Friday, November 4, 2011

Warren Colman - Imaginal Capacity and the Idea of the Third in Analytical Psychology

"The idea of the third has often been used in psychoanalytic thinking to describe the emergence of a new level of mental functioning that is essential for psychological development. Winnicott called this the third area, an intermediate area or potential space that exists between internal and external reality and is the location for play, creativity and cultural activity (Winnicott 1971). Ogden (1994) has applied this idea to the analytic situation in his proposition of an ‘analytic third’ arising out of the intersubjective field between analyst and patient but not reducible to either of them. He sees this area as the locus of potentially creative transformation, especially if the analyst can become aware of it through his or her reverie. From a different perspective, Britton has developed the idea of a third position that arises out of the coming together of the parental couple in the mind of the infant and enables the child to observe and reflect upon relationships in which he or she is at the same time a participant (Britton 1989). Britton's ‘third position’ has much in common with Fonagy's concept of reflective function, the capacity to reflect on one's own mind and the minds of others and to recognize intentions and motivations that can be differentiated from action and behaviour (Fonagy & Target 1996).

The idea of the third is also a key element in Jung's concept of the transcendent function which he described as facilitating ‘the transition from one psychic condition to another by means of the mutual confrontation of opposites’ (Jung 1939/1954, para. 780). Jung discovered that this active confrontation between conscious and unconscious often resulted in the emergence of new symbolic forms which transcended internal conflicts leading to a greater psychic wholeness. However, the idea of the transcendent function has a much wider application as an abstract formulation of the many different forms of internal opposition that issue in the emergence of a third.

In this most generalized and abstract form, the third (area or position) may be described as a representational space for the occurrence of emergent meaning. In this sense, the transcendent function is an attempt to describe the psychic function that is involved in the creation of meaning —it is an account of the meaning-making function of the psyche that suggests meaning to be the outcome of a process of opposition between two or more opposing elements that are somehow transcended in the creation of a third with a new level of complexity. The third is thus an emergent phenomenon, having properties of a different order from its constituent parts. This brings the idea of the transcendent function and, more generally, psychoanalytic thinking on the idea of the third, into congruence with the theory of emergence in other disciplines, such as biology and consciousness studies. Emergence theory offers an alternative to reductionism by explaining how the conjunction of elemental phenomena can produce properties which are not reducible to their constituent elements (Cambray 2006, p. ).

The emergence of the third could also be described as the development of a capacity for symbolic imagination or simply imaginal capacity. By this I mean the capacity to formulate and creatively explore images of one's own psychic life and the world in a way that feels fully real yet distinct from the actuality of the external world. It refers to something more than the capacity to symbolize since it also involves the capacity to relate to symbols as significantly meaningful, having multiple referents that remain distinct from the form in which they are represented. I have previously described this as the recognition of the absence of the symbolized in the presence of the symbol, arguing that a capacity to bear absence is a sine qua non of a capacity to make creative use of symbols (Colman 2006). It is equally the case that absence can only be tolerated by means of early representations that eventually lead on to symbol formation. I am thinking here of Bion's formulation that thought develops as a means of tolerating the absence of a realization (Bion 1962b, pp. 111-12). For example, the conception of a breast may enable the infant to tolerate the absence of a breast (which would be a realization). For this reason, an intolerance of absence and an incapacity to symbolize tend to go hand in hand."
(pp. 565-566)

Warren Colman (2007). Symbolic Conceptions: The Idea of the Third. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 52: pp. 565-583

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