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4. Interactional synchrony and mutuality

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Donald Winnicott

Donald Winnicott has been a pivotal figure in the development of child and family psychiatry and child psychoanalysis in Britain since the 1920s when he first started his career in paediatrics. As a member of the Middle-Group of psychoanalysts, neither wholly Freudian nor Kleinian, Winnicott’s viewpoint is close to that of Balint and Bowlby in that he stresses the primacy of the mother-infant tie from the point of view of both mother and baby. Like Balint and Bowlby, he has made his psychoanalytic perspective accessible to the general public through his capacity to communicate with non-professionals as well as professionals who are not analysts, such as parents, nurses, midwives, social workers, general practitioners, paediatricians and teachers - that is, anyone who has entered the world of children. Like the above two authors, his written work has been addressed to both specialists and to the general public. His three small volumes (The Child and the Family (1957a), The Child and the Outside World (1957b), The Family and Individual Development (1965a)) are practical enough to have been broadcast and read by thousands, while his four volumes of collected papers (1958b, 1965b, 1971a, 1971b) form a major contribution to the specialised field of child psychoanalysis.

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6. Narcissus and Echo

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Let us return to the story of Narcissus, this time to the meeting between Narcissus and the nymph, Echo. Sixteen years have passed. The adorable baby is now a handsome teenager, beloved by many. ‘Among these lovers was the nymph Echo, who could no longer use her voice, except in foolish repetition of another’s shout. We may imagine that Echo is just the sort of woman whom the son of Leiriope would choose and spurn. In Chapter 5, I presented a picture of the baby Narcissus with his mother. In this chapter, I describe the kind of love-affair which can transpire when early symbiosis goes on too long. The exchange between Narcissus and Echo tells us what happens when a certain kind of baby becomes a teenager. For although Narcissus cannot tolerate separateness and difference in a relationship, the folie & deux created by perfect mirroring is also unbearable. He spurns his echo. The myth is, after all, about someone who, in the end, desperately wants to become separated from his illusions and, in particular, his fascination with his own image. The link between Narcissus and his love is like a rubber band or bow-string which never snaps. Over and over again, Narcissus turns his back on his lover. But, in so doing, he turns him or her into his follower, his shadow. He tries to go forward, to put all behind him, but always through the very act of trying to bend the world his way, he springs back to face the same old boring, empty face. He is drawn back to the shadow. Unknowing, since knowledge demands difference and a third term, he is forced to repeat the engulfing twosome.

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14. The limits of knowledge and the castration complex

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Freud linked the resolution of the Oedipus complex with the ‘castration complex’. Thus, for Freud, the castration complex was associated with questions of knowledge as well as the very particular reference it held in relation to the penis. I suggest that the castration complex is linked with the realisation that individual knowledge is limited. The resolution of the Oedipus complex entails a renunciation; not only must the child give up the fantasy that he can have an exclusive relationship with the parent of the opposite sex, he must also accept that there is an objective order of things which he will never completely understand or control. In some cases, this realisation is experienced as a castration or narcissistic blow. The blow is to the child’s budding feelings of power and curiosity and to the satisfactions gained by learning.

Psychoanalysis has interpreted Oedipus’ acts of banishment and self-mutilation as evidence of the castration complex (Freud, 1940, p. 200). Oedipus, it is said, punishes himself for his incestuous relationship with Jocasta. In my view, Oedipus’ self-mutilation does not only signify guilt, but his renunciation of power in the face of forces over which he has no control. Freud spoke of the fate of the Oedipus complex in different ways. In ‘The dissolution of the Oedipus complex’ (1924), Freud writes that the Oedipus complex is dissolved, it succumbs to repression and is followed by the latency period. Freud also discusses the ‘demolition’ and ‘destruction’ of the Oedipus complex. He asks, ‘What is it that brings about its destruction?’ It is the experience of painful disappointments which the boy suffers from his mother’s transference of her love to a new arrival and which the girl suffers from harsh punishments from her father who she liked to think loved her above all else. Even when none of these special events occur, the absence of satisfaction ‘must in the end lead the small lover to turn away from his hopeless longing. In this way, the Oedipus Complex would go to its destruction from its lack of success, and from the effects of its internal impossibility’ (Freud, 1924, p. 173).

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7. The concept of transitional schemas

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Between the two stages of development named after the two great myths of psychoanalysis, Narcissus and Oedipus, I posit a transitional stage - a stage characterised, as you might expect, by the use of transitional objects and the emergence of transitional phenomena. According to my interpretation, the myth of Narcissus and Echo illustrates a relationship of synchrony, undiffer-entiation and mutual illusion; the Oedipus Rex dramatises various conflicts related to individuation, agency, responsibility and knowledge. During the first stage of development, the mystery for both partners is to join in the dance;1 during the second stage, each partner must solve the problem of disjunction that is part of the riddle of life. Oedipus’ task is to clear away the delusions in which he was all too happily enmeshed before he consulted the Oracle. By his answer to the riddle of the sphinx, Oedipus “becomes a man’ who walks on his own two feet. In the tragic myth of Narcissus and Echo, echoing and mirroring synchrony is achieved at the expense of mutuality and dialogue. Oedipus’ journey from Corinth to Thebes ends in tragedy because he is implicated in two dramas, adoption and incest, which bring his project to no avail. In the play,2 Sophocles’ use of both themes makes nonsense of the notions of adult intentionality and responsibility which, in the play, the character of Oedipus portrays. Tragedy reaches an excess when the mother, who discarded her offspring on the barren hiUside, gives willing entry to his seed, and when the son, whose father practised philocide, commits parricide.

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12. Knowledge and the tragic vision

Hamilton, Victoria Karnac Books ePub

Freud and Wilfred Bion

In the next two chapters, I review two approaches to the origins and growth of knowledge. The first I refer to as the tragic vision, through which knowledge and pain are deemed inseparable. In the second, knowledge is connected to ‘a holy curiosity’ which does not arise in a dominant context of pain. In the final chapter of the book, I relate these two views of the origins of knowledge to attitudes, such as despair and optimism, towards the limit of man’s knowledge. I suggest that our feelings about limitation are grounded not only in our ideas and phantasies about the origins of knowledge (for instance, that it is forbidden), but in our most primitive notions of externality. And, again, our formulations relate to our respective conceptions of infancy and infant-mother relationships. Does the boundary inside/outside represent an exclusion or castration which cuts us off from what lies on the other side? Or does it represent a potential space, offering an infinite expansion to our limited sensibilities? To one person, the realisation that his or her mind is but a tiny part in a larger whole brings feelings of relief and comfort, whereas, to another, this realisation is experienced as a humiliation or a castration.

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