Especially on historic days is it important to keep in mind that no tree is without its roots, no mountain without its base, and no building without its foundation. In a brief concession to the genius temporis, we will consider five mythological friendships, between men and men and gods, which cleared the way for the path America continues down today. And though this article will focus on the relationships between men and men and gods, its lessons could just as easily be generalized to relationships between other genders, regardless of their constituent parts. The point of this article, and friendship, has been said best by Aristotle:
“After what we have said, a discussion of friendship would naturally follow, since it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all…
*** FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT I SUGGEST WATCHING THIS SHORT VIDEO FIRST IN “FULL SCREEN” MODE.
Clearly there seems to be something that brings two different human beings together; whatever the outcome of their coming together, whether it is shipwreck or continued journey, it appears to be a very stimulating experience. So those who are disposed to launch themselves on the stormy seas of love are risking a painful and frightening experience of shipwreck.
INTRODUCTION: ‘Shipwreck’ of Desire and Certainty
However else we might interpret the ‘shipwreck’ that evolves and envelops both Orpheus and Eurydice, I want to focus on the role Orpheus’ desire and certainty played as a counterpoint for unpacking some of Bion’s ideas in the seventh of his Italian seminars.
The overall point Bion seems to be reiterating in slightly different form is that our analytic aperture has to be focused on experiencing THE POINT OF CONTACT with the PSYCHIC REALITY [“O”] to which psychoanalysis can give expression – act as midwife to the experience emerging out of a dark spot of ignorance and in need of comprehensible shape and release as a measure of personal meaning. This is how I understand the notion [cf., Meltzer, Meg Harris-Williams, etc.] of the aesthetic experience of the symbol. Like looking at a statue in a museum where one must circle around to see and experience the sculpture from different angles, Bion directs our attention from different angles to which he parlays from the questions he is asked in the seminar.
I. TIME & SPACE
Reaching back to the first seminar, we recall critique of the search for “facts”. We might characterize his stance as viewing what we call ‘facts’ in the natural attitude (what we naturally regard as real reality without question) as reflexive “constant conjunctions” to use Bion’s phrase indexing Hume.
The same thing applies to the whole body of psychoanalytic thinking. These theories are very useful — the difference between conscious and the unconscious. Falling back on metaphor, one could say that when we secrete an idea, or when we produce a theory, we seem at the same time to lay down chalky material, we become calcified, the idea becomes calcified, and then you have another impressive caesura which you can’t break out of. An asset, a useful theory of conscious and unconscious, then becomes a liability; it becomes a caesura which we cannot penetrate.
Seminar seven opens with a question about “the concept of time” and “how does Dr. Bion see time?” He questioner lists several abstract-conceptual questions about time and finishes with, “How are we to ensure that the concept of relativity that follows from the abolition of definitions does not coincide with stasis?
So, Bion is posed a calcified question, or set of questions — as if asking him how we should MAP ‘time’ as a facticity as opposed to grasping our lived experience of it. Bion’s typically circuitous means of responding seems to be a way of disorienting (deconstructing?) his audience’s pre-given orientation to — and embeddedness in –conceptualizing (mapping), in order to open up refreshed possibilities of meaning for ‘time’ and ‘space’ as experiential constant conjunctions — for revitalizing some aspect of experience and understanding it anew.
Bion wonders aloud about where this question comes from – where in the person?, the group?, this group? He then parlays into a discussion of infantile experience of TIME:
I can suppose that there was a time [as an infant] when I noticed that things which presented themselves to my senses were not within my reach and I would have to resort to some sort of locomotion to get them. That would give rise to a feeling which might grow into an idea later, that there was such a thing as time and space which divided me from the object which presented itself to my senses.
In other words, our originary experiences of what will later be called ‘time’ and ‘space’ as constant conjunctions are elastic measures of frustrated desire: the time and space between the mouth and the nipple, between a fall and being picked up and held. A gap is required for an experience to have existence as such it seems — to be defined or take shape as a unit in and among a network of heterogenous units of experience, and THEN to be named. To experience one’s existence in personal terms requires differentiation.
Am I to evaluate my present idea about time and space vis-a-vis the idea of time and space that I would have if I were a hungry baby trying to get at what I regarded as some desirable sweet from which I was separated? “Le silence eternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” [Pascal, Pensees]. I couldn’t say that if I were a baby, but I could feel it: I could feel that it would be a terrible thing if I had to find the time and the athletic ability to get from here to there.
Bion’s reference of Pascal suggests he wants to emphasize that the primal experience of space and time is backdropped by a terrifying sense of vulnerability and annihilation in our inevitable ALONENESS-and-yet-simultaneous-DEPENDENCE. With ontological differentiation comes a turbulence of affects that have to be borne. If we are unable to bear this torrent and become symbolic about this time and space, they can feel like an unbearable mutilation to have to bear-out in having to wait.
Orpheus, for example, seems unable to bear his longing (TIME and SPACE) for Eurydice. Upon seeing her he feels compelled (GREED) to use magic (OMNIPOTENCE) to have her for himself as his lover – no time and space for a relationship to develop. Yet his magic renders her so mindless she is unable to protect herself from the asp who bites, kills, and sends her to the Underworld. Orpheus confident in his powers, descends after her to use his magic powers and defy the order of things to be united with his beloved. However, as the sound of her footsteps evanesces he looses faith and turns to see her, though forbidden by Hades to turn around. As a consequence, he looses her; his manic attempt at reparation failed, he is crushed by guilt and dies.
II. OMNISCIENCE & CERTAINTY
When you give an interpretation tomorrow, are you sure that it will approximate to expressing the music of humanity or the little bit of it which has got into your consulting-room? Note that there I have introduced an element of rhythm, timing. Most of us probably have the experience of sometimes feeling that “that was a good session” , when we were really together with one of our patients.
Most of the rest of the seventh seminar deals with really owning, experiencing, and taking stock of our vulnerabilities as weakness as human beings — our very limited powers of mind and body — and the need to come together so that, “if we can collaborate further, we may, by our combined knowledge, make more inroads into our ignorance.
Bion explains that it is only because we somehow and somewhere still believe in omnipotence and omniscience that we oscillate between those feelings and their opposite — abject helplessness and stupidity or incompetence. Only if we give up the idea or aspiring to the idea of absolute certainty and knowledge can we be freed of the terror (helplessness and ignorance) of infinite space and time. For analysts, he continues, this might leave us with either a vain search for:
some absolute value in the way that mathematicians do. But this comes nearer to having to invent or create the tools with which to think. While you are attempting to analyze the mind of somebody who is not you, or the relationship between two minds, you also have to invent or create the very tools you hope to use. Here we can watch and listen to us trying to learn how to think. That particular space and that particular silence are so penetrating that we get frightened of them.
Hence, a primary challenge in “reaching a patient” is to bear the weight of not knowing, groping through the dark together, and coming together to grasp a meaning of being locked in an affective experience pressing for release. Reaching the patient is through a unique creation — when and where some unique moment and measure of Being is released. This aesthetic experience of being (“a little bit of humanity”) conjoins the lived experience of Time, Space, Meaning, and the Symbol.
III. AESTHETIC SYMBOL & BEING-SPACE: “A LITTLE BIT” OF HUMANITY
Every subject is born into a ‘speaking space’, which is why, before approaching the structure of the I, as an agency constituted by discourse, I shall analyse [sic] the conditions necessary for that space to offer the habitat suitable for its needs.
This quote is from Piera Aulagnier (The Violence of Interpretation), a French psychoanalyst who worked to integrate the work of Winnicott and Lacan, wanting to understand the origins of psychosis through early childhood and infantile experiences. I am incorporating the spirit of some of her ideas into my reading of Bion’s 7th and 8th seminars to explore and examine how the aesthetic experience of the Symbol is constitutive of becoming or psychic growth.
Perhaps we might say that “the aesthetic experience of the Symbol” tries to capture how The Symbol gathers or occasions a space in which some measure of human being exists, unfolds, or is felt to be elaborated — a space where the “I” can come about, to use Piera’s stimulating vernacular. Recently I attended a show at the Los Angeles Art and Craft Museum near my home. The show was a collection of quilts made by men in the US, which, overall, seemed to push the boundaries between “craft” and “fine art”.
This piece is by Aaron McIntosh [http://aaronmcintosh.com/home.html], one of the artists represented. It is a quilted image of a gay sex magazine cover in the style of the 1970s, with patches of quilt from his grandmother’s collection blocking out parts of the cover. He used his aesthetic symbol-quilting as a means of exploring two central dimensions of time and space in which he lives — in the sense Winnicott used in his chapter “The Place Where We Live.” [Playing and Reality]. In Mr. McIntosh’s words:
In the same way that this gay, masculine body is out of reach for me, so too is a fulfilling relationship with my family and their traditions. Both are just tantalizingly out of reach. So in this very literal way, I am forcing my queer desire to intersect my craft heritage and creating a space for what is in between.
What is “in between” is a little bit of his humanity – a space for a measure of his existence contoured by intersecting lines of desire. This series of moments of space where his “I” exists is bounded by a horizon of alternate lives felt to be possible yet impossible, lives of oneness with ‘that family’ experience or oneness with ‘that man’. It is a space of longing (desire) shaded more or less by sorrow (depressive position) and resentment (paranoid position). This aesthetic object (symbol) creates/gathers/re-presents a sample of his human existence we can “step into”, so to speak.
In Bion’s terms [Theory of Thinking], the experience of a “no-Breast” — the space where a Breast experience should be — occasions an existence constitutive “thought”. A relationship between two different terms is required for a “thought”. Difference means separateness, aloneness and dependence. Out of the baby-mommy unit comes the possibility of “baby” as a self-reflexive awareness and unique address for a meaningful self – aware of itself as a center of its own desire (first experienced as painful collapse) in dialectical (and asymmetrical) opposition to the object of desire felt to be gone: painfully torn away and precipitating deflation and collapse – the annihilating draining away of one’s existence.
It is as though by giving identity or shape to the over-there where the artist is barred from existing (where he is a no-thing and has nothing as non-existing), the shape of who he is over-here is defined and affirmed; here he is a something, a someone to somebodies, though not all to everybody (ultimate satisfaction) or to himself. Analytically speaking we might say his existence over-there is as a vestigial experience of being-a-collapsed-longing (a dying/murdered desiring subject) projected into and inhabiting or even ‘saturating’ The Symbol.
In other words, I am trying to grasp and share his artwork holistically as a psychoanalytic symbol as Meltzer describes:
The process of condensation operates on the myth of the emotional experience …. In this mythic stage of recording an emotional experience, as in many discursive dreams, the meaning is still open to many interpretations. But as condensation proceeds, and finally results in a highly condensed symbol, say the Queen in chess, the meaning is now contained, no longer open to multiple interpretations. It must now be “read” or understood, grasped. Thus a symbol may be said to be “close to the bone” of mental pain, for it pinpoints the zone of conflict.
[NOTE: Meltzer cited in Williams, M.H., 2005, p. 11]
A Pictorial Postscript:
Let the two lines that define the angle subtending the arc BAC represent the two lines of desire in Mr. McIntoshes quilt. The triangle BangleC, then, represents the space created by these intersecting lines of desire – the space where he lives. Chord BDC, then, might be called the boundary of reality, and if so, then we can call arc BAC the “infinite arc of unlived lives” (thought to be possible, longed for, but not to be), since the line is an infinite number of points. Line AD, then, would represent the tension of longing between the who one is and these BAC unmourned vestigial aspects of selfhood or self experience. Lastly, might not the area outside are BAC represent the Real or “O” as the ever present zone of the unknown ultimate reality at the boundary of lived experience? The “infinite silence of infinite space” that scares us? The zone outside of our symbolic capacities?
FLESH made WORD (meaning, Logos) and The Eternal Return of Unconscious SENTIENCE: The aesthetic experience of the Symbol and Transformational Emergence
Dedicated to Jim Grotstein MD
(Please click the “play” icon below for musical accompaniment by Phillip Glass’ Metamorphosis 5; it may take a minute or two to load)
I am commenting on both seminars five and six because it’s pretty clear that seminar six contextualizes five and further clarifies what we might call Bion’s analytic aesthetic.
SUPPOSE a painter sees a path through a field sown with poppies and paints it: at one end of a chain of event is the field of poppies, at the other a canvas with pigment disposed on its surface. We can recognize that the latter represents the former, so I shall suppose that despite the differences between a field of poppies and a piece of canvas, despite the transformation that the artist has effected in what he saw to make it take the form of a picture, something has remained unaltered and on this something recognition depends. The elements that go to make up the unaltered aspect of the transformation I shall call invariant.
In this quote from TRANSFORMATIONS Bion uses the painter as a model or heuristic for entering into an investigation of the psychoanalytical aperture — the way conducting psychoanalysis allows the “ineffable subject of the unconscious” (Grotstein) to disclose itself from itself in the very way it shows itself from itself through spontaneously organizing or shaping of our experience using a palette of sensation, emotion, feeling, ideation, and imagination. This is, at the same time, a moment of evolution for both the patient and analyst’s “personalities” (scientific vertex), “souls” (religious vertex), or “spirits” (poetic or artistic vertex). It is also a fleeting experience of A SYMBOLIC TRANSFORMATION. And once this experience has become us (if we allow it), we are left with a temptation to hold onto the dead, concrete ‘accretion’ left behind [cf seminar one]. In Seminar Six one of the group members makes reference to St. John’s Gospel, asking Bion to help him understand how the Word was made flesh. I think it is the other way around. THE awe-some mystery is in how the Flesh becomes Word in “apocalyptic revelation”.
** PLEASE NOTE: The painting embedded in the quote is a watercolor by Bion taken from his recently released Collected Works.
I. AESTHETIC (lived) EXPERIENCE OF THE SYMBOL
The SYMBOL is not just an abstract concept as deployed in the discourses of semiotics, literature, religion, psychology, etc. It is also a lived experience within the analytic setting. And, even more than just one phenomena among many, it is the essential experience of psychoanalytic practice, for it is the presencing of the transformation (both in the sense of bearing witness to the emergence of the transformation and providing the conditions to catalyze it) from soma to psyche. I propose that somewhere in the lived experience of the SYMBOL, psychoanalytically grasped, is the link between mind and body: the FLESH made WORD.
So, I was at my analyst’s office the other day and something happened that finally helped me grasp the analytic idea of the symbol.
Wow, Rocky!, that’s cool. Tell me, what happened?
So, I went into the bathroom before my appointment that is just off the waiting room, and on my way out I looked at the shower that’s there without a shower curtain, and even though I had seen it many times before, on this day I thought, “Oh, I could go run on the beach before my appointment and then come in here and shower.” And as soon as I thought that, I walked out into the waiting room and felt my body freeze, as though I was bracing myself about to get smacked. I imagined telling my analyst that I wanted to use the shower and getting yelled at for it. By the time I sat down in the waiting room, I dismissed the whole thing as nonsense and sat down, forgetting about it and thinking I could never mention this because it was too embarrassing.
Then, during the session what ended up coming up and out was a lot of sorrow and pain as a child, remembering how I felt shut-out, rejected and it was as though I had to walk on eggshells all the time. My analyst linked this with her upcoming absence for a vacation, and how it felt like having the door slammed in my face. This was true, but it also characterized a general atmosphere and sensitivity that we had been talking about in many other contexts for months. It wasn’t until I left that day that I recalled my thoughts in the bathroom and realized that my phantasy about the shower was a model of this dynamic, which I had taken too concretely… not SYMBOLICALLY
You mean the SYMBOL is a kind of shell or shape, like a mold that our embodied-mind uses to cast our embodied though-not-conscious experience into a meaning? It is as though we have to transform our substantive bodily experience into a mental-meaningful experience we can put into words.
Yeah, and somehow through the releasing of this meaning from my embodied-mind into my body-mind, I felt more real and substantive as a being, both more grounded and freer at the same time. I think R.D. Laing might call it more “ontologically secure”…. It’s almost like being fed my “unthought known” experience helped me separate myself from my experience enough to have it as an experience, which was me but not-me at the same time. I could have it but not feel had by it…
It make me think about how we are both part of the natural world and not at the same time, like the me that’s part of nature, what Sartre called the “in-itself” needs to have aspects of experience be continuously born into the human world of reflexive, conscious meaning, the domain of the “for-itself and through language… Better yet, maybe the for-itself itself is what demands this continual casting of experience into meaningful shapes so our conscious minds and reason can realize their unfolding potential? I mean after your experience of this shower-symbol and the releasing of your experience what’s left of you is a new you, but the shower-symbol is left as an accretion, like an empty mold, an ‘unsaturated element’ as Bion called it.
So, I guess the important part is the process or the moment of transformation from symbolic equation to symbol, and in the infinitesimal gap between these two is a release of some quanta of life (new being) with a leftover husk? Like some kind of immanence within ourselves demands we allow it to evolve us in it’s image or in terms of its Logos? In the articulation of beta-elements into alpha-elements there is not just some mechanical process, there is some kind of entelechy at work, some kind of sentience trying to direct our personal evolution…Wow! That’s super deep Bullwinkle!
This matters to us tomorrow when we see our patient. I think it is helpful to forget all our theories and our desires because they are so obstructive that they become a an impressive caesura which we cannot get past. The problem is how to let the germ of an idea, or the germ of an [experience], have a chance to grow and develop…. If I want to pictorialize this, I can talk about alpha- and beta- elements — a beta-element being something which is purely physical; and alpha-element something mental… [Seminar One]
II. THE FLESH MADE WORD
[Leonard Greco, The Green Knight, 2015, graphite and watercolor on paper, 11″ x11″]
This painting, inspired by the Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is a mythopoetic representation of what we might term SYMBOLIC EMERGENCE: the place or zone where the binary opposition between secondary process mind (“the postnatal person”) and primary process minds (“the highly intelligent embryo”, cf., Seminar One) can align and result in the measure of growth in the psyche (soul). This zone is a evanescent GAP (moment) in the transformation from a symbolic equation moment-of-being into what might be described as a symbolic state of becoming, where some new measure of psychic life is pressing for release from embeddedness or embodied immanence in a search for recognition and comprehension – where THE FLESH becomes WORD (logos, or meaning).
Mr. Greco writes of the Green Knight:
“In my readings I have come upon numerous interpretations of who or what the Green Knight is. Some have understood his unholy skin color to represent death; some believe he is the devil, yet others believe he is a Greenman or the Greenman’s cousin the wodewose. I want to believe he is not anything particularly malevolent but instead an old god, full of contradictions, light and dark, “good” and “evil”. The complicated duality that the chivalric court of Arthur found so difficult to comprehend with its rigid codes of behavior.”
The Green Knight, an “old god”, as the personification of sentiently organized impulses, demands a reckoning, a relation of accountability with Sir Gawain, and through the ensuing trial Gawain evolves as a character. On a cultural level, an analogous dynamic is depicted in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, the third play in his Orestia, a trilogy about the fate of the house of Atreus.
In Eumenides, Orestes, son of Agamemnon, is pursued by the Furies (the old gods of justice) under the talion principle for having murdered his mother to avenge his father’s death due to her treachery. Orestes eventually seeks refuge at the feet of a statue of Athena (a new god of wisdom), and she installs a jury to decide his fate. After casting the deciding vote in favor of his acquittal, she persuades the Furies to accept the verdict. Athena then leads them to their new abode and the escort now addresses them as “Semnai” (Venerable Ones), as the Furies will now be honored by the citizens of Athens and ensure the city’s prosperity. Athena also declares that henceforth tied juries will result in the defendant being acquitted, as mercy should always take precedence over harshness. Here culture evolves in the space of the transformation from old gods to new, the zone of SYMBOLIC EMERGENCE (the JURY is a new symbol). The relation here is like that of Hegel’s dialectic: the old gods are superseded by the new, but that supersession is an incorporation and integration, not an alienation, destruction, disavowal or refutation. Here THE FLESH of a new order has emerged and the new LOGOS “mercy” supersedes the LOGOS of “vengeance”: these are opposed orders of meaning yet depend on each other to exist as mercy exists on the basis of vengeance as a possibility.
In other words, this zone of SYMBOLIC EMERGENCE is a kind of threshold — a fleeting moment for realizing some new undefined aspect of being, a moment of becoming or unfolding (TRANSFORMATION). Bion articulates it this way in Seminar Six:
Practice your speculative imagination, consider this: does the infant initiate birth by trying to break out of an intolerable situation, the mother’s womb or the amniotic fluid? If so, it could then feel responsible for making obvious its own existence. In today’s complex situation where there is so much evidence, can we still detect vestiges, very active vestiges of our anxiety, of our fear to express whatever it is we are capable of? We can be afraid of expressing our stray thoughts, wherever they come from, because we are afraid of the reception they will get. And then the poet, the painter, the musician implicit in each of us does not get expressed, for fear it would be destroyed if it were.
Without reception, recognition, and a kind of ‘existential reckoning’ there is no new life (consider also the worldwide mythic themes of resurrection). In this way the Green Knight represents the forces of Nature immanent in our being and the being of the world in which we dwell, sentient forces that demand recognition and in the encounter opens a gap (trial) where a new experience can occur and our becoming more of who we are to be can unfold. From a religious vertex this might be called channelling the divine to manifest itself on Earth, but not in the manner of “the word becoming flesh.” Rather, it is more like our own early and Earthly childhoods were we all struggled in a very concrete way with transforming our flesh (bodily experience) into words and be part of the shared world of meaning, attenuating “the fundamental fact that one is always dependent and alone.” (Seminar six)
III. INVARIENTS & BION’S AESTHETIC ANALYTIC APERTURE
Last night [Seminar Five] Dr. Bion asked us to express our wild thoughts and, at the same time, warned us not to express them too respectably. Then he made the interesting point about the difference between intelligence and wisdom, specifically as regards groups….
1. Emergence, Aloneness and Dependence
Bion responds to this opening question in Seminar Six by returning to the “fundamental fact that one is always dependent and alone.” He then links this with the emergence of life that begins when an infant (or infant in the adult person) is capable of turning what is inside into comprehensible (as opposed to “respectable”) form for the outside — achieve a communication.
So, when an individual … knows he has something to say, the question is whether to say it or not, because he is afraid of discovering either that there is no one to hear or that there is somebody to hear but that somebody will run away. Thus the dreaded isolation is made worse, not less.
This is an elaborated echo of Seminar One, and the question of the emergence of psychic life, where he showed us how to use speculative imagination when he wondered aloud about “when where you born…. Please tell me when your optic pits, and about the third somite, became functional?”
In order to do analysis, he said, analysts must have some way to clear their minds of obscuring memory an desire to zero in on the zone where new psychic life emerges in the here-and-now lived encounter between analyst and analysand. He also emphasizes, as he does here again in chapter six and elsewhere, that the infant is “aware” of its “dependence” and is “alone”, and that these are “fundamental” and painful. And at the end of Seminar One, an idea echoed in Seminar Six, he gives this admonition: “To come back to tomorrow’s session: what you have to do is give the germ of thought a chance …. you have to dare to think and feel what ever it is you think or feel, no matter what your society … or even what you think about it.” (emphasis in the original)
Seminar Two recycles his themes of eschewing the noise to key into the melody or music – where the faint and fragile yet most important emerging notes of life spring forth our spring out: “signs that there is a ghost of a puppet…[that] you may still be able to breath some life into that tiny survival?” [Seminar One]. In Seminar Two the “tiny survival” image morphs into the image of the shipwrecked who have been so isolated that the prospect of rescue terrifies them (the object might miss them or leave), which ADDS TERROR to the situation of this fundamental aloneness and dependence:
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 the sound of this terror which indicates the position of a person beginning to hope that he might be rescued…. That is why I don’t like butting in with theories which are out of touch with the actual patient and the actual experience.
3. Recognition and Reception
This theme of the desperate excluded “tiny survival” (embryo, infant, etc.) in need of recognition and reception figures as the main through line in Seminar Six as already described and quoted at some length above. The terror of the shipwrecked [Seminar Two] is a transformation of despair, or, the defense of despair has submerged the terror of not being seen and received when without it one WILL NOT CONTINUE TO BE. Additionally, in Seminar Six, Bion reiterates the need to DARE to express one’s being, particularly in light of the fact that when we take the ‘LEAP OF FAITH’ (Kierkegaard) to express/expose our ownmost impulse of new being for all to receive, that we have to embrace that absence of certainty over what follows — WHAT WILL the MEANING be IF WE DARE TAKE ON THE CHALLENGE of “apocalyptic revelation”?:
And can we further regard or tolerate the meaning which lies beyond the verbal expression? In the Baghavad Gita, Krishna expresses doubts that Arjuna would be able to tolerate the spectacle if he were to reveal himself. In other words, it depends on the meaning which lies beyond the apocalyptic revelation. There are certain gifted people who are able to dare to express what it is that they can hear or see… But none of them can make us look or listen to what is shown or said. We can be as blind, as deaf, as insensible to the composer, the painter, the dramatist who is either in ourselves or outside….. As Shakespeare puts it, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”. He doesn’t say what the answer is; he says,”Wether it is nobler in the mind to suffer slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? that is a choice nobody can make for the individual — except the individual. Only he can decide to be or not to be.
[NOTE: I believe Bion uses the phrase “apocalyptic revelation” to mean a revealing of truth (Alethia) that ends the old world (symbolic order) and ushers in an authentically NEW EXPERIENCE (a new symbolic order). For Gadamer (cf., Truth and Method) a true or authentic experience has to be ‘apocalyptic’ in this sense, otherwise it is not really an experience, just a happening, and event. For Gadamer, only a new experience is a real experience.]
4. Evanescence of Becoming
In Seminar Three, Bion emphasized that in the EXPERIENCE of transference in analysis it is an achievement if the patient is able to bear the fleeting and transitory GAP of new meaning: If you are not my father and I am not bound to my historical ‘son’ relation, that who am I to be for me? to you? for you? to and for the horizon I have thoughtlessly call my life? What spontaneously erupts from me needing reception and recognition? This is the evanescent GAP of potential transformation from symbolic equation to symbol, and in this infinitesimal gap some new quanta of being is released, with a leftover accretion of the event called a memory or an idea (concept) about it. “To be or not to be” the nascent undefined me – that is the question.
Too often we fetishize the memory, the conceptual maps, or “talk about” the experience, passing over the fleeting moment for new beginning and avoid the terror of the question “to be or not to be”…. As Bion writes at the end of Seminar Six:
The aim of analysis is to make the point clear [that we have this preconception there is some parent/authority who knows THE ANSWER], not so that you can go on feeling how important that person [the analyst] is for the rest of your existence, but because you can discard it and make room for whatever ideas you might want to express yourself…. The importance of the analyst’s position is brought to light so it can be discarded…. This is why it is important to learn, if you can, during the transition stage who the musician, the painter, the poet is who is struggling to get free from inside you.
5. Presence in Absence: Bearing wit(h)-ness, Sharing wit(h)ness
What I gather from these Seminars is that Bion’s analytic aperture is primed and focused on being as present and receptive as possible to one’s direct emotional experience of being-with the personhood of the patient from one moment to the next, and having the confidence and awareness to trust that being in touch with one’s immediate, pre-reflective experience of the patient’s experience, no matter how challenging or painful, provides the basic context for comprehending the communications of that “tiny survival” in it’s spontaneous (live) attempts to come into being, to become, to be born, etc. And by bearing the with-ness of how it announces or births itself, as analysts we can verbally give back (share) the nascent experience announcing itself and catalyze the transformation from symbolic equation (domination of the subject by an emotional presence projected into a signifier) to symbol. Through this the “saturated element” becomes “unsaturated” and can then take on a plurivocity of meanings, and the self-hood of the patient feels enriched, more grounded and/ or real and substantive.
IV. Eternal Return & Technical Application
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the very first time.
T.S. Elliot, “Little Gidding”
WHAT IS THE EXPERIENCE YOUR PATIENT IS TRYING TO CREATE IN YOU?
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
HOW TO/DO YOU RELATE TO IT?
CONTEMPLATE IT: TRY NOT TO ACT OUT ON IT OR DEFEND YOURSELF AGAINST IT THROUGH ABSTRACTIONS, IDENTIFICATIONS WITH IDEALIZED ANALYSTS, THEORIES, OR SENSATIONS OF “CERTAINTY” OR “BEING GOOD” OR “GIVING” OR “CURE”.
MAKE ROOM IN YOUR EXPERIENCE FOR NEW EXPERIENCE TO GROW YOU – AS THE GREEN KNIGHT IN EACH ANALYSAND DEMANDS.