Transformations

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Transformations continues the investigation of various aspects of psychoanalytic theory and practice which Bion commenced with Learning from Experience (1962) and pursued in Elements of Psychoanalysis (1963). In this third work published in 1965, Bion examines the ways in which the analyst's description of the original analytic experience, mediated by theory, necessarily transforms it in the course of effecting an interpretation.

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Chapter one

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SUPPOSE a painter sees a path through a field sown with poppies and paints it: at one end of the chain of events is the field of poppies, at the other a canvas with pigment disposed on its surface. We can recognize that the latter represents the former, so I shall suppose that despite the differences between a field of poppies and a piece of canvas, despite the transformation that the artist has effected in what he saw to make it take the form of a picture, something has remained unaltered and on this something recognition depends. The elements that go to make up the unaltered aspect of the transformation I shall call invariants.

The artist is not the only person involved in looking at a picture; recognition of what the picture represents could not occur if the observer were to rely exclusively on his sense of smell. The wider his experience of art the more likely he would be to interpret the painting correctly.

In many pictures the effectiveness of the representation would depend on perspective. A peculiar feature of this domain is that a completely circular pond, for example, might be represented by an ellipse, or a path with borders running parallel to each other might be represented by two lines that meet. Indeed the representation of pond or path would be less adequate if it were a circle or parallel lines. Accordingly we assume that in ellipse and intersecting lines, circular pond and parallel borders, is some quality that is invariant under artistic creation.

 

Chapter two

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THE term “transformation” may mislead unless the limitations of the implication of “form” are recognized. In painting, in geometry, it is safe to think in terms of form, but I am concerned with a function of personality in the process of being represented and it may introduce errors to suppose that a function of personality has a form. In severely disturbed persons a transformation T (patient) may be a deformation. Such a patient, abandoning one transformation for another, may produce T2 (patient) β which has no obvious resemblance to T1 (patient) β. Suppose that T2 (patient) β is a shapeless lump, the term “deformation” is not likely to mislead. But if T2 (patient) α is the patient’s experience of being greeted by the analyst and T2 (patient) β is the patient’s representation of the event as a hostile attack made on him by the doctor, it may seriously obstruct understanding of what has taken place in the mind of the patient to suppose that either T2 or T2 β have, or are, forms.

 

Chapter three

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THE clinical illustration of Chapter 2 made a distinction between the patient’s experience O and the analyst’s experience O. When the stimulating experience is the analytic session itself, O is the same for patient and analyst and the distinction has to be made between the processes by which the patient transforms his experience to achieve his representation of it and the processes by which the analyst does so; similarly between the patient’s representation and the analyst’s between T (patient) α and T (analyst) α, between T (patient) β and T (analyst) β. I shall abbreviate these signs further to Tp α and Ta α, Tp β and Ta β.

The experiences illustrated in Chapter 2 differ, but the illustrations may not display these differences adequately. The inadequacy lies in notation for the presentation of psycho-analytic phenomena with the precision required.

B has an emotional background which I believe to be typical, though this will need confirmation. From the first, it was evident that the resources of psycho-analysis might prove inadequate to the demands of such a patient. In terms of time and money alone treatment would be costly. Patience and a capacity for taking risks were also soon seen to be necessary. It was only necessary for the patient to feel that one demand was satisfied for him to make it the prelude for further exactions; this attitude pervaded all aspects of relationship with me and apparently with life at large. Typical of the development of awareness of a situation to a point at which I could venture on a verbal impression of it, was the fact that awareness grew gradually so that it was difficult to say, when an aspect had been clarified, what material, in the immediate circumstances, was sufficient to sustain the burden of interpretation I wished to lay on it. An interpretation therefore appeared to lack the scientific quality that is conferred by supporting evidence. I have drawn attention to the high degree of speculation in my second description of B. A series of such doubts sprang naturally from the fact, obvious at the outset, and therefore of slight significance in the immediate analytic setting, that any collaboration, and particularly an analytic one, with such a patient would be unrewarding and even dangerous. Such premonitions have two mainsprings: the first from the analysis itself, which is so transformed that the intention that the analytic association should be healing and rewarding is frustrated by actions intended to wound; the second from perceptions of the patient’s material as it coheres to form his representation of O. This first transformation is analogous to that of the landscape gardener who works to transform the landscape itself; the second transformation is analogous to that of the painter who transforms the landscape into a painting. It is doubtful whether the transformation of the analysis into something wounding1 should be included amongst transformations in the sense in which I have used the term so far. The state of mind in which such behaviour is dominant may be described as the patient studying the interpretations he receives (Ta β). The object of his study is to arrive at action by which he may destroy psychoanalysis. It is a necessary part of the process to arrive by Tp α at Tp β as a prelude to destructive activities, but the transformation does not require special categorization because of the end it is to serve. The danger that the colloquial sense of a “transformation of the analysis” will infect the meaning I wish to reserve for the theory of transformation is one against which I wish to guard by using the sign T. The “transformation of the analysis” refers to a change of “uses” as set out on the horizontal axis of the grid.2 The subject is one to which I shall return after investigating illustration B.

 

Chapter four

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THEORY leaves us free to give Ta β the value of the analyst’s verbalization of his experience in the session, or the emotional state induced in his patient. That the analyst works on his patient’s emotions as a painter might work on his canvas would be repugnant to psycho-analytic theory and practice. The painter who works on his public’s emotions with an end in view is a propagandist with the outlook of the poster artist. He does not intend his public to be free in its choice of the use to which it puts the communication he makes. The analyst’s position is akin to that of the painter who by his art adds to his public’s experience. Since psycho-analysts do not aim to run the patient’s life but to enable him to run it according to his lights and therefore to know what his lights are, Ta β either in the form of interpretation or scientific paper should represent the psycho-analyst’s verbal representation of an emotional experience. An attempt to exclude by restriction to verbal expression any element from Ta that would make it pass from the domain of communication of knowledge to propaganda would be inadequate. Verbal expression must be limited so that it expresses truth without any implication other than the implication that it is true in the analyst’s opinion. How this is to be attempted lies outside the scope of this discussion, but for certain implications which I shall now consider. The first concerns the route by which we have arrived at this conclusion. It is sometimes assumed that the motive for scientific work is an abstract love for truth. The argument I have followed implies that the grounds for limiting the values that may be substituted for Ta β to true statements lies in the nature of values not so limited and their relationship to other components in the T theory. If truth is not essential to all values of Ta β, Ta β must be regarded as expressed in and by manipulation of the emotions of patient or public and not in or by the interpretation; truth is essential for any value of Ta β in art or science. How is truth to be a criterion for a value proposed to Ta β ? To what has it to be true and how shall we decide whether it is or not? Almost any answer appears to make truth contingent on some circumstance or idea that is itself contingent. Falling back on analytic experience for a clue, I am reminded that healthy mental growth seems to depend on truth as the living organism depends on food. If it is lacking or deficient the personality deteriorates. I cannot support this conviction by evidence regarded as scientific. It may be that the formulation belongs to the domain of Aesthetic. In practice the problem arises with schizoid personalities in whom the super-ego appears to be developmentally prior to the ego and to deny development and existence itself to the ego. The usurpation by the super-ego of the position that should be occupied by the ego involves imperfect development of the reality principle, exaltation of a “moral” outlook and lack of respect for the truth. The result is starvation of the psyche and stunted growth. I shall regard this statement as an axiom that resolves more difficulties than it creates.

 

Chapter five

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THE patient’s reaction to O is primitive with material belonging to the categories of rows A and B.

His presence shows that he knows that I am present. This fact is used, conformably with column 2 categories, to deny my absence. He reacts in the session as if I were absent. This behaviour, in accordance with column 2 categories, is intended to deny my presence. Though “absence” and “presence” are each characteristic of column 2 they are brought together at this stage in the analysis, in accordance withA4 andB4 categories.1

The state of mind I have described is represented for me by a model—that of an adult who violently maintains an exclusively primitive omnipotent ↔ helpless state. The model by which I represent his “vision” of me is that of an absent breast, the place or position, that I, the breast, ought to occupy but do not. The “ought” expresses moral violence and omnipotence. The visual image of me can be represented by what a geometer might call a point, a musician the staccato mark in a musical score. As this attitude is important I shall deal with it in detail, using ideas expressed earlier in the book.

 

Chapter six

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A CONSTANT conjunction is a function of consciousness in the observer. The observer feels that it is a necessity for him that the conjunction should have a meaning for him. Meaning is a function of self-love, self-hate or self-knowledge. It is not logically, but psycho-logically necessary. The constant conjunction, once named, must then be found, as a matter of psychic necessity, to have a meaning. Once psychologically necessary meaning has been achieved reason, as the slave of the passions, transforms psycho-logically necessary meaning into logically necessary meaning. Inadequacy of hallucinatory gratification to promote mental growth impels activity designed to provide “true” meaning: it is felt that the meaning attributed to the constant conjunction must have a counterpart in the realization of the conjunction. Therefore the activity of the reason as the slave of the passions is inadequate. In terms of the theory of pleasure/ pain principle there is a conflict between pleasure principle and reality principle to obtain control of the reason. The objection to a meaningless universe (however big or small it may be thought to be) derives from fear that the lack of meaning is a sign that meaning has been destroyed and the threat this holds for essential narcissism. If any given universe cannot yield a meaning for the individual, his narcissism demands the existence of a god, or some ultimate object, for which it has a meaning from which meaning he is supposed to benefit. In some instances meaninglessness is attacked by splitting and projected into an object. Meaning or its lack, in analysis, is a function of self-love, self-hate, self-knowledge.

 

Chapter seven

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THE “point” and the “line” represent visual images which remain invariant under a wide range of conditions. The same is true of the visual images associated with the propositions of Euclid; hence the propositions themselves are communicated over long periods of time and between widely separated cultures and races. This may appear to be true of any visual representation, such as cave paintings, but although the column 3 component, record or notation, is strong, the artistic representation does not appear to be so rich in ideational content as the geometrical representation is. The geometer Bhaskara (b. A.D. 1114) drew four right-angled triangles inwards one on each side of the square of the hypotenuse and left it with the comment “See I”1 There are two dissimilar observations that can be made. One is mathematical and can be stated: a2b2 the other is mythical and can be stated: of the 3, 4, 5, triangle 3 is the first odd number and is perfect, 4 is the square on an even side 2, while 5 partly resembles the father and partly the mother, being the sum of 3 and 2, “and we must then liken the perpendicular to the male, the base to the female and the hypotenuse to the offspring of both”.

 

Chapter eight

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THE domain of thought may be conceived of as a space occupied by no-things; the space occupied by a particular no-thing is marked by a sign such as the words “chair”, or “cat” or “point” or “dog”. The attempt to free this domain from associations of space perception is supported by use of concepts such as “thought” or “thinking” or “in the mind”, but a thought continues to have the penumbra of associations proper to “the place where …” the no-thing is. This is also true of feelings and emotions however expressed.

The “objects” with which psycho-analysis deals include the relationship of the no-thing and the thing. The personality that is capable of tolerating a no-thing can make use of the no-thing, and so is able to make use of what we can now call thoughts. Since he can do so he can seek to fill the “space” occupied by the thought; this makes it possible for the “thought” of space, line, point to be matched with a realization that is felt to approximate to it. In this respect contrasts with and new uses can be found for that cannot be found for . The search for, and discovery of, elements perceived in space is part of the procedure by which elements of category I begin to acquire meaning; the negative quality of the definitory hypothesis is discarded or replaced by new elements that saturate the (ξ) elements of φ (ξ).1 It is convenient to postulate the existence of a mind represented entirely by points, positions of objects, places where something used to be, or would be at some future date. Objects perceived in space contribute to the transformation of these elements (analogous to ξ) into specific no-things.2

 

Chapter nine

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THE visual images and terms employed in the following model are chosen without regard to the sources from which they have been derived.

Two people are present: myself and a patient. I am detached and so is he, though for both of us the experience is important. As he lies on the couch and I sit I imagine that a cloud begins to form rather in the way that clouds can sometimes be seen to form above a hot-point on a summer’s day. It seems to be above him. A similar cloud may be visible to him, but he will see it arising from me. These are probability clouds.

Soon other clouds form: some of these are new clouds, some formed from old ones, probability clouds that have changed into possibility clouds. The situation must be conceived of as tense however little appears to be happening. I extend the scope of my model by doing away with the restriction implicit in the term “visual” imagery. “Olfactory image”, “auditory image”, “tactile image” are absurd terms which however can indicate the direction and scope of freedom I want. To abolish any restriction on absurdity, implicit in the analogies drawn from sense impressions, I shall describe the model as composed of C category elements and assume that tension, like “possibility” and “probability”, is apparent1 even if it is not apparent to any known sense. C category elements are described as visual because it enables me to draw on analogy from the sense of sight to communicate my meaning. The tension which is an essential part of the model is perceptible as are clouds. The clouds have increased; possibility clouds become clouds of doubt. Certainty clouds also appear; clouds of depression, guilt, hope and fear likewise. To every cloud there corresponds its hot point, but the cloud, like its analogue in nature, may have wandered far from it.

 

Chapter ten

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THIS chapter is a review and summary. I begin with a model of transformation: suppose a number of marbles of different colours and sizes, ½″, ¾″ and I″ in diameter, lying in a tray. The colours and sizes are “dimensions”. Make a rule that in another tray must be placed as many marbles of I″ diameter as there are green marbles in the first tray. When the operation has been completed the marbles in the second tray will represent a transformation of the “space” represented by the marbles of different size and colour in the first tray. The collection on the first tray represents the “space” I have denoted O. The rule regulating the disposition of marbles on the second tray represents the mental activity I have denoted by T α (or T aα if it governs the behaviour of the analyst). The marbles on the second tray represent the transformation I have denoted T β (or T aβ if effected by the analyst).

I may now use the marbles on the second tray as the O for further transformation. I can denote this by writing O (2nd cycle) =Taβ (1st cycle). I make a rule that on another tray are to be placed as many marbles of 1 ″ diameter as there are blue marbles on the second tray. This rule may accordingly be denoted T aα (2nd cycle) and when the operation is complete the marbles on the third tray represent a state I denote by the sign Taβ (2nd cycle). This can now be made the starting point of a further operation which is similar to the two preceding but is now the third cycle of transformation.

 

Chapter eleven

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IN none of this have I spoken of O except in so far as the horizontal axis of the grid implies the existence of an object that “uses” and the vertical axis implies the existence of an object that “possesses” something to use.

My theory would seem to imply a gap between phenomena and the thing-in-itself and all that I have said is not incompatible with Plato, Kant, Berkeley, Freud and Klein, to name a few, who show the extent to which they believe that a curtain of illusion separates us from reality. Some consciously believe the curtain of illusion to be a protection against truth which is essential to the survival of humanity; the remainder of us believe it unconsciously but no less tenaciously for that. Even those who consider such a view mistaken and truth essential consider that the gap cannot be bridged because the nature of the human being precludes knowledge of anything beyond phenomena save conjecture. From this conviction of the inaccessibility of absolute reality the mystics must be exempted. Their inability to express themselves through the medium of ordinary language, art or music is related to the fact that all such methods of communication are transformations and transformations deal with phenomena and arc dealt with by being known, loved or hated—K, L or H. Transformation then is intermediate between O and T xβ. We must therefore consider further the gap between O and knowledge of phenomena and transformations of O.

 

Chapter twelve

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BISHOP BERKELEY, prompted by the irreligion of Newton and his sponsor Edmund Halley, attacked certain illogicalities, notably circular argument, in Newton’s presentation of the differential calculus; his criticisms exercised mathematicians for over a century. The following quotation is from The Analyst (published in 1734):

“It must, indeed, be acknowledged that he used fluxions, like the scaffold of a building, as things to be laid aside or got rid of as soon as finite lines were found proportional to them. But then these finite exponents are found by the help of fluxions. Whatever therefore is got by such exponents and proportions is to be ascribed to fluxions: which must therefore be previously understood. And what are these fluxions? The velocities of evanescent increments. And what are these same evanescent increments ? They are neither finite quantities, nor quantities infinitely small, nor yet nothing. May we not call them the ghosts of departed quantities ?”

Newton’s formulation of the differential calculus is a transformation in K. “The ghosts of departed quantities” expresses the negative of the column 1 dimension of his formulation. The transformation in K is effected by discarding the “scaffolding” of fluxions, “the ghosts of departed quantities”. The discarding of the scaffolding may be regarded as a step to achieve finite lines “proportional to them”, a category H3 formulation; or, “the finite lines… . proportional to them” may be regarded as an F3 formulation used as a column 2 formulation to prevent emergence of the “ghosts of departed quantities” and the psychological turbulence that such an emergence would precipitate; Newton did have what we would today regard as a psychotic breakdown in which, in his own words, he lost “the former consistency of his mind” and from which he emerged, according to J. M. Keynes, “slightly ‘gaga’ “. Keynes’s paper, which was read by his brother at the Centenary Celebrations held in July 1946, contains material which will repay study for its penetrating insights though I cannot enter into it here.

 

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