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Internal Tangent of a Circle2


So, how does one co-ordinate (both locate and bear) being with oneself and the analytic object (better to call it a subject?) without addiction to one’s maps — and the circles and lines (concepts) used to draw those maps up?

Reading this third seminar I am once again confronted with an experience akin to being in biology class looking at a drop of pond water under  a microscope:  overwhelmed with the perception of multiple layers of enticing stuff going on, overlapping zones of interaction, and yet restricted by my human limitations to focusing on one layer at a time, and having to pick which layer to begin with if I really want to make some meaningful sense of the experience.  I have to locate and co-ordinate myself with/to what I co-ordinate as it unfolds before my eyes.

I’d like to ask Dr. Bion if he can tell us more about his idea on the countertransference, because it seems to me that this is the particular type of noise in the analyst’s mind that can be picked up in the psychoanalytic experience.  I wonder if it might also contain musical elements, and if so if we should adjust our minds like high-fidelity systems that can not only extract the signal from the noise, but also act like a resonance chamber and allow us to receive the entire range of acoustic stimuli, even if that means that the clarity of the melody is lost.

Based on Bion’s responses to this question, I think it struck him as a “-K” question where as Bion’s aim and focus is on “K” questions, questions that are passionate attempts to grasp real analytic experiences (moments of growth) which emerge from the unknown.  It involves being emotionally present with an Other who is not oneself, and the ideas that emerge organically and spontaneously from such an Encounter (in Buber’s sense of that term). Such moments of being lead to emotional re-experiencing and the spontaneous growth of new ideas.  

In this regard, perhaps one can read the question as an association.  The unconscious subject of the questioner’s mind is in effect texting Bion about the countertransference noise that Bion will be able to pick up in Bion’s psychoanalytic experience of his interlocutor’s question.   The second sentence, on this reading, then, is the “noise” he is putting into Bion (projective identification – shout out to S.F.). Moreover, this noise relation is quite omnipotent: his interlocutor wants to be a “resonance chamber” who can “receive the ENTIRE range of acoustic stimuli.”  The effect of this would be to kill any real affective link (the “melody”), because it’s not addressed to the flesh and blood Bion – today’s unfolding Bion — but yesterday’s Bion, now idealized or ossified in memory and desire.  Not so much about approaching O, but, perhaps, soothing or inciting himself with the sensations of cleverness (autistic shapes).

In his reply, Bion first acknowledges the historical-conceptual importance of the terms ‘transference’ and ‘countertransference’, but quickly qualifies this praise with, “But, like every really good idea, like anything which provokes or stimulates growth, it makes itself out of date at once.”  He goes on to describe the real analytic experience of transference (the territory) to emphasize how there is a substantial caesura between the ontological or being level of the experience and the concept (the map) we use to give a handle to it for the purposes of everyday talk.  He emphasizes that, “if you are, in fact, having a psychoanalytic experience — that is different.”wilfred_bion.jpg250x256_Q90

After a time, though, the novice begins to understand that the analyst is drawing attention to an actual [transference] experience which he is having…. Your feeling that I am your father or mother can be compared with other ideas you have: you can bring together the idea that I am your mother or father and the idea that I am a stranger whom you do not know.  Then you can decide for yourself  who or what you really think I am — that is your affair. In that way a new idea is born. The idea that you had before — namely, that I am a blood relation, a father or mother — is transient; it is a temporary idea on the journey of your life…. It is an idea that you have “on the way” — you transfer it to me as a temporary measure on your way to what you really think or feel…. It is another of these places where you stop on your own particular journey…. Where you are now, when you have just seen this point, is already out of date.

Two different “thoughts” beget a new experience which begets new ideas, etc.  But these “thoughts” are themselves lived experiences first that take shape on the way to becoming ideas that can have transformative potential. In terms of Existential-Phenomenology, the lived-experience or ontological level, is “pre-thematic”.  Once a lived experience is brought into language it is “thematized” (conceptually can be mapped) at a conscious level of knowing.

 An implicit model here (from what I recall in Bion’s ELEMENTS of his rethinking the relationship of Unconscious to Consciousness and the Dream Function) seems to be that real analytic experience fosters a “binocular” awareness of the ever circulating kaleidoscope of infantile impressions and urges grasping reality from the right, so to speak, as well as the disciplined contemplation of these impressions along with those of reason and language, grasping reality simultaneously from the left (Grotstein’s “binary oppositional grasp”).  And from the proper alignment of this dual grasping — of the permeable, selective CONTACT BARRIER — growth (spontaneous unfolding/revealing) happens.  [Footnote: In a future post I will posit that the moment of this proper alignmnet corresponds to what Meg Harris Williams calls the experience of a  “moment of being” in her brilliant analysis of psychoanalytic autobiography.]

Once the patient begins to understand what the analytic experience is, then he changes so fast that what he thought or felt at the beginning of a sentence is out of date by the time he has reached the end of it. That is why, when  you are satisfied the patient is actually developing, it is as well to be able to forget what you know and discard what you want to happen …. we are liable to slow the patient down by clinging to out-of-date ideas and, as a result, are unable to watch the patient’s progress to some other idea”[point of growth experience]

So, having emphasized that the lived territory is the point and not the map, Bion seems to pivot and talk about the need to avoid missing the patient and the analytic experience by loosing the analytic discipline: the challenge of using our affective receptivity, our task of ‘feeling out’ our patients, so to speak, yet not getting lost in how the ‘facts’ of their being stimulate us one way or the other ideationally, moralistically, or otherwise.  Such internal distractions risk taking our mental-emotional focus off the point of unfolding, emerging growth (O).  This is the pursuit of analytic Truth, in the Greek sense of Truth (Aletheia), which is a REVEALING, a process, not a static dead correspondence of map to territory. This is also the Aesthetic and Phenomenological sense of Truth – letting what “shows itself show itself in the very way it shows itself from itself.”

It is interesting that Bion ends his series of (K) answers to the above (-K) question using the mathematical model of the circle and it’s tangent to explicate something of the nature of the analytic pair.  It is a somewhat ambiguous explication, but I think the following aspects are at least arguable (though I am sure many other ways to read it)

Have we any coordinate system which could give us an idea to where we are, where, the pair are — the analyst and the patient?  In the narrative story we get an idea of a person’s development by taking any two points, A and B, and the direction would be from A to B.  Those two points, A and B, we could call “real and distinct”.  However, suppose those two points were mobile; then they might travel round the circumference of a circle and become “real and coincident”, And if we try to draw in the two points which are real and coincident, we can say that they meet and describe a line which is a tangent.

So far, Bion is talking about the circle and tangent as a representation of the patient and the patient’s growth.  Point A is the forever embryo or infant of the patient’s unconscious – the point at which the patient was “born” as a soul, that “tiny survival” that as analysts Bion says we aim to try and “breath life into” (cf, Seminar One).  Point B is the patient in the immediate here and now, and when these two points become infinitesimally close, as if to be the same (coincident), we can draw a line between them and a new direction – the tangent – is created that is also at the same time part of the curve of the circle (thanks to calculus). Like the “new idea” Bion mentions in the extended quote above, this new line extending from these points “transfers” or goes “off at a tangent”, so to speak, at the moment of analytic experience, of psychic birth “on the way” to a new experience or “point” in the persons going-on-being (Winnicott) of “their journey.” [Note: This figuration harkens back as an illustration of Bion’s comment at the end of the Second Italian Seminar: “A difficulty would arise if we could introduce this intelligent postnatal person to the highly intelligent embryo who could tell such very different stories…”]

Yet, at the same time this tangent-line juncture seems to represent the analytic pair, he continues in the next paragraph:

Take these two people — the analyst and the analysand — who have met at one point.  I don’t know what spiritual route the analyst has taken, the journey that his mind has taken between the point at which it is supposed to begin its existence and the point at which it became coincident with an entirely different personality — coincident and real.  Let us suppose that these two points go on with their journey: the analyst and the analysand continue to live; they don’t stop at psychoanalysis; they don’t stop at this point at which they are real and coincident.  I was taught to call that “conjugate complex” …. I use these two words “conjugate complex” as imaginary points…. In that way I think we ought to consider, as if it were real, that the analyst and analysand still continue to exist even when the analysis is over, when those two points, which are real and distinct, real and coincident in the analyst’s consulting room, continue in a space about which I know nothing because that mind which is no longer in contact with me has gone I don’t know where.

I think Bion is trying to redirect the group to wonder about the imaginary and the ontological status of our pre-sedimented encounters with Others –  where do these moments (“points”) of new being, born of inter-psychic encounter go such that we are left with the sediment of them, so to speak? Are we really only left with the sediment of their fleeting existence in the form of memories?  How can/do these “out of date” points become us? Do they continue to operate once apart for both parties in parallel ways (as is implied by the mathematical analogy with conjugate (coupled) complex numbers)? Furthermore, is Bion only talking about the inner object world?  Is this a kind of Metaphysical speculation about relations between a kind of personal unconscious and collective unconscious, personal O and impersonal O, as it were?

Unfortunately, this seminar’s original recording was incomplete, so perhaps this is too much like trying to interpret the meaning of a sentence when the predicate is missing, but based on the two questions that follow this quote, it seems the group disappoints him.   Whatever Bion meant by his last question, he was posing a question of THE UNKNOWN, seeking, wondering, searching for it’s “pulse” as Meg Harris Williams might call it.  The questions he receives, by contrast, seem to be grasping at some illusory KNOWN, wanting Bion to give them THE ANSWER or notarize their answer, as if there is ONE FINAL WORD to be had.    

The second questioner wants Bion to “explain to me role of the human need to know” and “what part is played in the patient by the need to express his desire for knowledge to someone.”  Bion replies:

I suspect that these are vestiges of fundamental characteristics which have not yet been destroyed either by the inability to tolerate ignorance or by the inability to tolerate the answer.  The trouble about curiosity is that it is liable to provoke a response.  From what I know about myself, the danger to which anybody exposes themselves by asking me a question is another flood of questions.  I do try to resist the temptation to say, “Yes, I know; I know about transference; I know about countertransference.”  I am partly assisted by the fact that I don’t know.  That picture in which Nansen showed exactly how to get to the North Pole does not tell me — and I would never know — what it would be like to be Nansen wandering in the wastes of the Arctic.  I only know a little bit about what it feels like to be me wandering in the realms of the human mind.  One hopes that it is a relatively limited sphere — not quite so dangerous, perhaps, as wandering in the realms of omniscience or omnipotence.

So, Bion’s somewhat convoluted/cryptic responses seem to reflect both his wish to be polite and his disappointment, frustration, and even annoyance perhaps with the ongoing, palpable gap between himself and the group.  It is as though he wants them to play with him in the unknown and they just aren’t able to meet him there, perhaps caught up in some kind of basic assumption group dysfunction, like looking to him to be the absolute authority and provide them with the omnipotent/omniscient answer – the “final word” on the matter so to speak, which is why he emphasizes that he doesn’t know and emphasizes that he is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising since one of Bion’s main points through all of these seminars – in spirit if not in text – is that THERE IS NO FINAL WORD ON ANYTHING; the best we have are constantly changing approximations, since truth is a revealing and not a dead correspondence of a map to a territory.  And the experience of analysis is being in, going through, giving language to and being changed by wandering with and through the patient’s unfolding unconscious emotional vicissitudes.   If you get caught up in maps and mapping rather than the wandering then you may become famous but you’re venturing into the Arctic… (a cold, no-person’s land).  “Remember what happened to the Titanic?” …  It hit O and sank.

To be dominated or motivated by curiosity, by our wish to know, would seem to be a dangerous occupation, especially if we come across another mind which has the characteristic of omnipotence or omniscience …. As analysts we are always running the risk of questioning whoever or whatever is clothed in authority… arming ourselves by improving such minds or instruments as we have available for investigating the unknown.