Sunday, November 10, 2013

Benjamin elaborates the Third

The Tampa Bay psychoanalytic community will be enriched on December 7, 2013 by “A Day with Jessica Benjamin” hosted by the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society. Psychoanalyst, philosopher, feminist, and a remarkable theoretician and author, Benjamin has reminded developmental psychoanalysts that mother is not simply an object to baby but a subject in her own right who—along with soothing, mutual regulation, reverie, and developmental impetus—also brings language, law, and thirdness to the dyad. When the mother identifies with her baby (because she was once a baby) and she experiences herself as the adult mother holding her baby, thirdness (of baby, mother once baby, and present mother) ensues, that is, mother’s ability to hold two positions simultaneously adds to the dyad the third vertex of a triangle, creating potential space for new things between both members of the dyad.  Thirdness, says Benjamin, orients the intersubjective analytic work, both as communion experience (one in the third) and symbolic experience toward differentiation (third in the one dyad). When thirdness breaks down in the therapeutic situation, complementarity leads to impasses and enactments.

Benjamin defines intersubjectivity as a developmental achievement of mutual recognition, as when the baby—much like the effect, described by Winnicott, of the mother’s survival creating for the infant externality—sees the mother as a separate other no longer under his omnipotent control. While there is some sadness with the loss of fantasized omnipotent control over the other, there is joy that the other as a subject is now worthy to recognize in turn, and greater joy still that this separate other sometimes shares like-mindedness, choosing communion and not simply united by subjugation of will. Now each subject in the dyad can recognize the other as a subject, not merely an object to serve the needs of the self.  This subject to subject interacting is highly precarious, for each subject keeps falling to the side of treating the other as if an object. “Holding the tension” then becomes the Herculean task of the analyst as she tries to refrain from oppressing the analysand with her expectations, her theories, and her will and strives instead to keep thirdness viable.

Benjamin, J. (2004). Beyond Doer and Done to: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness. Psychoanal Q., 73:5-46.

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