Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Uncertainty and Poetry

Contemporary psychoanalysis has sought to deconstruct the authority of the analyst as ‘the one who knows’ and, instead, struggles to open itself to uncertainty, spontaneity, and surprise in the analytic situation. In struggling to become more open to uncertainty, I was pleased to see on PBS Newshour an interview by Jeffrey Brown on March 4, 2013 of poet and renowned translator David Ferry. Now 88 years of age, David Ferry was given the Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and recently won the 2012 National Book Award for Poetry for his most recent collection of poems, titled Bewilderment.  When asked by what he was bewildered, Ferry answered,

Everything…just as everything we say to one another is an attempt to try to get something clear to the other person or to ourselves and.... that's always a partial success and a partial failure. … [T]he title [Bewilderment] acknowledges that.

I thought how like the attempt between analyst and analysand that is, or between any two people really, in any relationship, striving to approximate ever closer, and accepting that inevitably it fails, as it must fail, for we retain our otherness.

Jeffrey Brown noted, “ This is a man clearly obsessed with connections and links,” when referring to how Ferry integrates with his original poetry lines from famous classical works [Ferry is  an acclaimed translator of the Babylonian epic "Gilgamesh" and of Latin texts by Horace and Virgil, and is presently working on an English version of Virgil's epic, "The Aeneid"]. Ferry explains. “One reason for doing that is what it says in my own poem [See below], its usefulness for that poem. It also, I think, does mean that there's a kind of motive to connect what you're saying to the past of writing, that you want your own poem to be part of that kind of enterprise.”

Talk about the intersubjectivity of poetry: Ferry is influenced by Virgil and then he changes Virgil when he includes the classic work in his modern poems.  Ferry says it like this:  “When you read something, and especially when you're reading compellingly great [poetry],  that becomes part of your identity, at least while you're reading it. You become changed by reading it.” Though Ferry adds, “And then you're finished with it. Then you're lost again. Then you're back to just who you are.” I know that a number of analytic patients feel that way between sessions as if the change within us is too imperceptible to be held.  I think who we are now includes how the poem had changed us then. Our impact on our patients, and theirs on us, remains, however imperceptible. [You can never stand in the same river twice.]
I will close with an excerpt from Ferry’s "Ancestral Lines" which talks about our connection to the past:

It’s as when following the others’ lines,
Which are the tracks of somebody gone before,
Leaving me mischievous clues, telling me who

They were and who it was they weren’t,
And who it is I am because of them,
Or, just for the moment, reading them, I am,

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Neil Altman, PhD visits Tampa to discuss Race and Class

Neil Altman, PhD spent the day on February 16, 2013 with the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society with a presentation on “Race, Class, and Culture from a Psychoanalytic Perspective.” Altman noted that arrogance, to think we know something we don’t know about the unconscious,  is an occupational hazard for therapists, and that the analytic attitude is about being surprised. We have to have enough humility to be confronted by our patients about our blind spots. Like colonial mentality, if we hold on perniciously to the idea that there is a mainstream, then there are deviations, deviants, from that mainstream, and we locate ourselves in a place of exclusionary normalcy.

When psychoanalysis evolved to a where the relationship, too, is included in the focus of study, the analyst is removed from the ‘objective’ perch and becomes, as Sullivan noted, a participant-observer, implicating the analyst in the inquiry. Once we acknowledge our participation then we can find a way of looking at it. An analytic perspective focuses on the process (“the landscape we live in”) rather than the end point. One attendee put it aptly: once sacred aspects of the frame were let go, what remained sacred was the relationship; two factors are of utmost concern: emotional availability and self-reflection. Another attendee noted that emotions are central to relationship, and we have struggled since Descartes, who was wary of emotions as unreliable and the cause physical illnesses, to reestablish their rightful place in our decision making.

Altman says that race, class, money, all have an interplay of emotions in the haves and have nots, and in contempt and shame. While each of us is organized toward shame proneness, the social system aggravates this when it is organized in ways that activate shame. In shame based cultures, the defense is saturated with what it defended against. Race is organized by relation of polarities: good and bad, dominant and submissive, privileged and un-privileged. When we move from the paranoid-schizoid position (in Kleinian terms) of splitting, projection, and polarities to the depressive position which integrates good and bad into wholeness, we transcend polarities. The depressive position, seeing the other as a subject also capable of being hurt and harmed, allows for guilt, and calls into action reparation.  

Some aspects of working in community mental health agencies were discussed: the dilemma of objectifying patients while encouraging autonomy; how analysts can represent Fairbairn’s exciting and rejecting objects: the bad object first excites then rejects, first seduces, then abandons [see 2008 paper by Altman et al On Being Bad While Doing Good].  Aron and Starr have published a new book A Psychotherapy for the People where they note that Freud envisioned that one day psychoanalysis would be available  to everyone just as surgery is available to everyone.

A number of attendees resonated very personally with Altman’s talk, sharing they had parents who crossed race or class divides to marry. One observed “I was born into multiplicity … I was different yet the same.” Another added, “Race is one way we separate ourselves.” 

Because in the discussion of otherness by race and class, we need to include gender, I will close with some comments made by Gloria Steinem in a recently aired (2-27-13) PBS Newshour in which she said that Society moved, for economic reasons, to hierarchialize human beings in terms of sex, race and class, where power and control included women’s bodies and reproduction, and we must return to humans being “linked, not ranked” where the “paradigm of culture is the circle, not the pyramid.”