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An Introduction to W.R. Bion's A Memoir of the Future: Volume One: Authoritative, Not Authoritarian, Psychoanalysis

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In the last years of his life Bion gathered unusual manuscripts handwritten in his tidy lettering that assumed the form of a trilogy. Finely typed and edited by his dedicated wife, they were named A Memoir of the Future. Many of the themes of this book were already evident in Transformations and Attention and Interpretation. These earlier books provide many of the theories whose practical counterpart finally found a form in the trilogy: as Bion himself noted, "the criteria for a psychoanalytic paper are that it should stimulate in the reader the emotional experience that the writer intends, that its power to stimulate should be durable, and that the emotional experience thus stimulated should be an accurate representation of the psychoanalytic experience that stimulated the writer in first place." Was Bion true to his word? It is perhaps left to the reader to answer this question. The present book is an attempt to indicate the view that Bion's attempt was to present the burning flame itself - rather than presenting static photographs of the fire.

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CHAPTER ONE Obscure, complicated and difficult?

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CHAPTER ONE

Obscure, complicated and difficult?

I have little doubt that most of my writings were very difficult to the vast majority of People with whom I would be happy to communicate, but … I never had the pretension to offer such literature as a replacement for a cigar or bridge to the leisurely man.

—Robert Browning (a poet dear to Bion), 1868

I

n the last years of his eventful life—from 1975 to 1979—Dr Wilfred

Ruprecht Bion gathered unusual manuscripts, handwritten in his neat lettering, that assumed the form of a Trilogy. Finely typed and edited by his dedicated wife, Francesca Bion, they were entitled

A Memoir of the Future. To some people, this is a thought-provoking title which played a part in attracting them to read the books. To other people, it is a baffling one which played a part in giving them an instant allergy to the same books. Both parties would agree that this title embodies a paradoxical ethos. After all, tolerance of paradoxes—which may be measured by the lack of hasty attempts to solve them—could hardly be seen as a hallmark of the mind in Western civilisation (Freud,

 

Chapter One - Obscure, Complicated and Difficult?

ePub

I have little doubt that most of my writings were very difficult to the vast majority of People with whom I would be happy to communicate, but…I never had the pretension to offer such literature as a replacement for a cigar or bridge to the leisurely man.

—Robert Browning (a poet dear to Bion), 1868

In the last years of his eventful life—from 1975 to 1979—Dr Wilfred Ruprecht Bion gathered unusual manuscripts, handwritten in his neat lettering, that assumed the form of a Trilogy. Finely typed and edited by his dedicated wife, Francesca Bion, they were entitled A Memoir of the Future. To some people, this is a thought-provoking title which played a part in attracting them to read the books. To other people, it is a baffling one which played a part in giving them an instant allergy to the same books. Both parties would agree that this title embodies a paradoxical ethos. After all, tolerance of paradoxes—which may be measured by the lack of hasty attempts to solve them—could hardly be seen as a hallmark of the mind in Western civilisation (Freud, 1934–1938; Onians, 1951; Sandler, 1997, 2013).

 

Chapter Two - Truth; Truthfulness

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Bion harboured misgivings about the available methods of communication that put down on paper what psychoanalytic practice is for people who are not participating in an actual session. Writing is a predominantly material act outside the psychoanalytic setting. As such, it has built-in limitations when the purpose is to communicate the immateriality that happens uniquely in that living setting. Psychoanalysis is in itself a practical activity. It was born from practice: empirical findings and empirical needs gave birth to it. Psychoanalysis is nourished and oxygenated by practice. Lack of practice pollutes psychoanalysis with a priori and ad hoc pseudo-theorising indistinguishable from hallucination. Practice-in-itself is the raison d’être of any practical activity—which is born from real, truthful, natural human needs: clinical and surgical medicine, gardening, cooking, artistic and sporting endeavours. The problem of communication is neither specific to nor typical of psychoanalysis: attempts to communicate aspects of the know-how in a good-enough way are doomed to failure. An alternative which can overcome—at least partially—the failures in communicating at least a part of the know-how that characterises practical activities is provided by a living experience with people who have already experienced them. Experto crede—trust someone who has experienced it—as Horace said.

 

CHAPTER TWO Truth; truthfulness

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CHAPTER TWO

Truth; truthfulness

B

ion harboured misgivings about the available methods of communication that put down on paper what psychoanalytic practice is for people who are not participating in an actual session.

Writing is a predominantly material act outside the psychoanalytic setting. As such, it has built-in limitations when the purpose is to communicate the immateriality that happens uniquely in that living setting.

Psychoanalysis is in itself a practical activity. It was born from practice: empirical findings and empirical needs gave birth to it. Psychoanalysis is nourished and oxygenated by practice. Lack of practice pollutes psychoanalysis with a priori and ad hoc pseudo-theorising indistinguishable from hallucination. Practice-in-itself is the raison d’être of any practical activity—which is born from real, truthful, natural human needs: clinical and surgical medicine, gardening, cooking, artistic and sporting endeavours. The problem of communication is neither specific to nor typical of psychoanalysis: attempts to communicate aspects of the know-how in a good-enough way are doomed to failure. An alternative which can overcome—at least partially—the failures in communicating at least a part of the know-how that characterises practical activities is provided by a living experience with people who have already

13

 

CHAPTER THREE Clinical significance

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CHAPTER THREE

Clinical significance

T

he quotations and variations about Bion’s “pursuit of truth-O” may serve as a sample of the following book: an introductory example of a mode to detect and use in everyday practice the many psychoanalytical truths one may find in reading A Memoir of the Future. “A” mode means one among many possibilities, a quantity which tends to be infinite.

In Transformations Bion commented that a book with no explicit comments on issues such as transference and Oedipus is ill received by the average adherent of the psychoanalytical establishment. It should not be a surprise that the Trilogy was met with disparagement: its dialogical form was taken concretely, rather than as a form that could reflect the purest psychoanalytic method. Freud stated that psychoanalysis happens when two people converse freely; the “talking cure” proved to be much more talking than cure (Freud, 1940).

To the reader unfamiliar with A Memoir of the Future, perhaps a little patience will be helpful in putting up with its quasi-dialogical mode of writing, built up with the help of imaginative quasi-characters drawn from real life experiences. Of these, Bion, Myself and P.A.

 

Chapter Three - Clinical Significance

ePub

The quotations and variations about Bion’s “pursuit of truth-O” may serve as a sample of the following book: an introductory example of a mode to detect and use in everyday practice the many psychoanalytical truths one may find in reading A Memoir of the Future. “A” mode means one among many possibilities, a quantity which tends to be infinite.

In Transformations Bion commented that a book with no explicit comments on issues such as transference and Oedipus is ill received by the average adherent of the psychoanalytical establishment. It should not be a surprise that the Trilogy was met with disparagement: its dialogical form was taken concretely, rather than as a form that could reflect the purest psychoanalytic method. Freud stated that psychoanalysis happens when two people converse freely; the “talking cure” proved to be much more talking than cure (Freud, 1940).

To the reader unfamiliar with A Memoir of the Future, perhaps a little patience will be helpful in putting up with its quasi-dialogical mode of writing, built up with the help of imaginative quasi-characters drawn from real life experiences. Of these, Bion, Myself and P.A. merit clarification right at the start. They form an intertwined “triple character”: BionMyselfP.A. The character appears in these three guises (for the sake of brevity, from now I will refer to them just as characters):

 

CHAPTER FOUR Editorial issues

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CHAPTER FOUR

Editorial issues

B

usiness, like politics, may interfere in the editing and publication of books. Often they intermingle, especially in our times, when business is so miscegenated with politics. We have reached a point where it is realistic to talk about a sophisticated “state capitalism” which has finally appropriated (or misappropriated) purely capitalist tools (Wooldridge, 2012). The 20th century witnessed huge and failed interference by some nations’ governments in art and science.

In most cases, the interference resulted in more damage than repair, much less discovery. There were at least two exceptions, in the times of Maecenas and of the “enlightened despots”. The developed system of social exchange and trade known as “capitalism” proved, under a historical vertex, to be beneficial to some extent—when politics were kept at bay. Beethoven brought the bourgeois revolution to art, fully benefiting from the advantages of private enterprise. Nevertheless, people like Franz Schubert and Friedrich Nietzsche—to quote just two examples—did not find a suitable publisher. Schubert could count on a dozen friends who acted as both musicians and audience. They played the compositions of the gifted Franz along with him at events called by the very same friends “Schubertiades”. The small ensembles played mostly on Schubert’s own manuscripts. Through this seemingly fragile

49

 

Chapter Four - Editorial Issues

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Business, like politics, may interfere in the editing and publication of books. Often they intermingle, especially in our times, when business is so miscegenated with politics. We have reached a point where it is realistic to talk about a sophisticated “state capitalism” which has finally appropriated (or misappropriated) purely capitalist tools (Wooldridge, 2012). The 20th century witnessed huge and failed interference by some nations’ governments in art and science. In most cases, the interference resulted in more damage than repair, much less discovery. There were at least two exceptions, in the times of Maecenas and of the “enlightened despots”. The developed system of social exchange and trade known as “capitalism” proved, under a historical vertex, to be beneficial to some extent—when politics were kept at bay. Beethoven brought the bourgeois revolution to art, fully benefiting from the advantages of private enterprise. Nevertheless, people like Franz Schubert and Friedrich Nietzsche—to quote just two examples—did not find a suitable publisher. Schubert could count on a dozen friends who acted as both musicians and audience. They played the compositions of the gifted Franz along with him at events called by the very same friends “Schubertiades”. The small ensembles played mostly on Schubert’s own manuscripts. Through this seemingly fragile base his art was preserved in a spore-like state until it was discovered a century later. The not so impecunious Nietzsche had to deal with the indignity of having to pay to see his Also Sprach Zarathustra published in 1888—just 50 copies.

 

CHAPTER FIVE The ever-present fundamentals of psychoanalysis: a memoir to a possible future of psychoanalysis?

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CHAPTER FIVE

The ever-present fundamentals of psychoanalysis: a memoir to a possible future of psychoanalysis?

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

—Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Practice and theory

Is A Memoir of the Future a “practical stage” or “lesson” on what was earlier theoretically exposed mainly in Transformations and Attention and Interpretation? Bion was aware of the prevalent establishment’s reaction to his earlier contributions. Other characters of the book merit introduction now to those unfamiliar with Bion’s trilogy: Roland is presented as Alice’s husband. He is depicted as a typical Englishman, hot-headed, stubborn, a courageous farmer—albeit the limits between courage and chutzpah are blurred. His closest friend is Robin, a common man more endowed with common sense and a sense of survival.

Like Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, the author of the books, both had previous military experience—something intrinsically marked by dread and

 

Chapter Five - The Ever-Present Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis: a Memoir to a Possible Future of Psychoanalysis?

ePub

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

—Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Practice and theory

Is A Memoir of the Future a “practical stage” or “lesson” on what was earlier theoretically exposed mainly in Transformations and Attention and Interpretation? Bion was aware of the prevalent establishment’s reaction to his earlier contributions. Other characters of the book merit introduction now to those unfamiliar with Bion’s trilogy: Roland is presented as Alice’s husband. He is depicted as a typical Englishman, hot-headed, stubborn, a courageous farmer—albeit the limits between courage and chutzpah are blurred. His closest friend is Robin, a common man more endowed with common sense and a sense of survival. Like Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, the author of the books, both had previous military experience—something intrinsically marked by dread and terror. Thea is a passing character who, like Alice, depicts a common woman.

 

Chapter Six - The Psychoanalytic Movement and Psychoanalysis Proper

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The German term Zeitgeist—“the spirit of the time”—merits consideration. It was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder, the discoverer of the field of literary criticism, a discipline greatly advertised by one of his followers, Hegel (Hartmann, 1923–1929; Irmscher, 1969; Sandler, 2001c). It means the whole intellectual climate which shapes the general feeling and beliefs of a social group, giving the human species a locus for creative development through schooling. In the end, any establishment has as its spine a specific Zeitgeist.

Due to social tendencies linked to the constant conjunction of two human conditions, namely, helplessness and thoughtlessness, there emerges idolisation and messianisation of given people and their teachings or offerings. Therefore, any given Zeitgeist may attain the quality of being seen as the prevailing social truth—in most cases the one and absolute truth. If contaminated by a paranoid-schizoid wish for perpetuity, expressed by repetition of the same ideas and actions though imitation, a specific Zeitgeist becomes immobilised and ossified, defying the passage of time. In denying movement, it may deny the stuff of life, fuelling mindlessness and a lack of creative outlets for the human mind. Submission to any specific Zeitgeist constitutes a harmful attack against the development and survival of science and art, which are timeless (transcendent)—something that religious leaders learned. Through fashion, it is debased into ideology or ideologies.

 

CHAPTER SIX The psychoanalytic movement and psychoanalysis proper

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CHAPTER SIX

The psychoanalytic movement and psychoanalysis proper

T

he German term Zeitgeist—“the spirit of the time”—merits consideration. It was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder, the discoverer of the field of literary criticism, a discipline greatly advertised by one of his followers, Hegel (Hartmann, 1923–1929;

Irmscher, 1969; Sandler, 2001c). It means the whole intellectual climate which shapes the general feeling and beliefs of a social group, giving the human species a locus for creative development through schooling.

In the end, any establishment has as its spine a specific Zeitgeist.

Due to social tendencies linked to the constant conjunction of two human conditions, namely, helplessness and thoughtlessness, there emerges idolisation and messianisation of given people and their teachings or offerings. Therefore, any given Zeitgeist may attain the quality of being seen as the prevailing social truth—in most cases the one and absolute truth. If contaminated by a paranoid-schizoid wish for perpetuity, expressed by repetition of the same ideas and actions though imitation, a specific Zeitgeist becomes immobilised and ossified, defying the passage of time. In denying movement, it may deny the stuff of life, fuelling mindlessness and a lack of creative outlets for the human mind.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN Looking for a language of achievement—a free association generator?

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Looking for a language of achievement—a free association generator?

W

illiam Butler Yeats said in Words (at the age of 75): “At length / My darling understands it all, / Because I have come into my strength, / And words obey my call”. Bion’s way of writing has specific peculiarities. It is not a question of style, because style is amenable to be imitated. The Trilogy challenges imitation; is it inimitable? Comparisons with Freud are unavoidable, because he established a pattern of excellence. One may safely state that Freud had a gift of graciously furnishing a “flowing feature” to his writings.

These had some remarkable, albeit superficial, similarities with the work of writers, so it was not by mere coincidence that Freud won a literature prize; that many people, impacted by what is a mere appearance, concluded that he specialised in writing a kind of roman à clef; and finally, that many people from the intelligentsia became convinced that psychoanalysis and literature were the same thing.

 

Chapter Seven - Looking for a Language of Achievement—a Free Association Generator?

ePub

William Butler Yeats said in Words (at the age of 75): “At length / My darling understands it all, / Because I have come into my strength, / And words obey my call”. Bion’s way of writing has specific peculiarities. It is not a question of style, because style is amenable to be imitated. The Trilogy challenges imitation; is it inimitable? Comparisons with Freud are unavoidable, because he established a pattern of excellence. One may safely state that Freud had a gift of graciously furnishing a “flowing feature” to his writings. These had some remarkable, albeit superficial, similarities with the work of writers, so it was not by mere coincidence that Freud won a literature prize; that many people, impacted by what is a mere appearance, concluded that he specialised in writing a kind of roman à clef; and finally, that many people from the intelligentsia became convinced that psychoanalysis and literature were the same thing.

Compared with Freud, Bion’s writings are not endowed with this “flowing feature”—even though readers who read his texts from end to end are—without interruption. One may state, even at the risk of being seen as a mere eulogiser, that some of the main features present in Bion’s writings have striking similarities with the everyday practice of psychoanalysis. This view is confirmed by his own words, given in public supervisions and seminars and also in the Brazilian Lectures. At 81, he told the audience that he always felt fear when entering into a new analytic session.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT A dreamscope?

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CHAPTER EIGHT

A dreamscope?

I

t would suffice to resort to the innumerable pages printed with so-called psychoanalytic reports made to comply with the many regulations of the psychoanalytical institutes to gain a clear presentation of “the dreamless sleep” (I: 33) which flows into a day “as empty of events—facts proper to daytime—as the night had been empty of dreams” (I: 33).

According to Otto Kernberg, a professional who since 1993 has made public the influence he received from Bion, the established regulations constituted the best factories to destroy any psychoanalytic candidate’s creativity (Kernberg, 1996). No one should accuse

Dr Kernberg, a former president of IPA and an experienced clinician trained in the Menninger Clinic, of not having a deep knowledge of the establishment’s ways. The matter of the crushing effect on freedom of mind of the introjection of ossified impositions, coming first from the exterior but turned inward to the personality, was dealt with by Romantic poets, especially since Wordsworth and Keats. In later times, Ferreira

 

Chapter Eight - A Dreamscope?

ePub

It would suffice to resort to the innumerable pages printed with so-called psychoanalytic reports made to comply with the many regulations of the psychoanalytical institutes to gain a clear presentation of “the dreamless sleep” (I: 33) which flows into a day “as empty of events—facts proper to daytime—as the night had been empty of dreams” (I: 33).

According to Otto Kernberg, a professional who since 1993 has made public the influence he received from Bion, the established regulations constituted the best factories to destroy any psychoanalytic candidate’s creativity (Kernberg, 1996). No one should accuse Dr Kernberg, a former president of IPA and an experienced clinician trained in the Menninger Clinic, of not having a deep knowledge of the establishment’s ways. The matter of the crushing effect on freedom of mind of the introjection of ossified impositions, coming first from the exterior but turned inward to the personality, was dealt with by Romantic poets, especially since Wordsworth and Keats. In later times, Ferreira Gullar, a poet, is one of the authors who have tried to make this clear, with his claims, inspired by the original suggestion of Umberto Eco, to perform an “open work” (Eco, 1962; a compact display of it appears in an interview with Gullar, 2010). The study of the mechanisms of introjection, which are genetically determined, should make clear that the external impositions cannot be seen as determinant causes in the simplistic positivist sense. It will all depend on the way each individual takes them. What is at stake is each individual’s personal responsibility, which Seneca called the personal arbitrium and Bertrand Russell called personal authority. The stifling of one’s capacity to dream is proportional to one’s hate for truth.

 

CHAPTER NINE Formulation mode: love of, and hate for, the supreme creativity of a parental couple

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CHAPTER NINE

Formulation mode: love of, and hate for, the supreme creativity of a parental couple

T

he previous introductory chapters, which include some samples of Bion’s text, allow this writer now to attempt a précis of the whole work. Inspired by symphony orchestras, but with no pretension to be an equal to them, here goes.1

When, as psychoanalysts, we are concerned with the reality of the personality there is more at stake than an exhortation to “know thyself, accept thyself, be thyself”, because implicit in psychoanalytic procedure is the idea that this exhortation cannot be put into practice without the psychoanalytic experience. The point at issue is how to pass from “knowing” “phenomena” to “being” what is

“real”. [Bion, 1965, p. 148]

Volume I encompasses a great deal of post-Klein psychoanalysis, and the insertion of psychoanalysis in the scientific field, with statements of the limitations of the then better known scientific tenets derived from positivism and some hints at modern Physics. It deals heavily with institutional issues. The link threading through all these issues is an artificially constructed dream, which is of interest to the epistemologist as much as to the psychoanalyst. This writer supposes that if and when

253

 

Chapter Nine - Formulation Mode: Love of, and Hate for, the Supreme Creativity of a Parental Couple

ePub

The previous introductory chapters, which include some samples of Bion’s text, allow this writer now to attempt a précis of the whole work. Inspired by symphony orchestras, but with no pretension to be an equal to them, here goes.1

When, as psychoanalysts, we are concerned with the reality of the personality there is more at stake than an exhortation to “know thyself, accept thyself, be thyself”, because implicit in psychoanalytic procedure is the idea that this exhortation cannot be put into practice without the psychoanalytic experience. The point at issue is how to pass from “knowing” “phenomena” to “being” what is “real”. [Bion, 1965, p. 148]

Volume I encompasses a great deal of post-Klein psychoanalysis, and the insertion of psychoanalysis in the scientific field, with statements of the limitations of the then better known scientific tenets derived from positivism and some hints at modern Physics. It deals heavily with institutional issues. The link threading through all these issues is an artificially constructed dream, which is of interest to the epistemologist as much as to the psychoanalyst. This writer supposes that if and when A Memoir of the Future is discovered by a scholar with the erudition and the breadth of influence of Dr Carl Schorske, for example, it will make an impact on medicine, psychiatry, epistemology and philosophy in a way that would remind one of Freud’s impact a century ago. In this book the reader will face personal developments in the form of a dream. It closely resembles Freud’s masterwork, The Interpretation of Dreams, in which the Viennese physician put at the disposal of the public his own deep personal life experience.

 

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