Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Penultimate Interpretation

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Penultimate Interpretation

Article excerpt

Interpretation is at the center of psychoanalytic activity. However, interpretation is always challenged by that which is beyond our grasp, the 'dark matter' of our mind, what Bion describes as 'O'. O is one of the most central and difficult concepts in Bion's thought. In this paper, I explain the enigmatic nature of O as a high-dimensional mental space and point to the price one should pay for substituting the pre-symbolic lexicon of the emotion-laden and high-dimensional unconscious for a low-dimensional symbolic representation. This price is reification - objectifying lived experience and draining it of vitality and complexity. In order to address the difficulty of approaching O through symbolization, I introduce the term 'Penultimate Interpretation' - a form of interpretation that seeks 'loopholes' through which the analyst and the analysand may reciprocally save themselves from the curse of reification. Three guidelines for 'Penultimate Interpretation' are proposed and illustrated through an imaginary dialogue.

Keywords: Bion, O, symbolization, loophole, interpretation, interdisciplinary studies

All my life I have been imprisoned, frustrated, dogged by common-sense, reason, memories, desires and - greatest bug-bear of all - understanding and being understood.

(Bion, 1991, p. 578)

Q: I am wondering if there is a psychoanalytic way to the truth.

Bion: None whatever.

(Bion, 2005, p. 87)

1. Introduction

Interpretation lies at the heart of the analytic practice. Raising the association of Joseph Conrad's seminal work, one may say that it lies at the 'Heart of Darkness' as interpreting the unconscious involves the encounter with 'O' (Bion, 1965) - the 'dark matter' of our inner world (Grotstein, 1997), or the ''dark spot that must be illuminated by blindness'' (Bion, 1970, p. 88; Grotstein, 2007). What is the nature of the 'dark matter' that draws the limit line of our understanding? What is the price we pay when we attempt to extend our limit line into the heart of darkness? Is there a way in which we may travel into the heart of darkness without falling prey to its enigmatic nature? The aim of this paper is to address these questions by offering a modest integration of several ideas.

The paper is organized as follows. The first part of the paper explains the enigmatic nature of O. Following Bion and Matte-Blanco (1975), I explain O is a high-dimensional mental space that cannot be represented through the 'language of substitution' - the language of symbolic representation that aims to replace the 'language of achievement' - the presymbolic lexicon of the emotion-laden unconscious.1 Exposing the difficulty of encountering O in terms of dimensionality, I move on to the second phase. It is argued that the problem of representing a high-dimensional space is a challenge facing psychoanalysis and mathematics and that in both fields a similar solution has been proposed. I introduce and explain this solution by emphasizing in the following phase the price one should pay for replacing a highdimensional experience with a low-dimensional symbolic representation. The price is the price of reification, of turning a complex and lived experience into an abstract, stable and relatively simple object. In order to address the difficulty of approaching O through the language of substitution, I introduce the term 'Penultimate Interpretation' - a form of interpretation in which we seize our interpretation a moment before it is crystallized, at its penultimate paragraph, and seek for 'loopholes' through which the analyst and the analysand may reciprocally save themselves from reification. Three guidelines for 'Penultimate Interpretation' are proposed and illustrated through an imaginary dialogue. The paper concludes by discussing the way in which 'Penultimate Interpretation' may enrich the psychoanalytic field.

2. The enigmatic nature of O

Grotstein (2007, p. …

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