This seems to be the main question animating Bion’s mind in response to the seminar participants’ so-called questions. I say “so-called” because one thing that has struck me is the way in which Bion, at least so far in these first two seminars, often times appears to not-answer the questioner at the content or locutionary level, yet in his ostensible manner of non-answering he clearly addresses how the questioner impacts him analytically, the perlocutionary dimension as it were. In this way it seems Bion is “doing” or “being” how he believes the analyst should do or be with the patient, rather than just “talking about it”. The “being it” is meaningful, the “talking about it” is not, or is certainly secondary at best. To the extent this hypothesis is correct, it would be consistent with Bion’s earlier (Attention and Interpretation, 1970) emphasis that what matters in psychoanalysis are transformations O => K, from the ontological or being domain to the domain of knowledge/understanding.
Here is an extended quote of the first question at the beginning of the seminar. I am quoting it in it’s entirety to give the reader the full impact:
Before yesterday’s seminar, I was curious to know what Dr Bion thought about music. I’d been reflecting on an analytic experience of mine when I felt that a woman patient preferred music to analysis and was trying and had begun — to find music in analysis too, for certain reasons: music banished visual experiences, especially terrifying ones associated with phobic space. She was able to dissolve the terrifying experiences of sounds by putting them together in a melody and using only certain sounds or certain limited pitches. If the music was broken down, the sounds took on a terrifying quality reminiscent of the terror of the visual, almost bodily , three-dimensional images of a claustrophobic space. But I had attributed this possibility of seeing terrifying images to her phantasy of a Cyclopean eye — the third mental eye that psychologists talk about — which she seems to see graphically before her.
An experience with another analysand puts me in mind of Ulysses, who turned himself into “Nobody” so as to not be seen and eaten by Polyphemus. So I wondered if Dr. Bion feels we can also invoke a Cyclopean perception that has to do with music and analysis, as some psychologists have demonstrated. Does Dr. Bion think there is any connection between all the problems of musicians who play without reading the notes and others who can only play if they have a score in front of them?
Bion’s begins to respond to this “question” by first pointing out that in analysis that the main reason any analysand comes in for treatment is because of internal conflict, “the real trouble is the patient’s dis-agreement with himself…. However, as a temporary affair, what you can see is something of the relationship between those two people — the analyst and the analysand.”
I would like to suggest that while Bion is ostensibly commenting in a general way on analytic praxis, he is also commenting on how the questioner has struck him — there is a questioner who is split and conflicted between a questioner-he who is looking for a meaningful link with Dr. Bion and a questioner-he who is producing noise that is barley intelligible and meant to distract or derail the possibility of a meaningful link. To put it another way, we might ask where is the “ghost in the puppet” here? I will try to substantiate this hypothesis by a kind of analytic reading (treating Bion’s responses as associative material) and at the same time trying to summarize the spirit of Bion’s ideas, particularly as they relate to lived clinical praxis.
Bion then goes onto to link this so-called question to his conception of REVERSIBLE PERSPECTIVE where the patient unconsciously (for the most part) operates from a model of what is happening between the analytic pair that is not the model from which the analyst operates and this results in impasse because nothing meaningful can be shared experientially; it’s aim to kill all emotional contact and dynamism, a sin qua non in operation behind what Joseph called PSYCHIC EQUILIBRIUM, I believe. Bion might say it represents the secret operation of the psychotic part of the personality, unbeknownst to the non-psychotic part, since it’s operation is a sign of underlying trauma and psychic pain. He does not use the term REVERSIBLE PERSPECTIVE as he does in ELEMENTS but what he describes to the audience is this phenomena, and more importantly, he offers a model for how to deal with it analytically:
Falling back on the report of what happened… what would happen to you if you were bombarded with words as this patient bombards his analyst?
Again, I think it is not much of a leap to suggest that Bion is describing his experience of the parallel process between the questioner and the questioner’s patient and the questioner and Bion. He feels bombarded by the question as I do reading it. It it like vomit dressed up as intelligent, even deep thought. It makes one try to make sense of it as if sense can be made, stimulating desire and memory along the way but in the end one comes up empty. Bion continues:
Suppose the analyst is sensitive to what he is seeing and being told by the patient — that is what we are theoretically supposed to be. Taking first of all the words: what — as far as the analyst is concerned — are the nerve endings which are being stimulated… the remnants of his classical education, knowledge of Greek mythology, knowledge of experience of any other culture. He is now free to show who he is by picking on, say, Greek mythology, or psychoanalytical theory or psychological theory. So from this point of view the analyst is invited to express his opinion of who he is.
So, this “bombardment” (a description of the perlocutionary effect of the communication) has an aim; it is designed to stimulate the analyst’s/Bion’s memory and desire to intrude into the analytic/seminar space, which is not the point of him being there in the seminar any more than it is appropriate analytically for the questioner with his patient. This is a primary function of REVERSIBLE PERSPECTIVE, to distract the analyst and provide the perversely destructive part of the patient with presumed evidence of the analyst’s anti-analytic motives — secretly the destructive part mis-interprets, for example, as if to say, “If I can trick you into being false you must have been a false object all along. I knew it! See there’s nothing/no one here for me as always! So, I need to repress and deny my need for good-breast-you there’s only a bad-self-absorbed one here!”
This reinforces the PATHOLOGICAL ORGANIZATION and leads to or sustains treatment impasse.
The patient is really giving a performance of a full operatic experience, of words and music. The problem is, what is the analyst to do? Whatever he does, the patient will have something to go on, something the patient can then himself interpret
He goes on to say that — and again it is quite ambiguous if he is just making a general comment or referring to his experience of the questioner — “Out of all this variety of material from which I am invited to choose, I would like to select what appears to me to be psychoanalytically relevant.”
So, how does one go about tuning into what is relevant through all the noise? His answer seems to be “reverie” or what he terms in this seminar “speculative imagination,” which requires:
the minimal condition for me to analyze that patient is to be allowed to remain silent, because I don’t want to add my noise to that which the patient is already making. If I am allowed more time to be silent, then I may be able to hear just a little bit more.
Bion then invites the reader to imagine that, “a group is almost like one person spread out over a space,” and to use this exercise when reflecting on the material presented in the question and ask, “who is this person who is saying, ‘terrified… terrified… terrified… terrible’?” This way of sifting through the material allows Bion to use a “selected fact” as both a way to separate out and organize the material, and a focal point for his analytic (intuitive) aperture, to stand in “Faith” (“the disciplined restraint of memory and desire”, cf ATTENTION AND INTERPRETATION) and wait for/catalyze the presencing of “that tiny survival”:
Having taken that sort of group view, narrow down your observation. At this point I would be paying much more attention to this “terrible” and listening to the occurrence, apparently, only of a word; but I would hope, if I am given a chance of remaining silent, to be able to detect a certain similarity about all these “terribles.” And then when I thought that things had gone far enough for me feel that I could formulate my observation, I would do so. But I would ignore all the rest of it.
Some remnant of nascent living-ness, that “tiny survival” who was unable to live is trying to communicate:
The same applies to patient who repeats “terrible, terrible”. And all that is said in a vague hope that somebody will turn up who will be able to understand what he is communicating and will be able to supply the correct mental nourishment. It is a matter of touch and go whether the patient will be able to come to analysis long enough to find out if it is worth doing.
Continuing with his “speculative imagination” Bion then reflects on the origins of this terror. He seems to refer to the battle between the nascent, sane, dependent part striving for contact, and the despair internally generated as a misguided protection by the pathological organization or in his vernacular, the psychotic personality, which using misinterpreting to seduce and or dominate the nascent aspects of self. I will cite at some length because his words are quite poignant:
From day to day, from free-association to free association, one is dealing with a little bit of that fundamental story. In the one instance there is this problem of how to find something to without getting eaten up in the process; in the other how to let anybody know that he is terrified, especially in a situation where there may be nobody. In this way both patients resort to a somewhat obscure, primitive and incomprehensible method of communication. Then they can feel, “Well, nothing comes of it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not worse than it was before.” But if the analyst has been able to give enough interpretations to lead the patient to think there could be somebody who understands, then terror is released.
To make that point clearer, using a pictorial image: a part of five people were survivors of a shipwreck. The rest had died of starvation or had been swept overboard from the remnants of the raft. The experienced no fear whatsoever — but became terrified when the thought a ship was coming near. The possibility of rescue, and the ever greater possibility that their presence would not be noticed on the surface of the ocean, lead them to be terrified. Previously the terror had been sunk, so to speak, in the overwhelming depths of depression and despair.
So, the analyst , in the midst of the noises of distress, the failure of analysis, the uselessness of that kind of conversation, still needs to be able to hear this terror which indicates the position of a person beginning to hope that he might be rescued.
He returns to the metaphor of the shipwrecked to provide and emphasize his repeated caution of the dangers of those situations when the analyst and patient can become seduced into sensuous comfort by holding onto/focusing on what passes as thinking, understanding, insights, etc., (“cheap cures”), but what are really addictive comforts against awareness of the underlying primitive terrors, including dependency, uncertainty, and feelings of isolation.
He seems to be pointing to what Pascal articulated in his Pensees— existentially, we are all always already at sea — infinity small and vulnerable and surrounded by an infinitely unknowable reality — and that we’re addicted to distractions to take us away from brushing up against this sublime, terrifying, ineffable presencing. How do we try to allow a space for the who that matters to show up through tomorrow’s patient, when doing so puts us in touch with such abyss-mal dreads?
Later on, technique wise, Bion offers three, somewhat cryptic yet related statements:
It is necessary to give an interpretation which lets the patient have a chance of knowing that he has been understood, and a chance of feeling that he will not be incarcerated or devoured….
Whatever body of theory attracts you, you should consider whether there is room in it for the expansion of yourself…. If you find yourself speculating and imagining that this or that story is relevant, you should allow yourself to entertain that speculation in the hope that it might grow into a communicable idea.
It seems to me that Bion’s injunction to make sure that any formulation that one may form, like, become attached to, etc., ought to include the capacity for an “expansion of yourself” is key. Is the experience of an “expansion of yourself” his way of talking about “growth”? Perhaps it’s the equivalent for the analyst when he advises analysts to do in making interpretations to patients — that there be “room” in what one says so patients do not end up feeling “devoured or incarcerated.”
Lastly, the last question posed to Bion in this seminar brings him back to the issue of WHEN is the mind born? In terms of conducting analysis, both WHEN AND WHERE in the ever changing texture of unfolding clinical moments can one detect the edge of emergence, the presencing of Psyche communicating and disclosing, striving to be — finding recognition in being minded and forcing an expansion within each of us from inside out? As analysts, do we allow ourselves to be dreamed by the patient in a way that can upend and expand us???
And to what end? The end is not the analytic relationship it seems, but the use of the analyst, through the analytic relationship, by the patient and for the patient to restore communication and thereby growth within him or herself:
The highly intelligent embryo sees and experiences whatever it sees and experiences; the highly intelligent man or woman also give a very convincing account of what is taking place. A difficulty would arise if by chance we could introduce this highly intelligent postnatal person to the highly intelligent embryo who could tell such very different stories, different narratives about the same facts.