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; Koj√®ve 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.

1 comment:

  1. So excited to discover your blog while searching "Jessica Benjamin" links. Thanks!


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