; my practice had gone; I was ill or dying. But these disjointed scraps were at least possible interpretations about a real man; I could see that he could hold such a view about facts that might be observed by him. Why was this?

It was a kind of disjointed rage, a fragmented hatred, but said with fear. This is the importance of the father, and this is the importance of the mother. He can get inside her as a tank from which the father can be attacked. The patient retreats into a state of mind, e.g. insanity, from which he can launch his attacks.

Where then is his common sense? Why blood? Blood is not faeces. It is essential to his life—like common sense. It has become bad outside him; not turned to faeces inside him, but bad and dangerous outside.

The blood—common sense—the semen in which he sits, is dangerous and bad. It is laughter, sexual laughter; noise, horns, drills, banging. It is all the bizarre objects. It is a kind of orgasm that cannot be contained within a disciplined framework. The disciplined framework is reason, mathematics, logic. The analyst becomes a very frightening, aggressive object who takes control of the genitalia so as to give effect to, to fulfil a violent oedipal assault of a murderous kind on the father and mother. “I am going to make you shoot your mother. Look what I've got! The penis and balls with which I shall make you shoot your mother!”

 

12 July 1959

ePub

I am nonplussed yet excited, as if on some important trail I cannot get hold of. X is not random reconstruction: then what does he do? Could it be logically or mathematically described? If he is saying something apparently insignificant, he can produce coherent, recognizably coherent, speech. Then he may become vehement and speak emphatically. “Then we went down the road. It was” (persuasive and confidential) “just a quite ordinary road. And I said to him, ‘This won't do’ (quietly emphatic and faintly reminiscent of the ‘I said it very loud and clear’ verses of Lewis Carroll). I just made it obvious to him that it just would not do”, the last three words spoken quietly but each one separately emphasized. Has it any meaning for me? And if it has, what is that meaning? And is the meaning it has of any importance except as an indication of my personality and how it reacts to a particular form of stimulus? Yes, obviously it has, because I have just spoken of a ‘particular form of stimulus’ and this at once suggests (a) it is a stimulus, and (b) it has a particular form.

 

14 July 1959

ePub

It is clear that if the search is for the harmonizing fact that marks the transition from the paranoid–schizoid to the depressive position (Poincaré, Science and Method, p. 30, and Braithwaite on causation), then much depends on the nature of the elements that are seen to be harmoniously coherent on the discovery of the harmonizing fact, and on the mental make-up of the investigator who discovers, or (according to Poincaré) selects the harmonizing fact. To a religious such a fact might well be quite different from that selected by a physicist. The fact or formula discovered by a mathematician would differ again. The reader of the works written by such pioneer discoverers would have an experience similar to the emotional experience of the discoverer; he would discover the discovery, or the book, or the sentence, or the phrase in which the selected fact was embodied. But—and here lies the central fact—in all these instances, as I have already shown, a series of facts out of an infinitely larger totality of facts is given coherence by the selected fact, and that is all; not only is the fact selected, but all the cohering facts also are a selection. Thus one fact is observed to ‘explain’ a great number of other facts, which facts may be considered to belong to the domain of Physics. But this is no more than saying that all the facts that are not given coherence by the selected or discovered fact are either unknown, ignored, or regarded as belonging to some other discipline or system. A result of this is that some kind of objective reality is attributed to the coherent system of facts, whereas there is no evidence to suppose that such a system, say physics, is anything more than an appearance artificially produced by the limitations of the human mind unable to do more than see a tiny fraction of the totality of facts, and prone to attribute to that fraction of facts a relationship intrinsic to itself, while the supposed relationship between the facts is only a relationship that each fact has to the capacities of the human observer.

 

15 July 1959 (4.30 A.M. Blast it!)

ePub

X said…well, what? He used words in such a way that they seemed to indicate that his mother or relatives had cut off supplies; that he could sell out £500 of shares and go to the cottage, in which case there would only be £50 and that just could not buy food. “That's all there is to it.” I attempted to draw attention to the fact that even while there was an opportunity for analysis, he could make no use of it. He defends by taking this as an accusation in which he is to blame and thus denies the existence of a very bad obstructive object. The rational comes in, therefore, not as the product of an elucidation, but as a defence against the elucidation. If I put to him that his mother is a very dangerous object denying him food, then I am giving him material to defend himself against the common-sense view, and am myself felt to be disturbed to an extent which makes me unable to see the common-sense view.

There is something curious about this kind of defence which is analogous to an interpretation in which the elements are so ordered that the narcissism of the patient is spared. But I have already said that narcissism, apparently primary narcissism [Freud, ‘Instincts and their Vicissitudes’, 1915c, SE 14], is related to the fact that common sense is a function of the patient's relationship to his group, and in his relationship with the group the individual's welfare is secondary to the survival of the group. Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest needs to be replaced by a theory of the survival of the fittest to survive in a group—as far as the survival of the individual is concerned. That is, he must be possessed with a high degree of common sense: (1) an ability to see what everyone else sees when subjected to the same stimulus, (2) an ability to believe in survival of the dead after death in a sort of Heaven or Valhalla or what-not, (3) an ability to hallucinate or manipulate facts so as to produce material for a delusion that there exists an inexhaustible fund of love in the group for himself. If for some reason the patient lacks these, or some similar series of capacities for attaining subordination to the group, he has to defend himself against his fear of the group—which is known to be indifferent to his fate as an individual—by destroying his common sense or sense of group pressures on himself as an individual, as the only method by which he can preserve his narcissism. In the extreme form of defence in the psychotic the result of these destructive attacks appears as a superabundance of primary narcissism. But this is an appearance—the supposedly primary narcissism must be recognized as secondary to a fear of ‘social-ism’.

 

18 July 1959

ePub

(An inability to dream and hatred of common sense) implies

(destructive attacks on all linking and anti-social acting out) [see p. 58, discussion of symbol for ‘implies’, –)–].

The anti-social acting out is an attempt to destroy the common sense which the patient cannot get rid of. In analysis it contributes to the danger of murderous attacks on the analyst. The analyst's common-sense interpretations are attacked by being seen and felt as sexual assaults. But does the patient really feel them as sexual assaults, or is this an instance of anti-social, i.e. anti-common-sense, attacks on common sense, a sort of ‘You're another’ retort to someone who is felt to frustrate?

Social-ism versus Narcissism = Frustration of all instincts.

The aimless wandering is described in terms such as, ‘down the road’ and, ‘I don't know why’. But these terms also give a lively impression of the protesting and bewildered parent who is suspicious but can get no relief for anxiety either through confirmation of anxiety, or final or even temporary dismissal of doubts. Is this his conscience playing up both him and me by being delinquent, by being a delinquent super-ego which knows just how to produce the maximum anxiety?

 

24 July 1959

ePub

The suspicion that the actual events of the session are being turned into a dream came back to me today with X when at one point I suspected that my interpretation was being made into a dream. Thus, he sees a tunnel with a train in it. The train stops. “Won't be able to get cured. Too early and since I just missed it there will not be another for a long time. Minute fragments like faeces…two chairs and the three-piece suite; stool–chair. I can't talk properly.” Then he started on the ‘dream’. It was clear to me that a distinction was being made between talking ‘properly’ and some kind of talking in visual images.

In an attempt to see how these elements were put together, the first difficulty was that the terrifying super-ego would be put together. When it came to synthesis, after this interpretation, the problem was to see how elements were combined. I suspect that Freud's displacement etc. is relevant; he took up only the negative attitude, dreams as ‘concealing’ something, not the way in which the necessary dream is constructed.

 

[Undated]

ePub

The tropisms

The tropisms may be communicated. In certain circumstances they are too powerful for the modes of communication available to the personality. This, presumably, may be because the personality is too weak or ill-developed if the traumatic situation arrives prematurely. But when this situation does arise, all the future development of the personality depends on whether an object, the breast, exists into which the tropisms can be projected. If it does not, the result is disaster which ultimately takes the form of loss of contact with reality, apathy, or mania. And in this context I include in mania feelings of depression that must be distinguished from the depression of the neuroses. In extreme cases it is an agitated melancholia, but it need not be extreme; the maniacal quality may be so slight as to be recognizable as an obsessive depression, but its essential quality is aggressiveness and hate.

If such an object exists, a breast capable of tolerating projective identifications that are thrust into it (for it is to projective identification in relation to the breast that I have now returned), then the outcome may be supposed to be more favourable, or at least in suspense.

 

25 July 1959

ePub

I shall assume that the patient's fear of the murderous super-ego prevents his approaching the Positions [paranoid–schizoid and depressive positions]. This in turn means that he is unable to dream, for it is in dream that the Positions are negotiated. He therefore postpones this experience till the analytic session in which he hopes he will have support, or perhaps, feeling he has support, dares to have the dream he cannot have without the consciousness of support.

He has to dream—the important thing here is not the content of the dream, but his having to ‘dream’, a positive transitive act for which a transitive verb is necessary. Not only the creative person needs to dream to accomplish the act of creation involving experience of the Positions, but also the lesser mortal who needs to do it to ‘understand’ the interpretation, each good interpretation being, as I have said before, an event that is, or should be, significant as one of the selected facts to which Poincaré draws attention. The patient who consistently ‘cannot understand’ may not simply be resisting, but resisting in a particular way. Indeed it may be that here lies the essential difference between the resistance as something peculiar to the neurotic and relegation to the unconscious, and psychotic destruction of the means for understanding which is associated with an apparently full consciousness of what is ordinarily the furniture of the unconscious. “I do not understand”, or, “do not know why”, or “do not know how”, etc. may be taken either as a positive statement of inability to dream, or a defiant assertion of a capacity for not dreaming.

 

[Undated]

ePub

The Dream is an emotional event of which we usually only hear a report or have a memory, although as we shall see it is a matter of some doubt what we mean when we think, or say, we remember a dream. I wish now to extend the term, ‘dream’, to cover the kind of events that take place in an analysis of a schizophrenic—events that appear to me to merit the description, ‘dreams’.

One of the points I wish to discuss is related to the fact that the actual events of the session, as they are apparent to the analyst, are being ‘dreamed’ by the patient not in the sense that he believes that the events observed by him are the same as the events observed by the analyst (except for the fact that he believes them to be a part of a dream, and the analyst believes them to be a part of reality), but in the sense that these same events that are being perceived by the analyst are being perceived by the patient and treated to a process of being dreamed by him. That is, these events are having something done to them mentally, and that which is being done to them is what I call being dreamed—subjected to a process which I hope to describe in more detail.

 

[Undated]

ePub

Schematic presentation of dreaming

Murderous super-ego: therefore avoidance of the depressive positions is achieved by not dreaming, or by dreaming with precautions, e.g. of being with the analyst or, like Y, only allowing the dream to develop when he knows someone is there; instead of quietening down when his mother arrives, his dream appears to become more vivid and worse. It also explains why X seems to cling so tenaciously to my badness in the session.

First Stage

Second Stage

Third Stage

Fourth Stage

 

27 July 1959

ePub

I think the fear of dreams must contribute to making the patient anxious to avoid the dream-work of the conscious state. Should it simply be introjection that is avoided? No: because according to me the process of introjection is carried out by the patient's ‘dreaming’ the current events. Introjection –)– Dreaming, would be the formula [see p. 58].

Anxiety in the analyst is a sign that the analyst is refusing to ‘dream’ the patient's material: not (dream) = resist = not (introject). It may be worth considering, when a patient is resisting, whether the resistance bears characteristics relating it to phenomena Freud described as ‘dream-work’. But Freud meant by dream-work that unconscious material, which would otherwise be perfectly comprehensible, was transformed into a dream, and that the dream-work needed to be undone to make the now incomprehensible dream comprehensible [New Introductory Lectures, 1933a, SE 22, p. 25]. I mean that the conscious material has to be subjected to dream-work to render it fit for storing, selection, and suitable for transformation from paranoid–schizoid position to depressive position, and that unconscious pre-verbal material has to be subjected to reciprocal dream-work for the same purpose. Freud says Aristotle states that a dream is the way the mind works in sleep: I say it is the way it works when awake (New Introductory Lectures [1933a, SE 22], pp. 26–27). Freud says the state of sleep represents a turning away from the world, the real external world, and ‘thus provides a necessary condition for the development of a psychosis’. Is this why X talks of losing consciousness? It follows on dream-work which is intended to be destroyed, or has been destroyed, as part of an attack on linking.

 

28 July 1959

ePub

The dream

The dream is the mechanism by which

(1) the ego links the sense data of external experience with the associated conscious awareness of the sense impression;

(2) the stream of unconnected impressions and events are made suitable for storing in memory;

(3) these stored events are reviewed and one is chosen which enables facts already ‘known’, i.e. stored, to be harmonized so that the relationship between them is established and the place of each element seen in its relationship to the whole;

(4) the interplay between paranoid–schizoid and depressive positions is made possible by a selected fact which is known as the ‘harmonizing or unifying fact’ spatially, and the ‘cause’ temporally, or when time is an essential element in the relationship between the elements.

The dream, therefore, is the mechanism by which there comes into operation,

(a) the social conscience, associated with splitting of the super-ego and retreat from the depressive position to the paranoid–schizoid position. This seems identical with the social guilt and true super-ego which can only come into being with the Oedipus complex, but which I think is a highly persecutory super-ego which becomes more persecutory since it is split up. Each split itself becomes a complete super-ego and this leads to further splitting, the fragmentation becoming progressively more minute. This contributes to the state where dreams are ‘invisible’, wet, and being awake is ‘dry’;

 

1 August 1959

ePub

Freud says,

It is easy to see how the remarkable preference shown by the memory in dreams for indifferent, and consequently unnoticed, elements in waking experience is bound to lead people to overlook in general the dependence of dreams upon waking life and all events to make it difficult in any particular instance to prove that dependence. [Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a, SE 4, p. 19]

My belief is that the dependence of waking life on dreams has been overlooked and is even more important. Waking life = ego activity, and in particular the play of logical thought on the synthesis of elements, i.e. particles characteristic of the paranoid–schizoid position. The function of the dream is to render these elements suitable for storage, and so to constitute the contents of what we call memory. Waking life = ego activity = logical operation. This in turn is essential for synthesis and communicability or publication.

‘The way in which memory behaves in dreams is undoubtedly of the greatest importance for any theory of memory in general’ [Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a, SE 4, p. 20]. In my idea above, the dream symbolization and dream-work is what makes memory possible.

 

2 August 1959

ePub

Vomiting and greed as most recalcitrant symptoms: the intense desire to chew and then to feel it going down; the movement of the jaws, the biting is very satisfactory. Some feeling of rebellion likewise—a kind of “Why-should-I-be-denied-the-good-things-of-life?” attitude. The good things are denied because the desire is to chew, and the object is only within visual grasp. But then the destructiveness is transferred to, and is consequently felt to impregnate, looking itself.

Much the same is true of smell as of sight, in that with neither sense must the object be in the physical contact necessary for biting and chewing. Good smells are felt to be turned into bad by the destructiveness with which they are savoured.

This frustration carries over into a relationship with the man's anus because he is predominantly representing the cruelly destroyed breast. Or, rather, the masculine anus represents it, and is itself a cruelly destructive mouth ‘producing’ bad smells and bad food.

 

3 August 1959

ePub

A dream can be concerned with evacuation of an undesired thought, feeling, image, or with its storage. In either instance it must convert either an empirical external fact or an internal psychic reality into a form that renders it suitable for storage or evacuation. In this respect, too, it seems analogous to a digestive process. But is it? Or is it not that the ‘name’ of the process is similar to the ‘name’ of the digestive process? From where does this seeming similarity arise?

 

4 August 1959

ePub

One way of dealing with the problem of scientific evidence for dream theories would be to restrict the search for data to experience shared by analyst and patient, or at which analyst and patient are both present. Such occasions might be all those on which the patient said he had had a dream, or all those on which there appear to be events taking place, e.g. the patient sits up and looks around in a dazed way; the analyst, identifying himself with the patient, feels that the experience the patient is having would be more understandable if the patient were asleep and dreaming.

‘More understandable.’ Why? Because it is more appropriate to the facts as the analyst sees them. But this means that if the analyst were feeling what the patient seems to be feeling, then he, the analyst, would be disposed to say, “I must have been dreaming”.

Just then I found I had been asleep; just before I woke I seemed to be saying to F that I was feeling I was going mad because I could not sort out the feeling I was having in the dream about having a dream and who I was. The dream seemed to be that I was trying to solve the problem I am in fact trying to solve, but with the addition of the fear of going mad—a sort of mental disintegration.

 

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