The Psychoanalytic Vision: The Experiencing Subject, Transcendence, and the Therapeutic Process

By Kanwal, Gurmeet | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, April 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Psychoanalytic Vision: The Experiencing Subject, Transcendence, and the Therapeutic Process


Kanwal, Gurmeet, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


The psychoanalytic vision: The experiencing subject, transcendence, and the therapeutic process by Frank Summers Routledge, London, 2013; 209 pp; $48.95

Psychoanalysis is generally thought of as a listening and talking profession. As such, its sensory focus tends to be on the auditory. The title of Frank Summer's book, however, captures our attention because of its emphasis on the visual rather than the auditory. The psychoanalytic vision upsets the practitioners' cart by asking them to see, rather than to hear. To have a vision is not what one usually thinks of as a psychoanalyst's position. At first glance one wonders how serious a slim volume titled The psychoanalytic vision, with a cover illustration of an enticing beach and palm trees at dawn, can really be? Summers, however, is making a deliberate and profound point in introducing the notion of a 'vision' into a profession dominated by audition. No matter how acute one's hearing, one cannot hear ahead. One can hear only what is being said now, not what is yet to come. One can, however, see ahead, thus making vision a sensory modality of futurity. One can see a path stretching into the distance before one has begun to walk on it. Summers exhorts the psychoanalytic practitioner to stop relying solely on listening to the patient, and to begin to see with the patient. That is, to allow the subject and her subjectivity to reveal her unfulfilled potential, and make a conscious effort to facilitate its recognition, excogitation, and evolution (could it be that the sea shore on the cover is really an ideogram?).

Summers is not suggesting that we disregard history, on the contrary, he states, "an essential component of being human is our historical nature" (p. 110). He is also not claiming that psychoanalytic work has to be, or can be, atheoretical. Although this is a point that could be quibbled over, it would be misleading and distracting to get stuck on Summers' seeming antipathy to theory. His attempt here is to examine how we use theory, not eliminate theory or metapsychology. As he clarifies, "there is a decisive difference between the heuristic use of theory and the imposition of theory on experience" (p. 16). Summers has his philosophical foot firmly planted in the work of Husserl, Heidegger, and Taylor, and his psychoanalytic foot embedded in Object Relations Theory, as well as recent explorations into cultural/ethnic/otherness issues explored by writers such as Leary, Bodnar, Benjamin, and Layton. What is missing is the relevance of Levenson's writings. Levenson, while taking a slightly different stance (an elaboration of which would be a useful addition to Summers' book), represents another landmark on the same road away from some of the immutability of psychoanalytic rituals and thought structures. Levenson (2013) has been an important influence in shifting the explanatory and metapsychological paradigm in psychoanalysis towards an epistemological direction. Levenson (1996, p. 646) writing, "Emphasis on content interpretation, with its concomitant insistence on a magisterial, neutral interpreter and a noninteractive field, has certainly biased clinical assumptions, and a change is long overdue", seems to be laying the groundwork for Summers.

Summers has been making many of the arguments presented here since 1999, basing his ideas partly on Loewald's views of therapeutic action. Summers describes very effectively how Loewald "recognized that the present is effected by the future perfect. ... So Loewald's work leads to a concept of the unconscious future" (p. 114). The psychoanalytic vision is thus the culmination and compilation of at least 15 years of digging away at the walls that surround psychoanalytic theories. Given that this book was awarded the 2013 Gradiva Award, it may well be that those walls are getting ready to crumble.

Summers writes:

To facilitate the formation of the self, a strategy is required that goes beyond making unconscious states conscious and beyond even engaging what is dissociated, even beyond the awareness of relational patterns, to the creation of new ways of being and relating. …

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