Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

A Nonlinear Lens on Berta Bornstein's "Frankie"

Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

A Nonlinear Lens on Berta Bornstein's "Frankie"

Article excerpt

a case study is never about the patient. nor is it about the analyst, nor the analyst-patient dyad. It is not even about the triad of patient-analyst (author)-reader. Any case study lives within ever-widening contexts of meanings whose appearance is contingent on what fragment of the network of meaning we choose to focus on and how we chose to focus on that fragment of the network. The child who was "Frankie" lived within a family and school that were in turn embedded within a particular historical moment and culture. Representation of the larger culture and history came to him primarily through his family and school, but also through the sights and sounds of the street and over the radio. In similar fashion, his analyst lived within a network of meanings and life situations that, coming at the close of the Second World War, cried out the urgency of order and sanity. How can we, six and a half decades later, who are heirs to the disavowal of larger contexts that made questions of psychoanalytic technique in postwar New York to be of overwhelming importance when so much else that matters more should have seemed more urgent, recognize our own continued isolation of these questions from the large networks of meaning in which they exist, and so come to read Frankie's story in a richer fashion?

My use of the term "network" in this paper is meant to be both intuitive and precise in the sense that it refers to a very broad conceptual framework for thinking about complex systems based on the observation that important properties of a wide variety of systems are captured by thinking of them as nodes, which are active agents, and the interconnections of those nodes. Amazingly, important features of systems ranging from biological organisms to the Internet to interpersonal relations, economic markets, and linguistic structures are clarified by applying ideas from this broad conceptual network framework (see, for example, Easley and Kleinberg, 2010). This discussion originates in viewpoints informed by and borrowed from network theory, though it does not use the formal results of that theory.

Berta Bornstein's case of Frankie is a landmark in multiple psychoanalytic domains-ego psychology as theory and technique, the technique of child analysis, conceptualization of latency-age developmental processes, and description of the implicit picture of the place of analysis and child analysis as it dominated American thinking about children's mental health following the Second World War. Follow-up of the case by Ritvo (1996) added to its importance as part of pioneering efforts to study the long-term effects and efficacy of child psychoanalysis as well as to map the changing nature of analytic work with children. Reexamining the paper sixty-five years after its publication inspires a group of thoughts about the problems faced by Frankie and his analyst, the solutions Bornstein advocates, and the challenges of decoding its significance for succeeding generations of analysts and others who would help distressed children.

The analyst who is accustomed to thinking in terms of nonlinear dynamics system theory and the theory of complex systems is immediately struck by some seemingly superficial features of the paper. At the end of the paper, as it appears in the 1949 original, there is a very clear diagrammatic timeline, labeled "Case Material, Frankie." It lays out major events in Frankie's life (including the analysis), his symptoms, the phases of the analysis, and the contents of analysis in orderly parallel sequences. The diagram is like the narrative of the analysis that constitutes the body of the paper, highly ordered into a coherent sequence. This orderly sequencing of material derives from at least two sources -Bornstein's attempt to write a persuasive narrative and the analyst's vigorous attempts to bring order to the analytic process. As Spence (1983, 1989) demonstrated, the suasive narrative commonly achieves its end at the expense of accurate descriptions of the events of an analysis. …

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