Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Bion's Notes on Memory and Desire - Its Initial Clinical Reception in the United States: A Note on Archival Material

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Bion's Notes on Memory and Desire - Its Initial Clinical Reception in the United States: A Note on Archival Material

Article excerpt

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain...

(The Burial of the Dead, The Waste Land [T.S. Eliot, 1922])


Wilfred Bion (1967a) published Notes on memory and desire, a remarkably short paper, at a pivotal juncture when, at the age of 70, he decided to relo- cate his family and psychoanalytic practice from London to Los Angeles. This paper also marked a crucial transition during his epistemological period of theorizing (Bléandonu, 1994). chronologically reflective of his shift of emphasis from transformations in "K to 'O' (Blass et al., 2011). It also represented an important realization in terms of the evolution of Kleinian technique with difficult-to-treat adult patients, a shift that Spillius (1988) has described as one from a 'novelty of content' to a 'novelty of method.' Melanie Klein (1952, 1955, 1961) herself had published on technique, but primarily on her work with young children. She however left hundreds of pages of unpublished notes on technique developed with adult patients (Spillius, 2007). While members of the London Klein group had published on the treatment of psychotic adults in the 1950s (Aguayo, 2009), it was only in the 1960s that they began to articulate a specific technique with less disturbed but still difficult-to-treat adults, such as narcissistic and borderline patients (Bion, 1967a; Rosenfeld, 1964, 1965; Segal, 1967).

In his theoretical research in the 1960s, Bion (1962a, 1962b, 1963, 1965) had written far more about an evolving theory of thinking and much less about matters of technique with difficult-to-treat patients. In the current paper I take up the disjunctive clinical note he sounded in 1967, when he delivered his Los Angeles Seminars to members of the Los Angeles Psychoan- alytic Society and Institute before he published Notes on memory and desire (Bion, 1967a, 2013). The focus of this contribution is to re-evaluate the clini- cal relevance and the technical implications of both Notes on memory and desire as well as its relationship to this recently published archival document.

The published materials

Since this paper draws upon Bion's published and archival materials, it is important to set out how his ideas gradually evolved and describe thor- oughly the nature of these works. I mark with Roman numerals the chro- nology of Bion's publications, so that the reader can know exactly to which Bion text I am referring.

(I) While the earliest version of Bion's ideas on memory and desire appears to be a lecture he gave at the British Psychoanalytical Society on 16 June 1965, a paper yet to be transcribed from an audiotape in the British Soci- ety's Archives, the first scattered published references actually appeared in the 'Commentary' in Second Thoughts1 (Bion, 1967b). Here I agree with Chris Mawson, the editor of the forthcoming Complete Works of Wilfred Bion (personal communication) that Second Thoughts had been published by the time Bion delivered his seminars in Los Angeles in April 1967. As such, the scattered references to memory and desire may have formed a sort of skeletal outline for some of Bion's evolving ideas on the topic as well as the seminars themselves. Given the overlap of specific topics mentioned, both texts are intimately linked with one other.

(II) Bion's (2013) Los Angeles Seminars were given at the Los Angeles Psy- choanalytic Society and Institute on four separate evenings in April 1967. These seminars were tape-recorded and, with the permission of their owner and copyright holders (The Arthur Malin Audio Archives and the Bion family), they were digitally copied and then transcribed by two co-editors (J. Aguayo and B. Malin) and subsequently published.

To characterize briefly the nature of Bion's Los Angeles Seminars, their overall arc was a detailed clinical explication of a Kleinian understand- ing of extremely disturbed near psychotic and psychotic patients. …

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