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George Blair


Such familiar (and familial) catastrophes exist to demonstrate that ‘at any moment the ordered and reassuring world can suddenly capsize… disclose the hidden surface in order to show that its other side is no more than a simple heap of garbage’.

John Calder, preface to the writings of Claude Simon.






The French writer Claude Simon, was born in 1913, the same year as Albert Camus, and became a prominent exponent of experimental fiction in the sixties, begun by Sartres and Camus in the previous decade; ‘in The Flanders Road Simon expands a mere ten minutes or so of real time into a complex and powerful  work of fiction’ (Calder, 1986, p. 91). At first the statement above concerning ‘familial catastrophes’ appears ambiguous: where to locate the ‘heap of garbage’. Is it on the other side of the ordered world where the garbage is to be discovered, or the ordered world itself that is revealed as such by catastrophe? The word ‘simple’ makes it clear. The implication equates ‘familiar’ with ‘simple-minded’. But what of the ‘hidden surface’ – is it a more meaningful dimension that is demonstrated, or is it all in vain?   Is Simon thoroughly pessimistic?  Calder refers to the cynicism of post-modern writers, like Claude Simon, which portrays the role of the so-called order of civilisation as concealing a ‘grotesque detritus’ (Calder, 1986, p. 94). He cites Rilke as reflecting a dominant theme in Simon’s writing ‘to the effect that we are perpetually engaged in organising a chaos which engulfs us continually until we fall apart ourselves’ (p. 93). In the same way, David Carradine’s final overweening peroration on the myth of the superhero in Tarantino’s film Kill Bill declares that Clark Kent is Superman’s critique of the whole human race. It is the omnipotent’s judgement of everyday reality.

My use of this quotation above (ibid.) is to point up the futility of the psychic system set up to deny the significance of a primal blow. My statement is paradoxical since it is the failure to signify that results. Henceforth an artificial meaning is created to mask, and expel from awareness, a primitive condition that can be stated as the developmental failure of an enduring meaning, not, as the existentialists such as Simon claim, the fundamental meaninglessness of the human condition. It is tempting to think that for the existentialist writers of the nouveau roman the hidden (ravaged) surface is the sole truth on to which the collapse of artifice opens. In the latter view, the paradox that meaninglessness is the truth, is what is hidden in a civilised refusal to look nature in the face. My point is that it is the vicissitudes of the maturational system, ‘the whips and scorns’, that, by reaction, can lead to uneasy remedies and plausible camouflage. My interest is in the way that such systematic recourse reflects a subjective loss of meaning. The ‘hidden surface’, in being imaged, by whatever means and in whatever form this may be – however vicious – as a truth, and not relegated to the status of detritus, highlights the habitual and inadvertent means of disguising what may be ‘red in tooth and claw’, and may thus, by a seeming paradox, nourish the soul, by affording the feasibility of choice. By this I intend a modification of the meaning of the word ‘civilisation’. This does not rule out a case for pessimism. But it seems to me to be a consideration elided by the existentialist Claude Simon. Calder mentions as characteristic the Simonian ‘notion of cycle, of decay and regeneration: of tragic paradox at the very heart of things’ (ibid.), to the ultimate order of a dehumanised natural world, a phylogenetic view that seems to disregard the provenance of personal meaning.

According to Bion’s notion of catastrophe, the word might be applied to every change that occurs at a primitive level of experience. I will reserve ‘catastrophic change’ to indicate suddenness, as opposed to a gradual coming to, and linked to the notion of crossing a major threshold or in common parlance ‘rising from the ashes’.  This may be thought of as analogous to Meltzer’s use of the word ‘massive’ to refer to degrees of projective identification, later modified as follows: ‘… I would no longer like to speak of “massive” projective identification, partly because it is too quantitative a term where quantity of phenomenology may be confused with quantity of underlying personality structures’ (Meltzer, 1992, p. 41). This bears on the importance of ‘shifts in the centre of gravity, at the moment, of the sense of identity without reflecting a structural shift’ (ibid.). It is none the less significant in the often very slow progress from common parlance thinking to the onset of a capacity to begin to work in the transference. In other words, catastrophe is endemic to change on the one hand, and on the other, to its aborting.


What I set out to do here is to look at one well-developed and hermetic psychodynamic adjustment to primitive catastrophe. The paper is based on my work with Gerry, a man in his late thirties. The presence of catastrophe he disclosed by the mention of a historical ‘irrelevance’ when he came into therapy. His therapy is conducted twice a week on the couch. This paper represents the first two years of the work.


In Bion’s thinking, in the primary context, all emotional-sensory events (beta-elements) are catastrophic and necessitate the use of projective identification as the primary means of communication. ‘Beta-elements are not amenable for use in dream thoughts but are suited for use in projective identification’ (Bion, 1962, p. 6). Without the metabolising by alpha-function, subjective emotions cannot be digested or meaning made of them. I shall try to show that the phenomena of Gerry’s linguistic expression indicates the absence of this epistemic function, and constitutes an attack on the couplings which would otherwise usher in a gathering of the transference. Thus does he ward off a return of the experience of catastrophe.


The apparent absence (or defection) of a metabolising object made it crucial to deny the advent of catastrophe by resorting to identifications, first as underwriter for a collapsing collective ego, and then as quasi-entrepreneurial rebel. What was imminent has become immanent. In sessions, Gerry persisted in wandering in a realm of abstraction, referring obliquely to an authorised version rather than being able to let himself down into his psychic reality. By his genteel use of ‘our commonsense discussion’ he arrives again and again at the futility of his therapy, each time ‘a topic has been covered’. His question: ‘What next?’ is the communication of his predicament, the transference of his catastrophe, to be read as exclamation: ‘What next!’ For all he intends this to indicate that matters have been satisfactorily covered. This affects me with a sense of the unbridgeable gap in his object, the endemic impossibility of his being heard, a bland unconscious communication of panic. His form of address, then, is a civil-isation of intolerable confusion, as opposed to a metabolic, epistemic process, by which it is given habitable shape. Indeed, although Gerry came into therapy showing signs of fragmenting, he has largely used his therapy as a palliative. This can be seen as a psychic retreat (Steiner, 1993), a place of evasion rather than of contemplation.    


His transference communications are more of an intrusive nature, while he stands off and is isolated. On the rare occasions that he evinces relief at having his unconscious communication heard, the sense of it is short-lived and is quickly cut off. It is put into me as if I function as a family album, and an object of his envy, as if he were saying, ‘It’s all right for some’, but also as retaliation for my having perpetrated something on him which feels to him like a judgement of him, by which he is cut down. It indicates to me cumulatively that, for him being known, itself carries the dread of impending catastrophe.




The Loop

And he sensed percolating from the kitchen, humble, squalid, time-marking human thought, marking time in one spot, always in one spot, going round and round, in circles, as if they were dizzy but couldn’t stop... the way we bite our nails.       

Nathalie Sarraute: Tropisms



In working with Gerry there is a notable absence of a sense of catastrophe, only a deadly continuousness; the blow persists obliquely, refracted in the characteristics of his dialogue, and is coordinated by the detailing of what he calls his loop. This ‘loop’ constellates a deeply buried traumatic memory. My hypothesis is that it consists in his experiencing himself to be unbearable, both as an unconscious conclusion to parental defection, and as a consequence of his resultant rage. At root it embodies a grievance that he has not received what was owing to him. This paralyses his motivation, while, by a self-deprecating rationalising, he perpetuates early deprivation. This in turn is projected into his everyday situation, creating the irritating belief that ‘nothing is ever good enough’ and ‘why does it always happen to me?’. This builds until he turns on others and erupts, leaving himself with the sense of having destroyed the links he has tried in good faith to build up with others. This is approached analogically and drives an inveterate ambivalence. Danger is toyed with in terms of a constant series of risky deals where ostensibly only money and reputation are at stake and which serve to strengthen the sanction of his defences against his failure to image himself. This constitutes a failed manic defence, manic in the sense of its heroic and prestigious context in an arena of dog-eat-dog, failed, while still addictive, in that his fortunes and reputation continue to spiral downwards. It thus stands as symbol of aspiration to a less defended existence.


As his destructive outbursts were one of his presenting problems, I have the sense of the contamination of an aborted adolescence. His natural aggression and the gathering of a nascent manhood had to be suppressed in face of the catastrophic break in continuity at a critical point in his development, and the consequent premature act of reparation. Thus the role proper to the parental part, namely that of bowing to the inevitable supplanting by the offspring’s achieving independent adulthood, is projected into the unlikely host of the highly competitive milieu of the popular music industry, an environment that, as I have heard it said of the Irish, hugs you to itself only when you’ve made it. Under this manic defence, however, I detect a schizoid defence, where concepts have become evacuated of affective content. Thus failure here, and conversely the chink, is the sense that in the ‘risk-free’ aspect of the sole trader – the ‘one-man band’ or ‘just me and Linda’ – he is more acutely threatened by the spectre of a soul-destroying ‘mediocrity’ which returns him to the meaningless parent-child environment that is often the butt of an apologetic contempt.


I will consider the material under those heads – the order in which they dawned on me – before proceeding to the consideration of his narcissism.


A colleague who works in a medical practice referred Gerry to me. The notes informed me that his attendance at the six sessions offered had been unreliable, that he had no proper job, that he lived free with a girlfriend Linda, who had a responsible, very well paid job, and of whom he was envious. Some doubt was expressed as to whether this man would be able to benefit from analytical psychotherapy.


He is a good-looking youth of a man in his mid-thirties. He started his therapy in late spring two years ago – not with a whimper. He at once conveyed his craziness to me. His ability to keep to the frame was minimal. He evinced signs of being scattered and disorientated and was frequently late. He was evidently close to dread, distracted, but not delusional. He would get on to the wrong train and phone me halfway through his time, saying he’d gone in the other direction and would see me in ten minutes. Or it was that he’d got off the train ‘somewhere’ and was getting on again. Perhaps he had ‘got waylaid with emails’ or was ‘muddled’ about the arrangement. His manner was surly and he carried himself in a louche, offhand way, which I read as his unwillingness to be there. Even when very late in showing up he would spend time in the consulting room, checking his mobile for messages before switching it off. This acting out gave way in time to a more regular attendance. Interruptions, however, continued from time to time, for example, a series of untoward events that seemed to be down to the ill will of his car made it ‘necessary’ to miss sessions. But his more regular attendance combined with his uniform quality of voice, for which I used the term ‘gentlemanly’, seemed to indicate that the terrors were passed simply by virtue of his turning up, and that I had been tamed.


In the very first session, I elicited the following information. When he was seven, his mother ran off with his father’s best friend. He and his sister were taken out of school and whisked off to the new place. Some weeks after this, the father took the children back. Abandoned as he was, the father was unable to cope. He went back to stay with his mother, taking the children – Gerry and his young sister – with him. There they all lived in one room and shared the same bed. The father would lie in bed sobbing and his son, aged between seven and nine, held him to try and comfort him. Before he had developed either a capacity to be alone (in the presence of the mother), let alone a capacity for concern, his mother had departed and left her boy with the only means of holding himself together, namely by requisitioning an embryonic reparative urge, and projecting his need on to his father. This he recounted without feeling, as though it were irrelevant. Two years later, as he put it, ‘she returned and the family was reconvened and continued as before’ [my emphasis].  Throughout the interregnum and after the return of the mother, his schooldays were miserable. He felt ashamed and isolated and, inherent in his psychic injury, there was no one to whom he could adequately convey his feelings; his reflections of school indicated he had no conception of what it meant to be met, an abiding feature of the de-signified structure of his language. Nor could he overcome a profound sense of inertia with regard to learning.


The implication of the commonplace in recounting his history created a picture of a profound isolation and emptiness that, to some extent, obviated despair, and for that reason alone things ‘continued as before’. Although he spoke about all this in an offhand way, the story relates a severe shift away from a belief in his being looked after towards mobilising a primary carer in himself, calling upon resources that had not yet formed. I argue that Gerry was born into a parental lack that predated the refracted trauma of the maternal defection and predisposed him to severe psychological disturbance.  It became clear that at best there had been only a faulty metabolising structure and presence. This atmosphere was not so much volunteered by him as interpreted by me. It was, in other words, nothing out of the ordinary.


This dynamic shows up in his account of family statics. In line with his genteel considerate role, he promulgates a version in which he had a good upbringing, in which everything was provided. This alternates with statements that his parents were awkward around him and did not know how to treat a son. It is also as if his young sister does not exist4. His mother and father seldom contact him, offer him well-meaning advice, and when he is with them, either on the phone or in person, he is aware of his mounting impatience and resentment towards them. He experiences them as bumbling and complacent. At the same time, he is in the grip of a harsh superego, arising from the projection of the mother’s inadequate maternal responses, and chides himself for his contempt. This leads into a conflated poisonous mood in which he become incommunicado and takes it out on his girlfriend, a situation she refers to as ‘doing a Gerry’.                                                                                    

What could not be overlooked was how this information was delivered without any emotional resonance whatsoever; it was of the order of things, and had largely to be elicited. None of this, the apathy, his reported unruly temper tantrums, those early humiliations and isolation, his desperation, entered tonally into his voice, which remained steady and monotonous. It seemed astonishing to him that this could have any relevance to his present plight. Even to consider it he regarded as an interruption to his project of solving his current situation with regard to his work and, in that context, his reported counter-productive outbursts.                                                     

The absence of any access to the formation of meaning meant that the trauma was buried and replaced by the language of pseudo-adult understanding and fashioned in a profound accidie1. The inertia at the root of this man’s inability to make anything of himself is constantly expressed in an arid, carefully articulated form of speech, underlying which is the implication of complete passivity and the forlorn expectation of magic, the perseverance of infantile omnipotence out of and around which a contempt leaks, expressed not only in his body language and acting out against the frame of the sessions, and his disregard of interpretation, but also in his exploitation of Linda, his girlfriend, who, and he considers it strange, doesn’t seem to mind.                                      

  After school Gerry followed his father on to the building site and started an apprenticeship as an electrician. He felt ill at ease with the banter of the construction workers and, having little taste for learning the trade, he lit out.           


The failed manic defence                                              

Gerry built up a manic defence that symbolised what it was that he had lost, or was absent, and that would nullify the sense of the loss. Since his early twenties he has been involved in the ‘music business’, hanging out with bands and DJs and arranging events. At once he fell in with aspiring musicians and took on the job of managing them. At first he enjoyed a brief success, raking in the money from his activities. Some he promoted went on to become successful, ditching Gerry in the process. This was not, as it might be thought, the sign of an ineffectual personality; Gerry has an ongoing record of alienating colleagues by his unprovoked outbursts or through flirting with other men’s girls, flirting, because his interest in sex is usurped by his use of pornography. Although he had started off with a bang and made a lot of money from his brand, he steadily and surely laboured more and more under the reputation as a pariah in the industry. His associates, more fiercely motivated and single-minded than he, left him behind. He was, as a result, dropped with no part any more in the project he had been instrumental in setting up, while the project went on without him to become a money making success. His sense of being taken advantage of cut him to the quick. His profession hit the buffers, and he evinced little appetite to do anything else. Increasingly he was on the run from his ghosts.                                                                                                                                                         

His focus in session after session was the inertia. He felt prevented from doing a proper job of work in the world. This he saw to be at variance with the special sense he had of himself. Thus, to be ordinary was mediocrity on a par with the life led by his parents. He did not acknowledge his refusal. It was left to me to coax him and for me to fail. He preferred the role of misunderstood and flawed impresario, a soi-disant role that still usurped his time. This obsessive hobby of his he referred to as his ‘work’. It was, however, at the same time a bugbear, a source of mounting desperation and repeated let downs and fallings-out. In contrast, the speculative nature of his carefully constructed monologue masqueraded as calm reflection. This consisted in building up a sequence of alternative phrases as though nothing had any grounding in felt reality. There was always another name for things. Behind this was the complaint laid at my door that he was getting nowhere. He was representing his ‘loop’ for me.                                                

Before moving on to his schizoid defences I want to take up the phrase I emphasised above, by which he referred to life after the return of his mother to the fold, namely ‘continued as before’. A feature of this man’s pathology is the absence of discreteness. The concept of a loop is apt. Nothing is sequential but continues without pause, or a pause gives no evidence of processing having taken place, instead only the points are changed, it all goes round and round and ends up where it started. In addition there is a haphazard amorphous quality to his presentation.  Thus what had been and what was then ‘reconvened’ in childhood would appear to have been devoid of reverie. Bion’s choice of that word to carry forward his thinking of Freud’s ‘cathexis’ (Besteztung) may aptly evoke the sense of ‘an openness to what is to be attended to… an openness to discriminate between what is worth attending and what is not’ (Fisher, 2007). Gerry’s characteristic narrative gives every sign of someone who does not know, and has no image of, what it is to be attended to.


The schizoid defence


The way Gerry used words gave me an eerie feeling. As he spoke, and he invariably set in as soon as he lay down, I had a growing sense of neither of us being there2. How to describe his monologue – the language of insignificance, eloquent evacuation, sign language ‘signifying nothing’? His use of language functioned as an alternative to the development of personal meaning. I was, in my counter-transference, commanded not to listen to him, but rather to engage is discussion. His projective identification, which rendered me blind to his identity, was powerful. It led to my phoning him, much to my embarrassment, one evening when I was away for the weekend in the complete conviction I was phoning a man who had a key I required, and for whom I had no number. It was, however, a breach that ostensibly carried no significance for Gerry.


He referred to ‘our sessions’ as  ‘these discussion’ and as ‘the various points raised or topics covered’ or ‘solutions and actions I’m determined to make’. His phrase, ‘that’s it really’ implied that we had covered everything and left nothing further to deal with. He is a man who has mastered meaninglessness. Thus in the non-communication of himself he communicated most forcibly. My dilemma was my sense of not having the key to breaking through the language barrier. And thus I was experiencing great frustration. That this was a sign of his being without energy or desire became clear, and its function in masking his extreme frustration. At one point while he was using phrases like ‘boxes ticked’, ‘points raised in our discussion’, I expressed the sense that his mode of address, his pseudo-philosophical musing was as if he were present at a board meeting at which the minutes of the last meeting were being passed. Gerry was tickled by this, the brief laugh he emitted I felt to be in spite of himself. It may even have indicated a certain relief that an entangling web of words had been for a moment cut through – an ephemeral hope of being heard.


He described his actions and feelings as existing in that ‘loop’ A setback precipitated a kind of chain reaction. It did not remain as a thing in itself to be processed. He spiralled down until the defence was engaged and the speculative system swung into action. It was the nature of this mannerism, rather than the speculative content, I set myself to try to understand. I thought of there being in the cadence and conjunctions, the tone and the tangents, a sign of an inner signifier that he was unable to touch upon. This may well do as a statement of transference. The sheer blanket nature of his communication conveyed a sense of an impermeable membrane. Any intervention was headed off. The points were changed to allow the sentences to rush off on another line with no variation in their tenor. It masqueraded as a kind of engrossing  philosophical discourse studded with a regress of alternatives – the ponderous ‘or’ penultimate (even ultimate) in every statement, opening the way to a choice of synonyms which added nothing and was topped off by the pseudo-reflective ‘really’ that tailed off into thin air. To him this was a plausible use of time, yet it never got him anywhere. Where he stood in terms of initiative was hard to discern. To use the term ‘agency’ here is paradoxical; yet to get nowhere was where he led. His was a bland narrative of absence from himself, in the generating of which inertia and evacuation were closely allied.


This stalled quality of life in face of his need to expedite a career for himself was a focus in session after session. By his own admission, at the age of 35, life had not begun. He would listen politely to my attempt to get below the surface, declare it interesting, tell me that I had lost him or that he had drifted off while I was speaking. While his language and the legend functioned to propose the maddening futility of practical solutions, it did at the same time suggest that practical solutions were the only conceivable options. Underlying this was an extreme frustration predicated on the ineluctable fact of its incommunicability. It was inconceivable and even quite pointless that I should begin to understand this. And in the wealth of ideas that I was producing he had me hoist on the petard of his projective identification – to negate meaning as a cooperative endeavour – out of dissimulated envy.

Thus he had mastered a form of pseudo-speculation the achievement of which was self-delusion. This was his diatribe. While he thought he was in communication with another, he manipulated a verbal system that did not convey a personal meaning, and he was thus able to elude the extremity of his alienation. The syntax of this language interested me above all else, the abortive conjunctions, the way that the word ‘really’ read as the opposite –‘not really’ – or indicated a loose end. It neither hung together as a coherent strain of thought nor did it reach a conclusion, rather it consisted of a multiplication of hypotheses. Here is an example of the kind of monologue with which he started one session. It lasted for the first twenty minutes without any intervention from me. It constellates his ‘loop’:

‘not much change in my day to day life.. really… don’t know if it’s my lifestyle habits, but as life has got more enriched  I was expecting to lose some of my bad ways… that is difficult – maybe because… to do with a routine, but it’s beginning to concern me, because I want to change certain aspects and part of the push it takes to make the changes… I suppose the frightening thing is the contentedness to stay in the patterns…’

Here, in this prologue, he is referring to his ineffectual and addictive manic pastime as a brand consultant which he terms his work, but which earns him no money and usurps his time and brings him into bad odour with those with whom he deals, his horror of the idea of ‘a proper job’, but also his indolence, his addiction to pornography, the lack of intimacy in his relationship. But he is asking for it. The original idea I had for a title for this paper was ‘The Man Who Shot Himself In The Foot’. Sexual intimacy gives him the creeps. He ‘prickles’ at his girlfriend’s touch. His Oedipal triumph was a plaster cast, a broken pot. But he trades on his sexual attractiveness. He is the trickster. Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985, p.70) ‘dwells on the putative pervert’s attempt to substitute an immature sexual organ for a grown-up one, and describes the dishonesty of trying to pass a little penis off for a daddy one, without bearing the pain of passing through the Oedipal complex and coming to terms with one’s limitations and ambivalence’ (Young, 2003). Gerry’s solution is to dignify his isolation as ‘going it alone’. It is a false position that sets up a false dichotomy between dependence and independence. He lives between the Scilla of being cut down to size and the Charybdis of the humiliations of trust. It is the either/or of severe isolation. He continues:


‘… it slightly scares me… perhaps I am realising there has to be a big effort from myself rather than things change around me. What am I actually talking about? I am still sitting at home with my laptop with loose routine, still organising parties and I suppose I feel a bit imprisoned by that routine… I dunno. All came about because I find myself in the same routine and would have found myself strong enough to get a job somewhere else. I get the feeling inside me – whether it’s a knowing or a voice or… anyway something tells me to stop everything to do with music and just concentrate on trying to get a job. It feels like the only way I am going to achieve that. It comes in for a fleeting moment and disappears and things we have talked about so many times before... what is the rest of that sentence? It brings me back to where I started… really. I am repeating, kind of going over the same things and same feelings, identifying an area that needs to be changed or…  but obviously don’t want to.’


I sit overwhelmed by the staleness and feeling slighted by the way he does not take account of my presence, while the work of months is beneath his contempt.

In its repetitiveness the diatribe continually fetches up against a brick wall. To thus metaphorically constellate a space, his chatter suggests it is a space akin to Sartre’s existentialist play Huis Clos (1944, translated into English as No Exit). This disjunction reaches right into the words themselves, the nouns and adjectives are never conclusive, but exit as a fugue, they open the door to a number of alternatives (‘feelings or thoughts or decisions which have to be made or boxes ticked, formulations which have some weight behind them, really…’ = nothing to lay hold of). And I am aware of the mindless little boy lying in bed and holding a sobbing father in the night – a place of extremity on the brink of madness. No one was there to be with in the disconnection with his dependence. Such disconnection is not to be thought. There were no words because no reception was afforded by the parental culture for the processing of such catastrophes that might have led to the forging of sentient words, to symbols. Things suddenly just happened to break things up. It made no difference. Something ‘always happened’ to him to indicate he was on the wrong track.

Such was the content being played out in the form of his narrative. It reminded me of the film directed by Mark Jonathan Harris about the Kindertransport. Throughout the film, Alexander Gordon speaks of his experience. Having been orphaned in Poland, he was sent to England and subsequently arrested and, during his deporting to Australia, survived the torpedoing of the HMT Dunera. ‘It was terrible’, he said, ‘but it happened, but it is as if it happened to someone else.’ (Harris, 2000). No doubt such experiences would have been too awful for an orphan to process. And in reaction to any assault on his word skein, Gerry protests in all seriousness that he has come to his sessions ‘to regurgitate his feelings’, as if this was our mutual understanding of the process. The implications of this statement were that I was there to lap them up. Inadvertently and contemptuously he was referring to the failed process of projective identification.

On one occasion I referred to his obliviousness as a ‘belle indifference’ = a defensive apathy. He seemed to give this his consideration, yet before the end of the session he gave evidence of wanting to progress to the manic defence. He had reverted to reconsidering yet again the feasibility of his career as impresario so fundamentally problematic to him, as if it were that I had suggested.

In the following session two days later, I misread the time and was half an hour late for our meeting. I could not believe that I had made this mistake, and retracing my thoughts, saw that I had remained impervious to my errors in checking the time. I realised that I had become disorientated, and that this had a direct bearing on the glimpse he had had of the old dread, so successfully put away, to enable him to maintain a timeless existence. By this clear projective identification, by which the deep confusion that had momentarily surfaced in the previous session and been so promptly expelled when I had interpreted his disillusionment, had been transferred to me, I was being informed that my hypothesis had been correct. I spoke to him about the transaction and sensed it made sense to him. But I question the use of the word ‘disillusionment’. Because his predisposition reverberates with shock and seems devoid of transitional phenomena, I doubt whether Gerry has much capacity for illusion. It isn’t disillusionment; it is apathy.

There is a welter of material to show how, time and again, he takes the emotion out of his equation. ‘I don’t know what I want to talk about today’ is one sign of it. His notion of what it means to be grown up he stated as ‘not to have enter the mind immature tendencies – such as aggression – they don’t come on to the radar, they are not considered’, and again, ‘I don’t go down that avenue in myself. What good is it to go down that negative path? There are no real problems. It gets in the way of my thought process. I am aware of this well-versed thought process when I am with my parents.’ For Gerry maturity is a sort of absence.

But there came a brief glimpse of his having tapped into a process other than his shallow terrorised circular system. It was the first time in almost two years that I sensed a breakthrough, short-lived though it was. As he entered the room I saw his black resentful look. He began to speak about his inertia and said he felt I would dismiss it as an excuse. He said ‘You think that I am not getting to the centre.’ I said I thought he put this into me and that he was closer to the centre in his inertia: ‘what’s the use in telling anyone, it’ll just be dismissed’, I said. He replied to my impersonating him by saying he hadn’t been going to bring it up. I replied to this by saying I thought he had been in touch with himself, but what was the point – no one listens. ‘When I put this back to you’, I said, ‘you don’t listen to yourself. It becomes a matter of “try harder” – that voice takes over and you feel a mounting desperation, your inertia, your “loose ends” This ‘dismissal’ of yours is itself exhausting. You can’t afford relief and belief.’ Then came the very important rejoinder: ‘but I am behind!’ This struck me as meaningful, but what did it mean? I reverted to his statement: ‘what’s the use in telling anyone!’ ‘That thought’, I said ‘cuts off the time you can spend (in your sessions, listening to yourself). It feels to you as if there is nothing left but going to sleep.’ Gerry sometimes talks about ‘living in the lounge’. I suggested that perhaps this was the lounge, too, where the hour gets used up for nothing. I told him I thought that, back then, he had been direct with me. He replied that he was resentful when he came in. I said, ‘I saw it’. The session ended there. Had he suddenly glimpsed something beyond the veil?

Gerry missed the following session. I was left to contemplate my sense of how impossible for him it was to believe that he is heard, and how ambivalent he might feel were he to glimpse the possibility. That experience was what was being serially destroyed.

When he returned late two days after the missed session, he started by saying he had experienced something new, a feeling of strength and feasibility. This he described as ‘a small window’. I said I thought that by being late there were two things he was telling me about being heard. It is a new and unfamiliar, perhaps unwelcome, experience, but the window closes on it and depression ensues. He was thus faced with the rudiments of a choice. Subsequently, I took opportunity by recalling the experience to point to this dynamic in the transference, and by drawing his attention to the relief he may have felt in the experience of being heard which brought up with it such mixed emotions – resentment and envy.

Another approach to understanding the schizoid defence is to note that his agreement to the notion of an apparent conflict – that between inertia and desperation – resolves into a cynical committed attack on mindfulness, mine as well as his. Quite evidently his envy is at work in this. I am thinking here of the point Ronald Britton makes about his patient’s hostility to his analyst’s ability to think inventively as if in coital relationship to another. ‘If I turned to something in my mind later on, when things were not so primitive, they felt I was eliminating my experience of them in my mind’ (Britton, 1989, p. 88). Emotionally Gerry is at a primitive stage. Should parental intercourse force itself in an intrusive way on the child’s mind, ‘it appeared to be felt to be annihilating the child’s link with her mother both externally and internally’ (ibid.). Gerry exists on the edge of a callous indifference murderous of intimacy; in his case, exclusion from parental intercourse would seem to have been thoroughly obviated by prior exigencies and their desperate remedies – exclusion from no intercourse, no father to service the mother’s depleted reserves of maternal preoccupation. Behind his extirpated sources of meaning he appears simply impervious. His longing changed quickly into self-pity and a sense of futility. The traces were not laid hold of.






The Curse


Did you ever think your life in El Paso was ever going to work?

The Snake Charmer’s sixty-four thousand dollar question:

Quentin Tarantino: Kill Bill


Gerry usually never remembers what he talked about last time, or rather, how it could be distinguished from the time before and the time before that. To put it his way, it had already been dealt with and, he wonders, is there anything else we haven’t: ‘maybe there is nothing else left to deal with and I do feel a lot better’, etc. A recent session began and continued in this way.  Some way into the session he mentioned how he felt he wasn’t pulling his weight in his relationship, and how he found it strange that his girlfriend was no longer being confrontational. He respected her for it, he said. I said I thought he might be using that in the session to ward of confrontation. I thought it also true that he was ambivalent and that he read my silence as containing my loss of interest in him. He repeated his surprise at this ‘good thing’, at which I pointed out his instant diversionary tactic.          

Rosenfeld (1971) notes that Abraham (1919) ‘found in these patients3 a most profound narcissism and he emphasised the hostility and defiance hidden behind an apparent eagerness to cooperate. He described how the narcissistic attitude attached itself to the transference and how these patients depreciate and devalue the analyst and grudge him his analytical role representing the father’ (p. 242).  Rosenfeld goes on to develop a theory of the gang in the mind. ‘The destructive narcissism of these patients appears often highly organised, as if one were dealing with a powerful gang [in the mind] dominated by a leader who controls all the members of the gang to see that they support one another in making the criminal destructive work more effective and powerful’ (p. 249). The aspiration to get better is experienced as an attempt to escape from the clutches of the leader. ‘To change, to receive help, implies weakness and is experienced as wrong or as failure by the destructive narcissistic organisation which provides the patient with his sense of his superiority’(ibid.). 

This formulation suddenly came to mind in a session some time ago. At a point in the session he excused himself.

‘I was having trouble following you.’                                                                        

‘Yes, because to follow or struggle would be getting closer to something you are committed to avoid.’                                                                                                      

 ‘I don’t like silence and I go on to something else. I don’t understand my feeling.’                                   

‘Yes, let’s not go there!’ I parodied a hypothetical collusion between us. ‘You were as a child utterly dependent and that led to catastrophe, that is resonated again now and immediately headed off.’                                                                                            

‘So I must think back to the younger years, or apply what happened then to the present.’  


‘No! It is there when you are in danger of responding to another part of yourself and want to be reciprocal and better about yourself, with Linda, for example. The dialogue may go like this – ‘It’s time to acquit myself.’ –  ‘You dare! Just you try and see what happens. We’ll make your life a misery. Think you can escape?’                                                                                                                     

I asked him had he seen the film A History Of Violence or Goodfellas.                                                                                                          

He’d seen the latter, but, he said, ‘I’ve lost the thread’, and with that, the session ended.                              

In contrast to the usual opening remarks, Gerry started the following session by saying, ‘I have been thinking about the analogy of last time.’ I noted that I had spoken directly about his repeated pattern and he took flight; it was something of a tribute to him that he was back. He indicated he would like to ‘apply’ it. (‘It was useful but how to use it!’)  However, he went off as if it had just been a throwaway remark. What insight had been gained other than a matter of interesting speculation?  Here I am reminded of Rosenfeld’s observation that negative reaction intensifies the narcissistic system following a breath of freedom that is full of dreaded repercussions. He returned to the usual theme of either persevering in his hobby as an entrepreneur or getting a job. I asked him to describe in detail what was involved in licensing a brand. In the course of this, he made the curious statement: ‘I am not punching below my weight’. But he referred to ‘the vulnerable part’ by which he meant the reputation he has acquired as a result of ‘the fate of previous working partnerships’. When I reflected on this, I glimpsed the proportions of an internal struggle that involved grievous punching and wounds, a bloody scenario underlying his affected sangfroid. Exploring the devil in the machine of his entrepreneurial self-image I was to discover the fly in the ointment. Objectively speaking these are shark infested waters he attempts to swim in. ‘It is important to know what it is in you messes up. I think you may have got a whiff of this in the “analogy” of Goodfellas.’ It was then he said: ‘It rears its head as cocky – cocksure’, and I am thinking of Chasseguet-Smirgel’s observation, mentioned above, indicative of the failure of the Oedipus Complex, namely ‘his own magnified phallus which, for lack of any adequate identification with the father, can only be factitious... this process may also be detected, whenever we come across any sizeable failure in identification on both sides of the Oedipus Complex’ (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985, p. 70). I am thinking how the phrase ‘acting like a prick’ indicates an upstart, a word applicable to Oedipal triumph and the supplanting of the father.                                                                                                                                                                

The takings from his club nights were undeclared at the time, though settled since. As in The Sopranos, where the ill-gotten gains of the mafia activities were not banked, his earnings were stashed away, not like Silas Marner hiding it under the floorboards, but under his father’s mattress. By trusting his father with this and making him his accomplice he cynically used him. Untouched, the money remained a millstone, but effectively operated as a cushion allowing him to remain comparatively impervious to the need to become responsible, as opposed to a means of enabling preparations towards a meaningful life. It was a shady deal, for thus, in a superficially reparative act, he projects into (deposits with) the father a spurious trust, and, respectively, the father colludes in the crime – that of condoning his son’s refusal to grow up. It is an expression of his Oedipal triumph where the filthy lucre stands for the imitation faecal phallus with which he pays off the father while arrogating the father’s phallus to himself. ‘Therefore we may say that “falsehood” passes itself off as a phallus, as a penis able to provide narcissistic achievement, but which actually is, in all cases, an anal phallus… “Falsehood” is built up taking the equation, faeces = penis, literally’ (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985, p.75). Thus the father is smeared.

Here, then, was the admission of the phallic takeover from the ineffectual and failed father, with the avenging father imago projected into the wild dogs of the music industry. We went on to talk about how dependence is anathema and the addiction to being the cock of the walk leads time and again to his being cut down to size by the vengeance of the father. The last word was Gerry’s: ‘So you don’t have a back-up.’ At this point I thought of how I harboured anger towards him for the way he systematically set aside my interventions, came late to sessions, missed sessions on a number of pretexts, his attack on the father, the process, and the pseudo reparative approach to retribution.                                                                  

In Scorsese’s film, unflinching images contrast the high life of the gangster with the dirty underworkings that lead to grotesquely fascinating displays of violence and mayhem. In this film as in others, notably Newel’s Donnie Brasco about the Mafia, Foley’s At Close Range in which Christopher Walken impersonates the seductive and ruthless gang leader, Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the theme of the lure of gang membership and the fatal consequences of attempting to leave are explored. Each of these films shows vividly how all but impossible it is for a crime gang member to break away. The leader of the gang is a sociopath whose desperation is greater than that of the members of the gang who are drawn to the leader to express a less extreme drive. In Tarantino’s movie, the motivation is made more explicit. Bill, played by David Carradine, says of the cruel elderly martial arts master Pai Mei that he is a bad guy, but like all bad guys when they get old they are lonely. As a killer and godfather Bill expresses eloquently in his seasoned Mephistophelean wisdom that the ultimate mortification is that of being deserted. The engine of the story is The Bride’s attempted escape to live conventionally and Bill’s gang’s slaughter of the members of the wedding. It would appear that behind the unpardonable defection lies the horror of the isolation endemic in evil, and, in the Tarantino movie at least, the origins of this struggle against fate is clearly traced back to degradation. Rosenfeld’s metaphorical treatment of narcissism as a gang in the mind increasingly vibrates in my thinking about Gerry. The terror of loneliness is a driving force behind the mind of the censor, the psychopath and the dictator. It is represented in the tormentor’s motivation to make the other as himself, and, just as the pervert is unable to emulate and make his own what he does not possess, he lives to dissolve difference, the source of his deadly envy, because otherness, another’s separate existence, unsettles his omnipotence with the dread of isolation. 

Briefly I want to return to what Gerry’s language construction evinces and to do so retrieve the scene of the final showdown between Bill (The Snake Charmer) and Beatrix Kiddo (The Bride) in Tarantino’s film.

Bill: Now we come to the sixty-four dollar question. He comes and sits portentously across the table from Beatrix. Why did you run away from me, my baby?        

  Beatrix (after a preamble) because I was going to be a mother… once you knew you would claim her and I didn’t want that.                                                                    

Bill: Not your decision to make.                                                                                 Beatrix: Yes but I made it for my daughter She deserved to be born with a clean slate…                                                                                                                       

Bill:  Let’s get literal. I’m a killer. I’m a murdering bastard. You know that. And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard…                                                                                      

Beatrix: I never thought you would or could do that – to me.                                                             

 Bill: I’m really sorry, Kiddo, but you thought wrong.                                                                        

Beatrix: You and I have unfinished business.                                                                                      

  Bill: Baby, you ain’t kidding. They cross swords and Beatrix administers the coup de grace with the five-point exploding heart punch. Bill realizes too late that Pai Mei had taught it her and says so.                                                                                                                                      

Beatrix: Of course.                                                                                                                                   Bill: Why didn’t you tell me?                                                                                                        

  Beatrix: (tearing up) I don’t know. I’m a bad person. She looks with sorrow at her one time mentor about to die – precursor of the joy that was to burst out in her.

First there is the arrogant pretentious diction of Bill, used all his life to sanction his fell deeds. Behind it, almost out of sight, is the menacing intent. Its ambivalence resides in its exalting of evil as a code of honour. The dignity is eventually meretricious and maudlin. The mammoth life-threatening task of breaking the code of bondage in order to live and give freely is tinged with sorrow, a sorrow that has been walled up until dedication to the task has become thoroughgoing.

Gerry’s speech has the ring of a man in bondage to a snake charmer. It is arrogant in its bland disrespect and dissimulated contempt. It is pompous in its posture of seeking a truth. He cries, he tells me. His tears are not those we imagine on Beatrix’ cheeks, but are rather the self-pitying signs of omnipotence spurned before it has become ripe to be set aside. Bill’s accusation – that Beatrix is a liar, so that nothing she says can be believed – which is a prelude to the penultimate scene in the film, highlights the underlying mendacity and distrust of all who are caught up in the mentality of the mafia.

Rosenfeld’s analogy can be summarised along the line of the following polarity:  belonging – comfort and strength – omnipotence = rewards, as against not belonging – weakness and isolation – helplessness = retribution; betrayal and defection > retribution swift and ruthless. The ‘rewards’ are pseudo-independence (wariness of dependence). Retribution is fired by envy of the aspiration to independence, a freedom that distinguishes beneficent from malignant dependence; envy does not allow for what is new or flowing. This presentation represents an extreme entrenched form of the paranoid-schizoid position.

Rosenfeld draws a vivid picture of this ruthless delusional state of arrested infantile omnipotence, and further, points to how it becomes more entrenched when some progress takes place. ‘When narcissistic patients of this type begin to make some progress and to form some dependent relationship to the analysis, severe negative therapeutic reactions occur…’ (ibid.).  This is apparent in my patient’s returning almost automatically to his loop (the word ‘loop’ being amenable to a connotation of  ‘network’ or ‘neighbourhood patois’ or ‘bush telegraph’). The hegemony produces a state Rosenfeld describes as resembling primary narcissism. ‘He may lose his interest in the outside world and want to stay in bed and forget what had been discussed in previous sessions. If he manages to come to the session, he may complain that something incomprehensible has happened to him and that he feels trapped, claustrophobic and unable to get out of this state. He is often aware that he has lost something important but is not sure what it is’ (ibid.). Reading this I was so struck by its correspondence to the plight of Gerry in his adjustment to catastrophe. I will come back to this when I come to describe what was to transpire. 



The Treasure

Petkutin did not know how many days had passed before he realised where the theater’s exit was. He wandered around the stage around the dead fire and the remains of dinner until something invisible picked up his mantle from the ground and threw it over its shoulders.                                                                                          

The empty cape came up to him and addressed him in Kalina’s voice…                                            

‘Tell me,’ Petkutin said to Kalina, clasping her in his arms, I feel as if some terrible thing happened to me a thousand years ago...'                                                                                                              

   ‘What is the difference between a moment ago and a thousand years ago when things are the way they are now.’  Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars, The Female Edition. pp. 40 – 41.




Dreams and a rumour of flashbacks provide a richer vein of material redolent of indigestible catastrophe. Gerry had spoken of what he called ‘wake-up calls’. These took three forms. He’d lost his temper with a representative of the record company he was negotiating with, and thus spoiled his chances of a successful outcome. Or there’d been a row with Linda over the weekend. He would come to his session wanting to turn over a new leaf. Similarly, when the clutter of unfinished business threatened to overwhelm him, he felt the need for ‘detox’. In these circumstances he shifted the waking up on to practical measures. For instance, he addressed his body’s tendency to put on weight or display allergic reaction, or it would be a statement about a change of occupation. The second category was the flashback. This was a new one on me, a word I hadn’t heard him use before. And thirdly, the dreams. Gerry had mentioned waking from sleep, suddenly precipitated into waking by a vivid dream. Usually, however, he had forgotten the dream by the time he came to his session. Until latterly I had heard this word ‘wake up call’ as something that fitted snugly into his loop as justification for getting that proper job which was, at the same time, perennially postponed, and the impetus of which was parried by a manic flight into a string of impractical solutions to obviate the fated mediocrity. One such occurred when Linda took him off for an exotic beach holiday that occasioned his missing four sessions. He described how, being taken out of his routine, he had experienced several days of high optimism when he had quite outstripped in imagination the scope of his girlfriend’s successful career.

In my mind his reference to his flashbacks (the re-emerging of a petrified traumatic memory) were more symbolic and more of a piece with the content of his dreams, only more monolithic. I began to notice the beginning of a trend. What I saw unfolding was, to an extent, the result of our work of analysing his impervious language structure. I knew he wanted me to ‘lay off’, and that he blamed me for making him feel uncomfortable. I interpreted this as his attributing to me the cause of his extreme frustration and hopelessness. This enabled him to admit he felt trapped, a word which he later adopted as having great force for him.

An example of this ‘onslaught’ on his loop occurred in a session that began with the usual reference to ‘our conversations and points raised’. This was leading to ‘a short bullet point list of my strengths’ to justify the virtues of working alone, presented as a step forward, ‘at least in the right direction anyway’. I saw this to be his attack on my suggestion that he was keeping his uncomfortable feelings to himself, and that really he felt these were not ok and that he preferred to pretend to be someone else (without such feelings) in peer groups, at home and in sessions. This he associated with his family culture. His grandfather was ‘no nonsense, stiff upper lip, no sympathy wasted’. I commented that it sounded like a despairing heritage leading to the virtue of being alone. To this he reacted by saying that ‘isolation’ was a judgement; he had been referring to his strengths. I said that one way of thinking of isolation was as an absence of empathy. Making a virtue out of working alone was confusing his actual predicament and was a deflection from his deep sense of isolation. I said that I thought there were very powerful feelings behind his attitude of ‘just getting on with it’ and these he didn’t want to know about: ‘“no way!” – let your father get on with it in his deeply mediocre way’, I parodied. His bland disregard for my interpretation was instant: ‘Perhaps it is just wanting to avoid that routine’, and just as instantly, and by that token, suspect as my collusion in the standoff, I come back with ‘as you did by becoming an entrepreneur’. He smoothes it over (and makes the point) by replying, ‘back to the start, really, and now I have an opportunity to move forward. A simple decision is what is required’. I feel the infuriating frustration and interpret that ‘these underlying feelings I spoke of a few moments ago have now been put into me to feel as if that is really what you want me to know, and that you can’t stand them yourself. It would be simple but for these uncomfortable feelings, this destructive rage you assume is a simple matter to get rid of. In his rejoinder he used a puzzling phrase. ‘I understand where they come from, but I am behind them, they are not so strong now.’ Again that emblematic phrase. Was he saying he was on to them, or that they were behind him now? Or was he saying that he enacted them in the sense that they represented a more authentic dimension of himself?

I think of Abraham’s phrase, paraphrased by Rosenfeld (1971, p. 242) referring to ‘the hostility and defiance hidden behind’ the apparent cooperation (‘our discussions’) [my emphasis].’That is the real me’, he would seem to be saying. Was this his inadvertent message about the real driving force, a sign of his grandiosity. Or could his assertion ‘I am behind them’ evince his helplessness, the sense of being a prisoner, wistfully contemplating some means of escape, and powerless to break free? I was not fully conscious of these layers of meaning when I replied, ‘You have found a way of not having them. Who would choose to open up a can of worms!’ I was thinking back to the session some weeks previously when I picked up signs of the disgruntlement he evinced on entering the consulting room. Then, he had felt a relief in being heard and had talked, in the following session, about feeling empowered, a state of mind he had not remembered feeling before. Things had suddenly felt feasible. ‘Empowered’ was a word he had used when he had ‘blown his top’ with the record company. He had realised that his anger had contained an appropriate aggression. After a long silence in which he had superimposed his false optimism he said, ‘I don’t understand why that should be related to being here again, hopefully it won’t be that way again’. I attempted to interpret as follows: ‘It is what you are doing here, with me, making it sound easy, looking for an ally when it is not at all easy, and eliding the humiliation, the sense of being unequal, a pariah and full of rage. Because you keep these powerful feelings out you feel depleted, odd, a loner and, being stuck in this way, you are always trying to turn it into a virtue, the Lone Ranger, the rational conversationalist.’ For this, however, I was to be blamed: ‘I feel uncomfortable now’, he said. I translated this in my own mind as his saying in pique, ‘we have nothing to discuss’. And I thought: ‘yes, when the talking stops…’ and said, ‘You blame me for making you feel that way and you hate me for it’. But that he quickly turned away from: ‘I feel more uncomfortable with myself, really…’ and there again is that qualifier which signifies its opposite.

He missed the following session, the first of the new week. He contacted me to say that his car had been towed away. In the following session he admitted that he had not needed to go to redeem it as an alternative to having his session.

In the session following, there was an introductory account of having been confronted by his girlfriend. He had been aware of the way he had attempted to mislead her to cover up depressing thoughts about his sense of failure in face of her accusations. He then reported the following dream: Linda is interested in someone else and it seems likely that she will leave him. I interpreted by suggesting that that someone else was himself, that he was confronted by a threatening image of himself that isn’t allowed to flourish, and towards which he feels envy. To this he responded by saying he wanted to be like that other. I said, ‘the question is – how much does it matter?’  To this he replied, ‘Very scary!’ and indeed, the resistance, to which Rosenfeld refers, is no wonder when the inveterate evil grip of the dread of existential loneliness, with the hopelessness of its ever changing, is glimpsed. Yet here was a decisive moment, one not to be forgotten. And indeed Gerry’s last remark was followed by ‘What is the point of putting myself in an uncomfortable situation?’ I said, ‘Your manic defence has come a cropper’, and I used his expression: ‘a wake-up call’. ‘This is very different from the tone of a business meeting’, I said. At this point, he gave me the last line of the dream: ‘I paid him off with my car.’ He recalled being in bed and pushing Linda away in the night.  Now this could have been a reference to the missed session where the car was used to palm me off and to let me know that I was not worth turning up for, in other words, all we deal in is surface and pretences.  But it also clinched my sense of his serial dismissal of his aspiring self and the tricky disrespect that joined him and his girlfriend.  ‘I used it (the car) as a tool to show that’s all she was to him, were he to accept my offer’, he added. This very subtly condensed image seemed to me almost sacred; I said nothing. And almost straightaway he reported another dream. This, he said, was very lucid, very upsetting. He dreamed he was in a sex shop, and a young female customer bought a pornographic video. She wasn’t as sharp as other people, ‘dumb’, ‘thick’. He befriended her in order to take advantage of her, and he remembered her sensing he was uncomfortable about it and he excused himself. He went on to say he recognized himself being alive in the dream and wanted it to go on.

  This second dream, occurring on the same night as the first, may be thought to carry on the sense of an aspirant living part of him that turns to his unconscious and is rewarded with valuable insight. The cynicism of the first dream in which each person in the triangular relationship is depersonalised to the monetary value of a beat up car as archival as the stash under his father’s mattress, and which has figured as an alter ego or accomplice, is present here too. There is a direct reference to his use of pornography into which his entire libido is channelled. Meltzer presents ‘a definition of pornography as a calculated attack on the internal situation and integration of the self in other people’ (Meltzer, 1973, p. 170).  In this sense his sessions are cast. And in the context of a case study of a schizoid patient, Meltzer writes that, ‘I had been able more convincingly than ever before to show him that his masturbation damaged his internal mother and that her lifeless state inside him was the cause of his complaint of inability to take an interest in anything’ (p. 174). It was certainly something I felt to be filed away in view of Gerry’s ambivalence around the lifeless state of his parents and his horror of a castrating intimacy. To him Linda is depersonalised (dumb, exploited); she is his victim, kept alive only by his plausible placating. Such dread of the vagina Gerry rationalised in terms of ‘the norm’ (how men go off women after a bit), also invoking low libido, and a woman’s ‘unfair demands’. The description of his flirtations represented the Oedipal or pre-Oedipal urge to possess the mother by infantilising her. He said that he liked to ‘crack’ a cold woman who is the possession, or has been, of someone else. By exalting so-called ‘friendship’ over intercourse – he claims to have no sexual interest in Linda whatsoever – ‘the destructive part of the self has taken control over the whole libidinal aspects of the patient’s personality’ (Rosenfeld, 1971, p. 250). For him distaste is a matter of not being with the right woman, but the polar opposite of disgust, which functions in perversion, namely adoration, is nowhere to be found. In place of that, there is the sense that she is appealing to him to be looked after. Thus he simulates his non-existent resources and puts himself on hold, fuelling the vicious circle of estrangement. A catastrophic disappointment is constellated. For this is not the natural form of friendship with its ‘hidden force’ – ‘the need to remove another human being from the world, body and soul and make him [her] uniquely theirs’ (Marai, 2003, p. 42). This is a distortion, akin perhaps to ‘friendship’, if we are to accept Marai’s premise, and predicated upon a mutual history of abuse, wherein it is otherness that is removed so that the contemptuous power can be plausibly maintained as a hedge against isolation. ‘Every exercise of power incorporates a faint, almost imperceptible, element of contempt for those over whom the power is exercised. One can only dominate another human soul if one knows, understands, and with the utmost tact despises the person one is subjugating’ (p. 72). Eroticism is elided. The knowledge waits in the wings for the contempt to be complete. For all that, he remains bland and tediously reasonable, the residual remnants of primitive unmetabolised emotion bar the way, and the phallic mimicry with which he enters the room is punned in dream imaginary into ‘fallacy’. A regime persists within him, subjugating himself and those with whom he purports to be in relationship.

In the following session, he spoke of being in ‘melt down’ and how it was impossible for him to stop and think4. Instead he drifted off, and my sense was of someone drifting towards a denouement. How very hard it was for him to let himself know what was (that there was anything) behind this loop. ‘It’s panic’, he said. ‘My speech doesn’t flow.’

At the start of the next week, he introduced his flashbacks. He wanted to report two incidents – good and bad, he said. The first was ‘the shock of seeing a casualty’. Do I want this nastiness?’ he said. The second was that Linda’s mother had divulged something to her daughter that had deeply upset her. What this was he revealed only gradually as his girlfriend had confided in him. I do not consider it my business to understand his girlfriend, only how the information polarised Gerry and allowed him, to an extent, to postpone his own urgency by adopting the role of ‘supporter’ as he had as an infant with his mother.

The rest of the session was spent on the first incident. He had witnessed a man lying in the street with his head split open, outside an East End nightclub where he had been sponsoring a DJ and, incidentally, had lost money over the event. He could not ascertain whether the person had been beaten up or hit by a car. In the taxi home he experienced what he called ‘flashbacks’. These reminded him of his ‘old state of mind’. On getting home there had been ‘no drinks, no porn; I felt empowered, more mature, even though I had lost my stake’. I said I thought he was telling me that the trauma had been in some way welcome. He replied to this: ‘Yes, I felt in my own skin. It made me want to get a proper job, leave the world of seedy clubs behind. The reality of both events has woken me up’. I was aware that two things were happening simultaneously. Here was the interruption obliquely invited by the mounting desperation and ‘panic’ of things coming to a head, which had taken up the previous session and which he had referred to as being caught up in things that were ‘not me’, and of having no ‘me-time’ (albeit analogical and a reference to a pornographic limbo). This situation he had referred to as coming up against a brick wall. At the same time, in his reference to a proper job, I detected his premature closure. He had moved away from the dream idea and made an immediate diversion into the alternative ‘not-me’ activities.

In the following session, he again made reference to the traumatic incident by saying he wanted to move away from the ‘negative after-dark existence’ but felt dragged back down. He had returned thus to his loop and away from the search of the ‘I-not-I’ behind the skein. Although there was a plausible reference to wanting to break free from the mafia-like incarceration, it resolved around fixing the exteriors in lieu of entertaining the terrors of primitive phantasy. In this session he spoke about a phone call with his father, which had had the effect of making him feel the old contempt for him, feeding the abortive persuasion that perhaps his own failure in life, and as a man, was written in his genes. The speculation as to ‘who is to blame and who lets down who’ descends into sentimentality. The theme weaves through his accounts of dealings with the bands he represents and the companies and agencies he is forced to strike deals with. There is a basic uncertainty as to who is doing what to whom, for there is no place to think about it, not even in sessions. Potential space has collapsed, or is the unthinkable-in place of imminent replacement. Therein is his catastrophe. I felt that the old taped loop had been spliced up again.  I reminded him how his dreams and his flashbacks had broken through and that on these occasions he had sensed something real and vital that he referred to as wake-up calls. I encouraged him to listen to his dreams.

He missed the following session. I sat and wondered how it would be possible to be, or whether it was the case that I already was, a ‘double’5 in his ‘loop’. The loop is congruent with nothing happening. My experience of working with Gerry is that, taken as whole, nothing happens, and I am made ineffectual, left to cope with how the communication of his specious respect stirred me up. He arrives late, he withholds payment, affecting to have forgotten. Gains are cancelled out; a rent in the veil is papered over. His desperation becomes my desperation. The violence leaks out of him in his guilty contempt of his parents, the ‘non-existence’ of his sister, his thwarting of the process and his smug control over it, his dismissal of me, his bland innocence, his unconscious surliness, his questionable arrangements with his girlfriend, his obliterating absorption with pornography, the outbursts that set his ‘career’ back to nought and reinforce his image of himself as a pariah – remnant of the way the infant had let his mother off the hook. Thus he was a wrong one with whom no one could possibly wish to work, or even be with, unless there was something ‘thick’ about them (as per the woman in the dream of the sex shop). His tantrums frighten him back into a place of mediocrity, where natural aggression is inadmissible. His flashbacks connect him to a primitive and bloody phantasy and lead to his exalting an increasing sense of aloneness. The loop permits of no gap. It is by definition continuous, practically impenetrable. No word of mine, no matter how finely tuned or carefully thought through, is permitted to pierce the bullet-proof ‘brick’ wall. There is nothing to go into that has any provenance. As such, by a via negativa, it conveys a gap, one that is unrepresentable, does not appear except in a dream, a flashback, a desperation for ‘me-time’, somewhere ‘uninhabitable: the architecture of contempt or display’ (Perec, 1979, p.89). Thus I have no gap, no thinking space. I am gradually persuaded that my presence is that of an impostor. It is to be felt in this maddening form of address, the tangible display of his inability to communicate himself in any other way. The diatribe stands for his disbelief, to put it at its mildest, in the possibility of his ever being heard, by others or, more fatally, by himself. I should walk away with my tail between my legs. Here I am ‘stood up’, on the threshold of this aridity, the empty landing, the carpets with a ray of dusty sunshine coming through the skylight, a couch, an empty chair. I might as well be gagged and bound – for I see that the real communication is the ineffable ennui.

Then I recalled how my outburst rose in me, only ten days previously in the session following the ‘two incidents’. He had picked up my word ‘trapped’ which he instantly linked with a kind of sweet sadness in which he rests and escapes, experiencing me as stirring up unpleasantness. He not only expatiated upon his being trapped in inertia, but escalated it by drawing the session into it, and conveying it to me in such a way that my frustration burst out. ‘Maybe you’re telling me you’ve had enough’, I said, feeling my own ambivalence. ‘If I am’, he replied, ‘I would feel frustrated that I hadn’t had an eureka moment and that I had just left it. I feel there is a next step.’ ‘You need to take another step – in this process – I’m in no doubt now how very frustrated you are. You don’t know what to do with yourself. It is gutless this talk of a next step.’ I felt uncomfortable with this unwonted tone of mine. He also, for he replied, ‘I want to be liked. But it doesn’t matter. No one will.’ ‘Oh it matters!’ I said, without seeing I was falling into a trap of colluding with his setting up his own hopelessness. At the time, I missed the force of his capitulation, the way he engineered his worthlessness. ‘Your defence is apathy, potentially dangerous!’ And he persists: ‘Sounds negative!’ and I reply: ‘In that it is a state that covers and persistently annuls any positive aspirations. To walk away is to opt for drifting. You may feel that you and I are adversaries and that I will be driven away if you should give me a hint of who you are. But look out. It may be what you are seeking to bring about. You are without energy and desire and that may be the choice you are making, so: “let’s not try”.’ And then I could see how I was drifting towards the trap of remonstrating with him so that we were both caught up in a conveniently impossible situation. And sitting here waiting on my own I thought that yes, for a few brief moments I was inadvertently his double. It seemed to me that we were in communication on a primitive level of exasperation, which had to be smoothed over at all costs by compromising formulae. But I had my doubts. Had I simply played into his masochistic game?

Two days later he returned. He explained his illness as deriving from his food allergies, but used the phrase ‘things I can’t digest and… ’ But then he introduced an ‘abstract’ dream he had just had, which, he said, may have no meaning. He went on to say it was ‘a sort of gore fest’ and ‘even dark’ and with ‘morphing’.

I listened in astonishment as he relayed the dream. It begins with some sort of party he is attending when money is stolen. His attempts to retrieve the stolen money endanger him and he is confronted by some nasty characters. Linda joins forces with him against the evil characters, who are involved in people trafficking, hiding people, kidnapping his parents, using drugs. The scene shifts to a seedy housing estate where drug dealing is going on. People are setting each other alight. There are shootings and things are getting gory. He tries to move away from this venue and finds himself in a familiar house with Linda. He is trying to get away from this place, too. It is the home of someone he worked with who later became successful, and whom he wishes to avoid. The situation inside and outside is becoming increasingly bloodthirsty, and the person he is with now appears to be ghoulish. The press and police are waiting. But he and his confederate drive off. In the final scene in the dream, he is looking on at people being tortured. His father is involved in this.

He went on to say he felt a sudden thrust to address things. He mentioned his irritation with Linda despite his wish to support her through the recent disclosures. ‘My support has collapsed’, he said. ‘You are both on the run’, I said, and he associated… ‘exciting plans to move, we are running towards a fresh start, but the walls are closing in on us. I have no urge to be sexual with her and she is frustrated with this. Not good in view of the commitment I am making’. I was thinking how the dream encapsulated his sense of being trapped in a ring of violence. I said I thought the dream was very important. I had in mind the self-perpetuating isolation of the man. I thought of the character Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, how he persisted in furthering his own isolation by, for example, ruining his chances with Betsie, by taking her to a pornographic movie theatre.  ‘It is a complicated dream’, he said ‘and I haven’t thought about it because I might deduce the wrong thing’. Although this occurred in the penultimate session before the summer break, it ended with my having confused it for the last.

He was late for the session before the break. He spent the session talking about his sense of being trapped – ‘we hit on something there’, he told me. Here dream and reality have become mixed up. He referred to being part of a threesome (long ago in the days of launching his brand) – all three wanted to be top dog and own the brand. In the dream, he would not come face to face with his former colleague, one of the threesome, and he left ‘with an armful of things… ‘blood, press and police waiting’. He reflected and, thinking back, he said, ‘It was hard to be the real me. I was trapped. I did not know what was going on. I was Machiavellian – lonely and trapped.’

And so ended this phase of the therapy – with those two brands: ‘lonely’ and ‘trapped’, this man branded with those two logos so redolent of the mafia, of the gang leader and the one who is in his thrall who can’t break away, but only get in deeper, one and the same person, the person who can’t speak his name, whose confusion as to his identity is profound. Thus his most continually used conjunction – ‘or’ – since no option rings true. And yet when he exclaims ‘my support has collapsed’, he is acknowledging that the seamless fabric of a language designed to keep painful confusion at bay by creating an alternative meaning has broken down. It has been pierced by the address of his dreams.  It was not the contemporary madness of music that supported him. What functions for the generation as sublimation, for Gerry was compulsive absorption in self-destruction. Its cadences and peripherals echo his disjunction. It is subject to the protection racket of his demons so that he is unable to take a creative part. I have never heard a word as to his taste in music or any note of excitement or enjoyment that music might give him. There is no music room in this man’s life. For in his aspirations he is cut to the quick and deeply shamed, self-harming. The prospect of bedding down in time, and bending to its framing of responsibilities, smacks for him first of mediocrity (on analogy with the debased parental object). But then he is held away from it by the fact that it constellates a ‘threesome’ in which he seeks to usurp (‘leave with an armful of things’), and consequently, lives in terror or retribution (‘blood, press and police waiting’). His envy of his partner smoulders at the root of it, morphing, capricious, ghoulish, a cauldron. By a preposterous euphemism he contemplates such a move into plausible maturity as ‘wiping the slate clean’. The fragments of the past are elided or referred to in passing – the family reconvened, holding father – devoid of affect. He refers to how he cries at his plight, yet I never see it. Drugs and rock and roll have not cancelled time, as his puer would hold out for, not altogether.



Overarching the work is the concept of Besteztung.6 Gerry has dealt with primitive catastrophe unaided in the only way he could. He was not able to create for himself a satisfactory meaning sufficient to register as ‘closeness to self’, or a tolerance of his affects. As an infant there was insufficient holding for him to be able to register his primitive emotions in terms of a language of capacity. Lacking were vital exchanges such as Sándor Márai hints at in the last lines of his novel – a kiss ‘awkward, brief, odd… But like every kiss, this one is an answer, a clumsy but tender answer to a question that eludes the power of language’ (Marai, 2003, p. 249). That metier was lacking for Gerry, the sense of it refracted, effaced and hard to seek; the very hint of it makes his flesh creep. As these proto-emotions arose something had to be done to place them outside of himself. It called for emergency measures. The emotions, like invasions from outside, were then compounded with others arising from the failure of the digesting process (Besteztung), and the primitive confusion between inside and outside remained to haunt the dreams that, despite being disturbing, were in turn relegated to the status of just dreams.

With his early experience of being unmet in the maturational task of building a meaningful sense of person he took refuge in an auxiliary self in which contact with his primitive life-affirming aggression was completely disowned. To regress would be to become caught up in a murderous nightmare existence – an experience of existential isolation – an unthinkable torment of being torn apart. His astonishment that such a cauldron had anything to do with him speaks volubly of the unfortunate predicament of being born to parents incapable of attending either to themselves, each other or theirs, however they may have gone on to mature as people in later years.

However this may be, what is indicated is a grave deficiency in this intuitive attention. The conveying of the ineffability of emotion in art where ‘there are no words’ for what is felt is predicated upon a certain feasibility and is not the catastrophic failure or failure to meet catastrophe in the context of a resonant attentive other. For in this latter sense catastrophe is to be applied to any change where the chance of its being digested and made meaningful is slim, and in this case, where there has been such a critical break in continuity of care. The use of the analogy of digestion here constellates an attentive mother in her state of reverie, to say nothing of the father whose firmness Winnicott refers to as entering ‘into the child’s life as an aspect of the mother which is hard and strict and unrelenting, intransigent, indestructible, and which, under favourable circumstances, gradually becomes that man who turns out to be a human being, someone who can be feared and hated and loved and respected’. (Winnicott, 1986, p.131). Such attention is also present in the analytical setting as a state in which no means exist for the analyst except the receptivity to be troubled in like manner to the patient while preserving, unlike the patient, the capacity, through the happenstance of processing, to emerge. Gerry’s agency is nowhere else but in the presentation of his fabricated word skein, and his projective identification works in me as my having to endure being taken for a fool for attempting to engage with it.

This presents a somewhat bleak prognosis, what with Gerry’s embargos on regression to dependence so firmly in place, his beleaguered capacity for trust and his devious unaccountability. The loop in essence is a Catch 22 and is symbolised by one of his own complaints: ‘you have to have what you need before you can go for it’. Unlike a seeming paradox, this formulation is a fix, projected as a fact of life out on to the impossible demands, for example, of the world of business, a death to aspiration. It symbolises disqualification. It is a treadmill. The loop ostensibly goes around and around looking for a way out, like Petkutin in ‘The Tale of Petkutin and Kalina’ (Milorad, 1989, pp. 32 – 41), reminiscent of Orpheus and Euridice. But it is, in fact, a closed circle – a moment ago or a thousand years, what’s the difference. It acts to conceal any exit that would open onto the primitive anxiety and helplessness that lies outside of it and drives it. It functions to bolster up hope at the cost of endeavour by way of  ‘the pale cast of thought’ (Hamlet), a fragile omnipotent consciousness against the reckoning with an essentially dreaded and timeless inertia.

As it functions also to resist the analytic process it raises the question, in cases like this, how change can come about. The system itself may carry a hint of an answer. The counter-transference leads to a deepening of the doubt, for the effect of engaging with the loop is to end up with all the affects of helplessness and with an understanding that what is projected is a profound state of inertia. That is the dread that drives the loop round. That is what undercuts its plausible resolutions. It drains the reiterations of resolve. It changes the context of primitive anxiety into a self-supporting system of tenuous frustration. As with pornography, a closed system is constellated, a solipsism. From within the credibility of the loop a return, were such a thing possible, to the state of debilitating inertia, is unthinkable as a way by which change might occur, a madness. A different outcome cannot be thought except by a metaphor, and here the abortive system presents its refraction in the paradox: ‘In order to arrive at what you are not/ You must go through the way in which you are not’ (Eliot, 1944, p. 20), and in the same place, the poet puts it another way: ‘To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not, / You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy’ (ibid.).

And in addition to the mysterious analogical correspondence between defence and surrender there are the signposts, the dreams that have begun to utter concerning a closer reality behind the system. If what has never been metabolised cannot be conveyed in imagery, it must be figured in another way, but what has been partially digested, offered up and imperfectly attended to, may be represented in dream work, as Bion explains. ‘By alpha-function I mean that function by which sense impressions are transformed into elements capable of storage for use in dreams and other thoughts’ (Bion, 1963, p. 4). Here are the traces of passion. And of late, Gerry has begun to mine those seams.

The figure of Petkutin is fabricated. Not only is he a fictional character, he has been created by an artificial process by his ‘father’ Kyr Avram Brankovich (cf. Geppetto and his Pinocchio). As such he has no natural continuity, but ‘the connecting seams of the days could not fit together properly, and cracks appeared in time, but this matter only gladdened Petkutin’ (Pavic, 1989, p. 35). But fail to reckon without the negative therapeutic reaction, and there is the retribution of the ‘mafia’. Pavic talks of the meeting between Brankovich and his dream ‘stranger’ thus – ‘Their encounter, therefore, is as inevitable as the encounter between jailer and prisoner. Thus it is no wonder that lately Kyr Avram has been practicing so intently with his master of sabers’ (p. 48).




1.   ‘Accidie’ is a theological term form the Latin acedia. It describes a state akin to sloth, but includes the idea of becoming numb, unfeeling, unmotivated, perhaps due to despair or apathy. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, IIa 35. 1) associates it with turning one's back on things, through depression or self-hatred, and nicely defines it as ‘a torpor of spirit which prevents one from getting down to anything good’ (Webster’s Dictionary, 1913). In Monastic tradition it was one of the seven deadly sins. Chaucer’s Parson disagrees with St Augustine’s definition of accidie (‘Seint Augustyn seith, "it is anoy of goodnesse and joye of harm"’), in other words, an actively destructive state of mind (‘a diligence’), akin to schadenfreude = ‘the pleasure in others’ misfortunes’. By comparison, for Chaucer’s character, accidie is apathetic rather than malicious – ‘But Accidie dooth no swich diligence. He dooth alle thyng with anoy, and with wrawnesse, slaknesse, and excusacioun, and with ydelnesse, and unlust’ (Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales: The Parson’s Tale, §55).   


2.  I am describing as schizoid a system that acts as an alternative to living with a feeling self. Winnicott describes as paranoid, ‘those who are dominated by a system of thought. This system must be constantly shown to explain everything, the alternative (for the individual ill that way) being acute confusion of ideas, a sense of chaos, and a loss of all predictability’ (Winnicott, 1986, p. 152). This so closely fits the case while cohering with my understanding of paranoia as a delusional sense of persecution by the projected bad objects, that I present my classification with some reserve, as hypothetical.                                                                                                         


The ground is further loosened up by a reflection upon Juliet Mitchell’s treatment of hysteria. In the opening chapters of her book she points to the fact that hysteria is no longer a diagnosis but rather a histrionic tendency in all of us, which ‘wants to do whatever is not allowed’ (Mitchell, 2003, p. 5). She makes a psychoanalytic case for the common factor, namely that the ‘hysteric is always both too much there and insufficiently present – moving between grandiosity and psychic collapse’ (p. 7). Here is the statement that coheres with my sense in the transference with Gerry. Hysteria is, according to Mitchell, a demonstration of  ‘an assumed phallic position’ that coexists with the belief ‘that he or she has had the penis taken away, which in its turn means he or she has nothing’ (p. 7). It is predicated upon a traumatic gap and imitates the presence that has created a hole. ‘If, for instance, in fantasy, one murders the father and one then becomes like the dead father, it seems to act to fill the gap… Hysteria in this, once again, exaggerates the normal – the hysterical imitation is so accurate that there is no division between what is not there and what one has become to ensure it still is there’ (p. 9). And so with the other allusions – the artificial pseudo-epistemology, the holding of the father, slaughtered on all hands, the phallic downfall, played out in his dealings with colleagues, its constant safeguarding through pornography. ‘The hysteric cannot think, he can only discharge in verbal or actual actions a superfluity of unsorted “pre-thoughts”’ (p.73). 


3.   In his paper Rosenfeld applies these observations to psychotic parts of less seriously ill patients. ‘There are some narcissistic patients where defused destructive impulses seem to be constantly active and dominate the whole of their personality and object relations’ (Rosenfeld, 1971, p. 248). ‘In some narcissistic patients the destructive narcissistic parts of the self are linked to a psychotic structure or organisation which is split off from the rest of the personality’ (p. 250).                             


4.   In annexing the mother by intrusive identification (and I perceive the infant’s desperate false reparativeness to be a corollary of that), the infant escapes what Mitchell calls the ‘law of the mother’: a prohibition of the child’s own fantasised capacity to give birth, a fantasy that exists to counter annihilating replacement by the birth of a sibling. For Mitchell, the ‘law of the mother’ thus enables the symbolising of an internal space where it is possible to think. ‘The law operates to prohibit the child’s fantasy by as it were saying: it is I, the mother, not you the child, who gives birth. If the prohibition is accepted and the loss of the possibility of giving birth when one is a child acknowledged, then an inner space can be symbolised – a place from which thoughts come and in which representations can be held “in mind”… Unsymbolised, creative thinking (Winnicott) will be aborted’ (Mitchell 2003, p.72). This she terms ‘the all important loss. No, the negative, the prohibition – in this case, the mother’s “No” – is the condition of judgement (Freud [1925]), it is the “not to be” and the “not to have” which are the conditions of representation’ (p.73). The ‘condition of judgement’ is the province of the good enough mother. The phenomenon, in Gerry’s case, of his failure to mention, or even countenance, that he has a young sister, argues against this ‘judgement’ having existed, and underpins the sway of his auxiliary semantics.



5.   The idea of the ‘double’ is explained by Michael Parsons in his introduction to the Botellas’ book (Botella, 2005, p. xxi.): ‘The analyst, by opening his or her own psyche to a regressive movement, from verbal articulation and object-representation towards non-verbal experience and a quasi-hallucinatory kind of perception, reflects the predicament of the patient’s psyche. Because this is inevitably disturbing and “uncanny” for the analyst, there is a constant temptation to escape from the mirroring between analyst and patient by converting the “working as a double” into some other reassuringly familiar and transferentially manageable mode of analytical relating.’ 


6.   James Fisher, in his paper on ‘the Imaging Position’, touches on Bion’s account of his development of alpha-function and ‘his struggle over what to call it’ with the concepts dream work, reverie, attention. [viz. Bion, 1992, Cogitations. London: H Karnac Books.] Fisher adds a favourite metaphor for the work of alpha-function: digestion. (viz. Bion, 1962). ‘In The Interpretation of Dreams [Freud] points out that cathexis (Besteztung) is “familiar to us in the form of attention” (1900, SE 5: 615). After the ‘Two Principles of Mental Functioning’ in 1911, in which the concept of attention for the last time has a key role, Freud’s subsequent writings focus on cathexis (Besteztung – which the French translate as investissement) where he previously used the concept of attention. We begin to have a much richer concept of attention when we supplement it with (1) the notion of Besteztung, a concept which suggests a being intensely occupied with something to the exclusion of other things (preoccupied we would say), and (2) the notion of free-floating, or even-hovering, attention, which suggests an openness to what one becomes occupied with.’  Fisher suggests that reverie is the even-hovering attention or openness to what is to be attended to, whereas digestion could be ‘the analytical capacity to separate out what might be nourishing and the correlative synthetic capacity to combine it with other things that make growth and development possible. Dream-work (condensation and displacement) is ‘a primary form of imaging’ as opposed to re-presenting; rather what ‘Freud called Darstellbarkeit, literally the quality of being capable of being set forth, presented.  It is this to which the Botellas refer as the work of figurability.                                                           






Bion, Wilfred R. (1962) Learning From Experience. London: William Heinemann Medical Books Ltd., reprinted London: H. Karnac Books Ltd., 1984.


______________(1963) Elements of Psychoanalysis. London: William Heinemann Medical Books Ltd., reprinted London: H. Karnac Books Ltd., 1984.


Botella, C. and S. (2005) The Work of Psychic Figurability: Mental States without Representation. London: Brunner-Routledge (The New Library of Psychoanalysis).


Britton, Ronald (1989) ‘The Missing Link’, in John Steiner (ed.) The Oedipus Complex Today. London: H. Karnac Books, pp. 83 – 101.


Calder, John (1986) in John Fletcher and John Calder (eds.) The Nouveau Roman Reader. London: John Calder Ltd, p.93.


Eliot, T.S. (1944) Four Quartets. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.


Fisher, J.V. (2007) Alpha-function and the Imaging Position: Sources of Creativity', read at the Freud Museum conference, Psychoanalysis and the Roots of Creativity, July 2007.

  Harris, Mark Jonathan (dir. 2000) Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport


Meltzer, Donald (1973) ‘The Architectonics of Pornography’ in Sexual States of Mind. Strath Tay: Clunie Press, pp. 170 – 178.


Márai, Sándor (2003) Embers. London: Penguin Books.


Mitchell, Juliet (2003) Siblings. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Pavić, Milorad (1989) Dictionary of the Khazars: The Female Edition. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.


Perec, Georges (1997) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. London: Penguin, revised 1999.


Rosenfeld, Herbert (1971) ‘A Clinical Approach to a Psychoanalytical Theory of the Life and Death Instincts: an Investigation into the Aggressive Aspects of Narcissism’ in International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52: 169 – 78 and in E. Bott Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today vol. 1: Mainly Theory. London: Routledge (1988), pp.239 – 255.  


Sarraute, Nathalie (1963) Tropisms. New York: George Braziller, p. 4.


Steiner, John  (1993) Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organisations in Psychotic, Neurotic and Borderline Patients. London and New York: Routledge.


Winnicott, Donald W. (1986) Home Is Where We Start From. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.


Young, Robert M. (2003)  ‘The Boundaries of Perversion’,














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