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CHAPTER TWELVE: Signs, symbols and allegory

Donald Meltzer Harris Meltzer Trust ePub

Introduction by Grete Tangen Andersen, Morten
Andersen, Trond Holm, Jon Morgan Stokkeland,
Lilian Stokkeland, Eirik Tjessem

In this selection of extracts from some of his later papers and talks, Meltzer elaborates on the essential distinction between signs and symbols. This is perhaps a good place to start for new students of his work: it marks the difference between mind and mindlessness; mindlessness here signifying all the essential adaptational and conventional processes (the use of signs) which do not require the meaning-generating and symbol-forming mind.

This vital distinction has many diferent roots and ramifca-tions. Among the sources that he mentions are Wittgenstein´s linguistic philosophy, Cassirer and Langer on symbolic forms, and—of course—Bion's work. One of the many, and highly interconnected, implications is the difference between received (conventional) symbols and autonomous (original) symbols. What distinguishes the autonomous symbols is that they “are created in the mind of the speaker.” It makes one wonder; how is it that simple and even conventional words uttered, suddenly become true and meaningful? To convey emotional meaning by language is “not just a matter of symbol, not just a matter of words; it is also a matter of the music”. This leads on to the relation between “saying it” and “meaning it” (Wittgenstein, 1953)—being sincere—and to Bion´s distinction between “learning from experience” and “learning about”. Learning from experience rests upon symbol formation, which in its essence is an intuitive and mysterious process. It cannot be controlled or negotiated. This gives an answer to the question about what kind of science psychoanalysis is: an observational and descriptive science—it cannot explain and predict.

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13. Aesthetic conflict: its place in the developmental process

Donald Meltzer Karnac Books ePub

Donald Meltzer & Meg Harris Williams


he evolution of the Model of the Mind which underlies the observation and thoughts of psychoanalysts has been a quiet and covert one in many respects but its nodal points are clearly marked by the progression Freud–Abraham–Klein–Bion. What began as a hydrostatic model for the distribution of psychic energy in the spirit of nineteenth century physics, gradually shifted its analogy. The emergence of the genetic aspect brought forth the archaeological metaphor; the replacement of topography by structural imagery introduced a social comparison (the ego serving three masters); the replacement of “mechanism” by “unconscious phantasy”, the insistence on the “con-creteness of psychic reality” and the introduction of an “epistemo-philic” instinct to replace Freud’s “sexual researches of children”, shifted the biological model of the evolution of the individual mind from a Darwinian to a Lamarckian basis. By 1945 the Kleinian model had achieved this modification of the evolutionary simile of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, on the basis of a strengthened position for identification processes and thus of a view of development which emphasized relationship with objects rather than anything equivalent to survival of the fittest. Melanie Klein’s 1946 paper “Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms”, which introduced the ideas of projective identification and splitting processes, shattered the assumption of unity of the mind, which Freud had already begun to do in his paper “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence” [Freud, 1940e(1938)]; it further more opened up a multiplication of the “worlds” of mental life in a way that even the “concreteness of psychic reality” had not envisaged. The Bionic transformation, which divides mental life into the symbolic and non-symbolic areas (alpha-function and beta elements), and places its emphasis on the mind as an instrument for thinking about emotional experiences, has only began to be felt in the consulting rooms. But Bion’s firm relegation of creative thought to the unconscious dream process, and his limitation of consciousness to the “organ for the perception of psychic qualities”, must in time give a decisive blow to the equation of “reason” with consciousness and profoundly alter our view of how our lives are lived. Freud’s model becomes severely modified: the ego becomes the horse, shying at every unknown object in its path, always wanting to follow in the way it has gone before; while the unconscious internal objects become the rider directing it relentlessly towards new developmental experiences. How profoundly, accordingly, does our view of the psychoanalytic process change under this model; yet in a way we seem to return full circle to Freud’s early view of resistance and compulsion to repeat, merely changing the venue of these anti-developmental forces from the repressed unconscious to the conservative conscious mind.

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4 Margarita (February 1994)

Rosa Castella Karnac Books ePub

Rosa Castella

Data from the first interview

T he patient, a 47-year-old woman, was referred to me by the psychiatrist she had been seeing for thirteen years. She first went to him when she realized that her husband had fallen in love with another woman. When he felt able to break that liaison, he suggested a reconciliation. As a trial, they went on a trip to Salamanca with their three children. Driving at night, he fell asleep at the wheel, they had an accident in which he and their eldest son died while she and their daughter suffered cerebral concussion. Nothing happened to the youngest child; a boy.

She has not been able to take all this on board; she had done the minimum, just to survive. She realizes that everything is neglected …uncared-for. She took the children to a psychiatry department to be looked after; they've been having psychotherapy since then.

D.M.: Were they in psychotherapy before the accident?

ROSA: NO, after it. Her daughter has left it now because she says her therapist was not able to help her in her last depression. The boy goes from time to time.

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6. Cecilia: the end of analysis

Donald Meltzer Karnac Books ePub

THERAPIST: The patient, whom I shall call Cecilia L., is 33 years of age and works in the administration department of a firm. She belongs to a traditional middle-class family from the south of Catalonia. Her father, aged 72, has a violent and domineering character but is extremely hardworking and reliable. The mother, aged 69, is a housewife. She also is aggressive but more of the passive type. This is the description the patient draws of her family, in which moral and religious principles ruled over demonstrations of affection. Her only brother, approximately three years her junior, had serious psychological problems of a depressive type during adolescence.

She has been undergoing treatment for about ten years, at a frequency of four sessions a week. The motives for which she consulted were panic when faced with going out into the street and relating to strangers, extreme shyness, and depression. She also had hallucinatory episodes in which she believed she saw the devil,

Initially, she was treated by a colleague psychiatrist, and once she began to improve clinically he recommended a psychoanalytic treatment. At present the analysis is developing quite satisfactorily: she has progressed in her insight, and the quality of her link with me is satisfactory as well. She has also successfully finished her studies in business management. Her financial situation is good, thanks to the fact that she has been promoted at work. However, she still has not been successful in finding a partner, which obsesses and distresses her; at times, she gives the feeling that she reproaches me for this as if the analysis had helped her mainly to earn her living and to be more efficient and pragmatic with her father, whereas she still has difficulty being successful with men.

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7. Return to the imperative: an ethical implication of psychoanalytic findings (1965)

Donald Meltzer Karnac Books ePub

The author describes how “laws’ of psychic reality with an ethical significance have to be differentiated from the “moral” implication of discoveries about the structure and function of the superego.

But If the word “this” Is to apply, as it should, to something that we directly experience, it cannot apply to the cat as an object In the outer world, but only to our own percept of a cat. Thus we must not say “this is a cat”, but “this is a percept such as we associate with cat”, or “this is a cat percept”. This phase, in turn, can be replaced by “I am cat-perceptive.

Bertrand Russell, “An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth”, 1940

I start this paper with Lord Russell’s statement for two reasons. First of all. It succinctly states that “egocentric particulars”, as he calls such words as I, this, now, etc., are utilized to introduce statements about what Freud called. The perception of psychic qualities’, in his definition of the function of consciousness. The second reason is because of the interesting shifts from the subjunctive to the imperative mode of speech that take place as soon as he utilizes an egocentric particular himself. While it is “If the word this is … tt cannot …” to begin with, suddenly we hear that “we must not” …”. Also note that it is “we” who “must” use egocentric particulars correctly, meaning that if I use them as statements of self-observation and you use them “intend(ing) to make a statement about something which is not merely a part of (your) own biography …”, we will not understand one another.

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