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George Blair

Free men with dead or distant mothers walked the pavement.
Marguerite Duras: Whole Days in the Trees

Off For A Spin

The initial idea for this paper was to enquire into the primacy of the idea of separation and to ascertain whether my work with a difficult patient, Charles, over a number of years was moving towards that end. The process would be presented under the metaphor of cycling. There were two reasons for this conceit. The word has relevance, pre-eminently in view of the cyclical nature of the engagement: the grinding incidence of recidivism. What lurked behind this vicious circle consistently eluded me. What was the pay-off? Was it terror that was being systematically allayed? That system and its drivers, towards and away from, had to be laid bare, at least in my mind, before any real progress could be registered. The other allusion is to the bicycle that appears incidentally in references to childhood and later, the machine which, by being purchased and ridden, represents an act of self-assertion that supposedly escapes his commitment to abnegation. The notion of separation is linked to the notion of vitality and implies a working through of the Oedipus complex, in the way, for example, that Donald Meltzer puts it: ‘This can only be accomplished by the reparative capacity of the internal parents and their creative coitus’ (Meltzer, 1979, p. 105)

One significant factor is that, compared with other cases where I experienced periods of fear and anxiety in the counter-transference, I find it hard to remember this happening with Charles. What was to be made of this? Where was the putative terror? Although hard to grasp, the answer to this is not far to seek; the skeleton in the cupboard stood behind the child’s failure to manage separation and loss? It seemed to me clear there was such a link and that the terror was foreshadowed in the dread of emptiness and worthlessness. But what was the meaning of such categories? These are surely dynamic organisations rather than passive states. Was it something more deadly, more active that intimated itself to him and which was compounded by the failure to pay timely attention to what he was becoming in the service of keeping his initiative deeply unconscious. To me at this stage it seemed our project was to seek to contemplate the ravages of unassuaged infantile rage and to look for its traces in my counter-transference. And yet that was only theory; where was the evidence in counter-transference? Well here it was: a serial destruction of the will to understand (stand under) that could operate only where time was made of no consequence. (To reverse the syllables – of ‘understanding’ – is to allude to the transactional nature of understanding, a reciprocal position vis à vis the internal relational process by which meaning and understanding comes into being. There was no one standing under or standing in for or underwriting this vital transaction. There was only an unused template. The crucial element was out-standing. I did not consider at the time that I was in it for the long haul.) So here was a hint of a labyrinthine process of repudiation where nothing appears to happen.

The loss of a sense of self persists existentially, as a commonplace. It is without a shape except in register to what has replaced it. Similarly it is without a comprehensible cause. It is attributed in the form of hatred directed outwards and inwards and in coded form and as perplexity functions as an auxiliary self. A perpetual hatred is a deflection from a direct suicidal urge and, in the guise of contempt, the parent-child entity is held inflexibly as pending. It is nevertheless a slow form of suicide, a killing of time. It is in turn deflected away from the immediacy of the sessions, dissimulated as an inability to grasp meaning or make use of a relationship. In Charles’ case, this can be seen in the clinical setting as his systematic attack on his own coherence as well as a guilty attack on the thriving of a good object, through practically inscrutable processes which might be thought to keep alive that which has not yet come into being.. That such a good object persists, though subject to a serial obliteration, is also evidenced in the clinical material.

‘What if,’ Winnicott writes, ‘there be no satisfactory relationship of early infancy for the analyst to exploit in the transference?’ (Winnicott, 1949, p. 198).  I shall attempt to make a case for the relics of an inheritance, that the child comes ‘trailing clouds of glory’ (see Wordsworth: Intimations of Immortality) chiefly in terms of this patient’s forms of attack, the very persistence of which I take to be a positive sign. I shall also look for traces of surviving authenticity in my response to idiom. And here my thinking is informed by what Winnicott writes in terms of retaliation and hate in the analyst: ‘If the patient seeks objective or justified hate he must be able to reach it, else he cannot feel he can reach objective love’ (p. 199). I want to use the word ‘baffled’ in this context and will follow it up when I come to think of the perverse character structure of this patient. It is undeniable that my persistent counter-transference has been one of frustration and failure, where my own hate, for whatever reason remains inadmissible and is felt as impatience or dismay and confusion. And this can be seen as retaliation in terms of my own obfuscation. The projective identification here is complicity whereby the patient is seen to be in allegiance with parents against himself, the interloper, and thus, unpicked, defines the internal triad. I shall want to consider Khan’s idea of idolatry in relation to this (Khan, 1979, 11 – 17). I will endeavour to show in the course of the paper the defensive and passive aggressive use of apathy this patient makes, which threatens as a presumption my entertaining an element of optimism and acts as an invitation to retaliation, thus insuring the security of the perverse system.

In developing this theme, I have come to see the relevance of Winnicott’s thinking about transitional phenomena. Not only do I imagine Charles bereft in this regard, there is a real case for claiming an active and perverse use of the articles of transition, hence the sub-title of this paper.

a) Historical and prognostic

Charles is a high-earning business executive in his late 30s, of sturdy build reminiscent of a rugby forward. He has strong hirsute arms which he waves in the air while lying on the couch in unmistakable gestures of display. He cycles to see me. He removes his cycle shoes in the consulting room before lying down. The accoutrements of the ride are laid out on the floor. When he forgets his lock he asks can he bring his bicycle into the hall. He maintains balance and rarely misses a session. Initially I saw him once a week and we sat opposite one another. Then for two years he has come twice weekly and lies down. Recently he has changed his work situation, landing a post in a more prestigious company where subject to appraisals he stands a chance of promotion to the board, a possibility about which he expresses great ambivalence. Constraints of the new job have made it necessary for him to reduce therapy to once a week. I am unclear whether this has made a difference to the process as in latter days I have been more aware of a sporadic emergence of an idiomatic Charles, sporadic being the operative word..

The annunciation of the bicycle is a more incidental, perhaps ideographic, element and has come to stand in my mind as a vehicle for a good object. It is, however, in doubt whether the recurrent image was initially an indication that a beneficent cycle had been set up, such is the patient’s perverse devotion to his an-hedonic mode. It might, on the other hand, be a sign of his continued abrogation of dependence.

It has, in the course of a long treatment, become necessary to question seriously the optimism imported into a notion such as ‘separation’ and thus to examine what may be predicated by that term. And, as already hinted in the preceding paragraph, I want, at this point, to introduce the notion of perversion as relevant in this case and to link the idea with masochism and the theme of vengeance.

Charles is homosexual. He ‘came out’ in his late teens. His practice is to cruise for accomplices. The sex act is then between complete strangers, where, as far as I can glean, he penetrates the other anally. A problematic shame, and perhaps my reticence about enquiring further, prevents his talking much about this beyond his saying that he plays the ‘active part’. There is never any account of conversation between the consenting couple. It would appear that anonymity is de rigeur. This sense of his living in an innominate world was one of my early impressions; no one was named and he spoke of himself in the third person as ‘one’.

The matter of C’s homosexuality has not been carefully analysed to date in the course of this therapy, now in its seventh year. At a point well into the therapy, and, after a long sustained passage where we seemed stuck in a rotten mire of despondency and swingeing negativity, when he began to emerge, look around and take an interest, he declared he felt there was ‘definitely something there… Perhaps I will find I am not actually gay’ [footnote 1]. This was an ambivalent moment for as well as an evident relief there was Charles’ rejoinder to his own speculation: ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘That’s rather worrying.’

My position is, at least as far as this paper goes, to regard his sexual orientation as secondary to what Meltzer may have meant by a ‘sexual state of mind’ and to see the detail of his sexual practice rather as part and parcel of his character structure, thus leaving aside the question as to whether homosexuality is a perversion and environmentally determined, or to take it as biologically given. I uphold what Meltzer writes in regard to this focus: ‘… the transference situation draws to it the associations related almost exclusively to the infantile and perverse aspects of sexual behaviour and phantasy currently contaminating the patient’s sexual life’ (Meltzer, 1979, p. 83).

Robert Young (1996) writes that Kleinian views are ‘notoriously illiberal with respect to the inner worlds of gays and lesbians. We need to ask if sexual dissidents are perverse or not. Perverse states of mind involve “a negativistic caricature of object relations”’. (The latter is a phrase from the paper by Margot Waddell and Gianna Williams, which I will mention again later). This approach, Young argues (2003), while it makes possible a better understanding of the nature of perversity as an aspect of character, rather than a matter of sexual preference, it moves the debate away from sterile stereotyping and into the more fruitful area of ‘psychic reality and meaning as represented by different states of mind’ (Waddell and Williams, 1991, p. 212).


Perversion Of Transitional Space

It will be necessary, then, to mention the circumstance that first alerted me to Charles’ perverse character structure. This was an incident he related that seemed to me more significant than the realisation of his homosexuality. It was the obverse of realisation, but rather the defining ritual of his perversity. I shall speak of that moment later.

a) Separation

These two issues – separation and perversion – I propose to look at both in the light of Kleinian thinking, in particular, the unresolved Oedipus complex, and with reference to the maturational theories of Donald Winnicott. The consideration of the nature of this patient’s depersonalised sexual practice opens on to the transference analysis of his character structure in line with parental phantasies, which I have come to regard as a perversion of transitional space; in addition to a plausible failure on the part of the parental couple to observe, let alone afford, such a facility, the real focus is on the patient’s own perverse use of a transitional space. Winnicott laid out what he meant by such a space in ‘Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena’ in Playing and Reality (1971).

Transitional phenomena belong to the realm of illusion. A space is adumbrated, afforded by the mother’s capacity for minute adaptation to the needs of her infant ‘thus allowing the infant the illusion that what the infant creates really exists’.  ‘This intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in respect of its belonging to inner or external (shared) reality, constitutes the greater part of the infant’s experience, and throughout life is retained in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to creative scientific work’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 14). Meltzer, against a reference to Platonic forms, puts the thought of the persistence of illusion nicely. ‘But fortunately the evolution of mind had not stopped at living in the outside world. The human mind constructs an inner world where meaning is displayed figuratively and justice prevails. “Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I love deep down and do believe”’ (Meltzer, 1988, p. 21). 

The space is preserved by the ‘good enough mother’ –‘as time proceeds, she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 10).  But failure inasmuch as it is out of kilter with her infant’s capacity to make allowance collapses the space and leads to a retrenchment. This latter mutual failure Winnicott terms ‘impingement’. Impingement takes the form both of intrusion and neglect. While for Winnicott retrenchment has a preservative function, it is at the same time useful to think of aspects of ‘retrenchment’ in the light of the more aggressive forms of impingement, for example in the analysis of intrusive identification. ‘It has often been argued that the pathological use of projective identification, that is as a mechanism of defence, would better be called “intrusive identification” since this term catches the essential motive of invasion of an alien personality and body as originally described by Melanie Klein’ (Meltzer, 1986, p. 66f.).  Both in the transference and in Charles’ retrieval of his history, this failure of epistemophilic converse will be seen to be catastrophic. This is evinced both in terms of placatory ‘false-self’ and falsely reparative perverse adjustments, and the omnipotence, glimpsed in his touchy brushing aside of any offer which would smack of his becoming dependent.  My thesis is that the space has not disappeared, but exists in a perverse usage. I shall summarise this perversion of the transitional space later on in this paper.

This maladaptive retrenchment or withdrawal to a more primitive stage has an interesting link with what John Steiner, a leading Kleinian, terms a ‘psychic retreat’. ‘Traumatic experiences with violence or neglect in the environment leads to the internalisation of violent disturbed objects which at the same time serve as suitable receptacles for the projection of the individual’s own destructiveness.’  (Steiner, 1994, p. 4 ) ‘The retreat then serves as an area of the mind where reality does not have to be faced, where phantasy and omnipotence can exist unchecked and where anything is permitted. This feature is often what makes the retreat so attractive to the patient and commonly involves the use of perverse or psychotic mechanisms’ (p. 3).  These retreats, in the case of normal and neurotic patients, can be represented as naturally occurring, but, says Steiner, they ‘can be seen to arise from the operation of powerful systems of defence’ (p. 5).  They may account for varying degrees of stuck-ness in the analytical process.

Dana Birksted-Breen writes: ‘The phallus refers to a pre-symbolic mode of thinking… This is of the order of what Segal (1957) calls a symbolic equation. The penis-as-link on the other hand belongs to the area of true symbolisation and is internalised as a function’ (Birkstead-Breen, 1996, p. 652). ‘The wish to have or to be the phallus is an attempt to find the structuring function of the penis when it is missing, and a phallic organisation brings temporary respite from fragmentation and chaos’ (p. 655). And, importantly here, the author makes the point: ‘Mental space and the capacity to think are created by the structure that allows for separateness and link between internal objects, and self and other, instead of fusion or fragmentation’ (ibid.).  The connection with the successful navigation of the Oedipus complex is clear. ‘While the phallus belongs to the mental configuration that allows only for the “all or nothing” distinction, hence to the domain of omnipotence, and is an attempt away from triangulation, the penis-as-link which links mother and father, underpins Oedipal and bisexual mental functioning and hence has a structuring function which underpins the process of thinking’ (p. 656).

Two passing reference to Joyce McDougall are in place here and take forward my thinking about my patient with reference to the perversion of transitional space, and specifically in the light of his systematic failure to hold on to or use interpretations which nevertheless he gives the impression of having grasped.  She explains the concept of alexithymia (elaborated by Nemiah and Sifneos, 1970, 1973) which

‘…concerns the specific inability of a person to name his emotional states or to recognize the existence of his affectivity… Although it is evident that a gap in symbolisation would give rise, in situations of psychic conflict, to a weakened capacity for reflecting about oneself and to one’s relation to the world and others, the reasons for such a psychic “lack” raise questions that lead, from a psychoanalytic standpoint, to a consideration of the vicissitudes of psychic representation and the transformation to which affective experience is subjected when split off from any mental representation’ [her italics] (McDougall, 1990, p. 437).

The phenomenon here is ‘flattened affect’ related also to ‘operational thinking’.  ‘Operational thinking refers to a pragmatic way of thinking about people and events, and implies a form of object relationship with impoverished libidinal cathexis and a lack of emotional response to crucial moments of traumatic losses in the lives of the people concerned’ (p. 434).

Charles has persistently been unable to know if what he senses his minute by minute state of mind to be is a feeling or not. ‘Feelings, feelings…’ he will mutter, ‘where are they?’ The link with the metabolising function of the mirror role of mother is clear, so that where there was potential space, now, a hiatus. Staying with Winnicott, we find his assertion that ‘separation’, and by this he means manageable separation following the establishment in the infant of confidence, ‘is avoided by the filling in of the potential space with creative playing, with the use of symbols, and with all that eventually adds up to a cultural life’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 109). That Charles’ ability to play has been severely hampered will become clear when I come to talk about his hatred of surprises.

To link my hypothesis about my patient’s perverse structure with the category I derive from Winnicott and with the Oedipal categories, I note McDougall’s remarks as follows: ‘The child destined to find a devious path around the Oedipal interdictions is often in search of a solution to the sexual and narcissistic problems of the parents… In this respect we might say that the creation of a sexual perversion is a triumph over the sexual impulses... Perversions demonstrate that the creator is using sexual capacity to deal with deeper narcissistic dangers’ (McDougall 1990, p. 178f).

In a session, in the second year of the therapy, I noted that, as he spoke, I had the sense of a non-habitable space where he is exposed and, as it were, not surrounded by what I imagined as a gelatinous medium. No negotiation can take place, I thought; he is either controlled or insisting, harsh or resentful and sullen, assertion leads to a frozen guiltiness, where his attempts are abandoned, often in mid sentence. It is a space, which it seems impossible to enter. It has been collapsed so that there is no space between stimulus and reaction.

I want to link these thoughts now with Birksted-Breen’s observation of a ‘third position that makes for a three-dimensional world that allows for a perspective on oneself and one’s actions’ (Birksted-Breen, 1996, p. 655). Britton speaks of a successful outcome of the Oedipus complex when ‘a third position then comes into existence… a capacity for seeing ourselves in interaction with others and for entertaining another point of view whilst retaining our own, for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves’ (Britton, 1989, p. 87). Birksted-Breen notes her patient’s more ‘healthy mental functioning… that, being able to dream, in itself, can signal a greater capacity to take a step back and observe herself from a third position after a period in which she has been entrenched in a paranoid relationship with me’ (ibid.). Thomas Ogden speaks of an ‘analytical third’. In his paper, he distinguishes this concept from Winnicott’s transitional space. I, however, see the distinction merely in terms of context. To convey a sense of this third space Ogden quotes lines by the poet A.R.Ammons (1986) as follows: ‘not so much looking for the shape/ As being available/ To any shape that may be/ Summoning itself/ Through me/ From the self not mine but ours’  (Ogden 1999, p. 61).

In sessions around this time I was aware of my patient’s trickery. He would arrive, sunk, flat, miserable and practically wordless. This I felt to be his abrogation and the strong expectation was that I should be the active one. When I did make an interpretation about what might be going on in the session, he would always readily agree. Yet the complaint continued. I seemed to be seeing an entrenched resentment that any cooperation would mean giving up his grievance, which was turned against himself in such wringing phrases as ‘I am no good and never will be, Everything I do turns out a mess, Anything I try to do becomes undone’, (doing psychotherapy with me, for example). His inability to use interpretations may have indicated that there was no presence of mind, no centre, confirmed by his use of the word ‘vacuum’, nothing upon which meaning could be sustained and built. The creation of meaning was under severe attack; meaning did not lack value for Charles. It was attacked out of envy just because it was appreciated, and out of his perverse commitment to an impoverished ego continually projected into me, there to stay as a double-edged sword. Thus the metabolising of these unconscious manoeuvres was through envy repudiated. Yet something else was going on. This was for him a kind of triumph for he would leap up at the end of a session, his voice altered, and smile in a way that made me feel fooled. Dissimulation seemed to afford him satisfaction.

I detected a secret existence symbolised by the spectre of his uncle, incarcerated in an institution, truly abandoned, neither visited nor mention of him in the family permitted. Charles’ aspiration to visit his uncle has never been acted upon, his potential moves between are secret and locked away, held in reserve until their symbolism of his incarcerated spontaneity can be painfully realised. There is no space for them, rather a lack of conjunction between inside and outside. Or it may be that not to act is itself an active perversion of that space and differentiation lost. 

Indistinguishable from there being no reception (for him by another) there is no receiving of what may be offered. Surprises deeply offend Charles. No creative gesture exists except as a trick, nor is it recognized as requiring space, where a slight shock may be processed, as when a child reaches for the security blanket and the eyes go dreamy and the glance turns inward. Without this the infant is paralysed, throws himself to the floor, unable to find a meaning and ‘coming round’ achieves a semblance of space called ‘on our best behaviour’ behind which the grudge lurks. Charles claims never to have entered creatively into the ‘petty pace’ {Macbeth 5.5.19) of his profession life, which he engages in on sufferance. His enterprises ‘with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action’ (Hamlet 3.1.86). The way forward from there is the backwaters of perversion: ‘bound in shallows and in miseries’ (Julius Caesar 4.3.221).
Thus, in my thinking about separation, I am, of course, bearing in mind the vicissitudes of the internal object.  Donald Meltzer, in the chapter ‘Terror, Persecution and Dread’, comments as follows in his discussion of a piece of clinical material: ‘But in psychic reality the vitality of an object, of which it may be robbed [my italics], can also be returned to it, as the soul to the body in theological terms. This can only be accomplished by the reparative capacity of the internal parents and their creative coitus’ (Meltzer, 1973, p. 105).  These words, however, occur in the consideration of terror, a factor, which, according to Meltzer underpins what I am calling recidivism. ‘Terror is a paranoidal anxiety whose essential quality, paralysis, leaves no avenue of action. The object of terror, being in unconscious phantasy dead objects, cannot even be fled from with success’ (ibid.).

The following paragraph seems to me to justify the faith in the possibility of change in such arid territory as that in which this patient resides.

‘When dependence on the reparative capacity of the internal objects is prevented by Oedipal jealousy and/or destructive envy… only an object in external reality, which bears the transference of the mother’s breast at infantile levels, can accomplish this task. This may be undertaken innumerable times without being acknowledged, if the infantile dependence is blocked by the denigrating activity of envy or the obstinacy born of the intolerance to separation’ (ibid).                                                                                                                                              

 Here, and in lovelier language, does Winnicott’s imaginary dialogue belong: ‘A new feature thus arrives in the theory of object-relating. The subject says to the object: “I destroyed you”, and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says: “Hullo, object!” “I destroyed you.” “I love you.” “While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in (unconscious) fantasy.” Here fantasy begins’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 90).

In both these ways, in the differing language of these two men, we are faced with the patient’s failure to make use of an object. In his chapter ‘The Use of an Object and Relating through Identifications’, Winnicott summarises as follows: ‘The object is always being destroyed. This destruction becomes the unconscious backcloth for love of a real object; that is, an object outside the area of the subject’s omnipotent control’ (p. 94). But here, proleptically, the other does not yet properly exist. The transitional space is collapsed. There is no universe where reality is brokered by illusion, or where arousal and quietude are attended in the forging of a meaning of self and others and where appetite becomes a lust for life. Not only collapsed, the space is perverted, twisted and turned into its opposite, somewhere where nothing should happen (see Erewhon by Samuel Butler). The opening lines of chapter 19, ‘The World of the Unborn’ run as follows:

‘The Erewhonians say that we are drawn through life backwards; or again, that we go onwards into the future as into a dark corridor. Time walks beside us and flings back shutters as we advance; but the light thus given often dazzles us, and deepens the darkness which is in front. We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors that are behind, and stumble on as we may till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone’ (Butler, 1872).

‘Loss of fortune, therefore, or loss of some dear friend on whom another was much dependent, is punished hardly less severely than physical delinquency’ (op.cit. chapter 10 ‘Current Opinions’). Conceived in haste, the child is not yet conceived of. The question to be asked in informing a hope of separation is then clear: Is there a capacity in the patient for retaliation which does not deepen the deadly guilt; and then, is there a capacity in the analyst to stay alive in face of it? ‘These are risks that must be taken by the patient.’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 92). It is up to the analyst to hold the line with regard to retaliation. And about this I shall have something positive to say, in reflecting upon the clinical material. I shall also reflect on the perverse masochistic element at work to force retaliation and thus abort the process. This latter unconscious strategy will itself be seen as an example of the perversion of transitional space on the part of the patient.


b) The presumption of perversion

I move now to the second point I raised above, namely the patient’s perverse character structure. If Glasser (1986) is correct, and identification in the sense of incorporation or possession of the good is impossible in the case of perversion, then there is a crucial difference with normal maturational processes in which the object of emulation becomes part of the emerging ego by a process of identification. By contrast, what presides in the perverse reality internally is envy and hatred. In terms of that which one does not oneself possess, the state of envy can be properly seen as the obverse of emulation. But if I understand Klein correctly, envy enters as an inevitable consequence of the relinquishing of omnipotence. This is mollified by the possibility of accepting a relationship with the good outside of oneself and this becomes the root of emulation. Otherwise my potential capacity to accept my relatedness to the good is projected on to the external. The painful sense of the comparison kindles my malevolent wishes. The capacity for the benign is hard won and is related by Racker to libido, ‘… before envying somebody, we have placed in him a greater or lesser part of the libido, for what we envy is always something we appreciate. And this placing of the libido within the object, is what in certain circumstances impoverishes the ego and lays it open to greater influence from Thanatos’ (Racker, 1968, p. 86). Interestingly enough, this would seem to argue for an early visiting of the depressive position or, as in Winnicott’s image of destruction transformed, where the absence of perceived retaliation is decisive, the birth of a capacity for concern.

‘Clinically however we meet with a false reparation which is not specifically related to the patient’s own guilt… This false reparation appears through the patient’s identification with the mother and the dominating factor is not the patient’s own guilt but the mother’s organized defence against depression and unconscious guilt’ (Winnicott, 1948, p. 91). This can be understood as a loyalty to the mother’s mood as will be seen to be the case with Charles. As opposed to ‘the use of an object’ this entails a loss of aggression and love. The aggression is reconstituted as sado-masochism, the love in perverted sexual rapport. I understand this act as that of saving mother from her failure, which implies a sense of self as ‘too much for her’. Thus he does the business, maintains himself for her, takes on her misery and is miserable in her stead. It will become plain when I present the history that this is the case with Charles. Such a child has on his hands, according to Winnicott ‘a task which can never be accomplished… they do no more than succeed in creating an atmosphere in which they can start on their own lives… (p. 92). These observations go some way to shedding light on the recidivism of the case.  ‘It can be readily understood that this situation can be exploited by the individual as a flight from that acceptance of personal responsibility which is an essential part of individual development’ (ibid.). Khan uses this notion for the starting point for his argument for perversion as self-adoration.
For Stoller (1975) hate is at the root of perversion and it is this hate which prevents separation taking place, or, in Kleinian terms, an approach to the depressive anxieties. For to give up that hate Charles is left with his humiliation and a life lived out of falsity. Thus where there’s hate there’s hope. Despite his statement, quoted above, that devaluing of the object is reversible, Meltzer, in choosing to speak of the process as a dismantling, poses a more endemic difficulty to the making of reparation, namely that an object dismantled can scarcely be reinstated, but only reassembled into an alternative. ‘The thesis I wish to present is that the objects of sexual excitement about which perversions crystallise are “dismantled objects”, as distinct from part-objects’ (Meltzer, 1973, p. 108). He compares his ‘dismantled object’ with Winnicott’s ‘transitional object’ but states that the connection remains unclear. Khan believes the pervert is stuck in transitional space. ‘I shall schematically state in terms of Winnicott’s hypothesis that to the pervert his object has essentially the value of a “transitional object”… What it cannot do for the pervert is to cure him of his developmental deviations in ego-integration resulting from the failures of maternal care and provision’ (Khan, 1979, p. 26). ‘His [Winnicott’s] argument is that if the integration of the ego-functions is disturbed through inadequate holding (maternal) environment then what in normal childhood development are transitional objects turn into the perverse sexual relationships to objects, human and non-human, in adult life’ (p.20). This idea of the ‘chosen and found object’ of perversion with ‘the talent to play the part of an as-if transitional space’ (p. 14) is enlarged upon in his evocative treatment of the ‘technique of intimacy’ (pp. 20 – 27).  Thus transition is not essayed; the perverse sexual object may persist in the ‘intermediate area of experience, unchallenged in respect of its belonging to inner or external (shared) reality’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 14), but apparently exalted as a durable alternative, in terms of illusion banal, and as a resort repetitive and with weak access to the erosion of reality. Illusory in that sense; it is not illusion in the sense of a capacity ‘retained in the intense experience that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living’ (ibid.). Thus we have a perversion of transitional (potential) space.

What is of relevance to prognostic thinking in the case of perversion is the pessimism in Meltzer’s statement: ‘The difficulty resides in the degradation of the emotionality from love to sensuality. While the initial dismantling may have been undertaken out of concern for the safety of the object and with an eye to its future reconstitution, once it has been reduced to a unisensual assortment, the sum-of-its-parts no longer equals the whole in value’ (Meltzer, 1973, p.109). And here he is in accord with Glasser in asserting that ‘this dismantling… seems to preclude introjection and allows only for apprehension of an immediate sensual event’ (ibid.).

That Freud uses the word ‘amalgamations’ in drawing his conclusions about the aberrations indicates that Meltzer’s unisensual object is a return to earlier imagos, in the case of the fetish to what Ogden terms the ‘autistic phase’, which in retrogressive terms is short of the instinctual. Freud writes, ‘The clinical observation of these abnormalities will have drawn our attention to amalgamations which have been lost to view in the uniform behaviour of normal people’ (Freud, 1905, p. 76). And in his footnote he says, ‘perversions are a residue of developments towards the Oedipus complex’ (ibid), ‘thus, as McDougall indicates, circumventing the painful Oedipal necessity (vide supra). ‘Perversions demonstrate that their creator is using sexual capacity to deal with deeper narcissistic dangers’ (McDougall, 1990, p. 179ff).

This concept of the creation of the object of perversion, a fortiori the fetish, as a dismantling, and reassembly into an amalgamation of unisensual elements, can and must be extended to cover the inherent dynamism vis á vis any ongoing drive to maturity. This, I take it, Winnicott meant in his mischievous phrase, ‘health by hook or by crook’. As an ongoing dismantling of that process the perverse drive is akin to the thinking about ‘pathological organisations’ where a ‘delusional world appears to be dominated by an omnipotent or omniscient extremely ruthless part of the self, which creates the notion that within the delusional object there is complete painlessness but also the freedom to indulge in sadistic activity’ (Rosenfeld, 1971, p. 175). The internal situation is commonly presented by the patient as one where a healthy, sane part of the self is in the grip of a Mafia-like organisation, which he is powerless to resist (Steiner 1993, p. 103f.).  ‘Pathological organisations stultify the personality, prevent contact with reality and ensure that growth and development are interfered with’ (p. 5). Donald Kalsched says a similar thing in archetypal language. He uses the word daimon (from the Greek: to divide) as an inner figure, angel and demon, ‘who protects or persecutes its vulnerable partner, sometimes keeping it imprisoned within’  (Kalsched, 1996, p. 3). ‘The daemon appears to personify the psyche’s dissociative defenses in those cases where early trauma has made psychic integration impossible’ [his italics] (p. 11).  

The perversion, whether viewed from the viewpoint of the usage of an object or as aim, operates to disallow the reformation of relational objects. It assures they will not proceed beyond the point of danger. Thus what is experienced as promising must not be permitted to become actuality. Kalsched cites patients who, after an initial period of growth in analysis, stagnate and seem to get stuck in repetition compulsion. The dread of the original terror being reconstituted seems to be the driver here. The intervention of the perverse urge is a sign of its triumph in that it arises out of the blue, inscrutably, to cut off the pathway to that terror, i.e. a recapitulation of the catastrophe. According to David Morgan (speaking at the conference Understanding Perversion, ‘States of mind are states of real terror or ‘nameless dread’ (Bion). Any intercourse has to obviate a sickening terror. The perverse individual goes as far as altering reality and leaving the first reality to others. Charles’ presenting problem was the murderous, relatively unprovoked anger, which seemed to have no understandable cause. His innocent recidivism can be seen as a pre-emptive strike on the growth of relationship, which is sensed as the arena of trauma. The terror may be that of a ‘destructive narcissism’, the implacable blame directed at the parents, and the forms of his projection of the presentiment of the act of psychic murder. This is in no way to rule out the role of collusion. Collusive positions have constantly to be reckoned with and disentangled in my work with this patient. Steiner remarks on how Betty Joseph (1975) ‘shows the subtle nature of the acting out in the transference, and emphasises the pressure on the analyst to collude and allow himself to be manipulated into taking a role where he acts out a part of the patient’s self rather than analyses it’ (Steiner, 1993, p. 104). The plausible passivity of this patient and the apathy he evinces casts doubt on the liveliness of my interpretations. It is the act of robbery laid on an abstract panel.

The aptness of the term ‘perversion’ as a confuting of the natural order can be appreciated in terms of appetite. Perversion is the use of the sexual appetite in the service of its opposite, the refusal of nourishment by installing instead a circular system of self-nourishment, the uroborus (symbol of cyclicality). The disavowal in perversion for McDougall is a ‘destruction of sexual truth’, which therefore brings it close to psychotic foreclosure on knowledge and the means of knowledge. Crucial here, however, is the role of the substitute ‘knowledge’ which, in fetishism, takes the form of a magically invested object or activity, and as a result avoids the delusion through which the psychotic builds ever more complex structures to support the denied knowledge’ (McDougall, 1972, p. 382), perversion as divination where the ‘mysteries’ are without love (see 1 Corinthians 13:2).


c) Oedipal preamble

What Charles sporadically afforded, after several years in therapy, and grounded in the familiar patois of the sessions, were modest glimpses of empathy, a compassion for a time-and-hide-bound parental tale. Modest, and thus given scant attention, since for some time I was drawn into alignment with my patient’s contemptuous and despairing references to his parents with whom he was content to let blame reside. I mention the despair advisedly as not only his, but mine, in that I was unable then to hold the erotic connection with love that the hate maintains. So the erotic bond between analyst and analysand, ‘initially of pathological transferential and counter-transferential love and hate’ (David Mann, 2002,  p. 13) is subverted by collusion with respect to one or other of the poles. What prevented my questioning this complicity more thoroughly was the success of my patient’s projective identification into an unanalysed part of my psyche, which appeared to thrive on the gaining of an accomplice. Thus any authentic vocation on the part of my patient to be free was nipped in the bud. The recognition of this transaction made it crucial to seek to understand the nature of my patient’s Oedipal triumph, in terms of complicity, as well as the muted terror that stalked behind the arras of the consulting room, which led to his effective circumvention of the complex. Thus the prerequisite of separation with its eternal sadness was avoided, along with the sheltering parental coalition to attend the child’s gradual launching forth into authentic, ‘ordinary misery’. We seem together to have lost sight of the parental inheritance:

‘He hath left you all his walks,/ His private arbours, and new-planted orchards,/ On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,/ And to your heirs for ever; common pleasures,/ To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves’ (Julius Caesar 3.2.252).

Charles came into therapy in April 1999, aged 31, complaining of his toxicity, a grudging resentment he felt which baffled him and which erupted without any apparent justification and systematically put paid to his relationships, with him sweeping off without a backward glance, ‘I will just not put up with that’.

He grew up in a provincial town in Tasmania, the eldest of three. There are two sisters, close to him in age, both married and living far from the land of their birth. His father was a successful engineer with his own business, and private plane. His parents married as teenagers after he was conceived, and this he sees as a contributory reason for their not wanting him, or at the very least being unable to cope with the social embarrassment of the pregnancy.

His father is portrayed as a bully with low tolerance for his son’s need to explore his own reality, certainly never able to stomach a son with effeminate interests. As the boy Charles loathed the muscular sports his father espoused, preferring thespian pursuits. If on a Saturday he would not play football or join the beach guards he was consigned to the kitchen to help his mother.  One of the only truly meaningful things was his connection with amateur theatre. His mother tried to foster this side of her son’s interest at the risk of falling foul of the father, and this led to what he described to me as the worst moment of his life and which I mentioned above as the moment of his dedication to misunderstanding. His experience as lighting engineer for the theatre group is an enduring symbol of ‘a small candle burning in a darkened space where I can be entirely myself, unseen by anyone else’. This image of a dark room not only stands for the hidden and stifled life but functions as a potential space. In an early session, he told me how he had gone to a West End theatre, sat in the dark and wept throughout the performance. He wept for his lost self.

After qualifying from business school, he broke away to come to the UK. He lives with Daniel, his partner of several years with whom he has a stormy relationship.

Charles did not mention his mother for quite some time into the therapy and not until I brought the lacuna to his attention. Hers is a more complex picture. She is downtrodden, joyless, and tricky. Charles can never have anything to do with his mother without ending up feeling that he has been drawn in and tricked. He abhors seeing the way his mother will inveigle his sisters’ children upstairs to bed by pretending there is a surprise awaiting them when there is nothing. This is likely to be a screen memory of the deep distrust derived from a severe preoedipal disappointment. For the treachery he attributes to his mother seems to stem from her perceived sell-out to the faulty parental relationship that her child had taken in as allowing of his pre-eminence over the intrusive father.

A Dark Inveterate Pleasure

In Betty Joseph’s paper ‘Addiction to Near-Death’, I found a mirror to a characteristic of Charles’ mode of address. She calls it chuntering and cites by way of definition: ‘mutter, murmur, grumble, find fault, complain’. My patient, when he emerges from his silent struggle ‘to find something to say,’ to give an account of some misery to back up his initial announcement that ‘things have not been exactly good’, speaks in a practically inaudible voice, talking fast and in a summary fashion that consists of truncating his sentences as if to say, ‘etc., etc.’. The sentences concertina and practically gainsay the content. This is confirmed in such phrases as ‘it doesn’t matter’ or ‘I don’t know why I bother.’ To me, straining to listen, it feels, not that he does not want me to hear, but rather wants me to collude in the irrelevance of his misery, while feeling the hopelessness of it. We are in this morass together.

Betty Joseph goes on as follows to give an example of chuntering in her work with A whom she characterises as a near-death addict: ‘He would talk about how he could not go on like this with her,  [his girlfriend K] while she was going around with another man; how he would have to give up the whole relationship; he could not go on like this, and so on’ (Joseph, 1982, p. 316). Here there is an uncanny similarity to how Charles talks askance, almost inaudibly and at any moment about to run out of impetus about the recurrent stand-offs with Daniel, as if to say ‘enough is enough’. His repeated phrase is, ‘I’m sick and tired’, which carries a frisson of the killjoy mother whom he seems to simulate in defence of having been tricked by her out of his Oedipal triumph. Joseph perceives her patient in his chuntering, not to be thinking about the situation as much as that he is caught up in a cruel dialogue with K, a ‘provocative sado-masochistic fantasy’. This, she reflects, is ‘the complete antithesis of thought’ (ibid.). By grasping this covert functioning and the ‘excited sexual pleasure’ the patient derived from it, she was, she claimed, thus able to bring it into the analysis where it would otherwise subtly circumvent the process, drawing the analyst into one side or other of the sado-masochistic strategy. She points to ‘the sense of let-down coming from the relinquishing of the exciting pain of this internal dialogue’ (p. 317). And indeed, Charles’ anecdotal mode is rather like a rehearsal, a tirade rendered in a lower register.

In a session just before the Christmas break last year, I used the word gruelling in my note. It was a session characterised by Charles’ dictum: ‘There is nothing to say’. The suffering self is held prisoner and the waste of life is the compounding of the perverse deception, the enactment of which is the communication, so hard to hear. His perverse protection is not to be surrendered. The session left me, however, with no idea of what the pay-off was except for the clue of my sense of helplessness in which I might be thought to be pleading with him to help me, only to be spurned. Where should my focus lie: pay-off or communication?

Charles missed the first session after the break and, in the following session, he returned to the postponed theme of ‘levelling’ with his parents. He said this was for his own sake if no one else’s. He had not been in touch with them over Christmas and was pleased with himself about this. I had in my mind as a desire the notion contained in the quotation from Meltzer above, namely the atonement, which may be brought about ‘by the reparative capacity of the internal parents and their creative coitus’.  My state of mind I distinguish from a desideratum, or ‘Bion’s “seventh servant”, which, according to him, is attainable only by the disciplined abandonment of memory, desire, understanding, sense impressions – and perhaps we could also add the abandonment of ego itself, in the eastern sense’ Grotstein 1997, p. 76). So what was this ‘levelling’? It was hard not to notice that what was being proposed, and thoroughly rehearsed, was an utter trouncing of the hated parental fusion in which he would leave the field triumphant in the knowledge that ‘there was nothing left to say’. The reparative urge was left to me to hold, but had I any illusions, these were destined to be disappointed. His perversity, and not the analysis, would have the last word. The hatred he nurses and the deception that affords him such perverse pleasure are indeed strong. His declaration of his truth is fused with his abortive aspiration to walk away from it all for good. It is an intractable situation. It perseveres despite his perception that his freedom started when he took the step to come to the UK.

In this session, Charles began to offer a chink by chuntering about yet another weekend long disaffection with Daniel. He rounds off his account, delivered in the muttered truncated sentences by reflecting sardonically what a pastiche of a relationship it is in which ‘we can’t say anything to each other’.  In this I detected his rueful sense that he experienced himself as being unable to be heard. And I saw his long-standing attempt to be able to turn contempt (and longing) into indifference, thus voiding the situation of meaningful exchange (a mirror image of the lack of a maternal metabolising presence). He de-peoples his relationships as he has himself been depersonalised. He would say to his parents over the phone line, ‘I don’t remember if I got your email or not,’ when in fact it had been something of a bombshell. He sets the other at nought, but not only that, he is thus unable to distinguish his difference. Thus his pseudo-reparative move contains little of depressive anxiety, but is an unconscious infantile plea to them that they might still distinguish him. It is this fusion that refuses separation. By his own admission, and this is his phrase in the second year of his therapy, referring to his father’s solicitous email: ‘It is too little too late’. What I felt was ‘the poignancy of his deprivation’ (Bion, 1969, p. 97).

It did not escape my notice that he had practically used the same words of our session, and that I was being invited to submit to the humiliation of our collusion. But I pricked up my ears when he recounted that, in reply to his accusations that Daniel always took everything away from him, Daniel had said, ‘Oh nonsense, you just enjoy being miserable’. Joseph remarks on this ‘watchful masochistic part’ (Joseph, 1982, p. 317) of the ‘apparently’ hurting patient, seeking to trick the analyst into harsh, repetitive or punitive reaction. Charles has several times inadvertently offered a metaphor for such behaviour. He likens his impulse to tantalising a cat until it turns on him, crouching and hissing. That is the aim. In the fantasy it is a stick he uses to goad the creature. The ruse is in the passivity whereby agency is, by way of a perverse dedication, triumphantly abrogated. To give it up he would be robbed, a concept my patient plays with in such a way as to reflect the primal nature of the perversion of his transitional space. He will not be robbed of his dark and secret, self-destructive revenge. The point is made with great clarity by Joseph: ‘These self-destructive patients appear very often to be passive in their lives… and a very important step is taken when they can see how active they are, by projective identification, for example, through the kind of provocation that I am describing in their thinking and fantasy’ (ibid.). Here is a clue, then, to Charles’ recalcitrance.

I am aware of Anthony Ryle’s critique (1993) of Joseph’s paper. Ryle writes from the position of Cognitive Analytic Therapy and infers that the length of the analytical process, which Joseph commends, amounts to considerable misuse of resources. In comparison CAT cuts to the chase by employing ‘role procedures’ to set up conscious goals as a basis of collaboration between parties. He claims her account to be theory driven and is suspicious of her superlatives regarding the notion that ‘intense sexual satisfaction’ is a component of what she sees as the covert sado-masochism of her patient, even casting some doubt on the appropriateness of the term ‘near-death’. What, he claims this amounts to, is an unexamined collusion whereby her repeated interpretation of her patient’s unconscious destructiveness obviates the patient’s active relationship to his deprivation or mobilisation of his capacities.

In reading Joseph’s piece I detected a sense of something programmatic and perhaps a lack of reserve about her formulation. However, she does, as the quotation above indicates, not only turn her attention in the piece to the endemic passivity of her patient, but to the purpose of her interpretation in putting him in touch with his initiative to obliterate his longing for dependence. I agree with Ann Scott’s point in response to Ryle’s article (op. cit.), where she casts doubt on the solidity of rapidly achieved change, and makes the point that, since at the heart of the case there is refusal, a conscious agreement is beside the point. Indeed this could be seen as suggestive, inducing a false obedience, which would be counter-productive to agency? Then the choice is either to turn such an aspirant away or to become caught up in the counter-transference for however long it takes for passive aggression to become the basis of a conscious choice to take responsibility to live. It does, however, surprise me, and rather dismays me, when, looking back at some of the notes I made, how very little has changed. I discover that observations I considered fresh in session 340 had been made five years ago in session 92. But I hold that this may be inevitable, a coefficient of my ‘equipment of psychoanalytical experience’ (Bion, 1959, p. 88) and, what puts this further in perspective is the degree to which the imagination is at work, though held in reserve, and how the trust is built up in the alliance, by survival of the deadliness, thus signalling the journey is worthwhile. It is this harping on that is itself the analysand, in the moves from the legend to the present interaction.

The Poetics Of Reverie

Solitude, my mother, tell me my life again.
O.V.De Milosz:  Symphonie de septembre


a)  Being conceived of

Transitional phenomena belong to the realm of illusion. I give value to the word reverie in seeking to evaluate the way I aim to work, a word used in this context by Ogden, and by Bollas (and in the maternal context, by Bion). A session just before the summer break in 2004 (189) demonstrates my attempt to work ‘without memory and desire’. It also encapsulates Charles’ use of projective identification. I am, in this excerpt, the one who interferes (interprets) and throws the bits of him that I have taken apart into the bin (turn my back on him).

Charles (after the usual striving silence): I don’t want to tell you any of the things I am thinking about – my mortgage, the job where I am not given enough to do and it is going nowhere, moving house, I’m sorry, I don’t want to be here tonight.

Me: (thinking how these thoughts are reserved and not what I expect him to talk about, but how the struggle bars him from his quietude with his thoughts: Do things have to be ready before they can be spoken?

Charles: Yes, but they are only things I have done wrong, failed in, nothing else. I was pleased with the document today but when I showed it to my colleague he wanted to find fault with it. Typical of him; it is like that all the time.

Me: Your sense of reality is changed. You were not able to stay with your confidence about the document you prepared. As if your colleague has the right to make it so you have no leg to stand on.

Charles: Precisely – that is typical of me. Even though I know what he is up to, I see myself as rubbish. It is what I feel.

Me (feeling judged to be in the wrong in spite of his agreement): Things are not yet formed. I am, we are groping for the meaning of this. (I have the image of a child groping in a sort of a vacuum.) I am struggling with… I have an image… a child. There is no one for him to do it wrong with. (Sometime earlier he told me how as a little boy he was given a watch and took it apart to see how it worked. Enter father, looks furious, doesn’t listen to the explanation, scoops up the pieces and puts them in the bin. Having spoken I experience a palpable emotion in my body and an image of arms.)

Charles (tearing up): When I developed a stutter… I was around five; all they did was send me to be fixed. I have no memory except that. No one saw what was going on inside.

Me (thinking of Jung’s Association Test): You were interrupted from within. (I was thinking: What is this stutter: aggression inhibited? Later the stutter began to appear in sessions to a point of being very pronounced indeed. What I did not see at the time was the way he had entered the reverie as identified with the watch.)

Charles: I have a way of rhythmically batting the side of the chair to keep me going when this is happening. (At this stage Charles sat opposite me. Later, when he used the couch, he spoke of it as having been like an interview. Nor did I see at all clearly his stutter as a possible attack on his thought processes, an adjuvant to his perversion.)

Me: Perhaps when you do that you are holding to an objective line, like the mortgage and moving house, and silencing the inside part of you you can’t allow to be heard. These things may be failures as you say, but they prevent what is interrupting and groping.

Charles (silent and my sense is that this intervention has been interrupted)

Me: It seems unlikely you feel any pleasure in the prospect of your inside being heard.

Charles: That seems a good place to finish until after the break.

Me (thinking): now that he has been successfully battened down by the thought of my absence and the recalcitrant hopelessness of ever being heard. His seeming resignation shows his perverse resignation and introduces his stammer as a silenced protest.)

I want to refer to a more vivid example of his use of projective identification. Following the analysis of the dependable tricky despondency, a period of craziness ensued in which it was difficult to ascertain whose this was. On one occasion, I arrived late to find the centre locked up. Charles was waiting outside. I unlocked the door and, on entering the centre with him, inadvertently set off the alarm. My presence of mind left me. With the clanging in my ears, I used the combination to open the inner door and told Charles to go on up, not thinking that there was another door into the consulting room that would also be locked. As soon as the second door opened the clattering intensity of the alarm doubled., Without knowing that I knew the code to disarm the alarm, I punched it in and to my astonishment the terrifying brouhaha stopped. There were one or two such turbulent events, around this time, sign perhaps of a wilder dimension to Charles’ pathology, which was transferred to me as panic that I hadn’t reckoned with. So here was the terror! Perhaps it was to be detected in his controlled stammer, which, as I say, later broke out in sessions. Something in the scenario seemed close to fragmentation.

Most of these events had to do with time. He was very firm, for instance, in insisting the clock be removed from where he was able to see it. A dimension of external reality was intolerable. He was telling me that his world was in danger of falling apart, perhaps in a very violent way. I was looking at a deadly state of being without beginning or end, internal space in which there was nothing transitional. Yet I sense that my understanding of this was inadequate. It remained in my mind like a solid object or foreign body. I connected it with the story he told me: I think of the dismantled watch.  Is there here ‘an ideograph needed by the psychotic part of the personality for an immediate repair of an ego damaged by… excessive projective identification’ (Bion, 1957, p. 73), namely the internal place that requires time and space to experiment, the disassembled transitional space? The clock has the hostile presence of a part of himself he has cast out (binned).

I took my work with Charles to a supervision group some years ago. The only comment the supervisor made was the laconic observation: ‘Well, we’ll see who is going to die first’. At the time, I felt undermined by this comment. I felt shamed and did not remain lively. It seems to me now that it may have been a parallel process by which I was recapitulating my patient’s deadliness – to ‘grow up and live dying’ as Waddell and Williams (1991) put it – without having identified his buried aspirations to inhabit himself. At the time, I was not enlightened by the supervisor’s enigmatic intervention, and for a while afterwards the attrition continued. I am reminded of Winnicott’s statement to the effect that what matters is to be there, to stay awake, to stay alive – in the face of a commitment to ‘near death’. For someone who has not been conceived of through the metabolising process of a ‘good enough’ mothering, for whom the ‘transitional space’ has not been available, then to return there must constitute a devastating apprehension of who knows what demons, or dread, and as Meltzer sees it, a persecutory terror to be fought against by whatever capitulation may be at a person’s disposal. 

b) Surprise

Winnicott’s concept of transitional space is the area of playfulness. Whereas sadness is stored up, laughter is new and a responses to surprise. This was notably lacking in Charles. Charles hated surprises.

To pick up on this twisting of spontaneity driven by the bullying father and modelled by the joyless mother, I will include here an account Charles gave of a particularly miserable weekend which I will not forget in a hurry and which vividly demonstrates the bitter envy which lies at the core of this family’s dynamic. Daniel had prepared to surprise Charles for his birthday by taking him to Rome for a long weekend. On being presented with this he blew up and made a great fuss. He conveyed the scene to me vividly. Daniel knew ‘full well’ how he hated surprises. This was not the chuntering, which did away with verbal copulae, his tetchy impatience and inertia around communication; this was a more spirited delivery: ‘I told you how I hate surprises and you’ve just gone ahead and done it. You just pay no attention to what I say. You just take everything away from me. You make it your own. I’m sick and tired of it. We may as well finish this right now. It’s just not working,’ etc. (How much unfelt sorrowing is present in this tirade, which usually ends up by ‘finishing’ – with me!). ‘What does it matter? I don’t even know why I bother to tell you!’ He did, however, go to Rome, ‘though not happy one little bit’, and sulked all through the weekend. There was a hint of surprise in his tone when he said, that he had ruined his birthday.

I have thought long and hard about this hatred of surprises, his loyalty to the spoiling of the mother, the transparent attempt on the part of the ‘guilty party’ to gloss over his grievances, the threat to his perverse dedication. The mother is constellated in that whenever he has had some good news to tell her she has effectively poured cold water on it. Her trick is to elicit information such as where he is going on holiday and then complain that she can’t do anything like that, ‘stuck here with your father’. His hurt and disappointment is invoked and a powerful switch away from his own direct pleasure engaged. He cannot walk away from it. Instead, he walks out, but on himself. The father is invoked in that to be surprised by something that might approximate to an intuitive sense of his wish would be as if the father was slipping out of the responsibility for the toll of his past coercions, while he is confronted with his own perverse agency.

Surprise is integral to the exploratory instinct. To be surprised is the essence of maturation, surprised by non-retaliation, or more generally, where the attending other is not available, discovery, in the sense of proto-thoughts or primitive emotions, cannot acquire meaning and return to the unconscious, as inadmissible. In place is the false behavioural mode (placatory or perverse) learned from the mother who turns away in fear and envious resentment from the flowering she herself missed out on as a child, tied to the flattened imago of her own Oedipal triumph. The detail of the latter is to some extent surmise. Her mother was replaced by her father’s ‘wildness’ while the daughter experienced a lack of human dimension in her prize. She envies her own child who might get away from her in the same way; she desires him for her accomplice: a miserable girl like herself.

 In the context of these thoughts  Khan’s argument that idolisation is crucial to the aetiology of perversions seems to me to fit. Thus it is more than a matter of being mother’s accomplice; he is made in her own image. ‘The child was treated by the mother as her “thing-creation” rather than an emergent growing person in his or her own right… The child learns to tolerate this dissociation in his experience of self and gradually turns the mother into his accomplice [my italics] in maintaining this special created object… [and] internalises this idolized self that was the mother’s created thing’ (Khan, 1979, pp.12 – 13). Thus in Charles’ case he is the man-girl object of his own worship who carries within his mother’s buried femininity. Referring back to Birksted-Breen, such non-relational depersonalised survival is heavily dependent on an object choice for which the phallus stands and is inserted into the anus of the intrusive unsuspecting father. The seeming contradiction with Glasser’s statement that the pervert cannot form an identification with difference may be resolved in the sense that the twin poles of yearning for merging and horror of engulfment have been renounced in the false reparative drive. Here is the ‘destruction of sexual truth’ referred to by McDougall (1972,  vide supra).

Present also in his hatred of being surprised is his envy of Daniel as someone who can enjoy being surprised, and who can take pleasure in giving one. In his presentiment of his partner’s capacity for a personal relationship with him is a nameless dread.  Daniel comes from a vibrant Jewish family whose style of relating is abrasive directness, ‘everyone shouting at the same time’ as Charles describes it: their disagreement, he told me, seems to be a healthy tussle which does not threaten relationships but gains recognition for the protagonists. It escalates positively. Classically, disagreement escalates negatively for Charles. That in itself is a source of envy. Daniel’s advice to him: ‘Just be yourself,’ rubs salt in the narcissistic wound.

It was Daniel who courted Charles, long and hard, and underlying this fact is Charles’ resentment that he has been taken over and robbed of a say in the matter, a pretext of so many of the rows that are brought to the therapy. He has no other way of getting out of it than to let time pass and to become distracted by going out cruising. A clue to this cyclical system of recovery I will offer when looking at the clinically perverse nature of Charles’ character.

A final point is the way his mother uses deception under the guise of surprise so that subsequent genuine surprise resonates the outrage.

c) Agency

Before moving on, I wish now to return to the notion of separation and to add another factor in its achievement, namely agency. I chose to use this word to indicate the comparatively liberating move from the resigned position of passivity to the realisation of the active part played by the individual in maintaining the pathological status quo. In bringing the secretive sado-masochistic dynamic of her patient into the work instead of being framed by it, Betty Joseph (op. cit.) attests to an important step forward in the process with a difficult patient like A.

My enquiry now leads me to make a point regarding the priority in this matter. The reclaiming of agency is a step towards separation in that it creates space in which a meeting with the self releases a spirit in which reparative emotion can be felt. This dawning of forgiveness and the move towards letting go still resides on the wrong side of resentment, and these two factors seesaw around the call for justice. These two strands need to be carefully and separately followed, while the tendency to espouse one or the other on the part of the analyst is strong. At the same time separation implies an increasing capacity for the exercise both of reparative urges and of will based on the vade-mecum ‘Live and let live’. The priority, then, is to hold on to a constant flux or oscillation between reactive splitting and reparative mourning, the sense of loss and waste, which can be resolved mentally by accepting Klein’s definition of a position. What I claim is presented over a sustained period in my work with Charles is his move towards and away from depressive and paranoid schizoid anxieties respectively, and not an inveterate state of recidivism. Taking the thought further, agency in the context of this degree of abrogation is an auto da fe.
I want now to turn to anatomising the perverse structure of this patient as a key to his ingrained anti hedonic personality while, incidentally, offering a refracted light on the nature of his homosexuality.



Adumbrating The Perversion          

Down and down I go,
Round and round I go
In a spin, loving the spin that I'm in

Harold Arlen (Hyman Arluck): That Old Black Magic

Deception is a compelling factor in identifying a perverse constellation in Charles. It exists on a conscious level and also as a hidden factor in the espousal of the high ground of business management expertise. According to Estela Welldon’s diagnostic statement deception is intrinsic to perversion: ‘Deception or an imposter-like quality. This is partly responsible for a strong counter-transference response of being alert to the potential dangerous situations of being trapped in “conspiracy” or in collusion with the patient. This results in his/her need to be in complete control and his/her complete incredulity of being loved by anyone, hence the internal need to present as another person in disguise, based on very low self-esteem’ (Welldon, 1996, p. 481). Perhaps my not realising the fear Welldon points to was behind the defeat I felt at the supervisor’s remark, which seemed to register my deadness. So precisely there might lie the ‘interminable’ factor: the subtle projection of the patient’s self-deception into a gullible part of me.

In the same place Welldon outlines what she calls the ‘Circular Motion of Perversion’ in which ego-syntonic states constantly switch to their opposite in a cyclic way. The ego-syntonic state is reached through bizarre arousal, triggered by mounting sexual anxiety, and peaking in the envisaged action, shame, depression and self-disgust promptly ensuing to reinstate the ego-dystonic state, driving the cycle round once again. It is not clear to me what in the context of perversion is meant by a state that is syntonic or dystonic with the ego, since I presuppose the ego to be in disarray through excessive projective identification [2] and am prone to think of the situation as dynamic rather than static. As opposed to the integrity of ego perversion projects a ‘state-of-affairs’ which can be thought of as a simulation, static in the sense of being a closed circle of dynamics and in contrast with the fluidity implied in Klein’s conception of ‘position’ in contradistinction to the static or permanent achievement. In Welldon’s schema the integrity of the ego is implied, but remains in a pending or oscillating state. Jung might place the cycle described as outside of the ego as an autonomous complex. But considering it as a product of ego, perversion is achievement or Pyrrhic victory, a system with its own internal fluidity (or static energy). This formulation once again, and with reference to my use of the metaphor of cycling, poses a question as to the feasibility of separation and the nature of separation in face of such intractable sub-systems or character structures. In addition, Welldon’s claim that sexual anxiety drives the system requires to be examined more closely. Some more comprehensive view of anxiety is called for, which is subsumed, for instance in what Meltzer calls a ‘sexual state of mind’. The solution may take a sexual form in the choice of aim and object, as well as a perverse ‘sexual state of mind’, but the anxiety itself is prior to the process of sexualisation in the formation of the constellation.

Khan speaks rather of ego diffusion and here the circular nature of perversion is linked to the inconsolable situation of having turned away from the possibility of ego integration in face of an insurmountable impasse. The seductive compliance of the perverted couple, although pointed in the direction of cure, is futile, not ‘able to meet and make known the true ego-need  and the latent distress of the pervert. Hence the inconsolability of the pervert, and his addiction to this charade of intimacy’ (Khan, 1979, p. 24).

To amplify this contention I will briefly consider what Mervin Glasser (1986) outlined as the underlying psychodynamic structure of perversion and which he termed the core complex. Here the anxiety has two main foci: the longing to merge in intimacy, which carries the terror of being abandoned and the dread of the consequent annihilating engulfment. Aggression as a primary reaction aimed at negating threat is thus mobilised equally in opposite directions. The sexualisation is a process of trying to resolve this conflict by converting aggression into sadism, the aim of which is to keep the object alive but under the control of the pervert.

In a session just prior to the Easter break in 2003 Charles arrived unmistakably angry. He announced he wanted to stop. He wanted to put his decision down ‘perhaps’ to personalities (his and mine), but admitted this backing off has happened with every one of his close relationships. I felt, and acknowledged, his attack on me. For a moment I saw his glee, quickly followed by tears, then a slump into apathy. His instantaneous pleasure came from a sense of having been met and conceived of; how automatically he had crushed the wary hope it had given rise to. I ended the session confused about the break and had to phone him to correct my mistake. There was one further session left before the break, which I had elided, as it were having accepted his ultimatum. It had indeed been a trouncing I had sustained in face of his perverse escapology.

In the next session, I introduced the dynamic of attack > well being > self-attack > apathy > confusion (robbed of a presence of mind – his, then by projective identification, mine). Irrespective of the precise nature of the attack, a) he brings himself in, there is a real direct engagement resulting in b) pleasure/hope and then c) by acting out sado-masochistically to avoid retribution and double disappointment and d) by projecting his confusion to communicate the loss of thinking space and the panic that ensues on making a move towards me, which, although taking the form of a severance, might also be acknowledged as having something together, (‘personalities’), his ‘use of an object’. The panic is the immediate precursor of a perverse sexual arousal, which can be seen to be the perverting of a transitional space. Ultimately what is attacked is the possibility of containment. The brief squall of tears following the realisation, (i.e. the connection between the urge and the reception of the urge which makes it possible to be thought) resonates the fateful necessity of the perversion of containment.

In this last session before the break, he follows up by recounting a situation at work which indicates a greater sense of the attack (generic) coming not from outside (what people will say, fear of making mistake, etc.), but from inside (a split-off attacker seen as malevolent). He further exemplifies his acting out the dynamic in his account of his visit with his partner to a famous garden and a dispute over a proposed photograph. The point of the story is his loss of momentum as he starts to get into the swing. Once again apathy ensues. This he expresses in a metaphor of balancing on a narrow ledge and freezing. This in turn gives the cue for his perverse desires. He readily agrees with my suggestion of continuing until the summer and reviewing then.
On his return after the break, the stuck situation is reasserted. I point out the many little annoyances he might have experienced in the waiting room on this occasion and which he rarely comments upon, and how his stuck situation may be a way of provoking me by withholding. Subsequently we look at the way coherence breaks up – not able to utter but wanting to, not wanting to be known, but wanting to be. This adumbrates the existence of something which fragments in order to safeguard exposure. I did not think it at the time, but with the tiny glimpse of despair and terror that precedes his descent into apathy, I thought I was seeing what it was that he urgently needed to break up and evacuate. Perhaps another manifestation of this critical edge lies behind the stammer, which had reasserted itself in the sessions. Whatever this something may be, it drives the ingrained resentment he feels at being told what to do, at the same time as preventing his being swallowed up in inertia. My feeling was that there must be clues in his homosexuality to this primitive resolution. To have no initiative conceals a terrifying initiative. He holds his hands to his mouth – what is the unspeakable thing that is held in? It had to exist at the level of unconscious provocation. I think now that I was internally myself closer to the real situation Charles was determined to bring to be named, namely the fog.

A small incident occurred in a later session that indicated his assertiveness had begun to come into the sessions. The room lighting was dim in the fading daylight. He announced he should have said earlier that he found the room too dark and could we put on the lights, as he could not see me. I suggested the Venetian blind, but he moved from his chair to put on the lights. When I acknowledged this he evinced the glee of taking the initiative and of putting me in the passive position (the position of his sexual partner). I say that he is caught in the polarity of having to escape from the humiliation of passivity into the position of control, thus obviating a sense of vulnerable connection. Here perhaps, with the play of dimness and light, is a microcosm of the way perversion cuts through the fog of mutually disowned id forces whereby, according to Bion the emotions of LHK are turned into –LHK (see Sander, p.354).

At the end of the summer term (the time set for our review) he asked for the invoice made up to include the one session in August, something he never does. I asked him to let me know whether he intended coming back. The cheque arrived promptly by post (again a first), but no decision. I have to continue to pay the room rent for the break. I was in two minds about this: wanting him to return as we were far from any satisfactory ending and also disinclined to go on putting in the tiring work ad infinitum. But it seemed clear he was sadistically keeping me alive in order to inflict pain.

He did return. He said it had been good not to have to come and talk about things. But things were not finished. He said nothing about not letting me know. He had a lively tale of his partner’s defection (cruising) and his reactions. Daniel went out late one night and had not returned by the next day. Charles reported his ‘grief’ and a sense of ‘everything having been destroyed’. He was very tempted to ‘pack up and go home’, back to square one. He had initially lied to his friends as to what had happened, but then confessed that he had lied and even seen ‘the funny side’. Daniel came back and Charles took some time to forgive him, presumably enjoying making him squirm. In the light of what had been happening – the threat to stop, the sadistic act of keeping me hanging on, his oblique reference to grief in the interchangeable roles in the desertion scenario – I sensed this man’s extremity and his need for a perverse contrivance.

Thus Anthony Storr, writing about fetishism: ‘The fetish replaces the genital difference between the sexes as a focus of interest. It is thus a triumph of displacement and a triumph of the human imagination’ (Storr, 1964, p. 55). And his remark, later in the same chapter adumbrates Welldon’s cyclic schema: ‘For the fetishist has displaced his desire from an area in which it can be fulfilled to an area in which it cannot’ (p. 57).  He, however, goes astray, by attributing to perversion the status of an idea as opposed to a sensation. To argue that more fully, however, is beyond the scope of this paper. Stoller too speaks of triumph, ‘Every time the perverse act is performed… a triumph is celebrated’ (Stoller, 1975, p. 6f.), but it is clear that he is talking about intense sexual experience: ‘The perversion is the complicated path that threads its way through the dangers to triumphant sexual gratification’ (p. 117).  

In the perverse act the trauma is rubbed out and turned into pleasure and victory, yet the trauma is never thus finally escaped, and wreaking revenge and the prospect of orgasm assure constant repetition. Chassguet-Smirgel puts it another way, referring to ‘perverts, those beings who have the quite enviable faculty of creating an artful universe’ (Chassguet-Smirgel, 1985, p. 66). ‘The work thus created will symbolise the phallus, the gap in identity being likened to castration. Despite being unable to identify with his father, the subject will be led to create; yet, instead of begetting his work, he will fabricate it. This work does not obey the principle of filiation’ (p. 70). This is evinced in Charles’ ingrained sense that his professional life is a matter of ‘going through the motions’, an indirect reference to defecating. Chassguet-Smirgel points to dependence on another (whole) object as the source of goodness and places this in opposition to omnipotence where the demand to accommodate difference leads to violence. It is noticeable how often Charles comes to the point of expressing the worst outcome of a given situation as losing control. The significant sexual object of perversion, in Charles’ case, the anonymous anal act, is effective in obliterating the unbearable dependence, so shadowed by grievance, obstructing its emergence into consciousness as catastrophe on a faint prayer it may be metabolised. It would seem heady stuff, the pervert’s resort to being able to short-cut to the ‘ego-syntonic’ (Welldon, 1996) state, a symbol a fortiori of control that would indeed be hard to dislodge. The cyclic nature of the perverse structure as here outlined underlies the recidivism which is such a feature of this case.  Birksted-Breen suggests that the serial destruction of the analytical process is akin to making a ‘bulimic mess’. ‘Material suggested a close connection between vomiting and faecal soiling, and a faecal representation of the father’s penis, and I understand the anal attacks as interfering with the introjection of a good penis’ (Birksted-Breen, 1996, p. 654). Here, the convulsive act of getting shot off is brought together with the besmearing (exultant buggering) of the father as a pastiche of containment.

But another solution on the part of this patient which chimes with Glasser’s account is that his removal of himself from the scene – ‘I don’t have to put up with this’, ‘I don’t know why I bother’, ‘I’m sick and tired of the whole thing’, ‘I’ve just had it, up to here’ – is realised as a state of exile and being ‘back at square one’ – self-abandonment and worthlessness as a preferred posture to the disastrous humiliations of dependence. This, Glasser explains, is in turn sexualised into masochism: ‘the aggression directed towards the self is converted into masochism and the object is retrieved and engaged with by what we may call the “masochistic invitation”’ (Glasser, 1986, p. 10), a notion referred to above in Betty Joseph’s account.

I am thinking of sexualisation here in two ways, one as a conversion of panic raised by the dread of intense pain into sexual excitement. Both stimulus and reaction share the characteristic of loss of mind. The second angle is that, by the process of sexualising, the delusional substitute, whereby loss is foreclosed upon, and prevented from registering in mind, is planted in the organism. In turn this substitution is a source of paranoia so that the scene in which the perversion is enacted has to be fled from by a metaphoric ritualistic act of ablution. Some plausibility is given hereby by Freud’s observation: ‘It has also been maintained that every pain contains in itself the possibility of a feeling of pleasure’ (Freud, 1905, p.72). According to Freud, masochism is present in all perversion.  As I see it, the masochistic impulse is present in disgust smuggled into the attractiveness of the object and which drives inter-personal reactions designed to be destructive of the development of relationship. It does not follow that pleasure is present in this primary masochism. ‘Pain, which is overridden in such cases, thus falls into line with disgust and shame as a force that stands in opposition and resistance to the libido’ (ibid.). Anticipation of pain and pleasure meld in the perverse drive. Jealousy is a masochistic manoeuvre and registers a low-level panic and loss of mind, which is annexed by excitement when transferred to the alternative object of aberration, which is totally under the subject’s control. Intense panic is destructive of pleasure and has to be replaced by the alternative excitement, that is, sexualised. Out of necessity inherent in the system, entry into the imagination of more positive cycles of pleasure is precluded. What Glasser is outlining is cyclic: ‘The intense separation and abandonment anxiety and the misery of deprivation prompt longings for a complete and indissoluble union with the object and we can thus observe that this aspect of the core complex has the quality of a vicious circle”  (Glasser, 1986, p.10).

For all that, the process of sexualising whereby the object of desire is irrevocably switched remains a mystery. It is a term that is implicitly denied by the exponents of perversion who are likely to see themselves as the aesthetes of sensuality, as though it derived from the id. But what is involved is that the component of longing, which is the bedrock of the mother-baby territory, namely touch, and which as a given, opens seriatim all the systems including sexual arousal, as a potential difference, is referred to an object other than the primary maturational target. The same language as can be encountered in a song addressed to the one who is courted: ‘Can’t take my eyes of you’ (see Frankie Valli, 1967) becomes relevant in the context of this replacement: ‘You’d be like heaven to touch’. Sexualisation is a convulsive act of tearing away from and subverting of the rigours of the maturational process as well as preserving it in aspic. Khan suggests as much when he talks of ‘the great hazard of the analytical cure of a pervert’s self-cure’ (Khan, 1979, p. 176). The relationship between the subject and object in perversion encapsulates an inadmissible bliss. It, however, obviates the process of projective identification for the purpose of inchoate communication with a metabolising object and perhaps also embodies a severe threat to a recourse to intrusive identification and the horrors of being back inside, held in the unconscious as a journey to hell. The timidity of the fetishist, for example, of which Storr speaks – ‘the reassurance which the fetish gives, and the way in which it enables a man who is frightened of the opposite sex and uncertain of his masculine potency to overcome his fears’ (Storr, 1964, p. 54) – is not, as Storr seems to suggest, primary, but a concomitant of the infantile conjuring trick; the two come into being simultaneously. 

When we go on to consider Glasser’s statements regarding identification we come across the argument that simulation is primary in the perverse structure. To my mind this gives further credence to the profound intractability I experience in the work with Charles. Identification is taken here to mean not simply something empathetic, but a permanent act of ‘making an identification with’ in which the subject modifies his self-representation permanently. Where the core complex has been established in the personality, identification becomes impossible, as it would mean being locked in so that, instead of being enhancing, it would be experienced as something invasive and possessive. The alternative is simulation.

In their paper Margot Waddell and Gianna Williams write about the ‘slaughter of truth’ in the course of clinical material they present of a young boy who ‘was enslaved to an anti-developmental alliance with a destructive part of the self that he idealised’ (Waddell and Williams, 1991, p. 203). Though not concerned in their paper with the causal links to the perverse states of mind, they do in passing suggest: ‘His mother’s severe puerperal depression might have contributed to his turning away from a dependent relationship and towards a very dubious source of protection’ (ibid.).  In their last paragraph the authors invoke the declaration from Macbeth:  ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ this ‘mode of inversion and distortion’ which ‘crystallizes into the hardcore perversity of the little child’s aspiration to “grow up and live dying”’ (p. 212).

Glasser (1986) in attributing the aetiology of perversity to the relationship with the mother tends to follow Winnicott’s notion of impingement leading to the formation of the ‘false self’. By saying that the pervert is unable to identify in the strict sense, resorting instead to simulation, Glasser points to a failure of conception. The infant, having been conceived, has not been conceived of; though held in the womb, he is not held in mind. Chassguet-Smirgel (1984, p. 69) makes a similar point specifically in the failure of the pervert to idealise father as a basis of a healthy super-ego development, instead cathecting pre-Oedipal imagos.  For Winnicott, meaning is created through the attendance of the ‘good-enough mother’ in her ‘maternal preoccupation’, the impulse broker. She attends the ebb and flow of her infant’s instinctual demands in the emotionally roused state and in the quiet states when she endures the ennui in which the child is thus able to await the dawning of desire. Where the mother uses the infant for her own narcissistic needs, an alternative structure is formed based on expectations (cf. simulation). Winnicott poses a stepped failure of maternal preoccupation as ushering in awareness and tolerance of the not-me, and the manageable collapse of omnipotence, through the transitional object. Plausible is the kinship of the transitional object to the fetish, yet not thought through (vide supra Meltzer 1973, p. 108), and Khan: ‘I began to see that one of the unmistakable features of the chosen and found sexual object was its potentiality and talent to play the part of an as-if transitional object’ Khan, 1979, p. 14). The perversion of the potential space is in the ‘as-if’.

Glasser  (1986) proposes this moment of unmanageable separation as the point of departure for the founding of his core complex, in Winnicott’s terms, the undermining of the capacity to be alone in the presence of the mother. The genesis of the ensuing dedication to falsity is explained by Glasser as the conflict set up by a longing for merging with mother as a way of overcoming all anxieties for good and all, and at the same time, and because the innate drive is towards separation, a terror of that merging which signals annihilation of individuality. Simulation then becomes the pseudo identification by means of which, through the exigencies of the perverse sexual act, and indeed as a means of trimming to tight spots in general, the blessed state is adopted and the merged state shuffled off before engulfment intervenes. Glasser gives examples from the testimony of transvestites whereby the subject, by dressing in particular female garments, puts on, gets inside, the mother. He merges with the mother, thus putting off the separation anxiety that makes him impotent, enabling him to achieve potency, while his erection asserts his separation as a man, and rival to the father and, in orgasm he pulls of a coup, namely that of simulated merging and difference at a single stroke, after which he divests himself of her cloying closeness and returns to being male, while maintaining his resort as he becomes increasingly aware once again of his precedent state of premature separation and incapacity to be alone in the presence of the mother. It is loss either way that has been sexualised.

My experience of Charles is of someone who can put on the mantle of relationship, use the ‘technique of intimacy’ (Khan, 1979, pp. 20 –27) and simulate difference. For a significant period at the start of the therapy he did not use the first person, but spoke of himself as ‘one’ and never introduced anyone by name. His own internal reality is represented in a fantasy of the empty streets in which he wanders in search of strangers with whom to have sex. Following the Easter break in 2003 he returned from a trip home to Tasmania with a sense of disconnection at home to where, in the UK, there was nothing for him. I said that I sensed the futility of communicating in such a void. When I said this he seemed to come alive. He has no conversation with his sexual accomplices who remain almost as garments he puts on and takes off. After the act of anal sex he feels better having the illusion of having, for the time being, slain the incubus.

Charles reported a dream of being in the long corridorof a particular hotel lined on both sides by identical doors. Behind each door is a man with whom he has had sex. The strategy of the transvestite may be clear, but mutatis mutandis, it would be difficult to itemise precisely the fantasy that drives Charles in his cruising. Clearly it is part of his Oedipal triumph, but to know more about this it will be necessary to look more closely into the role the mother has played in the formation of her boy’s pathology.

However, the endemic anal characteristic of perversion is encapsulated in Chassguet-Smirgel’s term the ‘anal universe’: ‘to reduce the universe to faeces, or rather to annihilate the world of differences (the genital universe) and put in its place the anal universe in which all particles are equal and interchangeable’ (Chassguet-Smirgel, 1985, p. 4). ‘The abolition of differences prevents psychic suffering at all levels: feelings of inadequacy, castration, loss, absence and death’ (ibid.). Considering that an early theme in the therapy was his claim that criticism was familiar, praise unwelcome; the overriding sense of  ‘being crap’ constituted for him a panicky state that drives out presence of mind, the application to Charles’ perversity seems clear. To recall Welldon’s model, the mounting ‘dystonic state’ triggers a loss of mind and a headlong rush into the bizarre magic act. A persistent image which cropped up in the few dreams he said to me he remembered was of a super-heated boiler, a great red hot object which was approaching the point of explosion and which he had to run from in terror. Fleeing he finds himself in a dead landscape. Balance this with the oft-recurring image in sessions when his uneasy silence contains the image of the empty streets. Another dream image, which chimes with his fear of flying, is the plane crash, anticipated or actual, in dream imagery where, for instance, the family survive, but there is no glad reunion; they go their separate ways with no acknowledgement of one another.

The perverse acting out brings him up against the blighted internal state which necessitates his simulation, however bizarre or indistinct it remains for me, of a dismantled object (= ‘this dismantling of a common sense object into a host of unisensual ones seems to preclude introjection and allows only for apprehension of an immediate sensual event’ (Meltzer, 1973, p. 108)). The force of Charles’ recalcitrance towards treatment can be credited in this context, that is, as Meltzer concludes, ‘The difficulty resides in the degradation of the emotionality from love to sensuality’ (p. 109). His point here is germane to the rigours of the approach to the depressive position, namely that reassembly of the ‘unisensual assortment no longer equals the whole in value… These dismantled objects are “devalued” and not worth protecting from further sadistic attack by bad parts of the self’ (ibid.). What the atomising of the simulation in Charles’ case might reveal is beyond the scope of this paper and, perhaps, too, of this therapy. To my mind, it certainly bears on the problem of the genesis of Charles’ homosexuality as to whether it was an object choice in Freud’s sense of the infant’s polymorphous perversity, that is, having its origins in the id, or whether a sexual state of mind determined by the family dynamics. But I consider Meltzer makes a cogent point about intrusiveness when he writes in the context of Adult Polymorphous Sexuality, ‘The analyst need never worry about the content of information being withheld by the patient regarding his sexual behaviour, since the moment such withholding takes place the content itself is no longer to the point: the behaviour of withholding itself needs to be the focus of investigation’ (p. 83).

 In a profession such as his that requires exceptional degrees of business acumen, discrimination, particular caution and clear judgement, in making things happen his confusion over trust and his projected aggression would be anything but an asset, while the role offers a supremely plausible though dangerous cover. ‘All people in my position were bullied as children’, he announced in complaining about a senior member of the board. His constant dissatisfaction with, and deprecating of, the job again shifts the consciousness of the source in his inner world. But losing presence of mind, when considering the perverse strategy, is a necessary prerequisite of the synthetic at-one-ment with the superseding object, however it is to be envisaged.

He told me in a session recently that Daniel had suggested he bring to therapy his persistent unhappiness with his job and the sense of being bullied and overworked. He dismissed his interest in his profession in the usual phrase: ‘It’s all a mess’, ‘I just feel like walking out’ and ‘Oh, I don’t know’. In using the latter he conveys effectively that he is also walking out of an engagement with the issue and with me and that there is a serious obstacle entailed in the making of meaning. He evacuates his helplessness into me and thereby gains a costly agency. I interpret accordingly, and say this is a pseudo helplessness by which he inflicts helplessness on Daniel, his parents’ concern and on me. I suggest to him that this is an attack on his own thinking and that this seems to serve twin purposes. It exacts vengeance, as to help himself would be to let the others off the hook. At the same time, to own his helplessness threatens the crucial status of his resort by bringing interest and thought to bear. The most effective thing is to clear the scene for the empty streets and the secret thrills that await him there. He replies thoughtfully and describes the short-term gains of losing his mind in cruising. But he concludes, ‘I do not have the capacity’. I say that it is not his evident intelligence that is at fault, but his incapacity to have and name the feelings that make the attack on his intelligence necessary. Here I am thinking of the terror of the killing and dismantling that has taken place in his inner world, which makes any invitation to agency seem to be a trick, a ruse to rob him of his last resort and which would constitute an indictment of ‘murder’.

The stone mother

a) Trick or treat.

I return to the incident I mentioned above when the possibility dawned on me of my patient’s perverse structure. This took place in the family home when Charles was a schoolboy. During the holidays he had been taking part in rehearsals for a local ballet company. His mother had driven him to rehearsals one weekend only to find that the theatre was dark. On their return his father berated his wife for encouraging his son in such unmanly pursuits. The boy was present at the altercation and witnessed his father physically assault his wife. This he declared to have been the worst moment of his life. He felt powerless to rescue his mother and full of hatred for his father. In addition he felt that he was the cause of the brutality. During the scene Charles and his sisters retired to another room in distress. After a bit, the father came in and assured them that nothing had happened and that they were to get their coats on as they were going to the football match. Charles hadn’t the slightest interest in football, but there and then he decided that henceforth he would do exactly as the father suggested, nursing the deadly secret that not an ounce of enjoyment or satisfaction would accrue for himself.
It represented an act of swearing the reversal of truth. This decision gave him a dark pleasure. It aligned him with the mother’s character as trickster, allied to her underlying misery, as well as his finding in it a way of dealing with the guilt of seeing his existence and propensities to be the cause of the parental strife. His mother furthered the cause of her son’s effeminate interests in a subterfuge to create an alternative male in her son for herself as opposed to the narrow culturally defined masculinity of her husband, and that of her own father. It was as if in doing so the mother was creating in herself a hermaphrodite relationship in which male and female existed in her inner life as fused. Failing to protect his mother from the masculine fed his secret allegiance to her misery by a pseudo identification with the spoiler, akin to a sulk, by which, at the expense of his gender identity, he sought reinstatement as the mother’s champion and darling, which was now closed to him because of her narcissistic hermaphroditism. In all his stories, right up to the present, of how she succeeds in putting a damper on her son’s endeavours, the news of which was supposed to give her pleasure, she comes over as that person in Burns’ sketch of Tam’s wife in his epic poem ‘TamO’Shanter’ (Robert Burns, 1792, p. 413): ‘Where sits our sulky, sullen dame, / Gathering her brows like gathering storm, / Nursing her wrath to keep it warm’. Charles is his mother’s gauleiter. He is loyal to her an-hedonic spoiling. He carries on her scorched earth policy. Winnicott, thinking about ‘false reparation’ writes, ‘Watching many of these cases continuously over periods of ten or even twenty years I have been able to see that the depression of the child can be the mother’s depression as an escape from his or her own; this provides a false restitution and reparation in relation to the mother, and this hampers the development of a personal restitution capacity because the restitution does not relate to the child’s own guilt sense’ (Winnicott, 1948, p. 92). And Khan, building on this thinking of Winnicott’s sees in the insatiable nature of the sexual practice of perversion a mirror of the inconsolable mother (see Khan 1979, p.16). [3] What Khan says in the course of expounding his notion of the pervert’s ‘technique of intimacy’ might very well apply firstly to the mother’s seduction of her infant: ‘Through this technique another object is appealed to, involved, seduced and coerced to share in the enactment of the developmental arrest and cumulative trauma resulting in identity diffusion which constitutes this infantile neurosis’ (p. 20).

On the question of homosexuality Berliner writes, ‘Socarides insists that the condition is entirely psychogenic, not innate’, and quotes Socarides (1968) as follows: ‘“There is no connection between sexual instinct and the choice of sexual object. Such an object choice is learned, acquired behavior; there is no inevitable genetic or hormonal inborn propensity”’  (Berliner, 1971). Socarides sees the genesis of homosexuality as occurring during the preoedipal stage of the boy's personality formation, and caused by a controlling mother who prevents her son from separating from her, and a weak or rejecting father who does not serve as a role model for his son and does not support what Socarides perceived as a son's effort to escape from the mother (see Socarides, 1988). In this case, the mother is masochistically in charge (witness the violent reaction of the father to her goading). She is the model of power in her an-hedonic mode and its tricksy pleasures.

Thus a secret loyalty was formed and a potent, but profoundly perverse, Oedipal triumph was achieved, to use a phrase from Waddell and Williams, by ‘creeping in by back passages’ (Waddell and Williams, 1991, p. 211). Not only had he triumphed over his father, but also by accepting his mother’s fusion into himself while railing against her trickery, he had headed off the way to future degradation by making of it a fetish. As MacDougall writes, ‘The perverse scenario and its enactment may serve as a mask to disguise sexual truth as well as being a container for the rage, mortification, and violently destructive impulses aroused by the child’s discovery of parental “treachery”’ (MacDougall, 1990, p. 188). It may also be that the mode, not the fact, of his homosexuality, was sealed at that moment. As a result, however, the sheltering sky, the heritage of the successful navigation of the Oedipus complex was relinquished and, in these sessions, relentlessly and bitterly rued. The fact of his perceiving his parents as different from those of his two sisters may reflect this severe deficit. He consistently expresses contempt for his parents and resolves to cut himself off from them for good and all. This is the attempt to fuse the situation and make himself impenetrable. The role of anal penetration remains to be explored in the light of this.

Charles characteristically gives a plausible impression of collaborating while building within me a long-suffering low-level frustration and the uneasy sense of being repetitive. This would seem to replicate the perverse relationship with his father, but with the mother also. David Taylor says of a patient of his, ‘Such work as did take place “did not mean much”. Neither did the patient mean much. From another angle, however, Mr A could be regarded as projecting most vividly the nature of his internal world… in the revival of a mother-child relationship in which powerful and effective communication cannot take place’ (Taylor, 1997, p. 71). The frequent sense I have of repeating myself is held at bay by the impression that I am fertile in my imagination so that sufficiently long cycles are set up as to obviate my recall of the last time I gave just such an interpretation. In this I see a parallel process. His ready facile agreement gives me to understand that by evoking from me an interpretation by means of protracted refusal to come out of his uneasy silent mode, functions as a plausible therapy where the actual therapeutic engagement ‘stops at the door’ (Michael Sinason, personal communication). It serves to fill gaps in a pseudo-conversation. It is a perversion of transitional space, precisely in the act of robbery he contrives. This withholding takes the form of whispered words and broken sentences and thus he keeps me hanging on. His demands are not memorable. Accounts of outbursts are a frequent part of his retrieval, by which he separates me off and keeps me good, while much of his aggression in sessions is projected into me so that I have to monitor a feeling of wanting to beat it out of him, as I strain forward to hear. He digs in his heels. Robbed of the pleasurable and the meaningful he robs me of the satisfaction, of effectiveness and the gratification of cooperation. He appears to take in, but the real pleasure is in evacuating, the perverse shitting and in catching me unawares. Here again is the enactment of his mother’s ‘trick or treat’, a form of turning the tables, a salient feature of his legend of his mother, while my counter-transference is to be set at nought, occluded by my reactive need to be even more accurate, freshly significant each time and to round off the session by ‘hitting the nail on the head’ – a dangerous occlusion and a pseudo-therapy by projective identification (see Fay Carey, 2007), a treadmill – ‘We’ll just have to see who dies first!’

The petrification of the mother is in part due to the impingement of the father, Charles’ father, and the father of the mother. The latter’s reputed philandering left Charles’ maternal grandmother to mourn in a big empty house when the daughter who was to become Charles’ mother was but thirteen. In a very recent session, in the course of our reverie on his having taken on this dedication to misery, he said, ‘I’m trying to imagine what would happen if that big old house were to be knocked down and something else built on the site.’

This paternal impingement constitutes a significant flaw in the smooth execution of the Oedipal destiny. The mother is displaced and petrified by her male imago. The father, instead of sheltering the maternally preoccupied mother, guarding the orifices, takes over. The flaw, thus, is father-represented, and the consequent delusion is the phallic break-in, sexualised in the form of anal penetration. This move gathers together perverse vengeance, placatory gestures (object choice) and identification with the gelder (present in my counter-transference as my being impotent as therapist). As Freud writes, ‘the sexual instinct goes to astonishing lengths in successfully overriding the resistances of shame, disgust, horror or pain’ (Freud, 1905, p. 74).

b) Vive la difference

Before returning to the theme of separation with which I set out, perhaps optimistically, I will now turn to some further thoughts on my patient’s homosexuality. An initial suggestive idea is that, if homosexuality is a denial of difference, in this case that of the sexes, its genesis, in the case of this patient, may be looked for in his simulation of the fused parental object. In Stoller’s terms, it is sexuality itself that is hijacked. Here, the apparent paradox is that this is a definition of sexualisation. I would want to use the word ‘appropriated’. The notion I have of a fused parental object implies a primitive Oedipal object absorbing any good maternal parts and impenetrable to the child. As such it obviates the fantasy of parental coitus, but is the prototype of envy and jealousy. Thereafter, the mother remains dangerously deceptive and, as such, lethal to a straight desire in her direction. Stoller’s hypothesises that a perversion is a reliving of a historical trauma ‘aimed at one’s sex or gender identity’ is interesting here. ‘Perversion arises as a way of coping with threats to one’s gender identity’ (Stoller, 1964, p. xii). [4]  Charles’ homoerotic anal practice can be seen to give him access to the delusional  parental coitus as a participant, pointed both ways.

In considering this issue, I would refer to the work of Chassguet-Smirgel (1985) and in particular her chapter ‘A Psychoanalytic Study of  “Falsehood”’. I will also consider Meltzer’s (1973) observations in the chapter ‘The Fetishistic Plaything of  Sexual Perversions’.

Steiner makes the following summation: ‘The misrepresentation of reality in perversion is mentioned by Gillespie (1964), but it remains for the French analysts, especially Chassguet-Smirgel (1974, 1981, 1985) and McDougall (1972), to give it a central place in the study of perversion. They discuss the pervert’s relation to reality, in particular the reality of the difference between the sexes and between the generations, and argue that a perverse reality is created in which this reality is misrepresented and distorted’ (Steiner, 1993, p. 90).

A couple of definitions of ‘perverse’ from the Oxford English Dictionary cited by John Steiner (1993, p. 89): ‘obstinate and persistent in what is wrong’ and: ‘disposed to be obstinately contrary to what is true or good’. Both apply to the general tenor of Charles’ self-presentation and the source of my counter-transference of frustration. Steiner amplifies (ibid.): ‘Secondly, there is a suggestion, at least in the transitive verb “to pervert”, that someone is perverted, led astray, or corrupted by an agency working against what is true and right.’ Steiner intends this to indicate the installation of an internal organisation acting like a protection racket, bent on keeping the good objects enslaved and making escape impossible. I am reminded of Charles’ persistent image of pushing to open a blocked door while something malevolent is pushing to get out. Meltzer rather turns this priority around attributing the setting up of such an internal Mafia as a means of allaying a primitive terrorising identification. In his chapter  ‘Terror, Persecution and Dread’, he writes: ‘An illusion of safety is promulgated by the omniscience of the destructive part and perpetuated by the sense of omnipotence generated by the perversion… the essential hold over the submissive part of the self is by way of the dread of loss of protection against the terror’ (Meltzer, 1973, p. 105).  But the tyrannical addictive part is also a two-edged sword and is also dreaded: ‘Where a dread of loss of an addictive relation to a tyrant is found in psychic structure, the problem of terror will be found at its core, as the force behind the dread and the submission’ (p. 106).  If, as he concludes (p. 149), the buried guilt of having murdered is what terrorises and thus generates the perversion with its addictive activity, it is the dead who won’t lie down that haunt. He goes further to see these ‘dead objects’ as  ‘the internal mother’s inside babies’ (ibid.).

The picture built up by Charles of a sensitive and highly intelligent boy enduring the pressures of the flattened masculinity of a brutalised father and the tricky narcissistic and seductive misery of the mother incline me to the view that his homosexuality was not born but made. What then is it that is pushing to get out in his fantasy of the door? Something sensed to be malevolent? And what is the significance of that notable observation he made recently when he spoke of his childhood fantasy that he and his sisters were different families, that the mother and father of his sisters were different individuals from his parents? And in view of the fact that he was the outcome of an unwanted pregnancy, does the terror lie in his psychic suicide? 

The sense of the doing away with himself inside the body of his internalised mother seems present in a recent session, where Charles spoke of  ‘being bullied’ by an associate director in his firm, as mentioned above. His usual reaction was to resist, to refuse, but not to feel he had kept his end up. The sense of having been humiliated rankled so that he was all set to walk out, but was left without knowing what his response should have been. He shored up this unpleasantness by reinforcing the rightness of his refusal to comply while being worried about what others would think and what the repercussions might be. There was a hint of the masochism in his statement that part of him does not mind. He also said that another part wants to enter the fight, but he wasn’t going to. And he winds up by minimising it: ‘We are just talking; it is a trivial matter anyway.’ I said in response to this that I thought it was the fact that he can be humiliated, that he allowed it and identified himself as a soft mark that rankled. He replied, ‘I can’t process it.’ It was by means of this masochistic script that what was impossible to bring into mind to be processed was the heinous quality of his fantasised revenge and the consequent despair. That is what gets dealt with by being sexualised. And further, Charles’ vow that the father’s line would not be carried on through him. ‘Perhaps that is why I am gay’, he said in a petulant tone as if to say, ‘So there!’ Charles’ expulsion of his gender identity, his act of ego diffusion, as Khan calls it can be thought of as an intrusive identification, though perhaps not so much into the fantasised interior of his mother, or if so, as a hidden spy-cum-participant in the impenetrable. He has managed to unpick the glue and slide himself unseen into the middle. This is the source of his inconsolable non-procreative sexuality. And by that means the buck stops with him. And in this thought lies a kernel of hope. Perhaps also the delusional thinking that his sisters have different parents from his derives from that self-destructive dedication to finalising things.

 The Threshold of the Depressive Position

‘True reparative activity itself is a process resulting from introjective identification with the reparative activities (coitus) of the internal objects’  (Meltzer, 1973, p. 107). What I have presented above might indicate that I have moved from an unrealistic optimism to adopting a fairly bleak lookout. The entrenched position of Charles’ perversity acted out in a homosexual routine devoid of filiation, and which is titillated by an implacable and only partially dissimulated hatred, is at the root of his recidivism. Meltzer refers to the entry of the malevolent, and Chassguet-Smirgel to the pretence ‘to obey the principle of filiation’. She writes, although this may be seen to beg a question as to the nature of evil: ‘…the false is situated beyond any natural continuity, though it tries to make us believe it is an organic link in a chain. In other words, it pretends to obey the principle of filiation’ (Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985, p. 68). In Charles’ case there would seem to be no such pretence, yet I see in this, as I have said above, a commitment to eugenic prophylaxis against the diseased heredity going any further. There is a future if not for him. Surely in this is something essential to a depressive position, in which the grievance with respect to Oedipal loss is renounced..

It may well have been a feature in the primitive dismantling of anything worth salvaging from the parental gang, that a preservation of that element (of filiation) was attempted, but that the mincing involved amounts to a permanent destruction, a blighted inner child-parent relationship. Yet we have never come to the outright declaration: ‘Leave me alone’. He has come close to it, but has not taken the fatal step to go it alone. But to begin to allow the parents at last to be together and to get on with what is left to him, in the consciousness of the loss and of all that has been irrevocably spoiled in time is to raise the shadow that is present in his oft-repeated attack on the therapy as ‘a complete waste of time’, namely severe depressive anxiety.

Writing about a character structure based on ‘anal masturbation’ (see note [1]), Meltzer considers a situation of progress that I find helpful at this point.

‘Where the organisation is less dominant and pervasive, or during analysis when it begins to give way to the therapeutic process, it stands in an oscillatory relation to an obsessional organisation. There the internal objects are not penetrated, but are rather omnipotently controlled and separated on a less part-object level of relationship, as the focal difficulties have moved from separation anxieties towards the previously bypassed oedipal conflicts’ (Meltzer, 1965, p. 105).

We are in the territory of the seeming impasse of ‘geographical confusions’, about which Meltzer writes: ‘The analyst who can hold on, while managing the technical problems so as not to seem to compound the delinquency towards the parents, will succeed’ (Meltzer, 1992, p. 41, originally in The Psychoanalytical Process, 1967, p. 22).

I want now simply to list the glimmers of an approach to the depressive position, evinced in the later stages of this therapy, at the same time as my having been disabused of many illusions along the way.

First, then, there was an occasion after he was living with Daniel, when quite unexpectedly, he met a handsome young man from his past. It was to Charles as if this was a visitation from the outer atmosphere; he was overwhelmed with a sense of how much of his life had been passed without having been lived. The fact that this may point to his homosexuality arising from the id remains on one side. It is his sustaining the sense of loss that is important.

Then there was a tearful session when he spoke of having gone to the theatre and wept throughout, an occasion I mentioned above. Here it was his betrayal of himself that he felt acutely. Later he spoke of the theatre as a ‘dark room’ (or darkroom) in which a treasure has been kept safe yet was too hidden away to get at. It remained as an undeveloped film. The Jungian retort was constellated.

I was all too surprised when he evinced a capacity for empathy. There was the evening he told me about when he was in conversation with a female friend and along came Daniel with some friends. His impulse was to freeze them out, but then he said he knew how it was to feel excluded and he welcomed them and was all right with that.

There have been reported incidents of a genuine sense of loss when friends have died.

Concern is one possible strand of his identification with the mentally defective uncle who has been incarcerated in a home for most of his life. This is his father’s brother who, by parental stricture, must not be referred to. The conflict present in his wish to break the family conspiracy of silence and go there argues that the image functions as identifying with an imprisonment within his internal objects.

‘I would enumerate five potential spaces in the geography of the mind which may become actual, in the sense of the concreteness of psychic reality during personality development, healthy or pathological’ (Meltzer, 1970, p. 178). The first of these is ‘the space inside internal objects’ (ibid.).

According to Glasser, ‘identifying with’ is a temporary, reversible, putting oneself in the place of the object, or vice versa: it implies the recognition of something in common as opposed to ‘making an identification with’ where the distinction is ‘difference – something in the environment the subject does not have’ where that aspect is incorporated permanently (see Glasser, 1986, p.12). I wonder if the uncle isn’t the seed of the latter process, something that can be spoken of.

Very early on in the therapy, Charles in his diatribe against his father’s impatient attempts to train his son in manly pursuits, told me how he refused to learn anything from him. He was, for example, he said, unable to balance a bicycle as long as his father was present with his hand on the saddle. As soon as his father gave up on him, he was able to do it.

However complex, it may well be that Daniel constitutes a good object. For all the discord between the pair of them – Charles feeling himself controlled and threatening to walk out – and in spite of the crucial role of his cruising, he declares ‘I love Daniel, I suppose, Yes, I do. I can be at rest in his company’.

When he gets up from the couch to leave, in spite of having been in the doldrums, he will, nine times out of ten, smile at me. This smile that I have often thought of as snapping out of everything, or as a sign of his secret triumph over me, I do often feel signals of a genuine alliance. And although I have felt for long periods put through the mill and made to doubt myself, I feel warmth for this man, which has not always been the case with people I have worked with over the fifteen years I have been practising.
One day, greatly pleased with himself, he told me he had purchased a bicycle, and despite Daniel’s seeking to prevail over his object choice, he went for the one he wanted. This was an expensive machine, which was not long afterwards stolen. But undaunted, he bought another bicycle, this time not as expensive a one and therefore less of a temptation to thieves. He rides to his sessions, and takes part in marathon cycle expeditions. Last summer he rode with a friend down the east coast of America and a charity tour on the Continent was planned for later that year. Thus he separates himself from the controlling hand of his father. One day when cycling from a session he witnessed a cyclist mown down by a lorry. He dismounted and went over and cradled the man’s head. ‘For a moment, I saw a human being with his head inches from the huge wheel,’ he said.

Some time ago he told me he had gone for a long cycle run on his own. He had started with a particular destination in mind and with help from a friend had worked out his route to get there. Things did not turn out as planned, and he became lost and furious with himself and with whoever it was had helped him plan the route. It took him some time to realise that he was gaining much more than he might have had he gone in a straight line and returned having completed what he had set himself. Before the end of the day he had decided that what he had intended had been meaningless by comparison with his experience of getting lost.

The contempt and bitter recrimination of his flesh and blood parents continues. Yet of late a provisional space has been made, initially in the spirit of having nothing to do with them, refusing to get hooked in, and from time to time a hint of his making allowances for them. He is not a lost soul. He is intelligent and a viable professional, although the subjective sense of its meaninglessness is balanced by the collective approval of its reparative value. He has maintained a long-term relationship. He comes to therapy. And working more and more in the transference, I sense we are in dialogue and feel more that a spirit of collaboration to be present. I prick up my ears when I catch an authentic sound of the man and a moment of responsiveness is acknowledged between us.

A recent session began in the old way with the chuntering, whispered half sentences, which evince the usual dis-ease about being there. He emerged from this to ask, ‘How can I live with constantly making myself a victim?’
‘How?’ I said, ‘or why?’ It was ‘how’. ‘Do you know the answer yourself?’ I wondered, was he saying it was intolerable? Was this another trick? ‘Could it be because the alternative is worse?’
There was silence. Then he spoke up in a different voice, though still wanting to say it was beside the point. He told me that at the weekend he had been at a dinner party with Daniel and a few friends. The hostess produced some ‘little thing’ and handed it to one of the female guests, Tessa, saying she thought it would be of interest to her. She took it from the hostess and began to examine it. Daniel who was sitting opposite stretched out to grab it. Tessa withheld it, keeping it out of Daniel’s reach and continuing to observe it to the point of her being able to explain that is was an old piece of medical equipment into which glass slides would have been inserted. It struck Charles that, had he been in Tessa’s position, in spite of feeling angry with Daniel, he would have given it up. I said I thought it was anger with himself when he imagined backing down. ‘In the same way, you give away your misplaced guilt at having been born. But it is also a penance.’ It was the first time I had used that word in a session. Later I thought that what it was he gave up to Daniel that angered him was his masculinity, his passive presenting himself for affirmation. It seemed to me that Charles had moved in that moment and reached for a way in the story that had occurred to him to speak about, to understand what was, for all its sado-masochistic investments, an intolerable situation, reached out from the perfidious state of apathy, and seen something of his need to relinquish the haunting conscience. It was in awe of that the word was spoken: ‘penance’.

Yet there is no underestimating the recidivism in a case like this one. Perversion is an intractable state, masquerading as it does as a lifesaver. It covers over a blighted internal world. Another way of thinking of this recalcitrance is as an addiction. Charles has an addiction to complaint and frustration. From my point of view, the pressure Charles exerts is as if to say you have to put up with me or I walk out. Examples of outbursts, for instance at his father in recent years, or at Daniel, indicate he holds the trump card. The tactic is to enable him to walk out and have it seem to be the fault of the other. Although his reported fury is utterly dismissive and therefore active, at root it is a passive manoeuvre; or, to put it more accurately, the activity of the outburst covers the activity (agency) of passivity. Thus in an all but inscrutable way punishment persists as illicit love. It is not far from the melancholia of which Freud speaks: a failed mourning which obviates loss and keeps alive a lost object by means of recalcitrant self reproach (Freud, 1925). This serial scarifying complaint of his dominated a recent session. The session followed several in which I detected signs of mindfulness. Then, predictably, an assault takes place on their value and on me as the receptacle of their value and they are evacuated – ‘nothing has been achieved, the sessions have failed, you have failed, I have failed, it is all a mess, failed, failed, failed, in everything I try to do.’ The arms are raised and he beats the couch, sits up on his elbows, exasperated, looking perhaps for the time. He heaves heavy sighs. He whips himself up. I note that I do not feel particularly under attack. Listening carefully to the subtext I detect the histrionic vein. He flounces. When he leaves such sessions I see a characteristic smile, at one and the same time limp and curious, which seems to indicate he is pleased with, and perhaps a little apologetic about, his performance or the achieving of punishment.

In this session, I interpreted that I felt his complaint was like an addiction and wondered what the pay-off was. This was cast aside with a ‘whatever!’ in the form of a blank: ‘dunno’. For my part, my interpretations felt to me to be on the edge of punitive, as if to say: ‘For god’s sake stop your whining!’  If it was such a failure and he was tempted to walk out, I wondered, why didn’t he and took the risk to say so. This seemed to give him pause. I went on to say, it was in effect what he was doing, on all fronts, walking out on himself: ‘You stay on in order to walk out.’ He took this on board. He said, ‘It’s the empty streets again, I’m seeing.’ Then he added, ‘It’s the only way I get relief.’
‘That’s the pay-off,’ I said without hesitation, perhaps eliding the poignancy of the avowal.

There was a coda to this in the session for I suddenly felt that it was for him a relief, his walking out, from the ‘still small voice’, deeply hidden away from others and from himself, in his ‘dark room’, that undamaged trace that had in it the seeds of his maturational framework and which persisted in his wish to eradicate time. It is this trace that I have glimpsed in the circuitous cycling towards separation. It is the one thing that must be preserved from further destruction, the trace of an authenticity at the mercy of the apathy he affects to safeguard it and guarantee that he will be able to keep it from being lived. It is reminiscent of the door. On the inside something is pushing to get out, something branded as demonic. And therein is posed in my mind an additional ingredient in the metaphor of the Mafia gang. For the exercise of the vaulted trace invites instant attack, leading to a compounded despair into which everything once again is sucked. And out of this whirlpool he is able to walk. Is it not seminal of perversion! And, in as much as perversion annexes the sexual instinct, it is in itself a form of safeguard of authenticity, a hint, of which Khan gives in speaking of the technique of intimacy as embodying, however futilely, ‘the hope of freeing and enlarging the ego into an independent and coherent organization and achieving a sense of identity’ (Khan, 1979, p.20).

Yet, I believe, that such timid traces represent a genuine will to understand and demythologise and that in time that understanding may reduce the acting out so that terror can be brought to the interface and be metabolised, and the loss be lived with. At least that is my hope; the chance to perceive in the cyclic the growth of the spiral.



 I want to close by taking a glimpse at the future of separation and what remains the perennial question of psychic health. I want to introduce at this late stage Michael Sinason’s (1993) concept of ‘internal cohabitation.’  Two minds inhabit the psyche, each struggling to be the only one. Each can draw on vital capacities and be potentially lethal in the interests of supremacy. These voices are characterised by isolationism. The drive here is to make things cohere in order to avoid chaotic diversity. It is a temptation to be trapped into a model of health based on this unitary drive. Yet this is closer to paranoia and madness, because it involves relentless and serial exclusion of the projected other. Thus it is closer to the sociological thinking of R.D. Laing (see eg. 1960) on madness as turning the tables on the sane. (I refer to his early Kingsley Hall thesis that madness is not necessarily a breakdown, but may represent, potentially, a breakthrough into a more authentic way of being, namely that it is a natural healing process with a beginning, middle, and end - re: the normal state of alienation to which the majority of us have succumbed.) As Sinason asserts (in his paper ‘Paranoia about the Existence of an Internal Other – a serious Clinical and Social Problem’, delivered as part of the Freud Museum Public Programme 2007): ‘A therapeutic alliance will thus generate less internal opposition.’  Such an alliance, I guess, according to Sinason, is predicated upon the analyst’s own internal converse between his internal inhabitants.  Sinason ends his paper, ‘Who is The Mad Voice Inside?’ thus: ‘The problem for the patient of learning how to look after the other mind cohabiting in his body is substantial but not as insuperable as his cohabitant would have him believe. With patience and hard work a genuine interest in the otherness of this being can be fostered in the patient to replace the attitudes of confrontation, condemnation and impugning of character and integrity with which he starts and which so exacerbate and inflame the problem’ (Sinason, 1993, p. 220).

I wish to underscore this view, which plays merry hell with the word ‘separation’ by making health a matter of separation from separation. If separation is to be sought in allowing them to be together as in a fruitful Oedipal outcome, an internal dialogue is set up with one’s loss, one’s relegated importance. It is not something that goes away. There is a constant clamour that sanctions Klein’s thinking about the elusiveness of the depressive position. To seek to silence the humbling dialogue is to return to omnipotent and expulsive modes. It is to foreclose on the transitional space where relationship between self and other is internally brokered, and upon the potential space of the damaged internal relationship which holds the internal child prisoner in its labyrinth.

I will proceed with this by looking very briefly at what André Green puts forward in his important paper ‘The Dead Mother’. At the outset he makes it clear he is treating of the mourning for a metaphoric death, that ‘of an imago which has been constituted in the child’s mind, following maternal depression, brutally transforming a living object, which was a source of vitality for the child, into a distant figure, toneless, practically inanimate, deeply impregnating the cathexes of certain patients whom we have in analysis and weighing on the destiny of their object-libidinal and narcissistic future’ (Green, 1983, p. 142).

Green writes: ‘We watch the failure of the experience of individuating separation (Mahler) where the juvenile ego, instead of constituting the receptacle for cathexis to come, after separation, relentlessly endeavours to retain the primary object and relive, repetitively, its loss…’ (p. 167), however that may be expressed in terms of narcissistic depletion. In calling this state mourning Green intends a loss of a special kind: a hole in the psych. ‘The object has been encapsulated and its trace has been lost through decathexis… this emptiness… is filled in and suddenly manifests itself through an affective hallucination of the dead mother, as soon as a new object is chosen to occupy this space’  (p. 155).  Charles’ cruising can be seen to be the urgent serial plugging of the gap through sexualisation of this panic at this apparition; mourning would be the antithesis.

In using the word ‘loss’ Green is talking about a form of pathological mourning very different from the receptacle of the Oedipus complex and the depressive position. It is, however, with his use of that other word ‘receptacle’ that I wish to conclude and to link it with that other word that Christopher Bollas introduces: ‘idiom’, where the analysand deconstructs the analyst in the manner intended by Winnicott’s notion of the use of an object. In the course of the book, Bollas argues that by the illusion of creativity which the adult carries he assaults the analyst, perhaps for his failures, and the analyst responds to something instantly recognizable in the patient as coming from beyond harm’s way. ‘The aim of these reflections is to suggest an important clinical differentiation in the patient’s use of the analyst. True-self use of an analyst is the force of idiom finding itself through experiences of the object. Although at times such idiomatic use of the analyst may reveal patterns of personality, the analysand’s aim is not to communicate a child-parent paradigm script, but to find experiences to establish true self in life’ (Bollas, 1989, p. 17). I believe that is what Charles achieved when momentarily he betrayed his pleasure and hope in having his aggression towards me recognized as having registered a hit. Bollas goes on to say ‘we know that some of our interpretations have a particular transitional function for the patient but such lucidity, significant though it is, is a derivative of that deep, silent, profoundly unconscious movement taken by the true self and effected, with equal unconsciousness, upon ourselves’ (p. 18).

This I think relates to what Kant proposed in positing the development of reality within pre-developed categories of reality. There are three sentences of Green’s that, above all, bring light into the darkness of the child of a stone mother like Charles’ mater was perceived (advisedly) to be. It is this: ‘Be it what it may, in the concept of deferred action [Freud’s concept], nothing is more mysterious than this preliminary statute of a registered meaning which remains in abeyance while awaiting its revelation. For it is a question of meaning, otherwise it would not have been able to be recorded in the psyche. But this meaning-in-waiting is only truly significant when it is reawakened by a recathexis which takes place in an absolutely different context’ (Green, 1983, p. 172).
To consider the Oedipus complex, for example, and its precursor in Freud’s ‘ego ideal’ as receptacles or templates which are laid down in the inherited maturational map of each individual is to imply that the child knows what is the right order and what is not. What is not constitutes a hole that is either foreclosed on or filled faecally and subsequently by delusion, or banished by the object of perversion, and these additions in themselves may hold in safe-keeping and in coded form the elements that require to be acknowledged. And, as Green says, ‘These traces have been recathected by the discourse of certain analysands whom, at a given moment, I was able to hear, but not before’ (ibid.).  Perhaps, in Charles’ contempt for the external parental junta such a trace is enshrined.

Charles had returned from a ten-day cycling event on the Continent he had signed up for with Daniel, and which had been flagged up over the past sessions, especially the two reported above. He had missed the previous session in order to do it. The session, with which I close, began in a familiar way. But this was not just the old ‘chuntering’. The tone was desultory, but it was in fact a more explicit catalogue of withholding: ‘I could tell you about the ride, but I don’t want to. I could tell you about the huge row (which was awful) I had with Daniel, but I don’t want to.’ At last, unprompted, he did give me the headlines of the row: Daniel had planned a route for their final leg and got lost, and in a peremptory voice asked Charles to produce the map. Charles felt blamed, for having left things to Daniel, I supposed, and flared up. I interpreted to him that behind his blaming reaction he felt he couldn’t be bothered. Although I had sensed his attempts to tantalise me, by creating an interest and holding back, his unenergetic tone belied his interest – an internal sado-masochistic arrangement – I failed to give his tormenting its weight in my interpretation. It was the apathy I fell for. Here I found myself using a word he had often used of himself –‘robbed’. I said it was like he had been robbed of his desire and then been told to act with desire by the person who had robbed him. I was, at this point, attempting to understand his Oedipus situation. I sensed an immediate change in his energy as if he had experienced being conceived of. He pointed out that what I had said had just then been played out between us. I was very much engaged by this unexpected mention of collaboration and wanted to know what he had seen.  He said that his inertia came from the fact that my thinking would rob him; however true it was, it had a short-term effect and the old resentment constantly reasserted itself. I was able to see that the tormenting that lay behind the plausible apathy was this resentment. I interpreted that it was his insight and that we had been thinking about it together. Later, I thought of the delight Winnicott spoke of when he reserved his thought and thus refrained from robbing his patient of the thought that had been dawning between them. But his insights had to remain perversely guarded secrets in case I would take his insight and make it mine. His perverse placating of his father was of apiece with this ‘sexual state of mind’. This is in direct reaction to the crushing of his Oedipal triumph. Britton discussing the Oedipal chagrin of certain patients, writes, ‘I came to realise that these efforts of mine to consult my analytical self were detected by them and experienced as a form of internal intercourse of mine, which corresponded to parental intercourse’ (Britton, 1989, p. 88). Charles added that was what Daniel does with his ideas, a thing that so infuriates him. He takes them and rearranges them as his own. It is at the root of all their arguments.  But he was disarmed and returned to the topic of his recent row with Daniel. He recognized how he had turned it, that he was the one that did the robbing, or was complicit in it, and how he envied Daniel for being able to express simple disappointment. So disappointment, and its transformation into fury and its projecting, had been mixed with the delight in having completed an arduous ride.. The analogy with Oedipus seemed clear. They had in fact, the pair of them, in the beginning not been confident of their fitness and had not signed up for the final push and were kicking themselves, realising they were in fact supremely fit and could have pulled it off. Between them they had allowed the masculine to run through their fingers. I interpreted that it was on the verge of great delight that the fierce row had broken out. This he agreed with a certain passion. And what came into my mind? – surprise! It was the right moment to strike again at surprise. And with surprise entry: entry into the masculine autonomy.

 The double defeat of Oedipus in the case of this patient, his contaminated triumph, and its part in the aetiology of perverse strategy and sexual states of mind assumes that inadequate mothering predicts the failure of the Oedipus complex. Both the mapping of mothering and the passage of the complex are a priori. On entering upon the Oedipal task, he experiences the seduction and gains the mother over the father, but in the form of an object, which has to be split into two. As a predicate to the seduction he has been objectified. The splitting of the internalised maternal template into safe and meretricious activates the infantile reparative drive to neutralise the necessity for such a splitting. In the perverse resort the cohabitation is neutralised.  In following Klein, one has to surmise such a splitting is part of the birthright. The primal phantasies are already partaking of life and death drives. In the case of such an Oedipal history, however, the split is intensified to such an extent that the depressive horizons recede and the long-term move towards true reparation is obviated. This internal situation contains grievous prior reactions to the loss of an idealised mother and meretricious imagos that have always presaged destruction. Internally this situation necessitates a serial obliteration in the form of perverse strategies such as the asexual preservation of dyadic profligacy. The sexual instinct is both annexed and preserved in, to use Bollas’ term, ‘a profoundly unconscious movement’ (vide supra). It is the sexual component, which has been removed from the scene and perverted into phallic narcissism, to which, nevertheless, the remnants of a lust for life attach. By implication, the a priori good object is idolised (fetishised) and cleansed from the subject’s grasp to live, preserved in aspic.

The call to castration, the move despite the triumph, to seek to address the eponymous component of an unsuccessfully weathered complex, and pass up the omnipotent hegemony, exists only, in such a case, in what Bollas might term an ‘unthought known’ (1987).  An expression of the call may be detected in such words as he this patient has let slip, and to be perceived as analogy: ‘Perhaps I will find I am not gay!’ – an idiomatic voice that attests to the proper habitation of a transitional space – in which: ‘Perhaps I will find I am a man’.

But what I have to face is my complicity in the recidivism of which I have talked. There are two parts to my thought. The one is my projective identification as the father who ‘breaks in’ and steals the mother away, but also as the mother who is stolen away yet remains as a meretricious ally, if not also as the son, who forever bitterly rues his own part in his losses. The second part I leave to André Green: ‘I greatly fear’, he writes, ‘that the rule of silence in these cases, only perpetuates the transference of blank mourning for the mother’ (Green, 1983, p. 155).



In summary, I have presented this passive-aggressive patient as perverted. As such he has turned nature on its head. He is deeply engaged in a vengeful trickery, which is in essence perverse. By projecting his hatred on to his parents and living in the lust for vengeance, he deflects a deeper distress, his guilt for keeping his progenitors dead, and himself buried with them, in cutting off the line, in splitting his siblings into another family (a good one?), and by systematically killing off any shoots that peep above the surface, he is engaged in the continual perversion of transitional space and the slaughter of his sexuality. I have talked about this in relation to an Oedipal debacle, in as much as this is clear to me. Both situations have classical antecedents in the Greek hybris: overbearing presumption, which links to omnipotence and to the notion of the sacred (Latin, sacer) where a consecrated space is adumbrated, and from which root sacrifice is derived, the concept pivotal to the Oedipus complex.

The swingeing nature of the spoiler is a mode of vengeance, achieved by standing apart from disappointed aspirations of maturational origin and demanding compensation by systematic destruction of the good under cover of being a hopeless victim of mood, for to give up revenge leaves him with nothing. He would be giving up mock or self-imposed humiliation for the real thing, to sustain the true loss, which, by living the modality, he only compounds. Hence the crucial importance to him of timelessness and the aptness of Joseph’s term, ‘near-death’.

Winnicott used the idea of a transitional space as the continuum in which the child and the mother negotiate the boundary between self and other, subjective and objective, me and not-me. He refers to a ‘double statement’, namely ‘of every individual who has reached to the stage of being a unit (with a limiting membrane and an outside and an inside) it can be said that there is an inner reality to that individual’  (Winnicott, 1951, p.230). He goes on to claim there is a need for a triple statement: ‘there is the third part of the life of a human being, a part that we cannot ignore, an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute. It is an area that is not challenged, because no claim is made on its behalf except that it shall exist as a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet inter-related’ (ibid.).

I have tried to show how the invasion of this space, through inadequate mothering, a fused parental regimen, a bungled Oedipus complex, the unlucky son has resorted to perverse means and colluded in the collapse of this third reality, here referred to, along with the huge potential in terms of creative life Winnicott attributes to it. Charles’ legalistic condemnation of his parents, and thence to that of the rest of the world, is sign of his being glued to a claustrophobic experience, which he manipulates to remain in omnipotent control. 

Winnicott, in talking about the ‘use of an object’ touches on the genesis of a capacity for concern. Not only has that not developed to any great extent in this potentially gifted man, he demonstrates by his tongue-tied fear of what others think an incapacity to be alone. Is it any wonder, when you think of the other half of that phrase, ‘in the presence of the mother’! Here the idea of potential space designates an ‘intermediate area of experience… between primary unawareness of indebtedness and the acknowledgement of indebtedness’ (ibid.). The target in Charles’ case is stony; she is killed by her infant’s impulses, dead already. Like her, her child is a joy-killer awaiting a ‘dusty death’. The space is now used to promulgate this obverse of human meaning.

The transitional space is where infant and mother broker meaning, metabolising instinctual forces which would otherwise threaten the ego with extinction. Bion saw this as a primary function of projective identification. David Taylor writes  ‘The fact of projections being enacted, sometimes as communications, along with Bion’s idea of the mother in some manner metabolising and transforming raw experiences projected into her, is central to the theory of the process of understanding and the development of meaning’ (Taylor, 1997, p. 68). Winnicott’s term ‘maternal preoccupation’, which he puckishly refers to as an illness, from which the mother gradually recovers her place in the world, is associated with that other pronouncement: ‘I once risked the remark, “There is no such thing as a baby” – meaning that if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone.  A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship’  (Winnicott, 1964, p. 88). This statement implies fusion. A distinction has to be made between primary fusion and maladaptive fusion. Winnicott proposes a situation of symbiosis in which the mother is attuned to her infant’s primitive means of communication of unconscious maturational needs. As such it perpetuates the magical monism of primary process, in time, abating to allow for the erosion of omnipotence, by steps manageable to the infant, in favour of reality and creativity. Inadequate adaptation here leads to regression to primitive states and the betrayal of personal space. Transitional space is threatened constantly by impingement, leading to the formation of a false self. Any real balanced self is denied by Charles. He is full of ‘shoulds’, and all is false and, in perversion, falsified.  Birksted-Breen writes: ‘Mental space and the capacity to think are created by the structure that allows for separateness and link between internal objects, and self and other, instead of fusion or fragmentation’  (Birksted-Breen, 1996, p. 655). This is predicated on what she calls ‘triangulation’ as a ‘structuring function’ (p. 654) which underpins the process of thinking – ‘I understand the subjective experience of mental space… as having to do with the adjunct of the third position that makes for a three-dimensional world and allows for perspective on oneself and one’s actions. It promotes the capacity to dialogue with oneself, to allow for thoughts to come together and the diminution of a compulsion to act’ (p. 655).  

By introducing from the beginning the notion of separation, consonant with the depressive position, I have, perhaps optimistically, sought to identify the shoots. I may have played into his sado-masochistic game by doing so, perhaps not. I believe not entirely. Beneath his hatred and the self-loathing I see another dynamic: penance, not the same thing as reparative concern, rather as a responsive reflection of the guilt of the murderer (of his own potential).

Transitional space is the place of quietude and arousal. Instead of the sessions being opportunities for patience and desire, Charles experiences his therapy as impingement. Silence is filled with a nameless striving and is without end, for ‘the pervert rejects “dilatory time”’ (Chassguet-Smirgel, 1985, p. 34). Desire does not dawn, arousal, as surprise, is turned away from in envy. His space is pillaged by his own marauding band, the interval in which to dream himself invaded as his expelled reactions are vengefully forced back into him. When will time begin?’

‘I make my idea of play concrete by claiming that playing has a place and a time… In order to give a place to playing I postulated a space between the baby and the mother’ (Winnicott, 1971, p. 41). ‘Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together’ (p. 38). In terms of modes of thought, touched on here by my reading of Birksted-Breen, where the distinction between me and not-me is firmly established, Winnicott is pointing to a more liminal interpretation, one that is taken up by Marion Milner: ‘trying to talk about a state in which the me-not-me distinction is not important… to do so at all we have to make the distinction’ (Milner, 1950, p. 161). Charles cannot abide surprise and bitterly envies anyone with the capacity to give or receive in that way. It is also the case that the creative play of thought, the delight in illusion, which Milner espouses, or the capacity for collaborative ‘dream work alpha’ of which Bion (1992) writes, all this is severely inhibited in Charles who so often evinces a freezing and literal seriousness. And, were there no idiomatic exchanges, the outlook would indeed be bleak. Grotstein differentiates Bion’s ‘dream work alpha’ from ‘alpha function’, both of which are related to ‘maternal reverie’, as follows: ‘In other words, it conveys that, just as the mother must “dream her infant” (by day as well as by night), the analyst must likewise dream his/her patient’ (Grotstein 1997, p. 87n.).

In moving through transitional space from being merged to separation the child reaches to independence and the capacity to be dependent. This would be an inadequate statement without reference to the crucial template of the Oedipus complex which underlies it. There are, from time to time, signs that Charles has the capacity to entertain a gentler view of the ongoing ravaging of his circumstances. This, I have indicated, may in some measure be as a result of the recovery (through their having been dreamed) of significant memory traces lying beyond the reach of harm and printed in the psychic code and which give credence to the idea of health by hook or by crook, which may represent an idea of Winnicott’s. An extension of a narrow concept of health in that case is necessitated, which might regard perversion as an attempt at health, as I have argued, and as does McDougall (1990, vide supra). 

Perversion is a transformation of pain, horror and disgust through an appropriation of an incorruptible and polymorphous force, the sexual, and as such is a mark of survival of the spirit. Without referring to the particular allusions in Marguerite Duras’s remarkable short story ‘The Boa’ and without much to say here about the status of shame, there is one sentence in that story that belongs here: ‘And thus the boa, who frightened me as well, was the one thing that restored my strength and shamelessness’ (Duras, 1984, p. 78). The act of perversion dispenses with shame, shameful maybe as a consequence.
Shame entered via the serpent (Genesis. 3:1 – 7); we are shamed feloniously. We are the receptacles of the debilitating shame of others, which works towards ensuring our lives are unlived, but are incarcerated in shameful institutions. So be it. What matters is ‘a capacity for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves’ (Britton, 1989, p. 87).

‘Shame itself is an entrance to the self. It is the affect of indignity, of defeat, or transgression, of inferiority, and of alienation. No other affect is closer to the experienced self. None is more central to the sense of identity. Shame is felt as an inner torment, a sickness of the soul. It is the most poignant experience of the self by the self, whether felt in the humiliation of cowardice, or in the sense of failure to cope successfully with a challenge. Shame is a wound felt from inside, dividing us both from ourselves and from one another’  (Kaufman, 1985, pp. ix-x).

Duras evokes the guts of shame in the family when she writes:

‘Every sort of community, whether of the family or otherwise, is hateful to us, degrading. We’re united in a fundamental shame at having to live. It is here we are at the heart of our common fate, the fact that all three of us are our mother’s children, the children of a candid creature murdered by society. We’re on the side of the society which has reduced her to despair. Because of what’s been done to our mother, so amiable, so trusting, we hate life, we hate ourselves’ (Duras, 1985, p. 59).

It could also be a cry from the heart of Charles.

Duras is the champion of the feral. Winnicott sees the serpent (the symbol of medicine) and cries: ‘by hook or by crook’. Charles will only hint about his sexuality. The apparent paradox in all this, I suggest, is a certain shamelessness with shame, for here are the roots of compassion and therefore the doorway to separation.

And Charles finds himself struggling to imagine: ‘what would happen if that big old house were to be knocked down and something else built on the site.’ So will he let his parents off the hook and himself know how to cherish the space of his potential?

Young makes a distinction between Winnicott and Klein that turns out to make them out to be not such strange bedfellows.

‘Winnicott treats cultural phenomena as something positive and constructive, occurring in a reparative space, mending or filling an absence or lack. Kleinians treat culture and creativity as a form of atonement, a reparation on the part of the infantile self. This reparation is an attempt to make up for the devastation caused by the phantasy attack on the mother, which is in retaliation for the sense that the mother’s absence was itself an abandonment, experienced as persecution’  (Young, 1994, p. 144).

And then there is the reparation on the part of the emergent infantile self to the infantile self who gave up on receiving anything from outside of itself.

 How long will Charles persist in a cultural wasteland; does not his cycling prove him now to be under starter’s orders, that what we experience are lapses rather than collapses? It will be a zigzag uphill push, low gear work for him, for us. For it still seems to him he has nowhere to place his complexity, his ‘mess’, that would not be putting himself in the hands of the bully and the trickster, no resting place that is not straightway sacked. That is his so-called recidivism. The mood rolls in and he is lost in the mist. There is nothing else then but to acknowledge it. To interpret is to rob him of what seems to be so intransigent, so unavoidably and meaninglessly true. What faith is needed to believe there could be any meaning or answer in this psychic fog. There is no response from within or utterance from without, all seems swallowed up in drifting silence, kept in place by a harsh invisible regime. This is his recurring mood so difficult for him, and for others, to endure. The mist is the finely divided confusion of un-metabolised thought (β-elements) bouncing back, ricocheting and fragmenting. Yet nothing else will do; there is no alternative but recourse to inveterate perversion. He continues to come ‘perchance to dream’, because he has some sense of the perfidious process of another thinking him, of our thinking together, hit and miss, although what is rendered up is ‘too little, too late’. So there is one place: ‘the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’; and the other is the place where he would ‘rather bear the ills we have than fly to others we know not of’ (Hamlet, 3.1): ‘the empty streets’ (and the ‘bare bodkin’).  Yet recently he has said he feels ‘strange’ and by that he means to indicate that he finds himself staying in a situation of reversed roles where, out of concern for his partner, he suffers a feeling of being abandoned.

And then, following a session of the unremitting sado-masochistic mire in which he concealed his agency sub specie of an empty threat of resorting to extreme violence, there came another voice in which I detected a scent of ‘resolution’. He announced that his parents were coming to London and that, despite his first impulse not to be there, ‘perhaps it would be a chance for him to deal with things’. Compared with the previous session his voice had a lively energy. He associated with a play he had just seen called Kindertransport by Diane Samuels. Between 1938 and the outbreak of war, almost 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, were sent by their parents from Germany to Britain. Nine-year-old Eva arrives in Manchester, changes her name and tries to bury all memory of her previous life. Charles spoke of an inadequate theatrical resolution. Eva concluded by declaring, ‘I just want none of it to have happened’. There was something here very different from his desire to level or ‘deal’ with these flesh and blood parents of his and wash out the past. I then noticed how my whiff of optimism about this pushed him towards his habitual apathy. I said that I thought my positive feeling about what he was saying had robbed him of ownership of his feelings. I saw that the essential perversion was the denial of time and space for feeling itself; there was no time to make meaning of it; I had become the accomplice, offered my anus. In response to this he expressed his wish to be able to feel the loss heretofore without letting it overwhelm him and for outrage to eventually be experienced as disappointment.

And so my final word concerns separation, the patient’s allowing of the damaged and besmirched internal parental coitus to pertain, taking compassion on two people who were not well equipped by their own damage to allow their little one to thrive, allowing also of the analyst’s role in brokering such submission throughout the oscillations of felt pain returning. I wish to propose that the metabolising role of the analyst in restoring the patient to his right mind is not analogically maternal simply, but Oedipal or at least preoedipal in that it invokes the couple. The medium is the message. The analyst is enabled by his/her reverie to speak as the parental couple, essaying firm truth and protective service, as it were the father who stands by the mother, and in the medium of the mother, who stands by her husband and infant at one and the same time. This to me seems the transformational stance.

But the last word must go to Winnicott, but first to his cohort Masud Khan: ‘What we need to establish more firmly is the positive trends that lie buried under the debris of the erotic expertise of the pervert. It is towards an understanding of this that I think a clearer definition of the role of the reparative drive towards the self as an idolised internal object may serve as a deeper understanding of this predicament’ (Khan, 1979, p. 16). 

‘Where the child has the chance to dig down to personal guilt through analysis, then the mother’s (or father’s) mood is also there to be dealt with. The analyst must either recognize when the signs of this appear in the transference, or the analysis must fail, because of its success’ (Winnicott, 1948, p.93). But, as in so much of his writing, Donald Winnicott strikes an enigmatic pose. The above statement is rounded off as follows: ‘I am describing a rather obvious phenomenon.’ Well, maybe! Yet it contains the breath of a hope of separation and the humble path of having a space within, a capacity in some measure, ‘for reflecting on ourselves whilst being ourselves’ (Britton, vide supra). Well, not quite the last word!



1.There is rich food for thought with regard to my patient’s homosexuality in Meltzer (1965) where he sets out infantile confusions which lead to the practice of anal masturbation, overt or cryptic (an example of the latter being ‘cycling… ‘or other activities which stimulate the buttocks’ p.110), and which thereby ‘…produces a sado-masochistic coital fantasy in which the parental couple do great harm to one another’ (p. 104) and which ‘bypasses the Oedipus complex’ (ibid.). What is so striking is the resemblance to the character of Charles and the picture of the resulting character traits that, according to Meltzer, accrue from this system. ‘In childhood this situation encourages a pre-oedipal… crystallization of character manifest by docility, helpfulness, preference for adult companionship, aloofness or bossiness with other children, intolerance of criticism, and high verbal capacity. When this characterological crust is broken momentarily by frustration or anxiety, outcrops of hair-raising virulence are laid bare’ (ibid.).  Bypassing the Oedipus complex the structure, Meltzer says, ‘seems to equip a child reasonably well superficially for academic and social life’. In adult life, however, ‘the feeling of fraudulence… pseudo-potency (excited by perverse fantasies), the inner loneliness and the basic confusion between good and bad, all create a life of tension and lack of satisfaction, bolstered, or rather compensated, only by the smugness and snobbery which are an inevitable accompaniment of the massive projective identification’ (ibid.).  The relation to homosexuality is adumbrated thus, ‘In men these dynamics produce either homosexual activities or more frequently an intense dread of becoming homosexual (since the heightened femininity is not distinguished from anal homosexuality). Or conversely the secondary projective identification with the father’s penis (in the ensuing bimanual masturbation) may produce a leading phallic quality… especially where omnipotent (manic) reparativeness has been mobilized as a defence against the severe underlying depression present in all such cases’ (p.105).

2.The so-called ‘ego dystonic’ state is one of high anxiety, where the ego is threatened by the ‘hostility’ of ejected parts, or with disintegration. This presupposes an ego breaking up through the desperate action of projective identification, depleted and persecuted thereby and threatened with destruction. The ‘ego-syntonic’ situation achieved through ‘bizarre arousal’ can be thought of as the excited process of placing a buffer object to repel the threat from the scattered parts of ego potential. It is less by looking into the bizarre character of the perverse solution than by awaiting the testament of the dreams that something of this sleight is glimpsed by which a stand-in soterial object is annexed by libido, wrested from the inescapable dynamics of projective identification as jury rig. Keeping in mind Glasser’s notion of a core complex in which the concept of space seems not to have been achieved, Esther Blick’s theory of ‘a second skin formation’ seems to hold water here. ‘The need for a containing object would seem, in the infantile unintegrated state, to produce a frantic search for an object – a light, a voice, a smell, or other sensual object – which can hold the attention and thereby be experienced, momentarily at least, as holding the parts of the personality together… Material will show how this containing object is experienced concretely as a skin’ (Blick, 1967, p. 188). The unavailability of a metabolising skin, in the face of catastrophic anxiety would suggest desperate measures to avoid disintegration by whatever means lie to hand and point to a sanction for the repetitive or cyclic usage of the object of perverse sexuality where the circuits of extremity are shorted into sexual circuitry and panic is transformed into insistent sostenuto arousal. To have ‘a cat in hell’s chance’ is an image suggestive of the intractable dynamics of a perversion. The invitation to further explore this labyrinth is for me contained in a few lines of Bion’s: ‘… the part-object relationship is not with the anatomical structures only but with function, not with anatomy but with physiology, not with the breast but with feeding, poisoning, loving, hating. This contributes to the impression of a disaster that is dynamic and not static’ (Bion, 1959, p. 90f.).

3.Masud Khan uses Winnicott’s idea of the early use of a reparative capacity in the child to construct an aetiology of perversion as ‘Reparation to the Idolised Self’ in an argument in which he cites his experience of cases of perversion where ‘the basic [perverted] use of sexual apparatuses and instincts is of a reparative kind’ (Khan, 1979, p14). The notion, however, that ‘the gratification from sexual discharge is a screen-experience in these patients directed against anxiety states’ (ibid.) corresponds with my idea of the obscure object of desire as a buffer in face of the intense anxiety of catastrophic fragmenting.

4.Fedja Dalagija graphically describes the struggle of a homophobic homosexual patient as a quest for ‘masculinity’ as he moved between hope and despair about being able to love and work. (Fedja Dalagija, ‘Insult and Intensity’ unpublished paper delivered at a conference convened by the Site of Contemporary Psychoanalysis entitled ‘Homosexuality Why Psychoanalysis?’.







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George Blair is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in London.



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