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by Nicola Glover

| Introduction | Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | Conclusion | Bibliography |

Chapter Four

The Legacy of Wilfred Bion

 Meaning is revealed by the pattern formed and the light thus trapped -

not by the structure, the carved work itself.

W.Bion, A Memoir of the Future, Book I.

Over the last forty years, Bion's work has influenced a number of thinkers - practitioners and non-practitioners alike - who are concerned with art and creativity.1. This chapter will look at Bion's development of Freud and Klein's metapsychology and the impact of his ideas on current aesthetic debate, largely developed through the work of Donald Meltzer.

The evolution of Bion's work begins with his early papers on schizophrenia in the fifties which were the basis of the elaboration of a more sophisticated 'theory of thinking', developed in 1962. His earlier writings (pre-1970) attempt to place psychoanalysis on a more scientific footing, using various analogies mainly taken from mathematics, geometry, biology, physics, and chemistry. These methods of exposition, however, largely fell short of Bion's expectations, and in his pursuit of a new 'universe of discourse' gradually we see him shifting away from a scientific to a more aesthetic and mystical vertex, which draws on an impressive array of philosophers, poets and mystics.2.  It seems that a new era began, once he had removed the 'mathematical scaffolding' his writings.3. The 'latency period in his creativity' ended when his fully worked out 'theory of thinking was presented in 1962, two years after Klein's death.4.

The richness of his later writings offer a very different kind of approach - one which demands much patience and effort on the reader's part and provokes extreme reactions: for the unsuspecting first-time reader. His writing is difficult to follow and often irritatingly obscure, as he constantly refers to a wide range of mathematical, philosophical, theological, mythical and literary sources that both enrich his ideas, but can also create an air of obscurity for those who are unfamiliar with the intellectual terrain coupled with his eccentric style of writing.

As we shall see in section five, Bion's later work becomes progressively more mystical, relying on our own aesthetic appreciation of the 'underlying pattern' in his often puzzling, but always challenging, writings.5. Perhaps it is because of their somewhat off-beat, eccentric approach, that Bion's later writings have been taken less seriously - regarded by some to offer interesting but rather impractical psychoanalytic tools, and dismissed more severely by others as the quasi-religious ramblings of a crank. Donald Meltzer (a close friend and colleague of both Klein and Bion), together with his wife, Martha Harris and her daughter Meg Harris-Williams, have been most active in making Bion's ideas more explicit and accessible, and together with the psychotherapist and writer on aesthetics, Margot Waddell, have made important contributions to a post-Kleinian aesthetic, deploying Bion's insights in relation to a variety of artistic and cultural issues and his model of the mind. The art critic, P. Fuller (as we shall see in chapter six, section 1 below) has been particularly interested in the post-Kleinian developments in British School thinking and has usefully deployed the ideas of Bion (together with those of Milner, Rycroft and Winnicott) in the analysis of American abstract painting, especially that of Robert Natkin and Mark Rothko.

New directions in a Kleinian account of aesthetic value and the creative process were pioneered largely by the work of Bion in the 1960s and 1970s. Meltzer, the chief exponent of Bion, has continued to develop a very distinctive theoretical stance, and has devoted much successful effort to demystifying Bion's ideas. The Apprehension of Beauty (Clunie, 1988), written in collaboration with his stepdaughter, Meg Harris-Williams (a writer and artist) is a significant contribution to a 'post-Kleinian' aesthetic, linking the work of Bion explicitly with philosophical, literary as well as developmental concerns. For according to Meltzer, Bion has brought together the art and science of psychoanalysis and placed this on a foundation no longer isolated from other fields that deal with human mentality - psychology, sociology, history, philosophy, theology, the fine arts, anthropology, palaeontology. Bion is seen as not evolving psychoanalytic theories, but theories about psychoanalysis as a thing-in-itself, in the Kantian sense, from what the analyst experiences; linking psychoanalysis with the broad sweep of humanitarian endeavour, placing more value than any of his predecessors on the supreme value of the Self.



1. The evolution of Bion's work

Bion's distinguished career began early. At seventeen, he joined the army Tank Regiment to fight in the first World War and was awarded the D.S.O. for his efforts at the battle of Cambrai.6. In 1918 he was demobilised and then went to read Modern History at Oxford where he fell under the influence of the philosopher H.J. Paton who introduced him to the work of Kant and to other philosophers, such as Plato, Hume, and Poincaré This philosophical input was to exert a powerful influence on his later metapsychological formulations.

In 1924 he went to study medicine at the University College Hospital in London . By 1929 he was qualified and had achieved the Gold Medal for Clinical Surgery in 1930. The influence of Wilfred Trotter, the distinguished surgeon, with whom he was in contact at the time, was to inspire Bion's interest in groups and herd instincts.

Bion's preoccupation with psychology flourished and was strengthened by his association with the John Rickman, a prominent member of the British Psychoanalytic Society, who was to introduce Bion to Melanie Klein and suggest that he be analysed by her.

Upon entering analysis with Rickman, Bion's training as an analyst in the British Institute began, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of World war Two. During the war he was made Officer-in-Charge of the Military Training Wing at Northfield Military Hospital for six weeks, but he was able in this short time to bring the effectiveness of group work into serious consideration. His work was concerned with the rehabilitation of officers suffering from shell-shock and other nervous problems. His thoughts on groups are outlined in his Experiences in Groups (1961) and shows the development of his ideas, from his pre-psychoanalytic days to his later involvement with Freudian and Kleinian thinking.

In his Introduction to Experiences in Groups, Bion emphasises that the psychoanalytic approach through the individual, and his own approach via the group, are dealing with 'different facets of the same phenomena'. These two ways of seeing provide the practitioner with a rudimentary 'binocular vision'. Bion states that the observations tend to fall into two categories - the Oedipal situation, relating to what he called the 'pairing' group, and the other, which centres on the myth of the Sphinx, relating to the withholding and subsequent revealing of knowledge. He also stresses the significance of the Kleinian theory of projective identification and the interplay between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. It is with these two sets of theories in mind (Freud and Klein) that he goes on to tackle the nature of groups, and his account was to offer new ways of bringing psychoanalytic theory to bear on issues outside the consulting room, to illuminate the wider social, political and cultural domain.

Bion suggests that no individual, even in isolation, can be considered as marginal to a group or lacking the active manifestations of group psychology, even when the conditions that demonstrate this do not appear to be present. Freud's theories (especially that of the Oedipus Complex) show the importance of the family group in the development of every human being. Klein's work, particularly her hypotheses about early object relations, psychotic anxieties and primitive defences, allow us to understand that the individual does not only belong to a family group from the start of life, but also that his first contact with his mother and other persons from his surroundings exert a profound influence over his subsequent emotional development. The psychotic anxieties aroused in relation to the first objects are reactivated in various adult situations. The individual must establish contact with the emotional life of the group which poses a dilemma of evolution and differentiation with having to face the fears associated with change.

At the Tavistock Clinic, Bion worked with small groups of patients to help clarify group tensions, Bion stressed the importance of the emotional reactions of the observer who is often made to experience certain forms of projective identifications, from the members of the group who wish to cast him in the role of say, teacher, consultant, or parental figure. Bion deals with this by refusing to take on these roles assigned to him by the group. He describes the group's resulting exasperation, confusion and anger, as he objectively and impassively witnessed their behaviour, noticing that there often followed a re-instatement of some willing - and usually authoritative - person who would be prepared to carry out the roles designated to him or her, depending on the 'basic assumption' of the group.

Bion also became aware that there were different forces at work within the group that seemed to pull in opposite directions. The groups that congregated to carry out a specific task showed attitudes and methods that did not seem conducive to the achievement of the proposed aim. These were manifest in the intellectually barren conversations during the sessions, in the loss of critical judgement, and in the disturbances in the rational behaviour of its members - all of which did not correlate with the ability and intelligence of its members outside the group situation. Solutions to the problems within the group were not found by using methods attuned to reality. The group situations were heavily charged with emotions which exercised a powerful influence on its members and seemed to orientate them without an awareness of this happening, and its members did not appear to want to examine these situations.

Bion shows us that by participating in groups, the human has different ways of reacting. Two kinds of tendency appear: one is directed toward the accomplishment of the task and the other seems to oppose it. Work is obstructed by a more primary, regressive activity, characteristic of the id-function. Bion introduces specific terms that describe these common features observed in various experiences. The most important are his concepts of basic assumptions, group mentality, and the idea of the work group.

Bion introduces his idea of 'basic assumptions' to give more clarity to the concept of group mentality. It is a term which refers to the existence of a common, unanimous and anonymous opinion at any given moment. Group mentality is the container of all the contributions made by the members of the group. The concept of basic assumptions tells us something about the content of this opinion, allowing greater insight into the emotional phenomena expressed in groups.

Basic assumptions are shaped by intense emotions of primitive origin and are powerful examples of the workings of unconscious phantasy. Their existence helps to determine the organisation that the group will adopt and also the way in which it will approach its tasks. Therefore, the group culture will always show evidence of the underlying basic assumptions active a any given time. The underlying emotional impulses in a group expresses a shared phantasy of an omnipotent or magic type as to how to achieve its goals. These are often irrational, working in unconscious ways, often opposed to the conscious rational opinions of the group members.

Although Bion is better known for his work on groups, the inroads he made into the understanding of psychosis and the study of thinking have probably been the most profound contributions that he made to psychoanalysis.

The 1950's were an important period in the development of Kleinian theory and practice because Klein's ideas about psychotic anxieties and defences were tested with severely ill patients who were mainly diagnosed schizophrenics. A further goal was to see how far psychotic patients could be analysed without changing the essentials of the psychoanalytic method. The analysis of psychotic patients produced new material and significant pioneers included H. Segal and H. Rosenfeld.

All three thinkers agreed on the viability of the psychoanalytic method in treating psychotics and found impressive substantiation of Klein's views that the fixation point for schizophrenia was in the paranoid-schizoid position. All found confirmation of her ideas on projective identification, the early and persecuting super-ego, the pain of depressive anxiety, and the retreat from it using the manic defences and ones relating to the paranoid-schizoid position. The papers published by Bion on psychosis follow chronologically from his work on groups and these writings (1950 - 1962) were brought together in his Second Thoughts (1967), and as the title suggests, were reviewed in the light of further developments in his thinking.

Bion didn't stop with the examination of Klein's theories. He began to develop ideas about the differences between the normal and pathological experience of the paranoid-schizoid position which led him to a distinction between projective identification used to evacuate and fragment mental contents, and projective identification as a form of communication that could influence the recipient and could in turn be influenced by him. This analysis of psychotic thinking and the role of the paranoid-schizoid position led him to formulate a theory of thinking and creativity that is perhaps one of the most original we have today.



2. Bion, Thinking and Creativity

Bion's interest in the analysis of schizophrenics during the forties and fifties, led him to formulate new ideas about the thinking process - how it develops in healthy individuals and also how it can go wrong. This led to his 'theory of thinking' (1962). It was built upon some earlier notions, including his concept of 'linking', conceived from observations of psychotic behaviour in the consulting room.

In Bion's paper (1959) on schizophrenia, he described the attacks on the ego itself, which represented the experiences that Klein (1946) had regarded as the effects of the death instinct arising from within - the feeling of falling to pieces. Bion emphasised, in particular, an attack on the awareness of internal reality. It is the links between mental contents which are attacked by the schizophrenic. Although Freud had also outlined this process when he studied severe obsessional neurosis, Bion emphasised its violent quality. The result is that the schizophrenic lives in a fragmented world of turbulence, with unusable, primitive ideas in his mind - ones that cannot be used for thinking:


All these are now attacked until finally two objects cannot be brought together in a way which leaves each object with its intrinsic qualities intact and yet able, by their conjunction, to produce a new mental object.7.

He adds that the destruction of these connections and conjunctions leads to the patient feeling as if he is 'surrounded by minute links which, being impregnated now with cruelty, link objects together cruelly'. Bion called these particles 'bizarre objects' and later, 'beta elements' - raw, unprocessed sense data which cannot be assimilated and symbolised by the ego as 'food for thinking'. The effect is akin to what Freud (1911) termed a 'world catastrophe':


... a disaster for mental life which is not then established in the normal mode. Instead of thinking based on the reality principle and symbolic communication with the self and with other objects, an anomalous enlargement of the pleasure ego occurs, with excessive use of splitting and projective identification as its concrete mode of relating to hated and hating objects. Omnipotence replaces thinking and omniscience replaces learning from experience in a disastrously confused, undeveloped and fragile ego.8.

Bion took these observations much further and established a formal theory. He regarded this coupling activity as based on an innate predisposition to conceive of the link between a container and its contents, typically the nipple in the mouth or the penis in the vagina. The attack on the link between two internal mental objects is also an attack on the internal parent couple. Because of the connotations of the oedipal couple , the conjoining of two mental objects is felt not only to arouse envy, but to be the basis for internal mental creativity.9.

The coupling of penis and vagina, or mouth and nipple was taken by Bion (1962) to be the prototype of the way mental objects are put together, one inside the other. Thus putting experiences into thoughts, and thoughts into words, entails a repeated chain of linking processes modelled on physical intercourse between two bodily parts. With this model Bion went on to investigate the nature of thought itself - the mating of a 'pre-conception' (an innate 'expectation' in the Kantian sense) with sensory realisations.

Alongside the love ('L') and the hate ('H') impulse, Bion drew attention to the epistemophilic impulse (which Klein had herself noted), which he called 'K'. These links form the basis of relationships to objects (including the relationship and cross-fertilisation of ideas in the mind) which establishes meaning and respect for the integrity of these objects. However, working against these 'positive' links, Bion stressed that there were also the negative '-L', '-H' and '-K' anti-links. These are the antithesis of healthy relating to objects and work to annihilate and corrupt meaning and psychic reality. Creativity is thwarted by the destructive forces that fragment positive links to objects and this results in an impoverishment of psychic life.

Bion's contribution to the understanding of creativity is intrinsic to his 'theory of thinking' (1962). He conceived the thinking apparatus as the 'container-contained' - which was operated upon by the dynamic influence of the paranoid-schizoid (PS) and depressive positions (D), plus the 'selected fact' -akin to a catalyst. This process he termed 'PS« D' with the double arrow suggesting an ongoing oscillation between the two positions.

Bion's understanding of the creative process supplements the view of 'traditional' Kleinians, like Segal, by placing value on the essential interdependence of processes of fragmentation and integration, which he regarded as essential to all creative thinking. He used Klein's concept of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions to illustrate the on-going relationship between disintegration and re-integration that is an essential part of the creative process. Where Klein has emphasised the negative aspects of the paranoid-schizoid position and had placed the depressive position at the heart of successful development, Bion saw the fragmentation and splitting in the paranoid position as a necessary aspect of human experience.

In the creative process, Bion shows that thinking involves the dismantling of previous views and theories, allowing the formation of new ideas. In changing one's way of thinking, the container has to be dissolved before it is reformed. Bion regarded the effort of dissolution as having the quality of a small psychic catastrophe, a "going-to-pieces". It was therefore a movement into the paranoid-schizoid position. The re-forming of a new set of views and theories is a synthesising move like that of the depressive position. Creative effort can therefore be viewed as an on-going process, on a small scale, of movements to-and-fro between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive position.10.

Bion was also influenced by Poincaré's account of the process of creation of a mathematical formula, described by Poincaré in his Science and Method. Bion noted that it 'closely resembles the psycho-analytical theory of paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions adumbrated by Mrs Klein'. Poincaré writes:


If a new result is to have any value, it must unite elements long since known, but till then scattered and seemingly foreign to each other, and suddenly introduce order where the appearance of disorder reigned. Then it enables us to see at a glance each of these elements in the place it occupies in the whole. Not only is the new fact valuable on its own account, but it alone gives a value to the old facts it unites. Our mind is as frail as our senses are; it would lose itself in the complexity of the world if that complexity were not harmonious; like the short-sighted, it would see only the details and would be obliged to forget each of these details before examining the next, because it would be incapable of taking in the whole. The only facts worthy of our attention are those which introduce order into this complexity and so make it accessible to us.11.

Bion takes this to be a model of all creativity - the way in which seemingly disparate, chaotic elements accumulate around a 'selected fact'; a process which gives new meaning to both the chaotic elements and the fact selected. For Bion, this 'selected fact' is the name of an emotional experience.

Bion also introduced the importance of what he called 'catastrophic change'. Any new thought is felt by the psyche as potentially disruptive and shattering. The ability to tolerate this upheaval will result in growth, but it is a painful process that is dependent on the individual's capacity to withstand fragmentation, anxiety and doubt; Bion compares it to Keats's 'Negative Capability'.12. The sense of catastrophe seems to start when the infant first screams and Bion thought the intuition of it was probably older than life itself; a memory of the explosive force that created the universe, carried within the molecules of our bodies.

Bion's theory of thinking and creativity marks a big step forward in psychoanalytic theory. For not only does it provide psychoanalysis with its first account of thoughts (the 'contained'), and the thinking apparatus created to think them (the 'container'), and their relationship to the thinker, it also radically re-orientates psychoanalytic theory into the mainstream of western epistemology. Bion moves away from Freud's mechanistic biological reductionism into a philosophical sphere, invoking the pre-determinism of Kant and Plato. He supplemented Freud's instinct theory with Plato's theory of inherent forms ,pure thoughts (what Bion called 'thoughts without a thinker') and Kant's a priori assumptions (things-in-themselves).

His theory of thinking is based on the conjecture that pure thoughts exist long before there is a mind to think them. According to his theory, they are evoked from passivity into disruptive energies by the sense organ of consciousness as the latter is stimulated by the events in the external and/or internal world. A mind is needed to think these thoughts.13.

According to Bion (following Freud), the thinking apparatus evolves in response to the pressure of thoughts. This begins when the infant projects his uncontainable fear, discomfort and anxiety into the mother, who acts as a container for the child's fears. The mother is able to receive these projections and modify them so that the infant can introject the fear but in a 'detoxified' form.

Bion introduces the terms: 'alpha function', 'alpha elements' and 'beta elements' to designate certain aspects of this process. Alpha function refers to the ability to create meaning out of raw, unprocessed sensory data which he called 'beta elements'. The mother's 'reverie' is her alpha function, and represents the ability to modify her child's tensions and anxieties. The mother and the child form a 'thinking couple' which is the prototype of the thinking process that continues developing throughout life.14.

According to Bion, the alpha function works on the unprocessed beta elements and transforms them into alpha elements in a way similar to a chemical transformation - indeed, Bion compares it to the digestive process, thinking being 'alimentary'. The 'beta elements' (which are fit only for projection and splitting) are so modified that they become absorbable and quite literally, food for thought. The alpha element represents the link between our innate preconceptions (intuitions) and raw experience of the external world. They form the building-blocks of thought upon which more complex systems can be built.

Ultimately, Bion saw the psychotic experience as the result of a failure by the mother to contain her infant's fear of dying. Perhaps the mother was psychotic herself or depressed and unable to contain and modify her child's fears. In this situation, all the infant's anxiety is projected into the mother and instead of being contained and modified by her, the fears are returned to the child but now in a heightened form. The establishment of the alpha function is impeded and thinking seriously impaired.

Bion's concept of the container-contained relation was to have significance not only for Kleinian thinking but for psychoanalytic theory generally. It added the possibility of the psyche's adaptability and re-established the importance of external reality which had been lacking in Kleinian psychology. Like the work of Winnicott, Bion focused on the importance of the individual's relationship to his environment and the importance of the mother's adaptability to respond intuitively to her infant's needs.

With Bion's model, the task of the analyst treating a psychotic is similar to that of the mother who contains the infant's projections without being destroyed by them. The re-establishment of the patient's ability to tolerate anxiety and frustrations depends on his ability to make use of the analyst's own alpha function. When the patient's own alpha function is re-established and his anxieties contained, then the whole process of normal thinking can begin. This model of the analytic encounter is very similar to that of Winnicott who also saw the analyst as taking over the role of the environment-mother that first failed the child.



3. The re-mapping of mental space

Since the work of Melanie Klein, there has been much interest in the British School devoted to exploring the nature of inner space in both its positive and negative realisations. As Bion points out, traditional Kleinian formulations relied upon a visual image of a space containing all kinds of objects (see chapter two, section 2 above); one of her most significant contributions to psychoanalysis was her account of the inner world, especially the concreteness of external reality and the internal objects which comprise it (Bion, 1970, p. 8). The mother's body is regarded as the first 'container' into which the infant projects his love and his hate and correspondingly perceives the inside of the body to contain a whole host of very concretely-felt objects - with both hostile benign aspects depending on whether the paranoid-schizoid or depressive position is in the ascendant. Klein's account of the mechanisms of projective identification (see chapter two, section 3 above) had been derived from the common-sense account of three-dimensional space, and this depended upon a space into which was projected parts of the personality that have been split-off. The degree of fragmentation, together with the distance to which these fragments have been projected, are thought to be an indication of the extent of mental disturbance or normality.

It was Bion's great contribution to highlight the communicative, empathetic role of projective identification, and its prototype in the infant-mother relationship (Bion, 1962). Through the mysterious activity of the mother's reverie, the infant's split-off anxieties (projections) are contained, de-toxified and returned to the infant who introjects them, but now in a modified form: 'unthinkable anxiety' and 'nameless dread' have (through mother's reverie or 'alpha function') become bearable. The notion of the mother (and specifically her breast) as a 'container' which the child himself takes in, Bion believes is the prototype of all thinking and creativity - the 'thinking breast' becomes for the infant the 'container for the sum of meanings' (Stokes). As we have seen, his concept of PS« D (1962) elevated Klein's account of 'positions' from their libidinal, economic framework to a psychic mechanism which actively fills the container with meaning. There is an initial schizoid fragmentation followed by an eventual depressive re-integration, centring around what Bion calls (after Poincaré) the 'selected fact'. This may be an image, a thought (the prototype is the nipple) around which the new meanings can converge and organise themselves. (It resonates with what Stokes has called the 'image in form' ([1966] 1967), and also links with Ehrenzweig's (1967) account of the 'hidden order' emerging from the 'manic-oceanic womb' of undifferentiation after an initial schizoid breakdown - see chapter five below. (However, it must be emphasised that for Bion, the 'thinking breast' is essentially an internal object - it is not 'self-created' in the sense of Winnicott's account of 'hallucinatory wish-fulfilment' which postulates that the child imagines that he has magically created the breast because it is presented to him at the time of his needing it.)

Bion suggests that such geometric concepts as lines, points and space 'derived originally not from a realisation of three-dimensional space but from the realisations of emotional life'. They are also 'returnable to the realm from which they emerged (cf. Fuller's analysis of Rothko's backward journey into the limitless expanse of space in his paintings, to be explored in chapter seven, section 1 below). He believed that the geometer's conception of space derives from the experience of 'the place where something was' and so it can be returned to make sense of psychic experiences such as the feeling of 'depression' which is says Bion 'the place where a breast or other lost object was', or that space is where 'depression or some other emotion used to be' (1970, p. 10).

Bion argues that despite our association of them in everyday expressions, there is an essential difference between the geometer's space and that characteristic of mental images. In the latter, an infinite number of lines may pass through any one point (multi-dimensionality) but if one attempts to represent such a visual image by points and lines on paper, then there would be only a finite amount of lines. Bion says that this 'limiting quality' inheres in all representations of three-dimensional space that approximate to the points, lines and space of the geometer. Such limitation however, does not inhere in mental space until the attempt is made to represent it in verbal thought. Bion postulates mental space as a thing-in-itself that is essentially unknowable, but that can be represented by non-discursive thoughts, including phantasies, dreams, memories (alpha elements) but not unmodified sense-data, or 'beta elements' which are not 'thinkable' but are subject to violent splitting and projection - 'bizarre objects' ( p.11).

He says that 'thoughts may be classified with the realisations of all objects approximating to the representation of three-dimensional space'. He refers to a certain kind of person who cannot tolerate the degree of frustration and limitation involved in this transition from mental space (pre-verbal) to thoughts - whether through the process of verbalisation or spatial realisation. Bion believes that such people lack the capacity to help them map a realisation of their mental space just like the geometer who had to 'await the invention of Cartesian co-ordinates before he could elaborate algebraic geometry' (p. 11). Such an individual is in a state analogous to 'having pain without suffering it';15. 'not understanding planetary movement because the differential calculus has not been invented'; 'not being conscious of a mental phenomenon because it has been repressed'. In all these situations, the problems require thought for their solution; in all of them, thought is restrictive and can be directly experienced as such as soon as an intuition demands representation for private communication. Since thought liberates the intuition there is a conflict between the impulse to leave the intuition unexpressed and the impulse to express it, even though the expression will not be able to capture the full quality of the initial experience. The restrictive element of representation (verbal, pictorial, mathematical) therefore obstructs its transformation.

According to Bion (1970) the creative, adaptive individual is one who has 'negative capability' (Keats), or, in Winnicott's terms, to be able to hold the paradox without resolving it through a 'flight to split-off intellectual functioning' (1971, p. xii)). Bion believes that such persons who cannot tolerate the restriction that such transformations impose are not fully capable of thought, and instead they find substitutes. In such cases the process of projecting parts of the self (which Klein termed 'projective identification') takes place in a mental space which has no visual images to fulfil the functions of a co-ordinate system; there is 'no conception of containers into which projection and introjection could take place and the mental representation of space is felt as an immensity so great that it cannot be represented at all' (op. cit., p. 12).

Such a state Bion compares to 'surgical shock' - where the dilation of the capillaries in the body increases to the extent that the patient may 'bleed to death in his own tissues'. Bion adds that 'mental space is so vast compared with any realisation of three-dimensional space that the patient's capacity for emotion is felt to be lost because emotion itself is felt to drain away and be lost in such immensity' (p. 12). Bion suggests that what may then 'appear to the observer as thoughts, visual images and verbalisations, are actually debris, remnants or scraps of imitated speech ... floating in a space so vast that its confines, temporal as well as spatial, are without definition' (p. 13). Through the psychoanalytic process, the patient gradually evolves the capacity to make use of words, points, lines, of sensuous space for the understanding of emotional (psychic) space - and this involves the toleration of frustration (negative capability), acceptance of the limitations of external reality, and the lessening of omnipotence, all which are necessary (Bion implies) in the process of transformation of non-sensuous intuition into its sensuous realisation. According to Bion, the (successful) analyst becomes the 'container' for the patient's 'content' and also provides a 'content' for his 'container'.

Although we have not yet discussed Winnicott's account of the "potential space" (to be explored in Chapter six section 2 below) it is interesting to compare this to Bion's ideas in order to see what the consequences are for their respective contributions to the understanding of aesthetic experience and the dynamics of pictorial space. As we shall see in Chapter seven, section one below, in his study of the American 'Colour Field' painters, Natkin and Rothko, Fuller deploys both Winnicott and Bion's account of space without any reference to the very important differences in these two conceptions. Although their theoretical differences tend to be submerged when looking at aesthetic issues, I believe that some distinctions should be drawn between their two respective conceptions of space. Fuller regards both Bion and Winnicott as 'post-Kleinian' and this is correct insofar as both thinkers were pupils of Klein and pioneered new developments after her death which largely went beyond her paradigm. However, clinically and theoretically speaking, Bion is more of a 'Kleinian' than Winnicott, and some Kleinians (Hinshelwood) would even hesitate to call Bion a 'post'-Kleinian at all.16.

Bion's conception of inner space concerns the inner world, one which arises from of what he calls 'Ultimate Reality' or 'O' which:


... stands for the absolute truth in and of any object; it is assumed that this cannot be known by any human being; it can be known about, its presence can be recognised and felt, but it cannot be known. It is possible to be at one with it. That it exists is an essential postulate of science but it cannot be scientifically discovered. No psycho-analytic discovery is possible without recognition of its existence.17.


This 'O' can only be apprehended when there is no memory, desire, knowledge or understanding. Indeed, he says that it is the religious mystics who have probably come closest to the experience of it From a literary and philosophical perspective, he likens it to Milton's 'void and formless infinite', Huxley's 'Divine Ground of Being', Plato's 'Ideal Forms', and Kant's 'Noumena'. It also links with the symbol of the empty circle that became a prominent symbol in Susan's drawings - as well as in Milner's own personal set of visual metaphors. For her (as for Bion) it represents the 'gap' in knowledge, the emptiness from which all existence comes - grounded in what she refers to as the direct 'non-symbolic' experience of the undifferentiated matrix of bodily awareness. However, Milner's account sees it almost solely in terms of its creative and transformative potential, Bion on the other hand, acknowledges that to certain persons this state may appear terrifying, chaotic and annihilating.

Winnicott's theory of the 'potential space' is essentially as benign concept of the interaction between child and mother. This is because, as we have seen above, unlike the Kleinians, Winnicott did not believe in the existence of an innate instinctual clash between the love and hate, indeed, he saw no unconscious phantasy operating from birth - thus re-focusing (or avoiding!) the Kleinian emphasis on the innate sadism and destructiveness of earliest infantile phantasies, on a far more beneficent conception of the earliest weeks of life. Having drawn a distinction between the views of Winnicott and the Kleinians, Winnicott's theory, developmentally speaking, could be viewed as fundamentally achieving much the same thing as Bion's account of the breast as the first 'container' for the child. Indeed, in a number of correspondences, Winnicott argues that what Bion is saying is virtually the same as himself, albeit cloaked in more abstract form.18.

Bion's mental space is multi-dimensional, vast and infinite, with no direct correspondence with sensuous reality. It is therefore quite a move away from. Klein's account of the inner world (which is, prototypically, based on the child's phantasies concerning the mother's body and its contents) assuming on a conception of three-dimensionality, and populated with concretely experienced objects. However, unlike Winnicott's account of the space between mother and child, the psychic experience of this inner space has potentially persecuting and threatening aspects, in that it can be perceived (during mental disturbance, for example) as an alien, hostile void or emptiness. The threat of being engulfed by this space is akin to the feeling of 'falling forever' (Meltzer, 1978) - of having no boundaries to contain anxiety, fear, and the result is a psychic catastrophe - what Bion calls 'catastrophic chaos' and 'nameless dread'. Indeed, as we shall see below, Fuller regards the negative, persecutory aspect of inner space as described by Bion highly significant to the understanding of the spatial dynamics of Rothko's work.



4. Donald Meltzer and 'aesthetic conflict'

Donald Meltzer, an American child psychiatrist, came to London in 1954 especially to train with Mrs Klein, and he remained in analysis with her until she died in 1960. His consolidation of Bion's work on thinking and experiencing, from which Meltzer created his own psychoanalytic epistemology, together with his systematic tracing of the development of the work of Bion and Klein from Freud and Abraham's metapsychology (Meltzer,1975), have helped to establish him one of the leading members of the Kleinian Group.19. His contribution to the understanding of creative and aesthetic experience and its developmental role is a particularly significant development post-Kleinian thought.

Meltzer's contribution to aesthetics is a broadly humanistic, stressing the importance of creativity and the aesthetic capacity for human growth in its most far-reaching sense:


It seems somehow fitting that the mind should discover its own beauty in only after it has discovered the beauty of nature and of man's works that bear witness and extol it. In this respect the growth of the individual's aesthetic awareness mirrors the evolution of the race, in its transformation of weapons into tools, in its gradual move from anthropomorphism to understanding nature, in its even slower development from possession and exploitation to responsibility for the world.20.

In Sexual States of Mind (1973), Meltzer explores the origins of sexuality, from Abraham and Freud through to Klein and Bion. In this study, Meltzer traces the origins and the nature of creativity, arguing that the paradigm of the creative act is the harmonious bringing together of partners in intercourse.21. Here he makes an original contribution to a post-Kleinian account of creative achievement, supplementing Segal's more traditional view of creativity. Where she emphasises the depressive position giving rise to both the creative impulse and the aesthetic sense, Meltzer's later work stresses that the capacity for aesthetic experience comes much earlier, and (following Bion) may even be present before birth.

His view of creativity, however, does not differ too significantly from Segal's - both see it arising from the shift in perception and values accompanying the depressive position. Where Segal attributes authentic creativity to the specific phantasy of reparation, she does not give any further account of how the phantasy comes into being., and what distinguishes it from the omnipotent phantasies characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid position and the manic-defence - inauthentic creation.

Meltzer develops this Kleinian account of creativity much further, seeing it and indeed the whole structure of the personality, as given by the internal parents combined in loving and constructive intercourse (as opposed to a sadistic, destructive and hostile one). This combined parent figure forms the basis of the ego ideal, tempering the more punitive elements of the earlier, harsher super ego. The introjected internal parents, says Meltzer, exist as a godlike presence inside each person from which derives a sense of creativeness which can inspire the individual to his own constructive and creative efforts. It is the fount of all subsequent creative achievement, without which there can be no phantasy of genuine creation - reparation.

Meltzer makes an important point when he asserts that 'psychoanalysis discovers that creativity is, for the self, impossible'. All creativity comes 'as in a dream and is a function of internal objects of ... the individual artist-scientist' (1988, p. xiii). The main problem for the development of creative and aesthetic sensitivity is the struggle between his or her aesthetic sense and the 'forces of philistinism, Puritanism, cynicism and perversity', what Bion called '-K' - a external as well as an internal force which undermines psychic reality and truth. Indeed, this struggle between love of knowledge and the escape from the 'truth' (about ourselves and the external world) is one of the themes informing The Apprehension of Beauty, written in collaboration with his step-daughter, Meg Harris-Williams, as a celebration of 'the beauty of the method by which the mind ... operates upon the emotional experiences of our lives to give them a representation through symbol-formation that makes thinking about these experiences possible' - what Meltzer regards as the heart of the psychoanalytic process itself.22.

Meltzer and Harris-Williams's central concept is that of 'aesthetic conflict' and they discuss aesthetic experience and its vicissitudes from a number of perspectives - in art, development and violence. Aesthetic conflict is the struggle between the ravishment which the baby is felt to experience in the presence of the mother's outside, of the formal qualities of breast and face, and his mistrust of her inner world. It 'can be most precisely stated in terms of the aesthetic impact of the outside of the 'beautiful' mother, available to the senses, and the enigmatic inside which must be construed by creative imagination'. Beauty, a property of the 'ordinary beautiful devoted mother' (cf. Winnicott's 'good-enough mother'), is thought of as a quality having the power to elicit a passionate response (passionate in the sense of involving all of Bion's L, H, and K links); and the capacity for this response is thought of as an innate property of the human mind of the 'ordinary beautiful baby', though some people may 'recoil violently from it'.

In many ways this conflict resembles that over the absent object, but it is essential to recognise that the authors think of the aesthetic conflict as concerning the present object - 'it is the human condition' where


... the lover is as naked as Othello to the whisperings of Iago, but is rescued by the quest for knowledge, the K-link, the desire to know rather than to posses the object of desire. The K-link points to the value of desire itself as the stimulus to knowledge, not merely as a yearning for gratification and control over the object. Desire makes it possible, even essential, to give the object its freedom.23.

One consequence of this formulation, is that Melanie Klein's scheme of the paranoid-schizoid position being succeeded by the depressive position is no longer tenable. Instead, conflict concerning the present object is held to precede conflict over the absent object, and 'the period of maximal beatification between mother and baby arises very early, soon to be clouded by varying degrees of post-partum depression in the mother and ... the baby's reaction against the aesthetic impact'. The use of the image of the infant's retreating into the cave in reaction against the dazzle of the sunrise may be seen as the most explicit statement of a Platonist current in analytic thought that begins with Melanie Klein's idea, in Envy and Gratitude, that the inborn capacity for love is a precondition for a good feeding experience, and as we have seen, this is developed further in Bion's theory of innate pre-conceptions.

Evidence for these formulations is adduced throughout the book from the clinical material of patients in widely differing states of development and from the work of poets and other imaginative writers. The mutual enrichment that is possible between analysis and art is evident in the integration of the two author's contributions. Passages from the poets are quoted as being particularly felicitous expressions and embodiments of crucial manifestations of that inspiration which, in its reliance on the creativity of the internal parents (cf. Meltzer above), goes beyond the 'useful productivity' in which received knowledge is appropriately applied. At the same time, we are given examples of the encounter between the critic and the work of art which embody the features of engagement with an aesthetic object; and many of the formulations concerning the task of the critic are directly applicable to the analytic situation.

The authors emphasise the 'mystery of private spaces', one that the authors repeatedly contrast with secrecy: the latter relating more to the projection of curiosity and feelings of exclusion, and with the stimulation of the intrusive curiosity, that culminates in violence. Meltzer argues that the sense of mystery and wonder inspired by the idea of the mother's inner world and the parents' 'nuptial chamber' can be at best unevenly sustained: oscillations between the sense of awe and intrusiveness, between knowledge as exploration and knowledge as control, between Bion's 'knowing' and 'knowing about', are traced in the attitude of Hamlet (Chapter IV) just as in that of a little girl patient who was severely damaged at birth (Chapter VII). Violence, both mental and physical, is seen as an extreme form of the impulse to violate the privacy of the parents' private space; and the impulse to do violence to the baby that is the issue of this nuptial chamber provides the link with the perversions.

One of the ways in which the aesthetic impact of the mother, with its challenge to pride and envy, is felt to be made more bearable, and the imaginative relation to her private spaces therefore more tolerable, is delineated in "On Aesthetic Reciprocity". Here it is shown how a mother's failure to experience anything about her damaged little girl as beautiful was linked to the child's mechanical, intrusive and controlling 'knowledge about' the parental intercourse, while the apprehension of its mystery could evolve through the therapist's acknowledgement of the child's genuine drive towards exploration and enquiry. Thus it is emphasised that the baby's initial response to the mother is to do with what it can perceive, while that aspect of 'babyishness' that elicits the mother's aesthetic response is not to do with the baby's formal qualities, but with its potential for development.24. As one of the authors has said elsewhere, the development of an analysis is furthered if the analyst can keep in mind that he is 'presiding over a process of great beauty'.

This mental attitude, and the potentiality for symbolisation and the apprehension of meaning that it generates, is also what characterises the critic who engages with a work of art in such a way that he himself is open to transformation. Meg Harris Williams suggests a number of qualities expected from a sympathetic critic. Firstly, there must be ':some ability to tolerate the uncertainty of the cloud of unknowing aroused by the confrontation with the aesthetic object, without irritable reaching after fact and reason; some capacity to look steadily at the subject until eventually a pattern emerges'. That is, the critic should be more concerned with 'knowing' rather than the academic kind of 'knowing about' (p. 81).

Secondly, we should expect 'some means of verbal expression which, however inadequate it may be, is nonetheless in intention geared towards receiving the inherent expressiveness of the art-symbol, rather than superimposing the critic's preconceptions'.

Thirdly, and most importantly (though most elusive to define or locate) there should be some overriding sense that the critic's encounter with art constitutes one of his life's formative experiences: that is, to use Bion's terms, an identifying with the evolution of 'O' - 'O' being the 'absolute essence', or 'central feature' of an emotional situation, translated by Bion and others to the 'state of being in love'.

Commitment should be to a process rather than interpretation - :the language of aesthetic criticism should be such as to make it possible to generate new realms of meaning through exploration and discovery, based on 'passionate congruence' between the forms of the inner self and those of the aesthetic object.25.

Form and verbal imagery are seen as essential manifestations of the symbolic activity by means of which the emotional experience embodied in the work of art is contained, rather than as some kind of clothing which may be removed or analysed away in order that a secret meaning may be 'got at'. (Doesn't the French critic, Roland Barthes, say somewhere that there is an analogy between textual analysis and 'striptease' ?)

Harris-Williams quotes extensively from the work of Adrian Stokes - the critic par excellence who exhibits the qualities outlined above - to show how a psychoanalytic criticism may be based on a spatial model in which the viewer both incorporates and is enveloped by the work of art, and is impinged upon by its surface and by its depths. Such a mode of criticism involves 'thinking with' the work rather than 'thinking about' it: tracing the formal qualities of its composition in such a way that meaningful resonances are set up within the critic, who then seeks to find a symbolic form that may convey these to the reader. The work of art 'does not yield the meaning of its message ... to the viewer who has not committed himself for observation and exploration'.26.

Indeed, such an approach is equally fruitful with poetry as with visual art. The careful attention of a 'practical criticism' to the quality of the words and their sounds in On Westminster Bridge evokes an image of the evolving relation between poet and the scene he is contemplating, that is analytically meaningful in the terms of this book, though very far from being a 'categorisation of art's phantasy contents'. The relevance of such a position to the analytic situation is particularly acute - for example, it corresponds to the difference between an analytic interpretation which 'explains' or 'explains away'.

A critical approach to any work of art which involves a 'translation' of its central ideas, leads to a rather barren exposition. Instead, the authors show that, for the reader-viewer, 'thinking with' the artwork enables an enriched degree of complexity in our experience of it. The greatness of a work of art consists in the encompassing and embodying of conflicts, the tracing of which, it is criticism's task to evoke - but not necessarily resolve. This kind of re-orientation of perspective is mirrored in the shift that took place in a dream of a patient (a poet). The patient seemed to 'shift his perception of beauty from the idealised good object to the struggle itself, including the malign and random, along with the good, as participants in the drama, and thus in the love of the world'.27. We will return to some of these themes in our Conclusion.



5. Psychoanalysis as an art

In this section, I shall give an overview of the main direction that Bion's later writing took, for it has important implications not only for clinical theory, but for the status of psychoanalysis itself. As the title of the section implies, Bion's work transformed Klein's model to take into account the nature of the thinking process itself, drawing upon a dazzling array of philosophical and literary references to elaborate his complex ideas.

Although Bion's first models of the mind were firmly within the scientific and mathematical domain, as the titles of his books, Elements of Psychoanalysis (1963) and Transformations (1965) suggest, he grew increasingly aware of the limitations of his scientific vertex. We thus see him gradually moving away from his preoccupation with science as explanatory, towards a descriptive, evocative, and aesthetic conception of psychoanalytic thought. His writings from the mid-sixties are liberally scattered with analogies from the visual arts and literature. Bion stressed that it was the visual sense which lies at the core of unconscious phantasy and he describes more and more the phenomenology of the analytic encounter in terms of visual and aesthetic analogies.

For example, in Transformations (1965), Bion writes that when he thought he grasped his patient's meaning it was often 'by virtue of an aesthetic rather than a scientific experience' (p. 52). In this book, Bion now uses a new way to evoke the actual process of transformation that occurs in the analytic session - and this also evokes Bion's method of communicating to the wider community. The model constantly evoked in Transformations is one of the landscape painter transforming a scene of poppies in a field into pigment on canvas meant for public viewing. Another image he uses to describe the analytic encounter is that of the lake reflecting trees disturbed by the wind and the viewer seeing only the water, recalling Plato's image of the cave, emotional reality distorted by emotions which block the patient's realisation of being 'O' - what Bion designates as the Truth - akin to Platonic Ultimate Reality.

Bion arrived at the rather humble conclusion in this book that what forms the meaning of the analytic encounter is the 'opinion of the analyst'. What he is beginning to show us is that the scientific formulation of psychoanalytic elements and their transformation is not one belonging to a causal chain arrangement, but rather to a pattern of problems like a poem or a picture, available only to aesthetic intuition.

We also see Bion's growing emphasis on 'Truth' - which he regards as necessary to the psyche as food is to the body. Truth has an aesthetic dimension which is an essential part of the analytic encounter. The love of knowledge, together with love itself are seen to be one and the same, invoking Keats' poetic dictum that all we need to know, and all we can know, is that 'Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty'.28.

From this vertex, Bion's Elements of Psychoanalysis and Transformations are ambitious experiments aimed at describing a method of psychoanalytic observation using mathematical devices and rules. It becomes clear by the end of Transformations Bion has realised that this language is no longer adequate. It is the love of truth, coupled with an aesthetic sense - functions of the analyst's personality, his training and experience, together with his ability to form an opinion of what is happening in the consulting room - that are the focus of the analytic encounter

In his last theoretical book, Attention and Interpretation (1970), Bion has clearly cast off the mathematical and scientific scaffolding of his earlier writings and moved into the aesthetic and mystical domain. He builds upon the central role of aesthetic intuition and the Keats's notion of the 'Language of Achievement', which


... includes language that is both a prelude to action and itself a kind of action; the meeting of psycho-analyst and analysand is itself an example of this language.29.

Bion distinguishes it from the kind of language which is a substitute for thought and action, a blocking of achievement which is lies in the realm of 'preconception' - mindlessness as opposed to mindfulness. The articulation of this language is possible only through love and gratitude; the forces of envy and greed are inimical to it..

This language is expressed only by one who has cast off the 'bondage of memory and desire'. He advised analysts (and this has caused a certain amount of controversy) to free themselves from the tyranny of the past and the future; for Bion believed that in order to make deep contact with the patient's unconscious the analyst must rid himself of all preconceptions about his patient - this superhuman task means abandoning even the desire to cure. The analyst should suspend memories of past experiences with his patient which could act as restricting the evolution of truth. The task of the analyst is to patiently 'wait for a pattern to emerge'. For as T.S. Eliot recognised in Four Quartets, 'only by the form, the pattern / Can words or music reach/ The stillness'.30. The poet also understood that 'knowledge' (in Bion's sense of it designating a 'preconception' which blocks thought, as opposed to his designation of a 'pre-conception' which awaits its sensory realisation), 'imposes a pattern and falsifies'


For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have ever been.31.

The analyst, by freeing himself from the 'enchainment to past and future', casts off the arbitrary pattern and waits for new aesthetic form to emerge, which will (it is hoped) transform the content of the analytic encounter.


It is clear that when Bion's understanding of the mind was able to free itself from its mathematical enclosure, the full aesthetic potential of his work could be realised. The scientific vertex was unable to contain his truth and it was the inspiration of the poets that eventually provided him with an intuitive language which was more truthful to emotional reality.

However, it is Bion's three-volume novel, A Memoir of The Future, that clearly shows the importance he attaches to the aesthetic vertex and its capacity to communicate between 'discrete individuals' something that is 'beyond the range of our logical, rational modes of thought'. Bion believes that there may be


something about the dramatic art "form" which is perspicuous. That might make communication possible through the barrier. I was thinking of something which I cannot support in any way that I regard as scientific unless we suppose that science develops from a germ of phantasy.32.


He chose a science-fictional form because of its greater flexibility than theoretical writing in responding to truth. He observes that


... psychoanalytic jargon was being eroded by eruptions of clarity. I was compelled to seek asylum in fiction. Disguised as fiction the truth occasionally slipped through.33.


In his fictional work we can appreciate the importance Bion attached to the functions and possibilities of artistic form in expressing truth. His attempt in the Memoir is to find an 'underlying pattern' in psychic experience which can allow meaning to evolve in the face of threatening new ideas which herald catastrophic change and fragmentation of the psyche. Through the artistic form of the novel Bion recounts his own catastrophic change (during the war) and presents us with an opportunity to submit to the forces of a new idea. The message is clear: unless we are able to accept change, which is always painful, we will never grow. The analyst's task is to enable the analysand to experience and contain (to use George Eliot's phrase in Middlemarch) 'that roar that exists on the other side of silence', and to facilitate the emergence of a new and shocking pattern which can create its own boundaries. Thus meaning and form undergo the mutual expansion and transformation which lies at the heart of creative experience.

In Book One of the Memoir and in his São Paulo talks, Bion describes this process in artistic terms by describing how a sculpture affects the observer: the 'meaning is revealed by the pattern formed and the light thus trapped - not by the structure, the carved work itself'. Bion is saying that the form of art, like the analytic encounter, captures meaning which lies outside its own boundaries - the concrete form can evoke forms which lie in a realm beyond - that 'deep and formless infinite' described by Milton.

Bion transforms the analytic encounter into one which is essentially a work of art, an aesthetic process which he likens to


the diamond cutter's method of cutting stone so that a ray of light entering the stone is reflected back by the same path in such a way that the light is augmented - the same 'free association' is reflected back by the same path, but with augmented 'brilliance'. So the patient is able to see his 'reflection', only more clearly than he can see his personality as expressed by himself alone (i.e. without an analyst).34.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, one of Bion's outstanding strengths lies in his constant striving to help others to live - according to the saying, 'to thine own self be true'. Bion, like Winnicott, emphasised the importance of the Self and its need to have an understanding of its own nature.

However, Bion also recognised that the reaching of truth is never complete, for it cannot be experienced intellectually. It is only true whilst it remains un-verbalised; any attempt to put it into words distorts it. Bion is telling us that we must be that truth. This means facing up to the truth about ourselves and becoming this truth - reaching 'O' is closer to a mystical state than a 'cure'.

We infer from Bion that a successful analysis is one that facilitates the patient's experience of new ideas and to enable him to experience change creatively in response to these. The analysand and analyst, like the prototype of mother-baby, become a 'thinking couple' and through this, the patient is able, if envy and paranoid defences not too strong, to re-view his experience in a way that restores the ability to accept and to learn from new experience.

T.S. Eliot, in his Four Quartets expresses a view of the relationship between meaning and experience that Bion explored in his writings and clinical work:


We had the experience but missed the meaning,

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form, beyond any meaning

We can assign to happiness.35.


The experience of meaning - and also meaninglessness - are vital for growth. The meaning may not give us any contentment, but it will be part of our being 'O'. Thus it is not pleasure that we should crave but Truth which is the vital food necessary for our psychic health. This is the essence of Bion's message and through this he has transformed the task of analysis into something which fosters a more profound self awareness, consonant with Eastern philosophical thought.

Bion's efforts have thus led to new findings and new territories for analytic exploration and although he must acknowledge his profound debt to both Freud and Klein before him, he has largely moved beyond them. He has placed the analyst in the position of an artist, exploring the 'deep and formless infinite' of the unconscious, waiting for a pattern to emerge.

Bion's language echoes his metapsychological beliefs and he emphasised the emotional experience of his words rather than their intellectual understanding. Bion thus stressed the importance of our transformation of his ideas into our own experience, rather than their mindless, uncritical assimilation. He often cautioned that we should not try to understand what he said or wrote but rather we should be receptive to our individual impressions and responses to what he said, advising his pupils not to 'listen to me, but to yourselves listening to me'.

Meltzer's recent work (1988) largely inspired by Bion, suggests that not only do new psychoanalytic theories 'organise the clinical phenomena that have been observed in a more aesthetic (beautiful?) way', but that the beauty of the analytic encounter lies in the re-experiencing of the earliest realisation of the mother's body - especially her face - which, for the infant is essentially an aesthetic encounter; a moment of intense aesthetic impact which precipitates Meltzer's notion of aesthetic conflict - an ambivalence lying at the heart of deeply felt aesthetic experience, the intensity of which threatens to fragment and overwhelm the new born child: It is that beauty which ' is nothing but the beginning of terror that we are still just able to bear'.36.

One of the most significant aspects of this recent work, is the way in which words denoting fundamental human emotions and concepts - truth, beauty, awe, wonder, joy - are reinstated in a central theoretical position - as they are in Winnicott's writings, too. This contrasts with much psychoanalytic literature, where


The absence of the vocabulary of aesthetics ... at least in its theoretical vocabulary, is nowhere more stunningly illustrated than in Melanie Klein's Narrative of a Child Analysis. The terse and even harsh language of her theories, and their preponderant concern with the phenomenology of the paranoid-schizoid position, stands in astonishing contrast to the emotional , and certainly at times passionate, climate of her relationship to Richard and of his overwhelming preoccupation with the vulnerability of the world to Hitler's destructiveness and his own.37.

Following the work of Bion, there has been a considerable re-orientation in psychoanalysis within the British School towards the recognition of a Self, (a far more enriched and sophisticated notion than the Freudian 'ego', which is essentially a structural concept ). This, together with an emphasis on role of aesthetic and creative capacities for development, and the belief that successful symbol-formation depends on what Milner calls 'a going backward in order to come forward' - i.e. the return to the infantile, narcissistic illusion of omnipotence that the infant himself has created the world - has led to a conception of the relationship between artistic practice and psychoanalysis which emphasises the role of intrapsychic illusion (as opposed to delusion) in aesthetic and creative experience. This will be looked at more closely in the following Chapters.



1. The main writers include practitioners such as H. Segal, D. Meltzer and his wife, Martha Harris, M. Waddell, M. Likierman, M. Milner, and non-practitioners such as Meltzer's step-daughter, Meg Harris-Williams, and to a lesser extent, A. Stokes, R. Wollheim, P. Fuller, A. Ehrenzweig, for example.

2. For example, Keats, Milton, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Meister Eckhart, St John of the Cross, Plato, Hume, Kant.

3. See D. Meltzer, The Kleinian Development (Clunie Press, 1975), p.30.

4. Including his last theoretical work, Attention and Interpretation (1970); his two-part autobiography: The Long Weekend (1982) and All My Sins Remembered (1985); the three-part semi-autobiographic, science fictional account of the mind, A Memoir of the Future (1975-9, republished by Karnac Books, 1992).

5. Bion is 'one of the rare mystics of ours or any time'. See Grotstein ed., Do I dare Disturb the Universe? (Maresfield, 1988), p. 33.

6. The Long Weekend 1897-1919 (Free Associations, 1986) is the first book of a two-part autobiography, and gives a vivid account of his wartime experiences and their effects upon his development. He put his wartime experience to evocative use, comparing the position of an analyst in the consulting room with that of the soldier on the battlefield, who has to retain the capacity to think whilst 'under fire'. Bion saw the consulting room as a potential battlefield where the analyst must try to think about (contain) his patient's responses or attacks, rather than blindly projecting and expelling them . This demands great discipline and 'negative capability'.

7. Second Thoughts (Maresfield, 1987), p. 50.

8. E. O' Shaughnessy, ' A clinical study of a defence organization', Int. J. Psycho-Anal, 62 (1981), p.183.

9. Also known as the 'combined parent figure'. See Hinshelwood (1989), p. 240. Meltzer (1973) was to develop this point, seeing the fount of personal creativity due to the depressive reconstruction of the internal couple in realistic intercourse, as opposed to sadistic and violent coupling characteristic of more primitive mental states.

10. The implications of Bion's ideas for aesthetics have been developed in both Segal and Stokes's later work. Stokes, for example, talks of the 'sense of fusion' combined with 'otherness' at the heart of authentic aesthetic experience. A similar emphasis on the link between disintegration and re-integration in artistic activity can be found in Ehrenzweig (1967).

11. Learning from Experience (Maresfield 1988; first pub. 1962), p. 72.

12. Keats wrote that a 'Man of Achievement' was 'capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason'. Letter to George and Tom Keats, 21 December 1817, in The Letters of J. Keats: 1814-1821, edited by H.E. Rollins (Cambridge University Press, 1958), p. 193.

13. Grotstein notes that Bion would probably have reformulated Descartes' cogito ergo sum into 'I am , therefore I have thoughts without a thinker which demand a mind to think about them'. (Grotstein, 1988), p. 15.

14. Bion decided to use Greek symbols and mathematical language to express his ideas because he felt that ordinary language was too saturated with preconceptions. By using a terminology removed from familiar language, Bion hoped to allow the analyst's own experience to fill the terms with his own meaning derived from personal experience.

15. Perhaps this is what Mrs Gradgrind meant when she remarked in Hard Times that 'there is a pain somewhere in the room but I am not quite sure where it is' !

16. For a more detailed discussion of this point see N. Worledge, 'Wilfred Bion: his Kleinian Heritage and Post-Kleinian Legacy' (unpublished M.A. dissertation, University of Kent, 1989) and chapter four below.

17. Bion (1970), p. 30.

18. See his letter to J.O. Wisdom, in F. Rodman, ed., The Spontaneous Gesture: Selected Letters of D.W. Winnicott (Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 159.

19. However, latterly, his views on the training of psychoanalysts brought him into conflict with the strict methods of the Institute for Psychoanalysis; he is no longer a member, regarded by more orthodox Kleinians as somewhat of a controversial figure.

20. D. Meltzer and M. Harris Williams, The Apprehension of Beauty (Clunie,1988), p. xiii.

21. This is also significant in his analysis of the relationship between artist and viewer where 'there is an exact parallel in the sexual relationships between individuals'. The art-viewer is involved in processes of introjection and projection between himself and artist, via the artwork which can be of either a perversely masochistic, sadistic sort or of a more constructive, nourishing nature, depending on whether destroyed objects/parts of self , or more loving ones are being communicated.

22. Ibid., p. xiii .

23. Ibid., p. 27, original italics.

24. This links with the observations of some possible consequences where there has not been adequate containment of the conflicting responses to the object: for instance, psychosomatic symptoms when this impact can no longer be evaded (see "The Recovery of the Aesthetic Object"), or the avoidance of thought and meaning in favour of sensory experience that F. Tustin described in autistic children.

25. Ibid., p.181.

26. Ibid. p. 183.

27. Ibid., p. 3.

28. Keats also wrote that 'what imagination seizes as beauty must be truth'. Keats and Bion are pointing to a kind of 'truth' by which we live - an aesthetic truth, directed particularly towards apprehending the interplay between the forces of good and bad, as opposed to the correctness of intellectual statements about things. According to Keats, truth was particularly linked with the question of justifying good and trusting to it in the face of destructive and evil elements which abound. In Bion's terms, this involves faith in Ultimate Reality - 'O' - which demands our capacity to tolerate potentially catastrophic change and unknowing without resorting to impoverishing and destructive defences. Bion links this capacity to Keats's 'Negative Capability'.

29. Attention and Interpretation (Tavistock, 1970), p. 125

30. Collected Poems (Faber, 1985), p. 194.

31. Ibid., p. 199.

32. A Memoir of the Future, Book Three: The Dawn of Oblivion (Karnac 1992), p. 539.

33. Ibid., Book Two: The Past Presented, p. 230.

34. Meltzer (1978),p. 126.

35. Op.cit., p. 208.

36. Rilke, quoted in Segal (1986, p. 203, my italics.

37. Meltzer (1988), p. 25.





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