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5. The mermaid and the sirens

Kenneth Sanders Karnac Books ePub

The series of dreams described here illustrates the themes of geographical confusion and the improvement in the structure of the personality following its resolution.

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The analysand was apparently well, but she complained of a loss of meaning in the direction her life was taking. She likened herself to a mermaid who can see men on land but is unable to reach them. This thought came at a family wedding, when her attention was caught by a graceful, petite young woman in a full-length sequinned dress. As she approached her fortieth year, she described herself as a creature who might wish to be human and live on land but who was confined to her own watery medium and her gloomy asexual view of the world. Her sense of sanctuary came from identification with a group of like-minded friends: but evidence from her dream life was that her child self inhabited an interior world, inside her internal mother, and attempts to rescue her were frustrated by her timidity about life outside.

After this, I looked again at the Hans Christian Andersen story of the little mermaid, whose famous likeness in the form of a pensive adolescent sits on rock in Copenhagen harbour. Her story is that she is allowed on her fifteenth birthday to come to the surface and look at the world above. A storm blows up, and she rescues a prince from a shipwreck, swimming with him to the shore and to safety. The prince is grateful but has plans to marry a princess. The little mermaid returns, very upset, to her home in the sea. She meets an undersea witch, who gives her a knife and the ability to walk on land so that she can kill the prince on his wedding night. However, when the moment comes, she cannot do it, and for her good she deed lives happily ever after, but as a mermaid.

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6. The combined part-object: from “the woman with a penis” to “the breast-and-nipple”

Kenneth Sanders Karnac Books ePub

This brief history of the psychoanalytic concept of the combined object—and the combined part-object—begins with a line from a letter Freud wrote in 1897 to his friend Fliess about his hope of discovering in witches a link with hysteria. “Their ‘flying’ is explained; the broomstick they ride on is probably the Great Lord Penis” (Freud, 1950 [1892-1899], p. 242).

This persecutory object—”the woman with a penis”—was taken up later by Klein but disappeared from Freud’s theoretical concepts: “the object” was seen as mindless, as, indeed, were the instincts. In 1905, the definition of the “object” was the person from whom sexual attraction proceeds (Freud, 1905d, p. 135). When the details of pregenital infantile sexuality, anal and oral, were worked out in the following decade, the “partial object” was formally established in connection with it in the developmental table drawn up by Abraham (1924).

By 1932 Melanie Klein had introduced the idea of “the object” as a parental presence that had a value—good or bad—and the term “combined object” signified the mother and father experienced in phantasy as a “bad object”—that is, the sexual couple in the “woman with a penis” tradition of Freud’s witch. “Splitting and idealization” of the mother saved the “good object”—the asexual mother, and at part-object level, her breast—from the depressive consequences of ambivalence.

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8. The Oedipus complex and introjective identification

Kenneth Sanders Karnac Books ePub

Introjective identification implies the enigmatic concept of relinquishment of a love object. If possession is surrendered, but not the desire, then the loved one is restored—but only as structure in the mind. The context is birth and weaning and their symbolic successors, and in each case the consequence is that in place of looking back at what has been given up, there is looking forward to development through identification. This mystery is familiar from theology, which suggests that religion is something to do with to psychoanalysis.

The Oedipus complex and internalization processes in the mind of the child were linked by Freud in a famous passage in which he recognized that the bisexuality of children required the renunciation of both mother and father and that structures identified with both of them would then be set up in the ego:

the broad general outcome of the sexual phase dominated by the Oedipus complex may, therefore be taken to be the forming of a precipitate in the ego, consisting of these two identifications in some way united with each other. This modification of the ego retains its special position; it confronts the other contents of the ego as an ideal or super ego. [Freud, 1923b, p. 34]

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1. Prologue and a consultation

Kenneth Sanders Karnac Books ePub

”This in my view is the heart of the matter of Post-Kleinian psychology: that to Freud’s four categories of exposition— dynamic, genetic, structural and economic—there has been added in increasing detail the investigation of geographic and epistemological aspects of mental functioning. Whether the Aesthetic aspect will eventually take on sufficient distinctness to add a seventh category remains to be seen.”

Donald Meltzer, The Claustrum, 1992, p. 50

Psychoanalysis lends itself to a historical approach, and to following with awe the evolution of discoveries such as infantile sexuality, the transference, and the identification process that linked mourning and melancholia. There is also the drama of observing genius struggling with problems that only become clearer to subsequent generations.

In his autobiography, Freud (1925d [1924], p. 19) describes how his colleague Breuer told him about “the peculiar manner” that had allowed him to penetrate deeply into the causation and significance of hysterical symptoms, which also included “depressive confusion”. The peculiar method was to ask Anna O—a 20-year-old woman—to tell him, under hypnosis, the thoughts that she had suppressed at her father’s sickbed.

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4. Identification and the toileting of the mind

Kenneth Sanders Karnac Books ePub

Tlhe history of toileting the mind in psychoanalysis begins with Freud’s colleague Breuer. His patient Anna O called it “chimney-sweeping”. “I used to visit her in the evening, when I knew I should find her in her hypnosis and then I relieved her of the whole stock of imaginative products which had accumulated since my last visit”, he wrote (Freud, 1895d, p. 30). But Anna O’s relief eventually threatened Breuer’s own composure, and he withdrew when the “stock of imaginative products” began to disturb his relationship with his wife. Evidently, the procedure was dangerous. Freud learned from this and his own experience that prospective analysts needed to be trained if a toileting function were to be offered to the mentally disturbed.

The psychological need for catharsis of the emotions has long been acknowledged—Aristotle described it as a function of tragedy in the theatre. The law and the religions have their own problems with confession, purging, punishment—and forgiveness. It was the insistence by Freud that “sin” and its punishment originated in the minds of children that eventually brought enlightenment to this area of darkness and confusion.

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