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12. The Bondage of Memory and Desire

Meltzer, Donald Harris Meltzer Trust ePub

An approach to Attention and Interpretation is probably only possible for someone already ‘hardened’ to Bion's extraordinary demands upon the reader, for he goes his way in this book not only in the expectation that no one ‘but a practising psychoanalyst can understand this book although I have done my best to make it simple’ but that the reader will have not merely read but mastered the previous books, the Grid and the other quasi-mathematical paraphernalia. It is a book in which one of the two terms in the title hardly ever appears in the text. And yet attention is the underlying theme of the work.

Insofar as this book represents Bion's most organized attempt to present a theory of psychoanalytical practice, it tends to read a bit like a handbook for pilgrims to a strange world. Until they actually arrive and begin to have the experiences and encounter the objects described, it is all meaningless. The practising psychoanalyst who, Bion hopes, will be his reader may have practised analysis for many years without ever entering the world of Bion's description. This is not merely because he may not have treated schizophrenics, say, but rather that his ‘vertex’ has been so different. He may be sophisticated enough to have realized that the medical model was too crude for application to this method and consequently have taken to referring to his ‘analysands’ rather than his ‘patients’. Readings in linguistic philosophy and philosophy of mind may have made him aware of the great difficulties inherent in the use of language for communication. His personal analysis may have humbled him to a state of tentativeness about his capacities to observe and understand himself and others. His study of the psychoanalytical literature may have warned him of the confusion and inadequacy of theoretical formulation in the field. Study of history may have enabled him to see or suspect that psychoanalysis had its historic roots more in philosophy and theology than in 19th-century science. But it is unlikely that any of this will have prepared him for the massive onslaught against his system of intellectual security that Bion's book represents.

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10. Analytic Truth and the Operation of Multiple Vertices

Meltzer, Donald Harris Meltzer Trust ePub

In the previous chapter it was suggested that Transformations could be read as a series of experiments in thought aimed at describing the method of psychoanalytical observation as serial transformations of observable ‘facts’ into thoughts capable of ‘growth’ and accretion of meaning, and further that this series of experiments can be visualized as conducted in a particular way. The method seems akin to that of the mathematician who invents arbitrary signs and rules for their manipulation and sees how far they carry him before new signs and rules need to be invented. The first such experiment, in the Elements, employed signs called psychoanalytical objects composed of three grid categories from the ‘growth’ axis, sensa (A), myth (C) and passion (row G, mysteriously). It seemed never to get off the ground (if we may return to the model of Leonardo's flying machine intended to navigate the cosmos of the mind). The second experiment (Chapters 1–5 of Transformations) employed simple navigational instruments called transformations but soon discovered that they were somehow produced by love of the truth and an aesthetic sense which was a function of the analyst's total personality plus training and experience, and anyhow resulted in nothing grander than his ‘opinion’ of what was happening in the consulting room.

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11. ‘Learning About’ as Resistance to ‘Becoming’

Meltzer, Donald Harris Meltzer Trust ePub

CHAPTER ELEVEN

‘Learning about’ as a resistance to ‘becoming’

In the two previous chapters it was suggested that Transformations could be read as a series of experiments in mathematical modes of thought, beginning with the last part of Elements and continuing into Attention and Interpretation, aimed at evolving a language of precision for describing the methods of observation, thought and communication employed in the psychoanalytical method. The stimulus for this effort, starting with Learning, had been the recognition of the role played by disorders of thought in severe mental disturbance, (schizophrenia in particular), related also to phenomena described earlier as peculiar to basic assumption groups. What began as an attempt to avoid the ‘penumbra of existing meaning’ in ordinary words for the sake of positing an ‘empty’ hypothetical apparatus of thought: alpha-function, in Learning, expanded into a ‘periodic table’ of the ‘elements’ of thought, the Grid, from which Bion first attempted a description of ‘psychoanalytical objects’, tripartite ‘molecules’ compounded of sensa, myth and passion.

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13. The Psychoanalytic Couple and the Group

Meltzer, Donald Harris Meltzer Trust ePub

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The psychoanalytic couple and the group

The rounding out of Bion's views in Attention and Interpretation does not clearly declare itself until he begins to examine the relationship of the individual to the group. He means, in regard to the special problem of psychoanalysis, but perhaps to human relationships in general, the juxtaposition of the relations of individuals to one another as individuals to their involvements in group functions and mentality. The circling back to the work in Experiences in Groups shows again the internal integrity of Bion's life work and its progressive tightening and complexity, a fact which is superficially belied by the shifts in paraphernalia of exposition in the various major works. In the present book, where the language has shifted to the religious vocabulary, it is clear that the linguistic paraphernalia is the inevitable equipment of the religious vertex on the world. In Elements and Transformations Bion was inclined to hedge this with claims that the mathematical mode of expression was analogic rather than intrinsic. But in retrospect it is clear that he had a period of romance with a mathematical dream of a precise and quantifiable world of essential internal harmony threatened mainly by the failure of alpha-function, of containers to contain and of selected facts to be discovered to implement Ps↔D. It was not the case that he had abandoned the death instinct, the role of envy, innate destructiveness, etc. in his thought, but that the mathematical dream had no place in it for aught but confusion as the enemy of growth. In consequence the anti-growth elements in the mind could be relegated to a single ‘use’, column 2.

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8. The Role of Myth in the Employment of Thoughts

Meltzer, Donald Harris Meltzer Trust ePub

In the previous chapter an attempt was made to describe and examine Bion's effort in The Elements of Psychoanalysis to imagine an apparatus capable of generating thoughts and producing growth in them in the direction of sophistication in both the level of abstraction and of organization. This he has given graphic representation by means of the Grid, where the possibility of growth in use and level of abstraction and organization is represented in a two-axis system, movement within which is conceived to be implemented by two mechanisms: container–contained (♀ ♂) and paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, plus selected fact (Ps↔D). He also attempted to give a cogent description of how such a system could have come into existence in the species and in the individual, using a quasi-astronomical model of the ‘uncertainty cloud’ and the ‘loose reticulum’. It was suggested that by thus emphasizing a structural metaphor and omitting the economic aspect related to emotional attitude towards value inherent in Mrs Klein's formulation of ‘positions’, he was setting himself an unnecessarily difficult task in regard to the ‘employment’ of thoughts in thinking, as contrasted with the problem of the ‘manufacture’ and ‘growth’ of thoughts. It was suggested that Bion's proposed model might be compared with Mrs Klein's description of the events which usher in the depressive position or the examination of the origin of the conception of psychic spaces as outlined in Explorations in Autism (Meltzer et al, 1975). We must now move on to consider the way in which Bion's apparatus is imagined to function to ‘employ’ thoughts and how this is seen to relate to the psychoanalytical situation and method. It should be emphasized again that in this discussion the Grid is being treated only as a method of exposition and not as a thing meant for use in ‘meditative review’ or ‘the psychoanalytic game’.

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