Monday, November 16, 2015

Michael Eigen - Image, Sense, Infinities, and Everyday Life

Excerpt from Karnacology Article Introducing Eigen's New Book: 

"I have been fascinated by images ever since I can remember. How embarrassing for my mother, proudly introducing her three-year-old son to the principal of the school at which she taught only to have the little one say, “You’re a whale.”  To this moment, I can see myself seeing this good man as a whale as vividly as the instant it happened. His body and demeanour became a prompt for a waking dream image selected from swarms of inner possibilities, seas of images within. For the little boy, people were not only people. They also were these images and, at times, this led to trouble.

Wilfred R. Bion wrote a good deal about “verbal images” and for a poet, verbal images can create experiential realities. I’m no longer sure when I became aware that words were packed with colour and tone. I could actually hear music and see colours when writing and sometimes speaking, as if words were colours and tones and the latter words. The separation ordinarily made between such media did not hold for me. Later in life I was drawn to and profoundly influenced by psychoanalysts who painted, drew, and had a feel for poetry and music – Marion Milner, D. W. Winnicott, and Wilfred Bion.


Sense is a word that spans many dimensions of experience, a kind of unifying word: e.g., the five or six senses, proprioception and kinaesthesia, common sense, animal or vital sensing, sense as meaning, intuition, a felt sense, a self-sense, a sense of self and other, God-sense. A lot of sensing goes on in psychoanalytic sessions, with one’s self, others, art and writing. One senses mood, atmospheric conditions, feeling.

Sensing often gives rise to images acting as expressive “feelers”, touching and opening experiential worlds moments convey.  Herbert Read felt that image preceded idea by about two hundred years. Hopefully, in a particular life the situation is more condensed. It is a real issue, how we sense our life and our images of it. Identity fields flow from them.

In Western epistemology, sensation and image have been second-class citizens until the Romantic Movement, but poets and mystics have always valued them.  As I point out in The Psychotic Core, Freud used images drawn from spiritual experience to describe creative processes.

The first chapter of my new book Image, Sense, Infinities, and Everyday Life explores birth as an image sense used to describe feeling. Literal, physical birth turns into an expressive verbal image for sensations of change and transformation. Bion spoke of psychoanalysis as embryonic, not yet born or in uneven aspects of birth. Similarly, human personality. There are ways we are born and fail to be born all life long. Biblical psalms and prophesies link states of birth to mood. When God is gone, the psalmist may die out emotionally. When the Divine Presence manifests, the psalmist comes emotionally alive. We repeatedly undergo variations of death-rebirth experiences emotionally.  The prophet promises God will give us a new soul, a new spirit, fresh as snow. Spiritual texts throughout the world supply colorful language to express affective dramas.

Bion links a sense of empty-full with the feeding situation, the infant’s full and empty states at the mother’s breast, sensations that turn into a vocabulary for emotional and spiritual states. Emptiness-fullness expand in meaning as one grows. They take many turns in Bion’s work. For example, Bion values a space unsaturated by meaning so that meaning can grow, in contrast with over-saturated space with little room for more.  We develop a sense for the rise and fall of affect in sessions, the interplay of good and bad feeling, and a kind of internal psychic “body English” towards tipping the balance for the better.

Book Description - Image and sensing have been underrated in Western thought but have come into their own since the Romantic movement and have always been valued by poets and mystics. Images come in all shapes and sizes and give expression to our felt sense of life. We say we are made in the image of God, yet God has no image. What kind of image do we mean? An impalpable image carrying impalpable sense? An ineffable sense permeates and takes us beyond the five senses, creating infinities within everyday life. Some people report experiencing colour and sound when they write or hear words. Sensing mediates the feel of life, often giving birth to image.
In this compelling book, Michael Eigen leads us through an array of images and sensing in many dimensions of experience, beginning with a sense of being born all through life, psychosis, mystical moments, the body, the pregnancy of “no”, shame, his session with Andr√© Green, and his thoughts related to James Grotstein, Wilfred Bion, and Marion Milner. The author concludes with notes on his life as a young man leading him into the therapeutic vocation he has fostered and which has fostered him for nearly sixty years.
Michael Eigen is a psychologist and psychoanalyst, and the 2015 recipient of the NAAP Lifetime Achievement Award. He is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology in the Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis at New York University, and a Senior Member of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. He is the author of a number of books, including Toxic NourishmentThe Psychoanalytic MysticFeeling Matters and Flames from the Unconscious.  He contributed a chapter to Mark Winborn's book Shared Realities. His latest book, Image, Sense, Infinities, and Everyday Life, is published by Karnac Books.

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