On the Construction of Thinking1

By Avzaradel, José Renato | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, August 2011 | Go to article overview

On the Construction of Thinking1


Avzaradel, José Renato, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


In this study the author attempts to widen our understanding of language and thought construction by using Chinese ideograms as a model. This allows us to understand how concrete internal objects can coalesce to form abstract internal objects, e.g. concepts, ideas, symbols, and metaphors. One can establish a pictorial language that antedates verbal language. This is the case in the dream work that we routinely study. Thus, this study delves into the physiology of the alpha function. To this end the author not only relies on psychoanalytic concepts but also on concepts from philosophy and from language itself. The author presents the ideograms not only for discussion but also for their visual impact. If we really want to understand pictorial images, they must be seen and not just discussed from a theoretical point of view. Based on this understanding the author advances a proposal for the technique used in treating patients who cannot establish mental representations for their affect. And the technical proposal is illustrated in two clinical cases.

Keywords: ideogram, metaphor, non-thought, object relations theory, pictogram, projective identification, reverie, symbol

Introduction

The present article is an attempt at helping us understand thought formation more deeply through a study of pictorial language. It examines the formation of Chinese ideograms and takes them for a model that will allow us to understand the simultaneous mental work involved in language and thought construction. I shall provide actual examples of ideograms and how they are put together from individual pictograms. Thus I shall not only address language represented by images, I shall be demonstrating Chinese writing - its pictographs and ideograms. And this demonstration provides direct observation, which will allow us to understand better how primary elements, pictograms, when combined with one another, create metaphors and form the basis of poetic language. This confluence helps us understand the construction of thought in a manner consonant with some recent psychoanalytic developments.

Language in visual images appears to antedate verbal language, and the psychoanalytic process when directed toward developing the capacity to think finds a consistent basis in dreams for understanding the connections between image-rich dream language and thought.

Some matters remain unsettled. Babies, at birth, only have corporeal sensations. Freud (1923, p. 40) affirmed early on that the ego is initially corporeal and that the sources of instinct stimulation are inside the organism (Freud 1915 p. 139). And there is no way around this. However, how is it that corporeal sensations, i.e. concrete mental elements, can be brought together and transformed into abstract mental elements, into mental representations, symbols, and concepts?

To address these issues adequately one needs to establish a dialogue among linguistic, philosophical, and psychoanalytic concepts. Language has become central to 20th century philosophy, and object relations theory provides a psychoanalytic perspective within a dialogue such as the one I suggest. On the other hand, linguistic advances beginning with Saussure (1915) and continuing with Fenollosa (1918) and Derrida (1998), among others, have contributed to psychoanalysis from their perspectives.

Matters of clinical importance become paramount because in the case of patients with severe pathologies their thought is clearly prejudiced. It is concrete, with no symbolic content. We can see this in compulsive behavior where symptoms involve something concrete, for example, food, alcohol, and drugs. Such patients spring into action without thinking. We can see the same problem in psychoses and in cases of acute hypochondria. And we wonder how to deal with situations such as these since psychoanalytic interpretations are, of necessity, metaphors, that is, abstractions that entail symbolism. How can we work with patients caught in a mental space where symbolism does not exist? …

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