Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Matte Blanco's Thought and Epistemological Pluralism in Psychoanalysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Matte Blanco's Thought and Epistemological Pluralism in Psychoanalysis

Article excerpt

It can be seen that, although psychoanalytic pluralism is widespread, there is still a spirit of intolerance among the different theoretical schools. Matte Blanco's work allows us to think about these questions in a fresh way. Direct psychic experience, felt to be an indivisible whole, is characterized by the symmetrical mode (close to the unconscious) and projects itself in a multiple and decondensed manner on to the asymmetrical mode (consciousness, thought). Thus, psychical facts (for example, what the patient says and feels during the session) can be accounted for by multiple conscious representations which, however, are not mutually contradictory (e.g. in different theoretical approaches). Affective factors linked to the hope of reviving 'oceanic feelings' of fusion with a unified and unifying theory of the subject-analyst are also explored insofar as they lead to the tendency of analysts to exclude one another.

Keywords: epistemology, Matte Blanco, pluralism

Psychoanalytic theories are so numerous and varied that Greenberg (1995, p. 5) has written:

... a century after Freud and Breuer announced that they had discovered a cure for some of the world's most intractably incurable afflictions, little of the familiar foundations of psychoanalysis remains unchallenged ... Virtually all the traditional conceptual, clinical, and epistemological premises that guided psychoanalysis through its first hundred years are being called into question.

Yet a spirit of intolerance can often be noted between the different schools (Kirsner, 2000). It has even been suggested that this can be traced back to Freud himself (Gunther Perdigao, 2007). This subject has been widely documented and debated. For example, the 2009 IPA International Congress, in Chicago, had as its theme, 'Psychoanalytic practice: convergences and divergences'. So, is psychoanalysis one or plural? (One psychoanalysis or many? asked Wallerstein [1988]). I will attempt to show here that certain notions contributed by Matte Blanco enable us to approach the question of pluralism in psychoanalysis in an original way and foster greater freedom of thought. I will tackle this subject from the angle of interpretation: are there 'good' and 'bad' interpretations in analysis? Every analyst of goodwill will reply that, as the psyche is polysemic, it is open to several interpretations. But what an illusion! In practice, things are very different; thus Poland (2009, p. 253) reminds us that between analysts discussion often takes place more along the lines of reciprocal supervision than of real mutual respect.

To begin, I will recall succinctly the main lines of Matte Blanco's theory (1968, 1975a, 1988) (see also Carvalho et al., 2009; Rayner, 1995).

Matte Blanco: A reminder

Two principles reign in the unconscious: the Principle of Generalization and the Principle of Symmetry. The first means that elements standing in analogical relationship with each other are included in ever more general sets or classes, and that, within these sets, the Principle of Symmetry means that these elements become indistinguishable from each other. For example, an analyst, a teacher, and a father, who are clearly distinct for the conscious mind, can be grouped together in the unconscious under one and the same class, according to their analogical relationship, which Matte Blanco calls Propositional Function (i.e. belonging to the class of 'those who exert authority'). Next, the Principle of Symmetry means that they are indistinguishable: for instance, in the transference, at certain moments, a father and an analyst are experienced as being wholly similar. Symmetry also means that propositions set out in one sense only (that is, asymmetrically) in consciousness, can be reversed in the unconscious. For example, A is the father of B is incompatible for the conscious mind with B is the father of A, but not for the unconscious; or if an element x (for example, temporal or topographical) is situated before an element y, in the unconscious, the converse can be true and y can be situated before x. …

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