Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Symmetric Frenzy and Catastrophic Change: A Consideration of Primitive Mental States in the Wake of Bion and Matte Blanco

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Symmetric Frenzy and Catastrophic Change: A Consideration of Primitive Mental States in the Wake of Bion and Matte Blanco

Article excerpt

The author explores the connections between Matte Blanco's notion of symmetric frenzy, i.e. the turbulence characteristic of the deepest levels of mental functioning, and Bion's concept of catastrophic change. For Bion, mental links are retrieved from the formless darkness of infinity. With catastrophic change, emotional violence and the confining nature of representation come into conflict, leaving the subject prey to an explosiveness that paralyses mental resources. Matte Blanco identifies indivisibility as the abyss in which all differentiation ceases; he bases his model on the conflict between symmetry and asymmetry. Infinity, he maintains, is where the first forms of mentalization develop. Both Bion and Matte Blanco emphasize the contrast between the immensity of mental space and the spatio-temporal order introduced by the activation of thinking functions. The author presents clinical material from the analysis of a psychotic patient, stressing the need to encourage both working through the defect of thinking (Bion) and 'unfolding' manifestations of symmetry (Matte Blanco) so as to foster the activation of the resources of thought, meanwhile postponing transference interpretation. He concludes with two later sessions, in which recognition of the analyst in the transference allows the analysand to develop his capacity for containment and asymmetric differentiation.

Keywords: Bion, infinite, Matte Blanco, mental links, psychosis, representation, space-time, symmetric transference, thinking, turbulence

The attempt to translate the non-spatial and timeless aspects of human nature into space-time is essential to thinking but it is always a form of 'thinkating'.

(Matte Blanco, 1988, p. 316)

In this article I will be exploring several characteristics of primitive mental states in relation to some of the theories of Bion and Matte Blanco. It seems justified to weave together the perspectives of these two authors, given that each held the other in high esteem. Furthermore, Matte Blanco (1981) himself reflected on Bion's theories in relation to his own theory of the unconscious as infinite sets in an essay that was published in a Festschrift to celebrate Bion's 80th birthday. Clearly I will not be able to look at the whole of their work, as this would be an undertaking for a book, not a paper. Rather I will be focusing on some aspects of Bion's catastrophic change which have captured my attention, linking these to Matte Blanco's concept of symmetric frenzy. Introducing this idea, he writes:

Here I think, it is essential to remember that as we go 'deeper' we begin to enter the strata where time and space relations are dissolving, where asymmetrical relations begin to decrease, and we find ourselves confronted with increasing proportions of symmetrical relations.

(Matte Blanco, 1988, p. 228)1

Working within the length constraints of an article, I will aim to set clinical material and theoretical ideas alongside one another. It should be noted that both of these authors write in very abstract terms, referring frequently to philosophical issues and leaving it to the reader to consider and weigh up the clinical significance and implications of their ideas. This has led to what Parthenope Bion called the impossibility of saying that we are 'Bionian', as this signifies, first and foremost, being ourselves: "I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" as she used to say, quoting Shakespeare's Mark Antony, during the preparations for the conference for Bion's centenary (see Merciai, 2000). In the same way, Matte Blanco lays out a psychoanalytic epistemology based on bi-logic, without setting out the implications of his thought on technique, leaving ample room for personalized versions of his approach.

The approaches of Bion and Matte Blanco find a common focus of interest in the formal structures that organize thought. They also reconsider the functioning of the unconscious (Freud, 1900, 1915, 1940a) in current terms. …

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