Sunday, September 13, 2009


Tampa Bay Welcomes Back Bruce Reis, PhD

Dr. Bruce Reis, a guest in February 2009 of the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc at their Trauma Workshop Healing Haunted Lives, returned to Tampa to speak on Saturday, September 12, 2009 this time at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. In his first morning presentation, Dr. Reis spoke on Comparative Intersubjectivity, highlighting Recognition, the Subject, and definitions of Intersubjectivity.

Jessica Benjamin reminds us that recognition is not, as some Interpersonal authors misconstrue, knowing the personality or preferences of the other, but rather is the recognition of the other as a separate center of consciousness, with her/his own desire and initiative, and as a subject ‘like me.’ She notes that mutual recognition is an ideal and that in reality there exists a constant tension between the need to assert one’s self (one’s own desire) and the need to be recognized (in relationship with an equal other subject). Reis notes this is a tumultuous tension, never easily achieved, and is constantly re-lost, just as Hegel noted that recognition is an ideal condition.

Philosophers have written of intersubjectivity for two centuries. Hegel saw life as subjects at war with each other, a ‘me’ versus ‘the world,’ or a life-death struggle between two hypothetical individuals where each’s desire (to omnipotently have her/his desire fulfilled) comes into conflict with the other (who has own desire). Hegel proposed possible outcomes: One vanquishes/kills the other, but this victory is pyrrhic as the other is then unable to meet the individual’s needs for recognition; One enslaves the other, but then the master cannot achieve true recognition when that recognition from the other (slave) is discounted; or, thirdly, and ideally, there is mutual recognition between two equal subjects.

Benjamin, relying on infant research, feminist theory, and the Frankfurt school, tempers Hegelian ideas with those of Winnicott. While both Hegel and Freud intimated that an infant does not want to recognize the other!, Winnicott thought infants do have a desire to know the other. Benjamin holds these antithetical ideas in dialectic tension: we want both to know and want to destroy the other. Reis points out how interpretations (e.g. ‘It is clear to me that you feel about me the way you felt about your mother’) can dominate the other.

Thomas Ogden also interprets Hegel and Winnicott, but comes to a different intersubjective theory. Like Winnicott he sees the subject (of the analyst or patient, or, of mother or infant) both as created and as already in existence to be discovered. Influenced by the British Middle School of Object Relations, he postulates “the analytic third,” not a concretized person, but a process, a dialectic tension between the Unconscious of the patient and the Unconscious of the analyst, a third created by both. This is a type of Relational co-created process where the patient’s material is partially structured by the analyst’s Unconscious. Whereas Wilfred Bion saw the analyst’s reverie as an objective, scientific tool which allowed the analyst to experience the patient’s Unconscious, Ogden sees reverie as a more personal experience for the analyst, presumably a mutual influnce.

Postmodern psychoanalysis, then, has moved from drive theory to object-relating, from getting to understand the patient-other to experiencing the distinct otherness of the patient.

While Benjamin writes of intersubjectivity as a developmental achievement (albeit one in constant struggle) the Boston Change Process Study Group (BCPSG) says intersubjectivity exists from the beginning of life. Infant research shows that infants are not in an autistic shell (Freud) nor in need of separation (Mahler), but that infants see themselves as separate from mother [primary intersubjectivity]. Benjamin sees this as a precursor to intersubjectivity, that the mother may be seen by the infant as separate, but not yet seen as a subject with her own consciousness and desire [secondary intersubjectivity, and where, e.g. one knows the mind of the other through a third].

For the BCPSG, then, there is no need to destroy the object (Winnicott) in order to see her, when she survives destruction, as separate. Subjects already exist! And there is not the Hegelian tension, not a tension between recognition and destruction between mother and infant. Instead, infants are observed to want to share the good company of others, and when infants and attuned mothers ‘fit’ there is mutual accommodation between the two. The BCPSG then has a different starting point than Freud or Object Relations, with a conception of mind not from inner (intrapsychic) experience, but from in-the-body behavioral interactions; nor from brain (neuronal level) function, but from function of embodiment where brain is in body and body is in a social world.

Stolorow, Atwood, Orange, et al, have a different perspective of intersubjectivity, based, in part, on phenomenology, hermeneutics, and Heidegger, where intersubjectivity is not a developmental achievement, but the ever present condition that allows experience to exist at all. They take a clinical approach similar to that of Self psychologists: empathic immersion where confrontation of the patient’s experience is eschewed. There is not a fight to the death, but instead a focus, like Kohut, on the developmental needs of the patient. The patient is the authority. This approach is different from Relational schools, where authority is deconstructed, and where the patient’s experience is not privileged over the analyst’s. In fact, one could wonder how privileging the patients experience, instead of holding it in dialectical tension with the analyst’s, is really intersubjective at all. Reis says Bion presciently answered this when Bion did not assume what was going on in the patient’s mind, but neither did he assume that the patient knew more than the analyst.

1 comment:

Larry said...

I will try to respond.
Intersubjectivity from Kohut's ideal of the "selfobject" where affective attunement means "lending self" to other and Benjamin's idea that both analyst and analysand must achieve "mutual" recognition or the relationship collapses into a complementary dominant/submissive pattern is fascinating inquiry into the construct of "affective attunement" I work as an elementary scholl counsellor in Vancouver Canada and am always questioning whether I should "lend self" to other (Kohut's selfobject) OR MAINTAIN A TENSION WHERE THE STUDENT MUST RECOGNIZE THE OTHERS SUBJECTIVITY AS A CENTRAL FOCUS.
Donna Orange in her book (Emotional Understanding) also brings in the pragmatists view of intersubjectivity which G.H. Mead and Habermas have elaborated.
Finally because I work in public school settings Vygotsky's construct "mediated mind" explores intersubjectivity from a cultural-historical framework.
I would be interested in any thoughts or readings where these ideas are being applied to school settings.