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Grotstein, James S. (2000). Who is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream. Hillsdale: The Analytic Press. Hardcover. 347 pages. ISBN 0-88163-305-4
Reviewed by Keith Haartman
If we sometimes lose sight of the awe-inspiring implication of the unconscious, of the notion that our awareness and will are permeated, influenced, and at times wholly dictated by hidden regions of thought and desire, James Grotstein’s Who is the Dreamer and Who Dreams the Dream reawakens our appreciation for the enigmatic reaches of the psyche. Original and illuminating – though at times maddeningly arcane – Grotstein’s opus confirms that psychoanalytic inquiry, far from anachronistic, is still in its infancy, still provocative, and still able to evoke a fascination for phenomena at the mysterious edges of our comprehension.
Grotstein offers a weaving, intricate amalgam of depth psychology, physics, cybernetic theory, religious thought, philosophy, mathematics and geometry. Yet his primary interest – the ineffable intelligence of the unconscious – remains as an insistent theme throughout. Grotstein creates an exciting thesis with a rich and eccentric layering of traditions and influences. He augments his neo-Kleinian sensibilities and integrates divergent schools both within psychoanalysis and beyond. Grotstein’s depiction of the mutual dependence between profane consciousness and the numinous unconscious points to influences from Jungian and even transpersonal psychology.
At the heart of Grotstein’s work is his contention that the unconscious is more than a seething cauldron of drives, or a mere apparatus programmed by the mechanical and impersonal computations of the primary process. As he puts it, "I am searching…for the ‘Stranger within thee’ – and within me – a more vitalistic, animistic, and phenomenological way to address the rich complexity of the mind, one that respects the mind’s numinousness, mystery, and infinite possibilities" (p. xvi). The unconscious, as an alter ego, as a "numinous second self" (p. xvi), possesses an ineffable subjectivity whose "sophistication, profundity and virtuosity…dwarves the ego" (p. xvi). The unconscious – a knowing, thinking presence – is structured holographically and its comprehension extends across vast networks of parallel data. Because it operates under the aegis of infinity, the subjectivity of the unconscious, like that of a deity, is ineffable and transcends the linear, space-time, co-ordinates of the ego. This "preternatural other" is "encased within an ultimate internal cosmic subjectivity" (p. xxiv). Grotstein depicts the relationship between the ego and the internal other in terms of a "co-operative covenant", a metaphor that emphasizes communion and communication. The unconscious tries to attract the attention of the psyche, to forge a unity that allows one to "be together with oneself" (xxvi). As part of this covenant, the unconscious works to ensure that dreams, symptoms, and free associations deliver tolerable doses of "revelation". The unconscious aims to produce useable insights that we can recognize and absorb.
In his reflection on the dream process, Grotstein emphasizes the complex agency, or agencies involved in the production of nocturnal "visions". He employs a cinematic analogy: the often startling, poetic genius of dreams sparks our curiosity as to who composed them, who plotted them, who casted them, and who directed and produced them.

Free associations reveal how each item and each narrative segment is a navel in itself, a hyper-link attached to a chain of coherent meanings, or revelations, that extend backward into holographic infinity.
As acts of grace, dreams promote dialogues that ensue at the interface between symmetry and asymmetry. In their mercy, the various members of the dream’s production team (all simply facets of the one ineffable subject) rely on disguise to assuage psychic pain. The dramatic vividness of dreams draws attention to their themes and the unthinkable pain of life events (raw unencoded sense data) undergoes a process of narrative transformation that coincides with Bion’s transformations of O. Grotstein holds that the linear structure of a narrative differentiates and organizes inchoate data. Dream stories and dream plots transform the terrifying ‘thing-in-itself" into meaningful thought. Each item in the dream is a "mytheme" generated by the psyche’s archetypal preconceptions. The mytheme works as a unifying symbol, as a vehicle that permits comparison to other thinkable experiences. Because dreams contain messages and promote internal communication, they adopt and extend the work of maternal reverie and containment.
Much of Grotstein’s previous work shows a special sensitivity to the play of dialectics in psychic life and this comes to the fore in his chapter on "Autochthony and Alterity". Here he argues that we organize our sense of causality along two distinct and, in health, intersecting tracks. The first track, emphasized by theorists such as Winnicott, Kohut, Fairbairn and Stern, relates to the "actual reality imposed by objects in the external world, a reality to which [the infant and the analysand] felt compelled to comply at their own expense" (p. 37). The second track relates to the "primary, organizing belief that whatever has happened to them originated from them, from the point of view of them being the centre of their cosmic universe (as emphasized in the works of Freud, Klein, and Bion)" (p. 38). The mode of Autochthony, the unconscious fantasy of omnipotent self-creation, is not only the basis of projective identification; Autochthony ultimately personalizes human experience and makes it "native to oneself" (p. 37). The primary narcissism of autochthony compliments the primary awareness of separate objects. Grotstein sees Klein’s depressive position as the achievement of a "double world view", a simultaneous fusion of myth and reality. Here Grotstein cites Winnicott’s work on the transitional space between omnipotence, and the discovery of separateness and otherness.
As a metaphor, autochthony, or the "cosmogonic instinct" (p. 43), amplifies Winnicott’s understanding of psychopathology and sheds light on the nature of trauma. Trauma occurs when an event is too sudden and too overwhelming to be personalized by unconscious fantasies of self-creation. We need first to take in and "dream" the external world as a facet of ourselves. Only then can we safely acknowledge its otherness. The interplay of autochthony and alterity obliges clinicians to keep the following question in mind while they listen to their patients: What do patients believe they did to create the circumstances that wound and traumatize? Grotstein writes, "Patients can truly acknowledge the facts only after they have achieved separation from their traumatizing objects in the depressive position…" (p. 46).
Grotstein’s chapter, "A fearful Symmetry and the Calipers of the Infinite Geometer", extends the dialectics of the previous chapter and incorporates Matte-Blanco’s mathematically inspired work on symmetry and asymmetry. Symmetry and asymmetry are more inclusive designations for Freud’s primary and secondary processes. The unconscious consists of ever deepening layers of homogenous or holographic symbol sets: "…the analysand’s mother is a woman who symmetrizes to all women and to ultimate womanhood…she is [also] a human being; thus, by symmetrical or predicate logic, all human beings are the analysand’s mother. Ultimately, then, the concepts of mother, woman and human being become absolutely identical with one another" (p. 60). According to symmetrical logic, the "deepest" core of the unconscious gathers all possible and apparent diversities into itself, and condenses them into indivisibility and unity. By contrast, asymmetry "is characterized by the abstraction of generalities into specific categories for classification according to their differences" (p. 60). Autochthony correlates to the former while alterity lines up with the latter. For Grotstein, mental phenomena involve varying mixtures of the two modes and he alludes to Bion’s idea of the simultaneous operation of the paranoid-schizoid (fusion) and depressive positions (separation). The ineffable subject of being, a "spiritual computer", performs an awesome balancing act as it wields the dual calipers with infinite, inscrutable wisdom.

Grotstein’s argument, largely framed by Matte-Blanco’s logic and heavily steeped in Blake’s lyricism, again serves up novel metaphors for understanding psychopathology. For example, Grotstein sees schizophrenia as a breakdown in the dialectical play between symmetry and asymmetry. Schizophrenic "overinclusion" involves a terrifying "infinite proliferation of proto-affects": one item of information "induces a hypertext link to each component of the information. Then…each item in that information automatically induces a hypertext link ad infinitum" (p. 67). The various psychoses that erase boundaries and distinctions may represent states of absolute symmetry. Conversely, schizoid and obsessive conditions, along with alexithymia – the depersonalizing conditions - may represent states of absolute divisibility.
Next, Grotstein extends Bion’s observation that the "container-contained" relationship presupposes notions of psychic space or "inner space" - the relation between the mind and the contents it houses: "all psychopathology can be thought of as conditions or states in which the patient experiences a sense of being trapped within a psychic space that is characterized as the zero, first, or second dimensions" (p. 84). Grotstein likens the "null" dimension to a single point on a Cartesian, polar-co-ordinated graph. The null dimension of space is infinite and timeless; it correlates to phenomena such as solipsism, fusion, and concretization. The first dimension introduces a basic concept of separation, a self-other distinction that involves time and distance. Grotstein depicts the first dimension as a line on a polar co-ordinated graph. In keeping with the paranoid-schizoid position, the first dimension permits no degrees or margins of ambiguity – the approach of the good mother presupposes the departure of the bad mother and vice versa. If the infant feels depleted and hungry, then mother’s breasts must necessarily be full. The second dimension, a line now extended to a plane, is two-dimensional and depthless. It correlates to the phenomena of flattened states, phenomena such as depression and apathy, tired clichés and lifeless conventionality. Finally, Grotstein refers to a third dimension of depth characterized by a movement into whole object relations, a greater acceptance of separation, an understanding of the multiple origins of causality and an appreciation of symbolism.
Grotstein devotes several chapters to the concept of internal objects. His understanding of internal objects as "orphans" or "renegade subjects" – split off aspects of conscious subjectivity – underscores his view of the unconscious as a thinking, communicative presence. Internal objects, whether they appear in dreams, symptoms, delusions etc., dramaturgically encode and portray unmentalizable psychic pain so as to render it thinkable. Internal objects are but "envoys" of the ineffable subject. They "pantomime the meaning of the pain in encoded terms for us first to experience and then to ‘translate’. The Ineffable Subject continues pantomimically to present the analytic object (the unmentalized pain) until we ‘get it’!" (p. 129). Because internal objects dramatize their alienation and persecution to the ego, Grotstein reasons that the insistence of superego pressures, the "seeming destructiveness towards the self by these archaic superego and ego ideals" actually reflects a communicative, integrative thrust: "Now do you get it?" (p. 131). Grotstein stresses that "rogue subjectivities" are psychic representations, not concrete homunculi as some patients experience them: internal objects "do not think. Their influence on us is preconditioned by the omnipotence and intentionality of the subjectivity that we projectively attribute to the object" (p. 159). As orphans, internal objects "seek repatriation with the same violence with which they were expelled" (p. 161), and, in as much as they function to turn "O" into emotional knowledge, they dispense revelation: "paradoxically this superego demon can be seen as a friend in disguise who caricatures the projectively foresworn abject aspects of the self for the patient to recognize and reaccept" (p. 184).

Grotstein devotes the closing chapters of his book to the archetypal myth of Christ, a myth Grotstein regards as the "continuation and amplification" of the Oedipus saga" (p. 220). Because patients transfer mental pain on to the analyst, Grotstein suggests that the concepts of transference and counter-transference resonate with the religious phenomena of crucifixion, sacrifice and exorcism. Psychoanalysis involves a "Pieta covenant", "a hitherto unmentioned aspect of projective identification on the part of the analysand and its interpersonal counterpart, the analyst’s introjective and projective counteridentification" (p. 223). Within this covenant, the analysand implicitly expects the analyst to experience the analysand’s guilt and sorrow, and to take responsibility for removing the pain. As a container, the analyst allows himself to feel a "proxy" guilt for the analysand’s parents "who failed to redeem themselves to their child". The analytic crucifixion occurs when the analysand’s pain "is transferred through projective ‘exorcism’ into the analyst…and the latter must be felt to suffer it long enough and effectively enough so that the analysand can believe that he has witnessed the transfer of his victimization…and reclaim his own redemption" (p. 224). The analyst assumes a "Christ like" position of innocence in order to absorb the patient’s "demons". In other words, the analyst’s willingness to feel a proxy guilt occurs within the analyst’s own depressive position, as a conscious devotion to the psychoanalytic task and not as a guilt-ridden, unconscious enactment or a masochistic counteridentification with the analysand’s projections. (The analyst’s acceptance of proxy guilt remains somewhat abstract. Here Grotstein would do well to provide a more specific portrayal of the analyst’s actual posture towards the analysand since the willingness to act as a scapegoat-stand-in may all too easily devolve into an enactment).
In Winnicott’s terms, the analyst-object allows herself to be used. Her stance permits the analysand to take part in the analytic exorcism and to commit the destructive act that, like the Christian crucifixion and the ritual of the mass, culminates in absolution. The analyst’s survival of the transferential sacrifice fosters the analysand’s movement into the depressive position, where an enhanced appreciation of separateness brings with it forgiveness and a renewed or recovered innocence.
The Book closes with philosophical reflections on the nature of Bion’s "O". Grotstein offers a unique, existential alternative to conventional psychoanalytic metapsychologies. He suggests that all forms of psychopathology stem from premature and unresolved confrontations with O - terrifying brushes with absolute otherness or cosmic impersonalness and indifference. Although O remains forever ineffable and inscrutable, emotional growth entails an evolution in the psychic translations of otherness. The omnipotent, binary categories of the paranoid schizoid position orchestrate the first translation. Infantile fantasies of unmitigated evil (death instinct) and ideal goodness (life instinct) transform unbearable infinity and chaos into bearable units of finitude. In this way, the drives function as signifiers. They are symbolic mediators of O. As phenomena rooted in and structured by unconscious fantasy, the psychoneuroses filter and gate "the blinding glare of O’s radiant darkness" (p. 298). Psychic development transforms alienating O into personally accepted emotional experiences.
The depressive position marks an advanced negotiation of O’s otherness. Even so, given the continual evolution of personal O, Grotstein claims we must distinguish between an infantile depressive illness (melancholia) and a position in which lost objects are successfully mourned. This further position - the "transcendent position" – "means having the ability to transcend our defensiveness, our pettiness, our guilt, our shame, our narcissism, our need for certainty, our strictures in order to achieve or to become "one with O"…with our aliveness" (p. 300). "The mystic or genius is that aspect of us which is potentially able to be at one (transcendent) with O – but only after we have cleared with P-S and D" (p. 301). The transcendent position can be viewed as the neo-Kleinian version of Jung’s individuation and Maslow’s self-actualization. Grotstein’s reflections on the transcendent position are as yet provisional and sketchy (e.g. he provides no elaboration on how we potentially become one with the absolute inscrutable otherness of reality). Still, his initial foray into this important and relatively neglected realm of extra-ordinary human development stands as a necessary and valuable departure from the standard psychoanalytic bias towards psychopathology and the reflexive cynicism and suspicion that such a bias frequently engenders when challenged with the prospect of understanding spirituality.

Grotstein’s transpersonal leanings may trigger squeamishness in his readers. He assumes an ambiguous stance in terms of spiritual metaphysics and theology. In certain places he suggests that conceptions and experiences of divinity emerge from the ego’s internal, intrapsychic intimations of unconscious subjectivity. In other places Grotstein writes with a decidedly mystical tone reminiscent of Jungian esotericism. The literal infinity of the unconscious, its "internal cosmic subjectivity" (p. xxiv) spills over and blends into external cosmic infinity (i.e. the divine): "Human beings are only pinpoints on the vast surface of cosmic existence and are blessed (or doomed) never to know their true dreamer. It is as if the boundaries of the body-self do not begin to describe, to circumscribe, or to contain the boundaries of the sense of the Ineffable Subject of Being…" (p. 11).
Grotstein’s ingenious use of religious and anthropological metaphors brings fresh perspectives to psychoanalytic ideas. But occasionally, indiscriminate and uncritical citations dilute the intellectual persuasiveness of his argument. For example, most scholars trained in religious studies will balk at the unqualified references to Frazier’s antedated, Eurocentric TheGolden Bough, let alone Julian Jayne’s eccentric and highly problematic The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
Overall Who is the Dreamer and Who Dreams the Dream is a compelling work of intricate, unique and often breathtaking theory. Grotstein’s ability to forge bold and unique linkages between disparate fields and traditions, his skill in uniting sophisticated philosophical perspectives with the immediacy of the clinical situation, revitalizes our appreciation of , and indeed, our fascination for even the most conventional, taken-for-granted concepts in psychoanalysis.
Keith Haartman, Ph.D., teaches in the Departments of Religious Studies and Professional Writing at the University of Toronto. He is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice and a seniour candidate in psychoanalytic training at the Toronto Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis.



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