The Analyst, Symbolization and Absence in the Analytic Setting

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(1975). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 56:1-22

The Analyst, Symbolization and Absence in the Analytic Setting (On Changes in Analytic Practice and Analytic Experience)—In Memory of D. W. Winnicott

André Green

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

W. BLAKE, The Tyger 

………………………………… but something

Drives me to this ancient and vague adventure,

Unreasonable, and still I keep on looking

Throughout the afternoon for the other tiger,

The other tiger which is not in this poem.

J. L. BORGES, The Other Tiger

Every analyst knows that an essential condition in a patient's decision to undergo analysis is the unpleasure, the increasing discomfort and ultimately the suffering he experiences. What is true of the individual patient in this connection is equally true of the psychoanalytic group. Despite its appearance of flourishing, psychoanalysis is going through a crisis. It is suffering, so to speak, from a deep malaise. The causes of this malaise are both internal and external. For a long time we have defended ourselves against the internal causes by minimizing their importance. The discomfort to which the external causes subjects us has now forced us to the point where we must attempt to analyse them. It is hoped that, as a psychoanalytic group, we carry within us what we look for in our patients: a desire for change.

Any analysis of the present situation within psychoanalysis must operate on three levels: (1) an analysis of the contradictions between psychoanalysis and the social environment; (2) an analysis of the contradictions at the heart of psychoanalytic institutions (those intermediaries between social reality on the one hand, and psychoanalytic theory and practice on the other; and (3) an analysis of the contradictions at the very heart of psychoanalysis (theory and practice) itself.

We face a difficulty in regard to the interconnectedness of these three levels. To mix them leads to confusion; to separate them leads to splitting. If we were fully satisfied with the current state on the third level alone, we would be inclined to ignore the other two. That this does not always happen is undoubtedly linked with factors operating in the first two levels. However, I shall have to leave for the time being the ambitious aim of articulating the three levels. At present we have enough on our hands to try to examine certain contradictions in psychoanalytic theory and practice which give rise to the malaise previously mentioned. Anna Freud (1969), in her lucid and courageous analysis of 'Difficulties in the Path of psychoanalysis' from various sources, has reminded us that psychoanalysis found the way into the knowledge of Man through the negative experience of neurosis. Nowadays we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves through our own negative experience. Out of our present malaise may emerge both an elaboration and a transformation.

In this paper, devoted to recent changes brought about by psychoanalytic practice and experience, I should like to examine the following three topics:

(1) the role of the analyst, in a wider conception of countertransference, including his own imaginative elaboration, (2) the function of the analytic setting and its relation to mental functioning, as shown by the process of symbolization, and (3) the role of narcissism, which opposes and complements that of object relations, as much in theory as in practice.

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