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4. Rome, 13 July 1977

Wilfred R. Bion Karnac Books ePub

In some ways it is an advantage to me to know that I don’t know any Italian, because I think you can be misled by thinking you do know Italian. Patients seem to talk French, or English or Italian, but what we want to hear is not any of those languages. I find it difficult to say what language we need to listen to; the nearest I can get to it is to say that it is the language of what Freud would call “the unconscious”.

I have seen this stated most clearly recently by Dr Matte Blanco, who mentions this peculiar fact of Freud sometimes talking about “the unconscious”, and at other times talking about something as “unconscious”. They are two different things. Furthermore, I have come across material which seems never to have been what Freud would have called “conscious”. Dr Segal described a situation in which a patient says it is obvious that somebody who is playing the violin is masturbating. I had a patient who, I began to feel, wore his mind inside out—that is to say, like clothes worn inside out: what ought to be on the inside is on the outside. Falling back on metaphorical language, I could say that the patient behaved as if his unconscious was outside. So the interpretations which we would think appropriate formulations of unconscious thoughts and ideas are, in fact, ordinary statements to the patient. He has no difficulty whatever in thinking that the analyst is saying things which are obvious. On the other hand, if we resort to ordinary speech, waking thought, conscious thought, the patient says, “I don’t know what you mean.” He has no difficulty in understanding a psychoanalytic interpretation of something we could regard as “unconscious”, but he cannot understand the language we talk when we are wide awake, fully conscious and aware of what we call the “facts”, “reality”.

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[Undated]

Wilfred R. Bion Karnac Books ePub

Need for study of scientific method

Though we are aware that any knowledge at which we arrive is the result of a process on our part, we do not reflect on the nature of the process—at any rate in any systematic way—and make it the object of a special study. But sooner or later knowledge of our mistakes and the desire to be sure that we are getting the genuine article, i.e. something that is really knowledge, lead us to reflect on the process. We do so, prompted by the hope that we can discover the proper process, i.e. that in which we shall be safe from error, or at least to determine within what limits we can carry out such a process. But in the end we find ourselves having to ask whether we are capable of knowing at all and are not merely under the illusion of thinking that we can know.

Prichard, ‘History of the Theory of Knowledge’,
from Knowledge and Perception, 1932

 

Prichard points out that in ordinary life when we are seeking knowledge, our interest is chiefly absorbed in the nature of what we are trying to know, and not in the process by which we try to get to know it. It is probably true that most psycho-analysts are similarly absorbed in psycho-analysis rather than in the process by which we arrive at a knowledge of psycho-analysis. This preoccupation with the subject, to the over-shadowing of the study of the process by which it is learned, is excusable; for the subject is vast and there is much to learn. And yet one may permit oneself some surprise at this imbalance, for psycho-analysis itself may be seen as born of a doubt about the realities of the knowledge we have, and of the processes by which we obtain it. The central feature—the analysis the aspirant has to undergo—is imposed because it is supposed that without that experience the candidate's inadequacies relate to and prejudice the mental processes by which he acquires knowledge of his patient. Furthermore, psycho-analysis is itself a technique for the investigation of the human mind, and it can be said to have discovered—in the course of the work that culminated in Freud's paper on the ‘Two Principles of Mental Functioning’ [1911b, SE 12]—the origin of the elaboration of psycho-analysis itself, namely the pressure of inner needs that demand more than hallucinatory gratification. [Marginal comment added later: The demand is for the reality. A parallel quotation from Freud to balance Prichard would help.]

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6. Rome, 16 July 1977—Morning

Wilfred R. Bion Karnac Books ePub

Q: Last night Dr Bion asked us to express our wild thoughts and, at the same time, warned us not to express them too respectably. Then he made an interesting point about the difference between intelligence and wisdom, specifically as regards groups. I’d like to ask Dr Bion if putting one’s wild thoughts into respectable form might not be equivalent to intelligence, as opposed to wisdom—in other words, a particularly well-masked form of destructiveness.

BION: It is much more difficult to reply to that question when it applies to one’s own thoughts at the time. There is no way of avoiding the fundamental fact that one is always dependent and alone. When I use those words, I am using relatively highly developed articulate speech about something which is basic, fundamental and has to be experienced. Even the infant has to be able to solve that problem; it does not like the feeling of dependence or the feeling of loneliness, isolation—nor do any of us. I can practise my speculative imagination and say that the infant feels that it may express its feeling of isolation by crying, supposedly for assistance from whatever it is dependent on—the breast, the mother, the parents. Both the infant and the parent have this same problem. The child one suspects of being psychotic or borderline psychotic can be so terrified of its feelings that it expresses them by crying for help, constantly, tirelessly. But the parents do tire; their problem is whether to nurse that infant or whether to escape from the sleepless situation. So when an individual—as, for example, here— knows that he has something to say, the question is whether to say it or not, because he is afraid of discovering either that there is no one to hear or that there is somebody to hear but that somebody will run away. Thus the dreaded isolation is made worse, not less.

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First Seminar—12 April 1967

Wilfred R. Bion Karnac Books ePub

First Seminar—12 April 1967

O and the problem of language—memory and desire—clinical examples—the analyst's paranoid–schizoid and depressive positions—audience questions

Participants asking questions and making comments during the four seminars have been named only when they were clearly identified by name at the time.

Moderator: Although he is a stranger to this land, his distinction has come before him. Not only do we know him by his work, we know him by his confreres, with whom we have been meeting with these past four years. We have been filled with admiration for their learning, and for their profound devotion to learning and we have been enriched. I shall not here speak of our envy nor our wonder; that I shall leave for him to do next week. With these informal few words as an envoy, I wish to launch our meeting and introduce to you our speaker, Dr Wilfred R. Bion.

Bion: Thank you very much. There's such an enormous amount to do and to talk about, that I find it rather difficult to know how to start. What I hope to say first I think is something which I'm afraid you may think is really absurdly simple, but since this is psychoanalysis that doesn't last for long. I attach a good deal of importance to it, because I think that with the shortage of time that we've got and the amount we've got to get done in the time, I'd like you to be quite sure that you're satisfied and…with what I'm saying to you and with my making it clear. So if you'll unhesitatingly ask me questions, I don't think it would interrupt the proceedings too much. And the other point is that if you're not satisfied with the answer, if you will go on asking the same questions throughout the seminar because I hope in that way, gradually, to be able to produce an answer to it…that the first answers and so on are very unlikely to be answers to the question that you're really asking. But I think that if one does it in that kind of way, you can gradually feel that you are getting the kind of answer that you want (at least I hope that you will).

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Chapter Twenty-Seven

Wilfred R. Bion Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

THIS CHAPTER will be taken up with the construction of some theories that I have found serviceable. It is intended also to serve as an example of the use of the theory of functions and other ideas I have put forward and thus to take the place of a summary of the main items in the book.

THE K LINK

1. The theory of functions and alpha-function are not a part of psycho-analytic theory. They are working tools for the practising psycho-analyst to ease problems of thinking about something that is unknown.

2. The term “function”, used in the sense of a function of the personality, has not the meaning it possesses for the mathematician or the mathematical logician though it has features partaking of the meaning of both. I propose it as a term for use in the practice of psycho-analysis; its full designation, if there is any doubt, is “psycho-analytic function of the personality” but otherwise it should be designated simply “function” and given the sign ψ. Alpha-function is a factor of ψ.

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