Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Who Speaks? Who Looks? Who Feels?: Point of View in Autobiographical Narratives1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Who Speaks? Who Looks? Who Feels?: Point of View in Autobiographical Narratives1

Article excerpt

In this paper, the author aims to substantiate Freud's claim that neurotic illness creates gaps in autobiographical narratives in terms of the narrator's stating and inducing perspectives. He sketches out the role of narrative perspective and the joint taking of a shared perspective by analyst and patient in psychoanalytic therapy. He introduces four ways of representing perspectives in narratives. Three degrees of narrative distortion are exemplified by three excerpts from life narratives and explored in terms of narrative perspective representation. The most comprehensive perspective representation is achieved in the first example by explicitly stating the present perspective of the narrator as well as the past perspective of the story's protagonist by use of mental verbs. In the second narrative, exclusive use of linguistic forms for inducing the protagonist's perspective both overwhelms the narrator and gives the listener an incomplete picture of what happened. Inconsistent motives, denial of responsibility and omission of detail render the third narrative even more difficult to follow. The author discusses the clinical significance of this exploratory analysis of perspectives in narratives in terms of claiming responsibility for one's past action and of level of defence mechanisms, and by highlighting the emotional impact on listeners, which the author suggests is the stronger the more perspectives are left out. He discusses analogies to countertransference. The analysis of narrative perspectives offers an approach for systematic research in psychoanalytic practice.

Keywords: narrative perspective, defence mechanisms, countertransference, emotion communication, dramatic narration, perspective taking, life narratives, autobiographical memory, psychoanalytic research

Psychoanalytic research outside of the psychoanalytic dyad may have a variety of objectives, and one such line of research uses the therapeutic conversation as its research object. This study of therapy sessions is concerned with formulating and standardizing what we as clinicians do intuitively, namely, identifying patterns of relating and conflicts in prototypical scenes (e.g. Horowitz, 1991; Luborsky and Crits-Christoph, 1990). Boothe (1994), for example, analyses typical conflict and relationship patterns in the narratives of first interviews with a complex coding scheme. Similarly, Vaillant (1993) analyses defence mechanisms in clinical interviews.

Another objective in the study of therapy sessions is to comprehend, with the help of concepts from outside the field of psychoanalysis, processes that occur below the threshold of perception. Döll et al. (2004) try to grasp processes of defending against affect in dream reports with formal means. Benecke et al. (2003) identify basic mechanisms in unconscious emotional communication through facial expression, which turns out to be different for each diagnostic grouping.

However, psychoanalysis is a talking cure, which reduces human interaction to mostly speaking, hence ignoring interaction via facial expression. At the same time, psychoanalysis endeavours to endow the unconscious with language. In transcripts of psychoanalytic consultations, Argelander (1991) has thus tried to find criteria for those situations when a psychoanalytic interpretation is made. Interpretations are made whenever motives are missing and can be meaningfully added by a psychoanalytic interpretation. This is why, in this paper, I am trying to find an answer to the question: What are the linguistic means with which conflicts are defended against to the point that narratives become fragmented and barely understandable (Freud, 1905)? As a preliminary step, I first argue the central meaning of a particular form of talking in psychoanalysis, the form of narrating, and I emphasize the significance of the perspective representation or, more colloquially, points of view in the narrative. Even though the investigation of perspectives is also applicable to narratives of dreams, phantasies and material read, I apply it here to narratives of everyday personal experiences, which for some time have been labelled 'autobiographical' (Rubin, 1986). …

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