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CHAPTER TEN Banal times

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Banal times

EDMUND The centre of our galaxy is hidden from us, and though we suspect that it lies near Sagittarius we cannot see, as we can when we examine M31, the bright centre.

P.A. A stimulating idea. I would not wish to question the scientific findings of astrophysicists, because I also find in those discoveries a model which illuminates the obscurities of the human mind. At present I cannot entertain, at the same instant, “les espaces infinies” of space and the infinite spaces of human thought. What my work impresses on me is the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of the human mind, and the even vaster and greater depth of human ignorance. Anatole France, having spread himself in a eulogy of the power of man’s wisdom, ends by saying, in reply to a question, that the only thing more marvellous is man’s stupidity, bigotry and intolerance. [II: 232–3]

Wars between psychoanalysts: farewell to psychoanalysis?

One may notice that public knowledge, and therefore public acknowledgement, of a sizeable number of outstanding works or feats has


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CHAPTER SEVEN: An analytic “compass” and “sextant”

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P.A. I find it useful to make a distinction between meaning and fact. “Facts” are the name we give to any collection of constantly conjoined experiences which we felt temporarily have a meaning; then we consider we have discovered a “fact” .

(Bion, 1979, p. 235–6)

P.A. Being aware of facts has, I am sure, had an effect on me analogous to that of food on my physique.

(Bion, 1979, p. 330)

Psychoanalysis tells you nothing; it is an instrument, like the blind man’s stick, that extends the power to gather information. The analyst uses it to gather a selected kind of information: the analysand uses it to gather material that he can use (1) for purposes of imitation, (2) to learn the analyst’s philosophy, (3) to learn how to conduct his life in a socially acceptable manner, and (4) to become acquainted with his Self. Although it is true that it is not his intention to satisfy (1), (2) and (3), or any other desire other than (4), it is impossible to make any statement that gratifies only (4) because the lack of precision of spontaneous English speech. The analyst can try not to pollute his interpretation on the one hand, or to speak as if he were a living computer, stranger to human heartedness, or the life that the rest of our human companions are familiar with as members of our universe. Certain words and phrases appear to be necessary for the communication of “happenings” recurring in that part of human experience with which I am most familiar, and which happens also to be that part of my life that is my profession—what, for the lack of power to describe adequately, I call “mental suffering” .

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CHAPTER SIX: Bion’s contributions to the formulation of analytic function

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Form follows function.

(Louis Sullivan, after Schopenhauer; adopted
as a fundamental principle of Modernist architecture)

Psychoanalysis is concerned with love as an aspect of mental development and the analyst must consider the maturity of love and “greatness” in relation to maturity.

(Bion, 1965, p. 74)

We consider the attempt to improve humans both worthwhile and urgent.

(Bion, 1979, p. 528)

Freud dwelt on the biological science of nature which is the foundation of psychoanalysis. Attention to these scientific foundations (which gave analysis its fundamental nature, that is, facts as they are, like any science) dwindled until it reached oblivion after Freud’s death. One manifestation which may serve as a proof of that statement is the quantity of printed communication through books and papers in specialised periodicals. We live in times where Kuhn’s “peer groups” still rule, with the political leanings of ruling administrative minorities clothed in scientific directions.

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CHAPTER TEN: Empirical sources: container and contained in the clinic

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Andrew was a gifted young professional in his twenties. He has already contributed to this book (in Chapter Six). He did not know exactly why he had sought me out—he said that his father's best friend, a successful professional, had undergone an analysis for many years and had greatly valued the work done. His father insisted that he should come, stating that this friend was successful because of his analysis.

Andrew kept coming for the next fourteen years, four times a week. His history, if taken superficially, gives no hints of overt psychosis. But here and there some facts emerge that indicate otherwise. To give just one example, he had undergone a kind of accident in the sea, with a surfboard. Since he was an expert swimmer and used to practising this sport, this was a hint that allowed me to hypothesise the presence of a covert suicidal tendency. He narrowly escaped drowning thanks to the swift action of another surfer who happened to notice that something had gone badly wrong (it seems that the lace became loose and the surfboard ended up hitting his head; he cannot say exactly what happened). Soon some lifeguards came to helpboth. When confronted with this view in the very first interview with me, he became very sad and burst into tears. He now mentioned his father, whom he saw as a successful man in terms of earning money. But … only after a financial disaster when Andrew was six: his father worked in a rather large engineering firm which went bankrupt and he suddenly found himself unemployed. Later, his father set up a consultancy firm to organise lobbies for contractors who could have plenty of government-ordered work without the risk of crashing. It seems that he developed a greed-control system that avoided predatory competition between contractors of the kind that destroyed the firm he had worked with. The work demanded heavy involvement with politicians and had some shadowy, seemingly illegal intermediate steps linked to bribery, but it worked so well that all parties were always satisfied. The father enjoyed an enduring, stable position and respect for more than two decades. Andrew nevertheless feared that he could be unmasked and humiliated or prosecuted. He also stated that he very much liked cultural activities such as philosophy, theatre and literature, but decided to work in an exacting profession which he felt was far removed from this.

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CHAPTER TWELVE: When addiction means diminution: clinical illustrations

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In the previous chapter we hinted that fear or abhorrence of catastrophic change could be likened to addiction. Addiction to what? At the risk of stating the obvious, one could say: addiction to pleasure and desire. This may focus our attention not on addiction to drugs, religion, work or whatever—these are manifestations. If a psychoanalytic nosology seeks an expression closer to “O”, the numinous realm, this could be a more general description which will account for the multifarious individualities and particular cases. Alongside the apprehension of the psychotic and non-psychotic personalities (Bion, 1957a; reviewed in Sandler, 2005), one may say that when the psychotic personality prevails, fear of catastrophic change prevails. It would, in the hallucinated, pleasure-ridden mind of the person, threaten his (hallucinated) status quo, prompting an uncontrolled psychotic bout. The psychodynamics of this functioning can be recognised by the use the psychotic personality makes of the neurotic personality. So the observer will have contact with outward, external appearances typical of the neurotic part, such as adaptation to social and cultural codes and the appearance of hysterical, obsessive and phobic symptoms. Conversely, when the neuroticpart prevails, abhorrence of catastrophic change prevails. Analytically trained observers will detect the outward, external appearance of psychotic traits such as rationalisation (as in the case of Schreber), persecution, and self-importance and self-reference. If this psychoanalytic nosology tries to make use of the theory of instincts, then in the case of fear of catastrophic change, life instincts prevail; while in the case of abhorrence, hateful and destructive instincts (directed at the reality of life as it is) prevail.

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