Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Origins of Bion's Work1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Origins of Bion's Work1

Article excerpt

This study attempts to identify the scientific, philosophical and psychoanalytic origins of Bion's work, and includes an organization of these in a comprehensive and synthetic way with the help of a synoptic table. Investigation has revealed Bion's scientific orientation, fed by classical and modern authors-notably, Locke, Hume, Kant, Sylvester and Cayley, Poincaré, Heisenberg, and the German Romantics. Bion was able to rescue certain transcendent aspects of human, and also of Freudian, knowledge that had largely fallen into neglected obscurity. He made an original use of new verbal expressions related to the immaterial facts of psychic reality, the unconscious and the id. The method involves a search for counterparts in reality with two kinds of evidential source: some works and their authors have appeared ipsis litteris in Bion's work. In those situations where Bion does not cite the sources, the study has been able to establish connections with the lengthy marginal notes which Bion left in the texts of the books from his library.

Keywords: science, epistemology, history of ideas, Enlightenment, Romantic Movement

Herein lies one advantage that the psycho-analyst possesses over the philosopher; his statements can be related to realizations and realizations to a psycho-analytic theory.

(Bion, 1965, p. 44)

An epistemology of psychoanalysis

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and of the theories (of perception, and psychological and sociopolitical theories) which validate it, as well as the obstacles which resist it. It provides the philosophy of science with tools for undertaking the critical scrutiny of scientific theories and methods, particularly in the form of Refutation. Man's 'need to know', to which Aristotle and Kant refer, has furnished efforts to grasp reality 'as it is' (Samuel Johnson, quoted in Boswell, 1990; Bacon, 1972, 1985; Kant, 1990). Melanie Klein furthered the study of the life and death impulses; Bion did the same thing for the epistemophilic impulses (Freud, 1909, p. 245, 1917, p. 327). Epistemes, underlying elements of knowledge, are the equivalent for knowledge of what the unconscious is for the psyche; that is to say, they function like a blind man's walking stick, orienting experience and constituting approaches to reality as it is (Sandler, 2001c).

Bion follows the platonic tradition and its revival in the Jewish and Christian Kabbalah, in observing a desensorializing function of the mind (α-function). An increasing development of 'desensorialized' abstractions (Sandler, 2001a, 2001b) open up the paths of knowledge. The oldest of these, art, initially preverbal (music, painting, sculpture), is perceived principally by the sensory apparatus, and must therefore be desensorialized to reach a 'psychic' status. It was followed by verbal modes-already a 'desensorialization'-such as myths, prose/poetry, theatre, philosophy, and science. This desensorialization was achieved by Freud and Einstein in the same historical moment. Freud saw that there are two forms of existence, material reality and psychical reality, its desensorialized, immaterial form (albeit real); Einstein perceived the paradoxical nature of light, that is, particle and wave (Freud, 1900, p. 620; Einstein, 1920).

Bion devoted himself to the treatment of individuals who hate reality (psychotics) which display more clearly than neurotics the study of human sufferings arising from the influences of the life and death impulses on unconscious disturbances of perception of reality, as well as the obstacles to the development of the epistemophilic impulses, and thus of thinking. Science seemed to him to be the adequate instrument for this purpose: medicine and psychoanalysis (1930-58), to which were added neopositivism (1959-62), and theology and art from 1965 until his death in 1979.


i. Disciplining privilege

Not confining oneself to specific affluents of Bion's work while denying others. …

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