Lawrence E. Hedges, Ph.D., ABPP
Gérard Bléandonu, a community psychiatrist from Lyon, France, has divided Bion’s psychoanalytic writing into four areas of production through which the development of Bion’s thoughts is seen in relation to events in his life: (1) the period of group psychology, (2) the period of clinical work centering on psychosis, (3) the period of questions regarding epistemology, and (4) the period of his autobiography and literary works. I will take his lead in organizing what follows.
The Season of Bion’s Group Psychology
Born in Muttra in the Punjab in 1897, Bion’s first eight formative years were spent in colonial India, which made an indelible impression on him. As a young boy, he was forced to leave his family when he was sent to an English boarding school, Bishop’s Stortford College. During World War I, Bion was commissioned and joined the 5th Tank Battalion of Bovingdon, Wool, became a decorated hero and saw his share of death and human degradation. In notes he made in 1918 at the end of the war, as if to summarize what he had so recently learned, and simultaneously to outline a research project for a lifetime, Bion wrote that people will use “anything to hold at bay the dark and somber world of thought” (p. 34).
Bion studied history at Queen’s College, Oxford, and later medicine at University College London. By 1930 he qualified as Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. Bion joined the psychiatric staff of the Tavistock Clinic in 1932 where he was heavily influenced toward a psychodynamic view by J. A. Hadfield. He learned “reductive analysis” in which the goal was to discover the dynamic links between a symptom and its origins in the past. Free association and dream analysis were used to bring to light “nuclear incidents.” One of his more illustrious patients was the writer Samuel Beckett, with whom he worked from
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1934-1936. It is thought that the two men influenced each other greatly. Didier Anzieu (1986) suggests that each found an imaginary twin in the other, but Bion is discreetly silent on the matter.
Bion’s first analysis was with John Rickman, who was a student and analysand of Melanie Klein. However, his analysis was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Bion entered the service as a psychiatrist and was to do some of his most interesting work on groups during this time. Military conditions and the need for psychiatric rehabilitation of soldiers allowed Bion to begin experimenting with group processes at Northfield until the project was precipitously closed by an order claiming military expedience—an event that greatly angered and discouraged Bion. After the war, he continued his interest in groups on a limited basis at the Tavistock Clinic, where he aimed to “try to persuade groups composed of patients to make the study of group tensions a group task” (p. 69). Bion here formulated the idea of a group mentality. Individuals come together as a group and selectively contribute unconscious elements, which creates a group mentality. Against the image of patients trying to resolve their emotional problems, the group can be perceived as mobilizing hostility and contempt—while each individual may deny feelings of hostility. Group mentality paradoxically exists in contradiction to the purported aims of the group and to the conscious aims of each individual member. Group mentality tends to destroy individual privacy and does not allow individual satisfaction from anything other than what the group makes available. Group culture is a function of the conflict between group mentality and individual needs. The role of the group therapist is to shed light on the accumulating tensions between individual needs, group mentality, and group culture.
Bion was impressed by the futility of group conversations, at how devoid of intellectual content they tend to be. He chose to focus on the emotional charges underlying verbal exchanges rather than on contents: “In the group mentality the individual finds a means of expressing his contributions anonymously, and, at the same time this is his greatest obstacle to the fulfillment of the aims he wishes to achieve by membership of the group” (Bion, 1961, pp. 52-53).
In formulating the nature and operation of the emotional charges that underlie group conversations, Bion develops a highly original way of considering group processes. The aims of group interaction are categorized as three types of “basic assumptions.” A member actively contributing to the group mentality will feel uneasy thinking or acting in ways not in accord with the basic assumption in play in the group at the time. Furthermore, an interaction exists in groups between two
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levels of emotional activity, which Bion chooses to refer to as “the work group” and “the basic assumption group.” When a group of individuals comes together to complete a task, as most groups do in one sense or another, an overall attitude of cooperation and respect for reality tends to prevail. At this “work group” level of emotional activity, there is a realistic awareness of the dimension of time and the need for progress. In contrast, Bion identifies emotional activities that impede, corrupt, and/or support group processes so that judgment takes second place. These activities can be seen to attain coherence as manifestations of the unconscious basic assumptions held by members. The “basic assumption” level of emotional activity is not concerned with time, growth, or development, but instead offers various forms of enlivenment or vitality to group members. The three types of emotional activity that tend to constitute basic assumptions in the work group are dependence, pairing, and fight-flight.
When the basic assumption in operation is dependence, the group seeks the support of a leader from whom it hopes to receive spiritual and/or material guidance, protection, and nurture. The implicit and almost literal belief is that all of the group’s needs can be met in the person of the leader. Individuals tend to feel cared for only when they are in some way directly relating to the leader. If they are not, they feel frustrated and trapped in need and hunger. When dependence operates emotionally as a basic assumption, power becomes somewhat magical and the ideal leader becomes almost a sorcerer.
A second kind of emotional activity that can impede work group activity is pairing or uniting. Bion notes the tendency for a couple to monopolize the group by pairing up and (regardless of sex) often even to exchange knowing glances in a quasisexual way. Surprisingly, the group accepts this pairing with apparent ease. During this time, a group mood of irrational hope arises, in contrast with the usual feelings of boredom and frustration. The group develops an implicit belief that a person or idea will somehow arrive and save it by making its emotional difficulties disappear. This (necessarily absent, unborn, or messianic) leader will save the group from feelings of hatred, destructiveness, and despair generated out of the pairing context.
In groups employing the third type of basic assumption, fight-flight, there is a search for a leader who offers opportunities for fighting or for evasion to ease group tensions. A group readily unites around any proposition that violently rejects psychological difficulty or avoids emotional difficulties by creating an enemy.
Bion suggests that the work of a church may be interfered with by the basic assumption of dependency. The aristocracy or establishment
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provides a model for the operation of the pairing assumption. And the work of an army may be interfered with by the fight-flight assumption. Any particular group is likely to vacillate in its active basic assumptions and in the various tensions it creates in relation to the tasks of the work group. The emotions stirred up in group tensions are common, such as anxiety, fear, hatred, love, or helplessness. But the question for observation and study is how each of these emotions operates differently under conditions of different basic assumptions. Thus Bion’s formulations have created a series of observational dimensions or perspectives in which an array of emotional tensions may be perceived to be operating at various times and in various ways in the life of a group.
Furthermore, Bion encourages the group therapist to perceive all situations with a dual perspective, using the Wecker reversible cube as a metaphor to describe the importance of seeing different emotions as functioning differently and simultaneously within the operation of different basic assumptions. Grotstein (1981), in his insistence on the importance of dual track observation, has since elaborated extensively on Bion’s dual perspectives. And following the integration of the principles of relativity and quantum mechanics into psychoanalytic epistemology, Bion’s early insistence on multiple dimensions for observation has been expanded into a series of contemporary listening perspectives (Hedges 1983, 1991).
Comparing Bion and Toynbee on Group Dynamics
Although Bion does not reference Arnold Toynbee, Bleandonu demonstrates a certain similarity in their thinking about group dynamics. Toynbee (1934-1961) posits the existence of an unknown factor, appare of a psychological nature, which operates in the rise and fall of civilizations. Bion asserts that the central feature operating in group dynamics is the individual’s capacity to form personal relationships of various qualities. When any group creates a context of generosity (peace, plenty), it creates an atmosphere of psychic leisure, which allows for the emergence of a dynamic state of developing personal relationships. That is, when immediate survival of the community is not imposing any task on the group, a time arrives in which consciousness of personal relations enters the mind of each member. Blëgandon posits that Toynbee’s unknown psychological factor corresponds to Bion’s observations regarding the unpredictable qualities of individual and group relations and can be located at a juncture of cultural generosity, thus allowing for the growth, diversification, impoverishment, or destruction of a civilization.
Toynbee noted three types of civilizations: Chinese, Judaic, and
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Hellenic. The Chinese model features an ideal of the universal state, and group tensions that correspond to the dependency assumption. The Judaic model conserves its identity despite diaspora through pairing amidst the rest of society. The Hellenic civilization is divided by tensions between political pluralism and cultural unity and corresponds to the fight-flight assumption of Bion. Blëgandon is struck with the similarity of Toynbee’s and Bion’s conceptions regarding group dynamics.
Bleandonu’s Approach To Bion
It would be impossible for a biographer of Bion not to become involved in the emotional and intellectual struggles of the giant of a man about whom he is writing. Blëgandon makes no claim to knowledge about Bion’s life other than what is in print—the autobiography and various commentaries of others. Nor is it his aim to review thxe entirety of Bion’s work. Rather, Blëgandon states that he wishes “simply to set out some of its forms and contents. My objective is to reveal the meaning of given texts in relation to the development, the historical context and the internal economy of Bion’s oeuvre” (p. 2). That Blëgandon sticks to his modestly defined task is, in my opinion, what makes this text so eminently readable, so profoundly informative, and so delightfully enjoyable—a combination of qualities only rarely present in psychoanalytic writing. In the Foreword to the book, R. D. Hinshelwood comments:
We could have asked Blëgandon to contest the ideas more, we could have asked him to cloak the ideas in their surrounding psychoanalytic debate, raging through the 40’s to the sixties. Had Blëgandon discussed the possible alternative readings that could be made, that might have been made, then the impression of a definitive text would have been mellowed. But then we would have had solid academic porridge; we would have lost all the tantalizing, foggy potentiality of Bion—just the quality which attracts us and infuriates us, which limits Bion’s work, but which extends our own imaginations. (p. xii)
It is the abiding presence of Blëgandonin the text that lends ease to encountering difficult ideas and makes the reading enjoyable. A biographer necessarily makes implicit comment through which elements of life and work he or she selects to present and through the general organization and texture of the treatment provided. But it is Blëgandon’s ingenious commentary that I have personally found most enjoyable. For example, in Blëgandon’s exposition of Bion’s life and writings about groups, we find the material organized as a human saga we can
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readily identify with. Bion is thrust by military impressment into a situation where he is expected to devise some rapid method of emotional rehabilitation of soldiers returned from the front with various emotional incapacities. Haying completed basic psychiatric training but not having the slightest idea where to begin, Bion expediently rounds the soldiers up into groups and sets to work. He opens his best research mind to see what can be set into motion in groups and, in the process, does indeed obtain some impressive practical results, although he has very little idea why.
Ironically, the greatest lesson in group behavior Bion learns is how dangerous it is to incite the envy of one’s superiors in a hierarchical organization! His very promising group project, with its series of open but unanswered questions, is abruptly terminated, clearly because Bion is making a significant mark and because if he is allowed to continue, jealously guarded military resources will be channeled toward his project. Dejected and defeated, Bion is reassigned and awaits for his postwar return to the Tavistock Clinic for an opportunity to continue his research into group processes. But shortly after the war, England’s nationalized medical system thwarts Bion further in his research so that he must do mostly private work in order to survive, devoting only limited time to the group project at Tavistock.
Bion develops many ideas, taking group psychology several firm steps beyond McDougall and Freud. Using Klein’s concepts of projective identification to study groups, Bion discovers the presence of regression and psychotic phenomena implicit in group phenomena. But practical circumstances eventually force Bion to abandon his group studies in favor of his interests in individual psychoanalysis and epistemology—but not without his feeling soundly defeated in many regards, not least by the group behavior of his colleagues who either misunderstand or misuse his ideas. Yes, a major study project in groups is begun that, over time, is to develop a colorful history and yield remarkable results. But Bion has taken it as far as time, money, and circumstances permit him. His lively mind moves on to greener pastures.
When, some years later, Bion is asked to republish his papers on groups, he does so with little revision or commentary. But in the opening passages of the series of articles he writes:
It was disconcerting to find that the committee [The Professional Committee at the Tavistock Clinic] seemed to believe that patients could be cured in such groups as these. It made me think at the outset that their expectations of what happens in groups of which I was a member were very different from mine. Indeed, the only cure of which I could speak with certainty was related to a comparatively minor symptom of my
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own—a belief that groups might take kindly to my efforts. (Bion 1961, p. 29)
Without flinching, Blëgandon continues, “According to Freud humour is pleasurable in so far as it saves us from emotional work. Humour is not only liberating, like other forms of wit; it also has something of the sublime. The sublime in humour is a product of the way in which humour brings about a triumph of narcissism” (p. 90). In such terse ways, Blëgandon captures whole epochs of Bion’s emotional life and intellectual endeavors. Here was a genius who could penetrate deeply with questions about the nature of groups. But like all geniuses, Bion was destined to be defeated at every round by blind but powerful social forces and naive politicism of his ideas. How can we look on such genius without feeling this tragedy? And in identifying with his tragic defeat, do we not, like Bion, strive to reconstitute our narcissism through such humor? It is Blëgandon’s compassion for the many ways that the voice of genius struggles to be heard above the clamor that rings clear throughout this book. As Blëgandon depicts Bion’s struggles to feel, to perceive, to think, and ultimately to speak to people who cannot hear, we are led to understand Bion’s preference for evocation and provocation as preferred modes of communication in his later life and writings.
Bion’s Second Season: Studies on Psychosis
Planted firmly in Freudian soil, Bion turns to the insights of Melanie Klein to further his understanding of the primitive processes he has encountered at the heart of group processes. The notion of basic assumptions operating at the root of mental states and taking precedence in regressed states over higher psychic functioning fuels Bion’s notions about psychosis. In 1935 Melanie Klein reads her paper on the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states that is destined to split the British psychoanalysts. She introduces the concept of the “depressive position” and further elaborates it in 1940 in relation to mourning, reparation, and creativity. She considers herself a faithful follower of Freud, but she introduces a theory and technique of analysis that are quite different from his. Not only does she claim to describe the inner life of very young children, she also formulates that there are psychotic elements in all psychic life.
The famous controversial discussions of 1943-1944 give rise to the Kleinian School within the British Psycho-Analytical Society. Her paper, “Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms,” (1946) further defines a
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“paranoid-schizoid position” and its characteristic defense mechanism, projective identification, which precedes the depressive position.
Bion is in analysis with Mrs. Klein from 1945 to 1953, a period during which she and her collaborators develop their most definitive and comprehensive account of their theories (Klein, Isaacs, & Riviere, 1952). Blëgandon leads the reader through some of Bion’s key emotional experiences with Klein and through some of his memories that contributed to his later understanding of the origins of thought.
In Bion’s writing on psychosis, he is eager to establish that he, like Segal and Rosenfeld, uses essentially the same analytic method as the one traditionally employed in the treatment of neurosis—the analysis of the positive and negative transference through interpretation. Bion maintains that he has simply added data drawn from behavior and from countertransference to those drawn from free association. He holds that the analyst faced with psychosis will often be able to interpret only on the basis of his or her own emotional responses. Klein carefully avoids the concept of countertransference, and Bion recognizes it only as an expedient due to the limitations of contemporary knowledge. Bion believes that the danger inherent in countertransference-based interpretations—that the analyst may simply misrecognize the projection of his or her own conflicts and fantasies—is counterbalanced by the psychotic individual’s tendency to indicate promptly that he or she is the victim of the analyst’s projections.
Bion reads his membership paper, “The Imaginary Twin,” to the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1950. In this case study of a psychotic man, Bion notes, “It was as if two quite separate co-existent scansions of his material were possible. One imparted an overpowering sense of boredom and depression, the other, dependent on the fact that he introduced regularly spaced pauses in the stream of his associations. an almost jocular effect, as if he were saying ‘go on; it’s your turn’” (Bion 1950, p. 5). Bion notes that, in general, the man’s associations were stale and invited well-worn interpretations that seemed to go nowhere. But if the rhythm of interactive responsiveness were broken, the patient would become anxious or irritated.
In reporting the case, Bion makes the critical contribution of a perspectival shift in which these associative links are given a central rather than a peripheral role. The decisive interpretation comes to be that the particular rhythm of the association—interpretation—association sequence indicates that the analyst is functioning as an imaginary twin of the patient, supporting the patient in jocular evasion of the “complaints” of interpretations and softening his resentment over the realistic presence of the analyst. The interpretive formulation of the imaginary
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twin is significant for this patient because the psychic re-creation goes back to the earliest object relation and the infant’s inability to tolerate an object not under his complete control. “The function of the imaginary twin was to deny a reality different from himself” (Bion 1950, p. 19). The inability to tolerate external reality is seen as a correlate of the inability to tolerate internal psychic reality. “Only when I had been able to demonstrate how bad I was on all levels of his mind did it become possible for him first to recognize his mechanisms of splitting and personification and then to employ them, as it were, in reverse, to establish the contact they had originally been used to break” (Bion 1950, p. 20).
This seminal definition of psychosis relies on the words “demonstrate” (to emphasize the intellectual connotation of interpretation) and “contact” (to emphasize the aggressive breaking of links between various aspects of internal and external reality). This aggression or attack on associative links is a problem in psychotic formations because it prevents reality testing. That is, the mechanisms of splitting, personification, and projective identification, instead of being used to establish creative links with reality, are used to sever contact with internal as well as external realities. Difficulty in attaining the depressive position, the inability to symbolize, and the impossibility of appreciating the oedipal predicament are some of the more devious effects of severing associative thought links that might serve to connect a person to internal and external reality.
This early attention by Bion to linguistic associations follows Freud’s “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (1911). Freud held that in order to come to terms with the reality principle, the ego must develop various functions of consciousness such as attention, judgment, and memory to replace direct motor discharge of the drives and to initiate thought. Bion develops the thesis that verbal thought is the essential element of consciousness developed by the ego to maintain contact with reality. A psychotic attack on thought, on the associative links themselves, is therefore equivalent to an attack on basic ego functioning and inimical to reality testing. Blëgandon summarizes Bion’s approach:
Bion maintained that the schizophrenic cannot find a way of resolving his psychological difficulties, as he has compromised his mental development through the severe inhibition of his fantasies and dreams. His difficulty in thinking and communicating stems from massive use of the defense of splitting, which prevents him from either creating or using symbols, or using words themselves. It is the analyst’s task to show him these difficulties as they emerge. Since verbal thinking is based on the capacity for integration, the appearance of speech is closely linked to the depressive position, which facilitates integration and synthesis. Verbal thought
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stimulates awareness of psychic reality and consequently, awareness of the depressive experience associated with the destruction and loss of the good object. At the same time this consciousness leads to a greater understanding of the internalized persecutors. Thus the patient feels the relationship between verbal thought and the depressive position as one of cause and effect. This amplifies the hatred he has of analysis because it is, after all, “a treatment which employs verbal thought in order to resolve psychic problems.” — As he gains awareness of psychic reality, the patient begins to realize that he has hallucinations and is delirious, begins to realize that he is or has been insane — His violent hatred will be directed against the analyst. He will affirm with conviction that he has been insane, and with intense conviction that it is the analyst’s fault—Throughout the analysis the transference relationship moves between restriction and expansion — Driven to avoid confusional states and tormented by mutilations, the patient seeks to return to a restricted relationship. (p. 118-120)
The Psychotic Personality
Bion is led to speak of the psychotic and nonpsychotic aspects of personality in order to indicate those ego functions that are subject to the internal destruction of links. Blëgandon provides extensive exposition of Bion’s ideas about the genesis of the psychotic parts of the personality and of Bion’s theories regarding analytic treatment of the psychotic parts of the personality.
During the treatment phases in which there is a danger of a negative therapeutic reaction, the analyst encounters references to curiosity, arrogance, and stupidity, which are, for Bion, the critical indicators that the primordial catastrophe is about to be relived in the analytic transference. Unfortunately, curiosity (sometimes experienced as dependency or a longing for closeness) is a critical part of the initial catastrophe and is also an integral part of analytic study. The analyst inevitably comes to be seen as accessory in precipitating the analytic regression and in turning the analysis into an acting out of the original trauma. The analyst comes to be experienced as blind, suicidal, curious, and/or arrogant.
The patient is convinced that the analyst, in response to his curiosity, is attacking his capacity for projective identification, and his creativity. The patient seems to have no problems except that of the analyst’s existence… The catastrophe which was triggered by attacks on the primitive link connecting mother and infant is transferred to the analyst. (p. 134)
The analyst hopes that the investigations of the analysis will lead to a reconstitution of the ego. But analytic study becomes transformed
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by the transference into an acting out against the analyst (and the analysis) of the destructive attacks against the ego occasioned by the primordial catastrophe. Thus Bion comes to define the psychotic part of the personality as manifest in a tendency toward destruction of the basic ego functions of unification, linking, or joining of two objects, internal or external—making symbolization, the depressive position, and the Oedipus complex virtually impossible attainments:
A situation that is yet more complex can be observed. The patient feels that the analyst offers him an opportunity that has always been withheld. This aggravates his resentment of the privation he has suffered. The patient blames the analyst, as he imagines that he is someone who does not understand him and refuses him the use of the sole means of communication he has to make himself understood. But he connects himself to the analyst by projective identification, as the infant does to the mother’s breast. He locates the origin of the destructive attacks on linking in an external source… The patient clamours for the analyst’s understanding, but is overcome with hatred when he realizes that the latter can be understanding without breaking down. To him the analyst’s peace of mind seems like hostile indifference. The patient is prepared to use anything to destroy this enviable equilibrium, whether it be acting out, delinquent behaviors or suicidal threats… The [patient] has introjected an external breast which refused to harbour and modify emotions. This internalized object is felt, by a weak immature ego, to intensify the strength of the emotions, as it has been less able to bear them… The psychotic part, which attacks all linking activities, prevents the development of verbal thought. It prohibits the non-psychotic part from making use of a therapeutic method to move from rationality to responsibility and the concept of causality. (pp. 137-140)
The Season of Questions Regarding Epistemology
Bion’s work on groups and psychosis leads his colleagues to esteem him considerably. He is elected president of the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1962 for three years, later serving on the training committee and the publications committee while also being president of the Melanie Klein Trust. It is at this time, midway in his sixties, that Bion astonishes the psychoanalytic community with a series of books in search of a theory of knowledge. Blëgandon’s account of Bion’s accomplishments here is such a comprehensive and clarifying distillation of Bion’s ideas on the origins of thought that this reviewer can only be suggestive in terms of its overall impact and import.
Bion’s thinking about thinking always begins with Freud’s (1911) starting point for changes undergone by psyche when the reality principle
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holds sway. According to Freud, motor discharge rids psyche of the increased tension of excitation when the pleasure principle dominates. But as complex ego functioning comes under the influence of the reality principle, motor discharge can only become effective if psyche tolerates an accumulation of tension produced by a delay of discharge. Thought is considered a substitute for motor discharge. The capacity to think makes possible the deferment of tension discharge. Bion formulates that thinking begins in the process of unburdening psyche of the accumulating tension. He relates this process to Klein’s projective identification—the psychic process of splitting off unwanted parts of the self and relocating them elsewhere. Bion speaks of preconceptions—such as genetically based, a priori knowledge of the breast or of the processes set off when one is in contact with the breast. When a preconception becomes realized, it is transformed into a conception through the emotional experience of satisfaction.
Bion reserves the term thought for the linking of a preconception with a frustration—a negative realization. The prototype envisions an infant awaiting a breast and realizing the absence of a breast, a nonbreast, or an internally absent breast. As a result of this frustration and negative realization, the infant is confronted with a need to think. It either can find a means of tolerating the frustration and develop the nonpsychotic part of the personality through psychic creativity or it can fail to tolerate the frustration and founder in psychosis and emotional self-destruction. In the case of successfully tolerated frustration, the realization of the absent breast becomes a thought and the basis for further thinking, which in turn makes frustration even more tolerable, thus creating a creative spiral of developing structured thought processes.
Linking preconceptions to either positive or negative realizations leads to what Bion calls “learning from experience.” Bion postulates a series from preconceptions to abstract concepts (the grid) via this process of forming conceptions or thoughts. When a psyche cannot tolerate frustration, it will attempt to evade it. Then the perceptual-conceptual process that might have created a thought becomes an internalized bad object to be voided or avoided. The thinking mechanism that might have developed through creative use of splitting, personification, and projective identification results in excessive use of these mechanisms in the service of severing contact with realities and ridding psyche of various forms of unwanted “badness.”
Bion’s theories of beta elements (sensations) and alpha functions (rudimentary thoughts) in relation to the development of knowledge, the contact barrier, the use of the grid depicting an array of possible
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kinds of thoughts, the nature of misunderstanding and psychic lies, the search for ultimate truth, the theory of transformations, the geometry of hallucinations, and psychoanalytic gnosis are all dealt with by Blëgandon in a clear and straightforward manner. One cannot simplify such complexities, but they can be stated succinctly and clearly in summary form as this biographer does.
Psychoanalysis Without Memory Or Desire
In Attention and Interpretation (1970), Bion defines psychoanalytic practice in the negative, that is, without memory or desire, and ultimately without comprehension. Bion devotes much effort to cultivating and writing about this frame of mind, which is in some sense almost a spiritual or mystical approach to being with self. After years of note taking for research purposes, Bion abandons taking notes altogether. One reason is that although notes have meaning, they do not refer to a past event but are formulations of a sensory image that is evocative of the future.
The encounter between analyst and analysand cannot occur except through the senses, but the psychoanalyst is concerned only with psychic qualities which the senses cannot apprehend. The more he focuses on actual events, the more his activity depends on thinking, which derives from a background of sense data. Inversely, the more the analyst is real, the more he manages to engage with the analysand’s reality. He then has the opportunity to make an interpretation which facilitates the transition between knowing reality and becoming reality… This is why Bion advises a radical change in the analyst’s attitude when he is working in sessions: a state of mind in which memory and desire have been set aside… He locates the origins of memory in the process of projective identification, which he identifies as the mental mechanism which performs certain tasks before thinking is able to take responsibility for them… Projective identification creates an exchange between a container and a contained: At first a breast and a mouth, then an introjected breast and mouth … “The analyst has to become infinite by the suspension of memory, desire and understanding.” He will inevitably feel dread like “one on a lonesome road… who knows that a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread.” (pp. 221-222)
The Final Season: The Autobiography And Bion’s Literary Art
As Bion passes beyond his interest in scientific epistemology, he moves into new forms of expression that include his activities at conferences, a trilogy of fantasy literature, and an autobiography. During this period, Bion chooses to move to California in 1968. By 1979 he is disappointed
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in people’s response to him and his work there, so he returns to England with his wife. I am omitting in this review a discussion of his analysis, his marriages, his daughter, and other personal relationships and events, which Blëgandon covers in highly evocative ways.
It is Bion’s obscure and enigmatic style that has interested and puzzled readers greatly. By 1977 he does a retrospective study on the grid and the caesura of birth, which Blëgandon contextualizes for us:
Like Socrates, Bion hoped to awaken minds by using humour and dialectic, provoking his interlocutors to come out with their own conceptions and to think for themselves. His own solution was not to be taken as law, but simply as opening up a new universe of questions… Human beings have always managed to survive by preserving the capacity for growth, which depends on a gifted person’s ability to … communicate his intuition to less intuitively gifted people through visual images… (pp. 242-243)
In Bion’s last paper, “Making the Best of a Bad Job” (1987), he echoes the many themes of his life’s work when he refers to the emotional thunderstorm which is inevitably created when two people meet. The analytic process can only occur if one of the two people involved is prepared to cut his losses. The metaphor he uses is a military one, the enemy uses terror to stop one from thinking clearly, so as to prevent one from gaining a true sense of interpersonal reality. Although it is natural to attempt to escape the terror thus created and the distress of encountering another person, “the psychoanalyst uses his mind to rectify false solutions to the problems of distress. Existence is not enough; our existence must also have a certain quality of aliveness.” (p. 245)
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