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The Analytic Field and its Transformations

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The Analytic Field and its Transformations presents a collection of articles, written jointly by Antonino Ferro and Giuseppe Civitarese in recent years, all revolving around the post-Bionian model of the analytic field - Bionian Field Theory (BFT). Going hand-in-hand with the ever-growing interest in Bion in general, analytic field theory is emerging as a new paradigm in psychoanalysis. Bion mounted a systematic deconstruction of the principles of classical psychoanalysis. His aim, however, was not to destroy it, but rather to bring out its untapped potential and to develop ideas that have remained on its margins.BFT is a field of inquiry that refuses a priori, at least from its own specific perspective, to immobilize the facts of the analysis within a rigid historical or intrapsychic framework. Its intention is rather to bring out the historicity of the present, the way in which the relationship is formed instant-by-instant from a subtle interplay of identity and differentiation, proximity and distance, embracing both Bion's rigorous, and his radical, spirit. The truth of the analysis is no longer something one arrives at, it cannot be fixed or possessed; it lies rather in the experience; it is the experience. The answer lies in the question - or, rather, asking the question is the feature of this model that most closely corresponds to the idea that what feeds and grows the mind is the weaving of a sustainable meaning, or dreaming reality, just as in the nurturing relationship between mother and child.

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Chapter One - The Meaning and use of Metaphor in Analytic Field Theory

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As I lay in bed, with my eyes shut, I said to myself that everything is capable of transposition.

—Marcel Proust, The Prisoner

Each of the principal psychoanalytic models is underlain by certain key metaphors. For example, the archaeological and surgical metaphors, as well as that of the analyst-as-screen, all throw light on some of Freud's basic concepts. In classical psychoanalysis, however, metaphor still tends to be an illegitimate or secondary element. Analytic field theory, on the other hand, reserves a completely different place for it, both as an instrument of technique in clinical work and as a conceptual device in theoretical activity.

Metaphor and the field are linked in a chiasm: The field metaphor transforms Kleinian relational theory into a radically intersubjective theory, which in turn places metaphor at a point along the spectrum of dreaming—to paraphrase Bion, it is the stuff of analysis.

For the sake of illustration, we examine first the origins and meaning of the field metaphor in analytic field theory; we then consider the mutual implications of this particular development of post-Bion psychoanalysis and the modern linguistic theory of metaphor; and, finally, we put the theoretical hypotheses discussed in the first part of this contribution to work in the clinical situation.

 

Chapter Two - Stone Got Eyes: On Bion's Seminar in Paris

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Get out your colours!

The seminar Bion held in Paris in 19781 inspires in the reader a growing sense of gratitude the deeper into the text he goes. The voice is unmistakably his: simple, direct, highly communicative, and charismatic all at the same time. Its vigour comes from its conciseness and use of verbs. As usual, the language this voice embodies introduces us to a world where everything seems at one and at the same time strange, fascinating, and true. The originality of the perspectives Bion proposes and the way he does so ignites in the reader emotions of many different colours. We are spectators at a show that is both surprising and enchanting. Sudden flashes of insight shine for an instant like fireworks against the darkness of our ignorance. Thus it is that the reader feels gratitude—but also envy, happiness, and a sense of calm and safety.

We experience relief when we hear Bion declare himself in favour of a certain kind of insanity. It would be easy for the analyst to agree with the patient if he were suffering from the same disorders, but “it is supposed” he remains in touch with reality. But no matter how consciously we admit it, deep down we rebel against the idea of having a certain share of madness inside us.

 

Chapter Three - Mourning and the Empty Couch: A Conversation between Analysts

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The “empty couch” accompanies us in our job as analysts no less than the “occupied couch”.1

At the beginning there is an empty corner to be filled in the room selected to host it.

There isn't an analyst who wouldn't remember when he acquired his first couch.

I remember it perfectly.

I imagine that you too had to choose from different styles and wanted to satisfy different needs. It would be interesting to find out if different theoretical tendencies have as much influence as aesthetics.

Couches searching for patients

I chose mine on the base of two impulses. It was a day couch similar to my own analyst's (who had Sicilian-Austrian origins). On top of which, it looked like the one that my Sicilian grandparents had in their bedroom. As a child I spent so many hours on it!

Where did you find it?

I bought mine through a second-hand goods magazine, Seconda Mano. At the time I owned a Citroen Diane and I loaded it on the car roof to take it from Milan to Pavia. I had it restored so it acquired the look of a proper day couch. It laid there empty for a few months until I was registered by the Board and I was able to take my first patient. I had not wanted to corrupt its status of sacred object with patients in psychotherapy. Therefore for one full year I only used it four hours a week. The hours became eight with my second patient and, once I was registered, multiplied quickly.

 

Chapter Four - The Secret of Faces

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“I've never seen anywhere such a precise observation of the way time makes its mark on foreheads, eyelids, jaws or chins”, wrote John and Katya Berger (2010, p. 23) about the faces painted by Mantegna in the Bridal Chamber of Mantua's Ducal Palace, which the same authors call “the most beautiful room in the world” (ibid, p. 11). The Bergers’ keen vision helps us to see Mantegna's lines and colours; himself painting with words, he opens our senses to the perception of beauty. Like Berger with words and Mantegna with his brush, the analyst paints his faces—that is, his patients’ minds—and seeks to depict their most subtle shades, the traces of time, “the signs of appointments not kept, of decisions not taken” (Benjamin, as cited in Berger, 2004, p. 12, translated).

On the left-hand side of the fresco mural in Mantua, Mantegna portrays the meeting between Ludovico Gonzaga and his son, who has brought him a letter. Each patient, too, comes along with his1 letters—sometimes literally so—which convey his despair, hate, and love, as well as the inhuman, dehumanised, or not-yet-human and lifeless parts of himself, and asks to be helped to become what he is. However, in order to provide this help, one must be capable, precisely, of discerning the signs left by time on his face, and of showing them to him: “Look at the faces everywhere on these painted walls. Have your seen wrinkles, lines on faces better rendered? Have you ever seen painted wrinkles which are so alive?—or, rather, which have been so lived?” (Berger & Berger, 2010, p. 23).

 

Chapter Five - Spacings

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The theme of temporality, of such importance in psychoanalysis, is one of the junctions where the paths of other extraordinarily important concepts intersect: setting, subjectivity, theories of clinical work, the interpretation and understanding of therapeutic factors, the psychoanalytic institution.

In this chapter we address the concept of space–time in relation to Bion's theory of the analytic field. The hypothesis we propose is that the field is a conceptual tool that enables us to modulate in a fine-grained and safe manner the distance between patient and analyst, and to achieve and expand emotional unison—in our view the central therapeutic factor.

We have chosen to use the term “spacing” not only by way of tribute to Derrida (2008) but also to put into immediate context space and time as two terms that imply each other and must necessarily live side by side. Replacing the combination of space and time with the concept of spacing (less abstract than differance) allows us to simultaneously allude to the temporality of space and the spatiality of time. Spacing is neither the one nor the other, and is both together.

 

Chapter Six - Analysts in Search of an Author: Voltaire or Artemisia Gentileschi?

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Therapeutic action

Although both set store by the symbolisation process, interpersonal and relational psychoanalysis (IRP) and Bionian field theory (BFT) manifestly have very distinct conceptions of it, because each has a different model of the unconscious, the former as unformulated experience1 and the latter as a psychoanalytic function of the personality that continuously comes alive and develops in the field while enriching and transforming itself (Civitarese, 2008a, 2008b, 2011a, 2011b). It is important to bear in mind that in the BFT approach there are two possible loci of pathology, on the level not only of the transformation from beta into alpha-elements but also of the formation of dream thoughts and hence of dreaming and thinking. Not all unconscious experience is therefore non-representational/ideational.

The clinical vignettes of the interpersonalists sometimes convey the impression that, first, IRP is based on an interactionism not guided at all times by a model of the unconscious functioning of the individual and group mind as versatile that of BFT, which also takes account of the micrometry of the analytic dialogue; and that, second, IRP sees change as underlain principally by rational understanding and conscious agreement (which admittedly often rest on a reading of unconscious dynamics and on the joint experience of analysis). Paradoxically, in other words, change is ultimately seen as based on insight along similar lines to certain aspects of classical psychoanalysis. This may explain the critique of “irrationality” leveled at some interpretations in BFT and at its tendency to dispense with generalisations.

 

Chapter Seven - Confrontation in the Bionian Model of the Analytic Field

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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

“This is a sickness: it is an illogical, inferential, inappropriate, unrealistic, and emotional way of thinking and has no basis in fact. Recognize the signs of such thinking and get it under control; do not let influence you”: pretending to address an imaginary patient, Langs (1973/4, p. 430) summarises in these words the sense of confrontational interventions. Except in Langs, who devotes an entire chapter to the subject, and aside from its role in Kernberg's structural theory, confrontation is the Cinderella of handbooks of psychoanalytic technique. Etchegoyen (1986) dismisses it a few lines, as does Akhtar (2009, p. 54), who notes that it is neither listed in the index to the Standard Edition nor even mentioned in several prominent books on psychotherapy.

This relative absence is surprising because we are all aware of the central importance of confrontation in the classical Freudian model of psychoanalysis. The reason may be that our conception of it may be either wide-ranging—which would explain its ubiquity and protean character—or narrow. The narrow connotation is the better known: basically, the analyst draws the patient's attention to a logical contradiction and asks him1 to resolve it. A wider conception, on the other hand, would tend to take account of the degree of confrontation implicit in any intervention. In Etchegoyen's view, a simple observation may not be readily distinguishable from a confrontation (although in the former case perception is in the foreground and in the latter judgement; observation invites one to look at something more carefully and more closely, whereas confrontation entails addressing a dilemma or contradiction).

 

Chapter Eight - A Beam of Intense Darkness: A Discussion of the Book by James Grotstein

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The title of this book (A Beam of Intense Darkness) by James Grotstein (2007) and its dedication (To Wilfred Bion. My gratitude to you for allowing Me to become reunited with me—and for encouraging me to play with your ideas as well as my own) deserve some preliminary comments.

A “beam of darkness” constitutes an antidote to the tendency, often found in the human species, to carry out “transformations in hallucinosis” (Bion, 1965), to impose meanings on what has no meaning because of our incapacity to wait for shreds of meaning to emerge. Like snails which produce slime, we are a species that continuously “s limes” meanings because we cannot bear the darkness of our not knowing. In the book's title we find a sort of celebration of that “negative capability”, the capacity, that is, to remain in the paranoid–schizoid position without feeling persecuted—the mental state which, more than any other, should belong to the psychoanalyst (and, indeed, to any man or woman).

 

Chapter Nine - Between “Other” and “Other”: Merleau-Ponty as a Precursor of the Analytic Field

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Intermediacy

According to Pontalis, Freud is “a thinker of conflict rather than of the intermediate” (Pontalis, 2007, p. 316). Two kinds of thought coexist in him: binary thought, made up of dichotomies such as conscious/ unconscious, primary process/secondary process, pleasure principle/ reality principle, or narcissistic libido/object libido; and ternary thought, as with the threefold division of the first topography into Ucs.- Pcs.-Cs. or the ego-id-superego structure of the second topography. However, even if what predominates in Freud is dualism and the idea of psychic life as essentially based on the conflict of agencies, forces, quantities, and wishes, he was keenly aware of the need to conceive of the intermediate, or, to use a more abstract term, intermediacy. This is suggested by his evocative neologism1 of the Zwischenreich, the “in-between realm” or “half-way region.” The term already appears in a letter dated 16 April 1896 to Fliess, his Berlin friend and correspondent (Freud, 1985, p. 181), in which, though, it is not quite clear what Freud is referring to. Jeffrey Masson, the editor of this edition of the correspondence, notes that, according to Schur, he is alluding to the unconscious and the body-mind relationship, and that Fliess was subsequently to make use of it in connection with the subject of bisexuality.

 

Chapter Ten - Carla's Panic Attacks: Insight and Transformation

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This paper is an initial reflection on the subject of panic attacks, based on the presentation of clinical material from the ongoing analysis of a female patient with severe pathology, of which such attacks were from the beginning the most conspicuous symptom. This clinical description is useful in my view because the “panic attack” is often attributed in the psychiatric literature to organic factors, so that analysis is held to be contraindicated. My chapter concludes with an attempt to define the general theoretical model underlying this symptom.

I wish to share with you the adventure in which I have found myself engaged with Carla and shall therefore come straight to the point. On my first meeting with this patient, the basic diagnosis I made to myself was agoraphobia and claustrophobia. In general I prefer as far as possible to avoid in-depth diagnosis, for fear of imposing an excessively rigid pattern on the material observed and its elaboration. I therefore relied on my countertransference feeling that it was right to take Carla into analysis; I felt that there was room in my group of patients at that time for one who was more seriously ill, and was also prepared to accept the difficulties and frustrations that might be involved in pursuing the associated line of research.

 

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