Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Intercorporeity and Body Language: The Semiotics of Mental Suffering Expressed through the Body *

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Intercorporeity and Body Language: The Semiotics of Mental Suffering Expressed through the Body *

Article excerpt

Introduction

The relationship between the body and language has been a fundamental issue in psychosomatic medicine from the beginning. If the existence of a correlation between mental experience and bodily suffering is assumed, the question promptly arises whether the body that has fallen ill is trying to say something-whether the symptom is expressing something that can perhaps be articulated only in this way, by this roundabout route. However, determination of what is being expressed via the body and what the symptom is trying to say is difficult, uncertain, and possible only as an approximation, for a biological process cannot simply be transposed into meaning. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the idea of a transposition into meaning is justified. That would suggest that the content of a symptom could be melted down into words. The metaphor of translation is more accurate; after all, a translation can never transform every nuance of an idea or situation from one language into another without any residue or excess. The notion of translation is used here in a broad sense, an expansion that is now widely accepted, for instance in the field of cultural studies: as Bachmann-Medick (2006, 238, translated) writes: "Translation is indeed increasingly coming to be detached from its linguistic and textual paradigm and recognized as an indispensable practice in a world of mutual dependences and interconnections." The opposite side of the coin of the intrinsic incompleteness of translation is the patient's desire to gain a better understanding of his suffering and hence also of himself.1 This may enable him no longer to feel at the mercy of an illness, but instead to recognize that it is he himself who creates and shapes it, and that access to it coupled with understanding might afford relief from a bodily situation constricted and as it were abused for the purpose of expressing a hidden meaning.

It was an error on the part of psychoanalytic psychosomatics to overburden biology with meaning-to invoke a panpsychism (cf. Groddeck 1977) that tended to efface biology. Those days are long past; instead, meaning has once again withdrawn from the body, and the relationship between the lived body and language is now completely disregarded on the theoretical level in many fields, including even those of medical psychology. One unilateral approach has thus-unfruitfully-been replaced by another. For this reason, this contribution will not seek to impose a burden of meaning on the biological body. Nor will the enigmatic leap from the mental into the body-that is, the neurobiological conversion of mental energies-be discussed here. Instead, attention will be directed to the lived body, the body image, the cognitive and affective representations of the body, which are in part unconscious. The pioneer of research on body image, Paul Schilder (1950, 241), already noted that the body image was "on2 principle social." The body image arises interpersonally and is oriented towards the other. It can therefore be deciphered by the other.

Development of cathexes of the body from interaction

Psychoanalytic developmental psychology has shown that bodily experiences are abstractions; in the beginning one's own lived or physical body does not exist, but instead there is bodily fusion-the experience not of one's own body, but of the body-in-connection-withothers. Representations of the body are precipitates of interactive experiences. These presymbolic interactions, or their body-related representatives, have been given different names. For instance, Kestenberg (1971) invokes a "unitedorgan-object image": the way in which, say, the infant's mouth is experienced while interacting with the breast determines the self-representation of the mouth, so that what is represented is a "mouth-combined-with-the-breast." The subsequent cathexis-the affective self-realization-of the mouth retains traces of these experiences of interaction. Winnicott (1952, 99) famously wrote: "There is no such thing as a baby. …

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