Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Analyzing Situation

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Analyzing Situation

Article excerpt

The Analyzing Situation by Jean-Luc Donnet (Andrew Weller, translator) Karnac, London, 2009, Psychoanalytic Ideas and Applications Series; 199 pp; £22.99

This book makes the work of one of the most inspiring contemporary French psychoanalysts1 accessible to the Anglo-Saxon readership. It revisits and expands some of the themes explored in his previous publications. In this review I can only address some of them.


The first chapter of the book constituted one of the three previously published texts which were introduced at the 2001 IPA Congress in Nice on the theme 'Psychoanalysis, Method and Applications'. In this seminal and much-celebrated article, Donnet points out the inherent contradiction between the use that psychoanalysts make of the notion of method, linked to the specificity of unconscious psychic processes, on the one hand, and the requirement that analysts from different traditions have of applicable prescriptions. This is discussed later in the book in terms of his distinction between the analytic method and psychoanalytic techniques, and the tension between subjectivity and objectivity.

A fundamental paradox persists in psychoanalysis:

Any attempt to define the analytic method is faced with the contrast between what the term method suggests in the way of controlled organization, and the renunciation of control implied by free association. This paradox is necessary if the unconscious was to open to rational investigation.

(p. 21)

This leads Donnet to indicate the contradiction between the necessary, acquired knowledge on the one hand, and the need to suspend knowledge on the other. Concepts of 'learned ignorance' (Lacan) and negative capacity (Bion) are evoked (Chapter 2), as well as Winnicott's distinction between game and play, i.e. between a game with rules and play without rules (p. 6). Donnet quotes from Michael Parsons, who identifies the function of "guardian of play in psychoanalysis" that requires an internal activity on the part of the analyst. Donnet suggests that this refers to the superego register.


Transference introduces a difference into repetition; it creates an event. The analytic situation falls halfway between fiction and reality; one should add between 'here and now' and 'there and elsewhere'. The analyst's understanding of the rules of the game, often challenged by the vicissitudes of the transference, is what produces thirdness, which is present in all psychoanalytic models. This reminded me of the work of Andre Green (1991[2004], p. 118). "The analytic object is neither internal (to the analysand or analyst) nor external (to one or the other), but it is in-between them". In a session, the analytic object is like a third object, a product of the meeting of the analysand and the analyst. Since Freud, however, Green thinks that there has been an emphasis on 'pre-oedipal' relations. It was Lacan who brought the role of the father back into the field of discussions. These ideas have influenced Donnet's thinking.

Analytic site and analysing situation

Donnet distinguishes between the notions of analytic site - that he has developed in previous work - from the analysing situation. The analytic site contains the ensemble of what the offer of an analysis constitutes; it brings together transference, process, interpretation and countertransference (Divan bien tempere). It includes the analyst at work. The analysing situation results from the sufficiently adequate encounter between the patient and the site. It implies the subjective use through experience of 'found created' of the resources of the site and their singular configuration by the patient. The fundamental rule is an extension of the original procedure for investigating the unconscious: free association. The truth of the rule is to create an analytic process where the function of the third can emerge from the very investment of the associative drift and from its stimulus through interpretation. …

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