Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jessica Benjamin - Intersubjective Views of Thirdness

"The introduction of the idea of intersubjectivity into psychoanalysis has many important consequences and has been understood in a variety of ways. The position I will develop in this paper defines intersubjectivity in terms of a relationship of mutual recognition—a relation in which each person experiences the other as a "like subject," another mind who can be "felt with," yet has a distinct, separate center of feeling and perception. The antecedents of my perspective on intersubjectivity lie on the one hand with Hegel (1807; Kojève 1969), and on the other with the developmentally oriented thinkers Winnicott (1971) and Stern (1985)—quite different in their own ways—who try to specify the process by which we become able to grasp the other as having a separate yet similar mind.

In contrast to the notion of the intersubjective as a "system of reciprocal mutual influence"—referring to "any psychological field formed by interacting worlds of experience" (Stolorow and Atwood 1992, p. 3)—adumbrated by intersubjective systems theorists Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange (Orange, Atwood, and Stolorow 1997),1 I emphasize, both developmentally and clinically, how we actually come to the felt experience of the other as a separate yet connected being with whom we are acting reciprocally. How do we get a sense that "there are other minds out there" (see Stern 1985)?

In highlighting this phenomenological experience of other minds, I—like other intersubjective critics of Freud's Cartesianism—emphasize the reciprocal, mutually influencing quality of interaction between subjects, the confusing traffic of two-way streets. But this theoretical recognition of intersubjective influence should not blind us to the power of actual psychic experience, which all too often is that of the one-way street—in which we feel as if one person is the doer, the other done to. One person is subject, the other object—as our theory of object relations all too readily portrays. To recognize that the object of our feelings, needs, actions, and thoughts is actually another subject, an equivalent center of being (Benjamin 1988, 1995a), is the real difficulty...."
(p. 6)

"To the degree that we ever manage to grasp two-way directionality, we do so only from the place of the third, a vantage point outside the two.2 However, the intersubjective position that I refer to as thirdness consists of more than this vantage point of observation. The concept of the third means a wide variety of things to different thinkers, and has been used to refer to the profession, the community, the theory one works with—anything one holds in mind that creates another point of reference outside the dyad (Aron 1999; Britton 1988; Crastnopol 1999). My interest is not in which "thing" we use, but in the process of creating thirdness—that is, in how we build relational systems and how we develop the intersubjective capacities for such co-creation. I think in terms of thirdness as a quality or experience of intersubjective relatedness that has as its correlate a certain kind of internal mental space; it is closely related to Winnicott's idea of potential or transitional space. One of the first relational formulations of thirdness was Pizer's (1998) idea of negotiation, originally formulated in 1990, in which analyst and patient each build, as in a squiggle drawing, a construction of their separate experiences together. Pizer analyzed transference not in terms of static, projective contents, but as an intersubjective process: "No, you can't make this of me, but you can make that of me."

Thus, I consider it crucial not to reify the third, but to consider it primarily as a principle, function, or relationship, rather than as a "thing" in the way that theory or rules of technique are things. My aim is to distinguish it from superego maxims or ideals that the analyst holds onto with her ego, often clutching them as a drowning person clutches a straw. For in the space of thirdness, we are not holding onto a third; we are, in Ghent's (1990) felicitous usage, surrendering to it.

Elaborating this idea, we might say that the third is that to which we surrender, and thirdness is the intersubjective mental space that facilitates or results from surrender. In my thinking, the term surrender refers to a certain letting go of the self, and thus also implies the ability to take in the other's point of view or reality. Thus, surrender refers us to recognition—being able to sustain connectedness to the other's mind while accepting his separateness and difference. Surrender implies freedom from any intent to control or coerce..."
(p. 7)

'If we grasp the creation of thirdness as an intersubjective process that is constituted in early, presymbolic experiences of accommodation, mutuality, and the intention to recognize and be recognized by the other, we can understand how important it is to think in terms of building a shared third. In shifting to an intersubjective concept of the third, we ground a very different view of the clinical process from the one espoused by those who use the concept of the third to refer to observing capacities and the analyst's relation to his own theory or thinking." (p. 19)

Jessica Benjamin (2004). Beyond Doer and Done to: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. 73, pp. 5-46.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Daniel Stern - The ‘Pre-Narrative Envelope’: An Alternative View of ‘Unconscious Phantasy’ in Infancy

"This work grows out of a continuing effort to understand the nature of the infant's representational world and, in particular, to imagine how this world is created. Such a creation within the infant's mind would be easier to envision if we had a ‘basic unit’ of subjective, psychic experience of psychodynamic relevance to work with. Such a unit would serve as the building block for constructing the representational world. In psychoanalysis, the ‘basic unit’ of psychic experience is the ‘unconscious phantasy’. This article proposes the ‘pre-narrative envelope’ as an alternative way to view such a basic unit, especially its origin in early infancy.

Why is an alternative view needed, and what directions might it take? The point of reference for the concept of an ‘unconscious phantasy’ is contained in Freud's earlier views of a ‘primal phantasy’ (1916-17) and in the Kleinian view of an ‘unconscious phantasy (Isaacs, 1948). In these conceptions, ‘unconscious phantasies’ are inherited scenarios containing an object, aim and goal.

These scenarios are innate correlates or the psychic content of drive, and exist independently of experience, which only gives them local colour. Stated in that way, this is the clearest, most robust and radical psychoanalytic position on ‘unconscious phantasy’. It is the reference point of which all other positions are modifications. Even though a majority of psychoanalysts may not hold to this position in its pure form, their views are necessarily defined against this point of reference.

The desire to modify this reference point has been strong historically and remains so. The reasons for this are evident. First, the notion of a mental scenario that is inherited is hard to envision or explain. Second, many wish to give interactions with the environment a greater role in the formation of the ‘unconscious phantasy’. And thirdly, if the ‘unconscious phantasy’ is an inherited mental structure, there is little work of mental construction left for our enormous capacities, and the subject of thinking and representing in that case is of little interest, at least as concerns the formation of the basic unit of psychic experience. To be sure, in the traditional psychoanalytic view, ego processes play a crucial and necessary role in bringing the unconscious phantasy into psychic life. Nonetheless, the basic form of the unconscious phantasy is already established for the ego to work upon. Thus, ‘thinking’ and ‘representing’, as ego functions, are allocated a role in the transposition but not the creation of the basic form of the phantasy.

In spite of this interest in modifying the ‘reference position’, it is difficult to do so within the psychoanalytic framework. If one wishes to give a greater formative role to environmental interactions, and to ‘thinking’ and ‘representing’ which construct the mental landscape from these interactions, at least two things are needed. First, one would need a theory of ‘thinking’. However, psychoanalysis has never developed a real and independent theory of ‘thinking’. (Bion is a possible but partial and problematic exception. His work will not be discussed here. ‘Thoughts’ have remained the offspring and handmaidens of drives. In a sense, the pre-formed phantasy takes the place of the creational function of ‘thinking’. That is why psychoanalysis has been so concerned with the dialectic between absence and presence in the emergence of ‘thought’, instead of being interested in the role of ‘thought’ in creating the prior dialectic between non-existence and existence (existence containing both presence and absence).

Secondly, one would need a greater interest in, and a more elaborated perspective on the nature of observable interactions. Psychoanalysis, with its centre of gravity firmly in the intrapsychic, has been unable to do this. (There are of course some grand but individualistic exceptions such as Winnicott.)

Without a theory of ‘thinking’ or a systematic approach to interaction, the possibilities are limited for modification within a strict, traditional psychoanalytic frame. It is with this in mind that I will borrow some concepts of ‘thinking’ from cognitive science, and some infant observational approaches to interaction, and apply them to the psychoanalytic notion of drive. The result is an alternative view of the ‘unconscious phantasy’ which I will call a ‘pre-narrative envelope’ for reasons that will become clear.

Since the major thrust of this article is progressively to assemble the concept of a ‘pre-narrative envelope’ and demonstrate how it can further our understanding of infantile subjective experience, the acquisition of representational worlds, and of ‘thinking’ in infancy, I will summarize here the main features of this unit so the reader will have a clearer picture of where we are headed.

1. The unit must be clinically useful, potentially, and must be appropriate from a developmental perspective.

2. The backbone of the unit is the desire/motive with its goal-directedness. This is an expectable directrix of any psychodynamic unit and of all motivation-centred units of experience. It is certainly at the core of Freud's notions of drive, unconscious phantasy and the purposive ideas (representations-buts). It is interesting in this connection that Darwin in his notebooks muses that motives are the basic unit of the universe in that they are the functional units of evolution.1 From a different perspective, students of narrative structure have found motives and goal-orientation to be crucial narrative aspects (see below). Similarly students of affects (Scherer, 1986; Steiner-Krause, 1992), of motor action (von Cranach et al., 1982), of cybernetics (Céllerier, 1992), of ethology and others, all place goal-directedness at the core of their explanatory concepts.

Goal-directedness alone, however, is not sufficient to make such a unit ‘psychoanalytic’ or psychodynamic. Drives imply a psychic component, a structure of thought, e.g. unconscious phantasies, wishes and desires. I am not leaving these out. They will reappear below - but as indirect products of drive.

The scope of motivations and goals encompassed here is largely that developed by Sandler (1985), and Sandler and Sandler (1992), in which the goals of desires/motives include external and internal states of object-relatedness, affect states, and states of self-esteem and safety, as well as physiological need-satisfaction and consumatory acts in general.

The goal-directed unit of the motive/desire is indeed our ‘basic unit’ for understanding (parsing (découper), explaining and predicting) human behaviour. At the level of comprehending human behaviour psychodynamically or in terms of folk psychologies this unit is not reducible (Bruner, 1990; Dennett, 1978; Whiten, 1991). It is the basic unit and starting point for a subjective phenomenology underlying any clinical science of the mind.

3. The ‘pre-narrative envelope’ is a subjective experience that unfolds in time. It has a temporal structure that provides part of its coherence and meaning. This unit is like a musical phrase that loses its sense when cut up further and like a musical phrase moves, with an inevitability, to an end-state. A temporal dimension is not explicitly present in the concept of an ‘unconscious phantasy’ as it is for the ‘pre-narrative envelope’.

4. The ‘pre-narrative envelope’ has a coherence and meaning by virtue of its narrative-like structure which includes a dramatic line and the basic elements of a proto-plot, such as agent, action, goal, object, context.

5. It is a ‘pre-narrative’ unit because it arises before the emergence of language or narrative-producing abilities, but conforms to most of the structures essential to narrative. It is the unit from which narrative will emerge, transposed.

6. This unit is subject to revision sur-le-coup, après-coup and as transposed into a true narrative communication without losing its basic form.

7. The ‘pre-narrative envelope’ is not an innate structure, or the ego's discovery of such; rather, it results from the infant's own mental construction. This construction emerges from the infant's subjective experience with drives being enacted in an interpersonal context. It is an ‘emergent property’ of mind as currently conceived in the cognitive sciences (Céllerier, 1992; Churchland, 1984; Dennett, 1991; Edelman, 1990; Rummelhart and McClelland, 1986; Maturana and Varela, 1979).
The cognitive-science view of ‘thinking’1, borrowed and applied to the psychoanalytic question, ‘What is an unconscious phantasy in early infancy?’, can be summarized briefly below. In this view, the mind appears to process, in parallel and in partial independence, a large number of simultaneous mental happenings. During an experience, instinctual urgings, visual images, affect shifts, sensations, motor actions, ideas, states of arousal, language, place and space, time, etc., are all processed simultaneously in parallel throughout all ‘centres’ in the mind as well as in specialized ones devoted to processing each (‘Parallel Distributed Processing’ (PDP)). The parallel processing of each element is carried out with lower-level, local, mental operations which are never translatable into subjective experience. These mental processes are operationally unconscious."
(pp. 291-295)


1 It is not agreed upon nor clear what ‘thinking’ is. I will use the term in quotes to mean different mental operations and processes, some of which would be better called ‘pre-thinking’ - whatever that may be.

Daniel N. Stern (1992). The ‘Pre-Narrative Envelope’: An Alternative View of ‘Unconscious Phantasy’ in Infancy. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, Vol. 15, pp. 291-318

Passing of Daniel Stern - Nov 18, 2012 - Announcement from Columbia Psychoanalytic Center

The Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research mourn the passing of our esteemed colleague Daniel Stern, M.D. Dr. Stern was an internationally recognized leader and major contributor to the field of developmental psychology. His pioneering work on early affective mother-child was one of his leading activities. He has edited and authored many important books and articles in the field, among them Interpersonal World of the Infant, First Relationship and Motherhood Constellation. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family. Those who knew him remember his intelligence, his warmth, his commitment and his friendship.

Eric R. Marcus, MD, Director, Columbia University Center

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jane Bunster - Flexibility in Treating the Difficult to Reach Patient

Editors Note: In this passage, Bunster summarizes her treatment of a patient whose psyche was organized around an autistic core. Bunster emphasizes the flexibility she needed to maintain in her analytic activity - moving back and forth between relatedness/ containing while also consistently interpreting what was happening in the analytic dyad.

"First, I tried to use what could be considered as ‘maternal reverie’, where I did my best to get in tune with her so that any deintegrative moves she might have made towards me were met with good-enough understanding and response. I thought in terms of the infantile transference. What she was furiously defending against was the pain of the loss of the mother/breast, which, in turn, she saw as attacking, retaliatory, and unforgiving. Any interpretation I might make needed two parts: first, the direct content and, then, analysis of the defence she used to prevent the interpretation/food being taken in and digested.

This was particularly apparent at times of holiday breaks and weekends. The sessions became more quiet and silent. Any feelings of loss had to be denied. If she denied my existence, no loss need be experienced and so she wiped me out of her mind, in the way she experienced I was doing to her whenever we separated from each other. Although she realized intellectually how cut off she was, she could make no link between thought and feelings.

My task was to try to stay patiently with her disconnectedness and annihilation and gradually make sense of it, always remembering that, underneath the withholdingness and locked-in-ness which may manifest itself as obstinacy, omnipotence, and manipulation, lay very great anxiety and perhaps fear of falling to bits.

In confronting and experiencing such primitive archetypal material, flexibility of approach seems essential. I have tried to show how useful the concept and the process of projective identification are in helping such a cut-off patient get more in touch with her feelings, thus modifying the intense conflicted areas and ameliorating the terror. If I can talk and make sense of these feelings, confidence can be gained that unconscious impulses need not be overwhelmingly destructive and imagination may then flow more freely." (pp. 43-44)

Jane Bunster (1993). The Patient Difficult to Reach: Omnipotence, projective identification and the primary self. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 38, pp. 37-44