The Mystery of Things

The Mystery of Things

The Mystery of Things

The Mystery of Things

Synopsis

In The Mystery of Things , Christopher Bollas takes the reader right to the heart of psychotherapy, examining the mysterious aspects of the self that are revealed by analysis.The method of enquiry at the heart of psychoanalysis, that is, free association, runs contrary to everything that we are taught is the logical, rational, scientific way to acquire data. Yet it is only through using such an apparently illogical and subversive method that the pathological structures in thinking can be penetrated and the self underneath revealed and worked with by the analyst.Christopher Bollas focuses on the nature and effects of the free associative process. Using clinical studies, he highlights how aspects such as mental illness, and creative or artistic acts can reveal much about the self.

Excerpt

Freud’s invention of the psychoanalytical method has radically transformed Western epistemology. In order to know what we think we are requested to relinquish the understandable demand to be scrupulous and objective—in contemporary terms to be scientific—and abandon ourselves to the apparently loose enterprise of speaking whatever crosses our mind. To Western minds, cultivated in a patriarchal order that privileges mental adventures so long as they are mediated by custodians of consciousness, the free associative method seems not simply lax but subversive. What does it mean to seek an understanding of our inner life by abandoning ourselves to talk, talk, talk, and more talk?

The location of analysis—often a room in the analyst’s home, or a living-room setting in an office building—is unlike the corporate, scientific, theological, or academic enterprises. And to lie down in the presence of an other? In most European settings, the analysand reclines on a bed, head on a pillow while the interlocutor sits out of sight, in comparative silence, urging the patient to say whatever happens to cross his mind at that moment. This seems more like a counterculture, perhaps deriving authority from the world and work of women—especially mothers—who are more than accustomed to taking the other into care, into a silence with many voices speaking through forms of unconscious communication.

As I shall argue, neither Freud nor the psychoanalytical movement that followed found this discovery an easy one. Like all of us, Freud needed certainties and he spared little time in telling us (in his twenty-three volumes) what motivated man and why. But his method was also to be his foil. For in requesting this kind of talk Freud released us all to be continuously mysterious to ourselves and others. The free associating analysand loses himself in speech, often saying something like ‘I can’t understand why I am talking about this, because I had fully intended before the session began to talk about something else’. As the narrative moves in puzzling ways, patients become informatively incoherent and they learn that the analyst wants them to speak passing ideas occurring in the back of the mind, caught up as they

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