Sunday, July 20, 2014

Becoming a Subject

It is the subject who desires. Bromberg [blog post July 6, 2014] already alluded to anorexia as renunciation, or inability to own, desire. Developing a cohesive sense of self, or subjectivity, requires in infancy and childhood attunement which serves to regulate physiological and affective experience. Affect, once regulated, can be integrated with experience (as episodic memory) such that accumulation of memory gives a continuity over time and the experience of a sense of self. Subjectivity also includes agency, which begins with that of an infant able to engage the caregiver in cooing repartee or the toddler who can command the shared delight of a caregiver when a presented (shared) dust bunny or acorn.  Benjamin notes it is the shared joy, the toddler at discovery, the mother at the toddler’s joy, not the presented thing itself, that brings communion.

As Winnicott knew and Kennedy notes: reality [and meaning] arise out of shared interaction between two subjects, that is, socially constructed, neither already present nor individually created, but of both. Nietzsche, too, posited that the subject is not given, but invented, added up. Society as well arises then from the result of subjective meaning. Meaning, co-created with the caregiver (having a place in a relational world), gives one a sense of having the right to be here in the world, and be here as a welcomed subject. At the same time, there is the dilemma, what Husserl called “the paradox of human subjectivity” because we are both subjects (with desire) for the world and objects (of desire) in the world.

Bromberg, like Hume, denies a singular subject or self, but instead sees us made up of a collection of self states, variably integrated, or “a collection of different perceptions.” Kennedy describes a kind of thinking “which takes account of a fleeting and ambiguous nature of our subjective life as it exists in relation to a world of other subjects, and which cannot be tied down to the centralised and solitary ego.”  Kennedy, evoking Benjamin, “points to the need to use a model of the mind that incorporates both positions [intrapsychic and intersubjective] without privileging either.

Kennedy tells us that Kojeve noted Hegel’s introduction of the desiring subject, distinct from the knowing subject, for Kojeve

emphasised that the person who contemplates and is absorbed by what he contemplates, that is the ‘knowing subject’, only finds a particular kind of knowledge, knowledge of the object. To find the subject, desire is needed; the desiring subject is the human subject. As explored by Kojeve, what is essentially human about desire is that the subject desires not just an object, not even the body, but the other's desire. One desires the other's desire. The movement between the subject and the other in a constant search for recognition of their desires constitutes human reality. Desire is the essential element reaching beyond the individual subject to the other subject. These descriptions seem to capture an important element of the psychoanalytic relationship, in which the subject's desires, or wishes, dreams and fantasies are the material on which analyst and patient work.

Kennedy writes that “With the analyst not being directly available, the analytic setting sets in motion a complex search for the human subject.” This got my colleagues and I arguing about the use of the couch and whether the analyst out of sight promotes the subjectivity of the patient, as if in order to be a subject, the other must be an object— which, to my mind, is anti-Hegelian (Hegel notes that the subject must be recognized by an equal other in order to be a fully experienced subject). Kennedy notes that we must own desire of the other as object, and that being a subject also entails the capacity to take up different positions without become frozen or fixed in any. Our welcoming in varying self states of the patient, then, can confound the patient who, himself, finds these dissociated parts unwelcome (and vice versa for the analyst). Included in the patient’s (or our) disavowal is the difficulty of allowing the other to make an impact.

Moreover, intersubjectivity, adds Kennedy,   

refers not only to the sharing of experiences but also to issues of meaning surrounding these relations, the nature of the orientation to the other, how one understands the other and is affected by the other and the place of human desire, as well as the nature of the social world.

Kennedy’s  paper is rich in contemporary ideas, but I wondered in his clinical material— where he writes that Mrs. A could not find her own subjectivity— if her complaints did not also include that she could not find her analyst’s (as had been the case with her mother’s) subjectivity either.

Kennedy, R. (2000). Becoming A Subject: Some Theoretical And Clinical Issues. Int. J. PsychoAnal., 81:875-892.

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