23 Chapters
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Chapter Three - Ps ⇌ D (1981)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

At this conference I would like to present a small “unpublished object” by Bion which seems to me to illuminate an aspect of his way of working and may render more explicit one of the problems in which he was very immersed, particularly towards the end of his life, namely how to enable the reader or listener to understand the emotions in which the abstract formulations of psychoanalytic theories are drenched.

This type of problem has always been present in Bion's work since Second Thoughts, in which he asserts that “the subject matter with which psychoanalysis deals cannot employ any form of communication which can cater for the requirements of a problem in the absence of the problem”. This phrase seems to me to imply the desire was already present in Bion's mind to indicate to the reader the subject under discussion in such a way as to make it emotionally present; to discuss it straight away with an immediate awareness of its emotional aspect. It seems to me that this kind of preoccupation informed the choice of the atypical style of the trilogy A Memoir of the Future, a text, among other things, about which little has been said in this conference, and which is probably a part of his work that still needs to be very well digested, as Meotti has written (Meotti, 1981) before it becomes available to be forgotten, and is the chief reason for alternating these books of highly evocative fragments with others of critical comment and reflection.

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Foreword

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Chris Mawson

Parthenope Bion Talamo had a deep comprehension of her father's work, and particularly his later work, including the allusive and wide-ranging Memoir of the Future. Her understanding is evident in the papers and the talks that comprise this book, in which she conveys with clarity and directness her own ideas and those of her father. She understood that Wilfred Bion's overall project was, as she put it in her paper Ps D (Chapter Three), “to make the emotions that permeate the abstract formulations of psychoanalytic theories come alive for the reader or the listener”.1

Parthenope appreciated that Bion's model of the mind was, essentially, phenomenological and dramaturgical. He seems, she wrote, to have adopted a model, “…in which all the aspects of the personality in their chronological personifications are simultaneously present”. This derives from Bion's description of the personality and its presentations variously as a drama, a palimpsest,2 and analogous to the images viewed in a kaleidoscope. Insofar as the idea of a palimpsest is useful, the analogy to the human personality holds up particularly well if the reader considers a writing-surface which, when its contents have been erased, something remains nevertheless, mysteriously beneath whatever has been over-written upon it. The large canvases of the painter Gerhard Richter are a good example.3

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Chapter Seven - Aggressiveness-Bellicosity and Belligerence (1991): Passing from the Mental State to Active Behaviour

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Borrowing from Hobbes the idea of the state or the nation as a single organism, this idea can also be transferred to the mental plane, and to speak of a state or a nation as an entity that “thinks” this or that. Acting in this way, it is then possible to take on some concepts from psychoanalysis and apply them to the state as if it were an individual, using them as heuristic instruments. The concepts that might be fruitful in the context of this study are those of the super-ego, the ego and the id, the concept of mental conflict, of repression and of intra-psychical envy.

But it is also useful in this context to think of the state as a set of groups and apply to these Bion's group theory. In our common terms, we move with agility and without placing much weight on the event, between these two levels of conceptualisation of the state; no one is surprised if the television announcer says something along these lines: “The Soviet Union has recognised the new Romanian government, while on the internal political front the Latvians are claiming greater independence.” In this single phrase, which I have invented as an example, the hypothetical journalist moves calmly from anthropomorphising the state to considering it as a set of groups, identified by nationality, and in conflict both among themselves and with the representative of central power.

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Chapter Sixteen - Bion's Contribution to Psychoanalysis (1996)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Before I do anything else I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Pisani for this invitation, for which I feel very honoured, and I am also very happy to have the chance to come back to Rome, however fleetingly. I lived in Rome for ten years, and I feel a great affection towards the city.

I thought this evening that I would talk in the simplest possible way, not least because Bion is a very difficult writer, whose work branches off in different directions. I will try to give a sense of him as a person, because I maintain that for any psychoanalyst or anyone working in the field of the psyche or in the field of human relationships their primary tool is, in reality, themselves, as well as many theories, a great deal of knowledge and a great deal of study behind them. But the tool with which we put ourselves in contact with our patients is, to a large extent, our personality, so it seems to me that talking about a writer, a theorist in the field of psychoanalysis and totally leaving aside his personal story risks creating a kind of meaningless phenomenon in the void.

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Preface

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Claudio Neri

It is true that with regard to the history of science it is important to be able to attribute correctly to their authors the paternity of the concepts used, but it is also true that thinking dies if it is not refertilised and subsequently developed in the generation and the mind of each thinker. (Bion Talamo, Chapter Ten in this volume)

One of the numerous threads in this collection may be indicated in a single sentence: Parthenope seeks her father, and after many efforts and vicissitudes, she finds him along with the psychoanalyst. The pages in which Parthenope manages to connect the father of her earliest childhood with the “mythical psychoanalyst Bion” are very beautiful, as in this extract from Chapter Twenty in this volume:

Some years ago, a friend of mine, Silvio Merciai, noticed that when I speak in public about W. R. Bion I tend to oscillate (in quite a disconcerting way). [I tend…] to refer to him as “Bion” and […] “my father”. […] If I am thinking of him as I remember him personally—and when I was a child he was simply “Dad”, and […] I tend to use a more familiar term, but if I am thinking of his theoretical or clinical writings, I tend to refer to him as “Bion”, as people normally do in a scientific context.

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Chapter Eight - The Creation of Mental Models (1992): Basic and Ephemeral Models

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Psychoanalytic theory uses quite a high number of models of the mind, principally concerning three classes of theoretical problems: the structure of the mind, its functioning (the dynamics of mental events) and the psychological development of the individual.

Among these models are, for example Freud's two tripartite divisions (id, ego, super-ego, unconscious, pre-conscious, conscious), and also the Oedipal theory, which can be seen as a model when it is thought of “visibly” as a triangle.

The class of models of mental functioning rightly includes all the theories which deal with the dynamics of interpersonal relations, from the pair transference/counter-transference to introjections, to projection, to projective identification through to the theory of the proto-mental system that underlies group behaviours.

All of these models have in common at least two characteristics: they can be considered “basic” because they form the theoretical substratum of all of our work, whether with patients in psychoanalysis or with those in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, or with groups with different purposes. They are also “invisible” or at least “not said” within the analytic relationship. That is, we can have in mind the fact that something just said by a patient may be understood against a background of Oedipal theory, but we do not say that to the patient in these terms, we use the words appropriate to the here and now, and keep our theories and technical terms out of the consulting room as far as possible. But there are also two other classes of models that we use all the time. These models are not so easily codifiable because they refer to passing, ephemeral events, in the session or the functioning of the internal world of the patient (or the analyst). A group consists of models that the analyst uses to mentalise and then to verbalise the analytic events, and the patient when he tries to communicate something that falls within a particular class of mental events for whose communication metaphors no longer seem adequate. The second group, on the other hand, is usually of more use to the analyst than to the patient, to describe the patient's mental structure at a given moment. While the models of the first group, which describe mental movements, are so ephemeral as to be able to describe them almost as “throw-away”, those of the second tend to come back into our discussions with the patients, and I am inclined to see them as models of daily use, more natural than the basic models and also more verbalisable (and verbalised) in work with patients.

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Chapter Nine - Experiences in Groups Revisited (1992)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

What I would like to present for your attention today is a twofold journey of reading—or rather rereading—Bion's Experiences in Groups (1961). I have wondered if, and in what way, this text might be considered seminal for Bion's thinking in the works that followed, and secondly, to what extent Bion “kept the promises” expressed in Experiences. We might probably discuss this second point quite quickly, in the sense that at least superficially the promises were not kept.

Before venturing into this tangled wood, I would like to remind you of two things that it seems to me to be useful to keep in mind against the background of all the rest of the discussion: the first and more technical is the chronological position of different texts of Bion which speak plainly about groups, texts most of which were published between 1930, with “The war of nerves: the reaction of civilians, the social spirit and prophylaxis” in The Neuroses in War, via Psychiatry at a Time of Crisis in 1948 through to the final chapter (Re-View) of Experiences in Groups, in 1952. The last text that should be part of this list is Attention and Interpretation from 1970. The second aspect, which is quite substantial, is the importance of groups in Bion's practical life, because practice and theory are certainly not separable.

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Chapter Six - Warum Krieg? (1990): The Freud-Einstein Correspondence in the Context of Psychoanalytic Social Thought

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Introduction

The so-called “correspondence” between Freud and Einstein, which in fact consists of only two letters, is in many ways an anomaly in Freud's work, not only because of its genesis and its contents, but also because of Freud's attitude towards it. It is a work with two contexts, the historical context of the age and that of Freud's work as a whole, the latter located within a broader psychoanalytic contest; and yet it seems curiously remote from any physical or mental setting. Nor does Einstein's letter make reference to the political events of the day, even though they may have been the background to his choice of theme.

In 1931 the Permanent Committee for Culture and the Arts of the League of Nations invited the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation to organise the epistolary exchanges between representative intellectuals “on themes calculated to serve the common interests of the League of Nations and of intellectual life” (Freud, 1933b, p. 197), and to publish the letters. Among the first to receive the invitation was Einstein, who put forward Freud's name. So here we find a first anomaly, in the sense that this letter does not seem to emerge from a spontaneous need of Freud's to write on the subject; in fact Freud says that he was taken by surprise by the contents of Einstein's letter, because he expected him to write on some other subject, in this case the upbringing of children, and not about something that he called “a practical problem, a concern for statesmen” (Freud, 1933b, p. 203).

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Chapter Fourteen - The Two Sides of the Caesura (1996)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

The slamming of the door alone might be too abrupt a caesura (At the end of a session it's better to have a patient who's irascible but full of thoughts)

The concept of “caesura”, which Bion developed on the basis of a phrase of Freud's, is an appropriate topic to approach a broader consideration of “evolution and fracture”.

This is a phenomenon that occurs in a minor or more consistent interruption in the general course of events. It is a fracture in itself, but it can have an evolutionary importance and become the stimulus of a future evolution, if sufficient care is taken to interpret it in depth. In Bion's works, the concept may be linked to two others that the author made truly his own, one coming from one of his very first publications Experiences in Groups (1961) and the other taken from Attacks on Linking (1959), composed shortly afterwards. The two criteria which, in my opinion, seem pertinent to the theorisation of the concept of caesura are “reversible perspective” and “links”, which can obviously be criticised. Even though they are both among the first concepts of Bion's thinking, they pass through all his works and serve to elucidate one another.

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Chapter Eighteen - Dreams (1998)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Let's begin with “blinding ourselves” so that we can see better. Bion never actually wrote anything specific or systematic about dreaming. After the 1960s, he wrote little that was apparently systematic. The famous “trilogy” is not in fact a systematisation, even though it may draw a great deal on his previous thought. But in this “trilogy” one of the clear things, which he drops eventually, allows us to see that Bion's ideas on dreams were different from Freud's. I am quoting from the second volume of A Memoir of the Future:

“‘I won't wish you sweet dreams,’ says Alice, ‘because as P. A.’—the Psychoanalyst, another of the characters—‘would say, the dreams are always sweet by the time we have verbalised them.’ Then the Psychoanalyst who is Bion replies: ‘Not I—Freud.’ That is, Freud's idea of the dream was that once we have managed to verbalise the dream we have sweetened it, some with sugar, some with a more artificial sweetener, but at any rate we make it relatively nice. Bion says that this is something that Freud says, not he, and it is from here that we derive the idea of what a dream is, what the function of the dream is and how it works.

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Chapter Seventeen - Bion: A Freudian Innovator (1997)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

One short essay by W. R. Bion constitutes a kind of crossroads or nodal point to help us understand many aspects of his work as a whole. In “Notes on memory and desire” (Bion, 1967), he describes a technical aspect at once Freudian and linked to a series of theories that make Bion one of the major Freudian psychoanalysts. I would like to use this essay as my reference point to show how Bion faithfully follows the main lines of Freud's thought and at the same time reveals himself to be an original thinker. His unprecedented thought was in every way oriented towards the service of clinical psychoanalysis, even at the peak of his theorisation and also when he was dreaming that one day scientists of other disciplines would pay attention to what psychoanalysts had to say (Bion, 1992).

“Notes on memory and desire” is a rare short essay, not more than three pages in length, which appeared in a Californian publication called The Psychoanalytic Forum in 1976. It was translated into Spanish and republished in Argentina (Bion, 1969), but until Elizabeth Bott Spillius published it in English in the second volume of Melanie Klein Today (Bott Spillius, 1988), it would have been hard to argue that it had enjoyed wide distribution in Europe (except among Spanish readers!). The original publication consists in three pages written by Bion, a series of critical observations to which he replies. Among the critics are: T. M. French, J. A. Lindon, A. L. Gonzalez, M. Brierley, and H. H. Herskovitz, and their comments range from favourable curiosity to actual rejection.

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Chapter Two - Psychoanalysis is a “Poppy Field” (1988): “Vision” in Analysis; a Divertissement about the Vertex

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

When I was very young and went on long journeys on the London Underground every day, I always read the advertisements; among them was (and still is) a series of humorous “poems” singing the virtues of pure virgin wool. I remember them only vaguely, apart from the last line, which was always “There is no substitute for wool”. The phrase came into my mind recently as something closely associated with psychoanalysis—perhaps only because those journeys took me to sessions? Could be, but there's also a more serious reason: for tonight I wanted to write an essay elucidating some particularly difficult aspects of Bion's work—or at least those which I find to be so—and thought about calling it something like “From the ‘Grid’ to the ‘O’”. But that would have required some quite ponderous, lengthy restructuring of Bion, which struck me as both presumptuous and fruitless—nothing can substitute for the personal reading of Bion, if you want to read and know him, of course, because he was perfectly capable of writing what he meant to say, and needs no exegesis. It might seem that this assertion sits badly with what I said a moment ago, namely that there are difficult aspects; but taking a closer look, it seems to me that these concern the practical application of Bion's ideas within the analytic session, particular with regard to the concept of absence of memory and desire in the analyst, and I would like to clarify some of my ideas about this problem, which in my view has a great deal to do with the “vertex”, the point of view from which the analyst “sees” the session.

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Chapter Twenty - Laying Low and Saying (Almost) Nothing (1998)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

The Tar-baby said nothing, and Brer Fox, he lay low.

Don't jump to conclusions, Griselda.

Perhaps I ought to start with a very brief introductory note on my use of language: one of my friends noticed, quite a few years ago, that when speaking in public about W. R. Bion I tend to oscillate (rather disconcertingly, I gather) between referring to him as “Bion” and referring to him as “my father”. At the time we rather laughed it off and went on to more serious matters. But I have done a little thinking about it since then, and have come to the conclusion that this is not so much an indication of a serious, pathological, “split” as a natural outcrop from whichever field of thought it is that I am engaged on at the time. By this I mean that if I am thinking of him as I remember him personally—and when I was a child, he was just “Daddy”, and in fact was not yet a psychoanalyst anyway—I tend to use a more familiar term, but if I am thinking about his theoretical or clinical writings, then I tend to refer to him as “Bion”, which seems to me to be normal in a scientific paper. Since today I do intend to speak about his theoretical work, but approaching it via memories from a long time ago, I will no doubt move from one usage to another. You have been warned!

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Chapter Fifteen - Bion and the Group: Knowing, Learning, Teaching (1996)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Between epistemology and agnoiology

When Dr. Romano invited me to address this conference, first of all I had emotional reactions: of pleasure on the one hand, with the sense that with this kind offer I am truly being paid a great honour, and of unease on the other.

These reactions have been followed by the process of “thinking about it”. The thought had to deal with two main threads: the first was what would be the content of my paper, and the second consisted of the slightly curious question of the fact that the simple proposition of delivering a paper, let alone its contents, prompted in primis emotions, and only subsequently reflections.

In reality the two threads are not so split, because talking about Bion and the group to a group which in all likelihood is already very familiar with Bion's work in this field inevitably prompts rather precise concerns; to mention one, the fear of being superfluous and boring. But there are also more internal links between the two threads of emotional relationships and more abstract thoughts, as I will try to show in the course of this paper.

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Chapter Nineteen - From Formless to Form (1998)

Talamo, Parthenope Bion Karnac Books ePub

Ps D to public-ation

Public-ation is an essential of scientific method…If [common sense] is inoperative for any reason, the individual in whom it is inoperative cannot publish, and unpublished work is unscientific work (Bion, 1992).

During a conference on psychoanalysis I liked the idea of having a “trans-disciplinary dialogue”, given that it is in the very nature of psychoanalysis to be a “trans-disciplinary” subject: it is impossible to have a “pure” psychoanalysis because it would be like trying to establish a link between non-objects or mental objects. Bion says he reached this situation only in the case of a severely ill patient (Bion, 1967; see also Bion, 1965). Fundamentally, psychoanalysis refers to every single human activity, which passes through the mind before or when it manifests itself, or without manifesting itself, as for example premonition (Bion, 1967); something similar happens with smooth muscle tissue in cases of colitis, ulcers, and tachycardia.

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