Jul 022014
 

The concept of ‘libidinal investment’ has come up before, for example in The Promoted Sibling as an expression of libidinal investment, or in Getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency.  The following is a dialogue primarily between Simon Western, Susan Long and myself that revolves around how we are to understand what is meant by a ‘libidinal economy’,  something that arises from emergent patterns in the forms of social organisation that attract libidinal investment:

Simon: Dear all, a few thoughts on the collective unconscious and group unconscious processes that take place in large group settings. This blog on The Collective Unconscious is written for coaches and leaders fairly new to psychoanalysis. However I am wondering where we go with this work which seems to have stalled quite a bit since Bion and Menzies-Lythe…yet is so important. Any thoughts welcome, and I am particularly interested in how collective unconscious processes operate within the libidinal economies of the network society – i.e. ISPSO list serves for example!

The Associative Unconscious
Susan: Maurita Harney and I have written on the associative unconscious as linked to socioanalysis and socioanalytic methods. There are links to Jung’s collective unconscious but differences. We link it to the work of Peirce – the American philosopher. I think this concept opens up the way to new thinking about the links between people in large groups. We say:
Here then is a formulation of the unconscious as a mental network of thoughts, signs, and symbols or signifiers, able to give rise to many feelings, impulses and images. The network is between people, but yet within each of them. The boundary of the unconscious does not co-incide with the boundary of the individual despite the necessity of the boundary of “individual” for other functions, including the functions described by Bion in his theory of thinking: the functions of the thinker, or as we shall discuss later, the functions of the interpretant in Peirce’s philosophy.
The associative unconscious might be conceptualised as a “pool of thoughts” – much as Darwin’s pool of genes, but that is too static. We have used the term “network” but that too readily gives an idea of a combination of “things” in physical space, whereas we conceptualise it as in psychic space. The associative unconscious might be seen as similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, but there are differences. Jung says:

My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents (Jung 1969 p. 43).

Despite similarities, in contrast to the idea of the collective unconscious, the associative unconscious is not “identical in all individuals” because each individual holds only a part of the vaster whole. A metaphor here is that of a jigsaw puzzle where each individual part is shaped very differently, yet the picture as a whole has its own unique integrity. In this case the whole network is supra-individual with the system-as-a-whole capable of producing, for example, archetypes as system-wide symbols (the whole puzzle put together) that are then able to be introjected by individuals. Hence such symbols may appear in different parts of the system (for instance in individuals, groups or cultures) contemporaneously. The idea of an associative unconscious does refer to shared representations but not necessarily representations that are inherited and held identically in each individual, as with Jung’s collective unconscious. What is in common between individuals is the capacity to symbolise and to co-create meanings not the specific representations that as a result of co-creation are thus held within the culture.[1]

Simon: Thanks Susan, re-reading your chapter is very helpful, especially in differentiating the associative unconscious from Jung: As I understand it in your terms, the jigsaw puzzle is formed by individual unconscious – symbols and signs (pieces of the jigsaw) – coming together to make the whole….. then it is re-introjected by individuals…..
So taking for example Princess Diana’s funeral – individuals felt particular individual forms of sadness, conscious and unconscious, the unconscious aspects pooled to make a whole that created an unexpected collective energy, a jigsaw picture of national loss, that demanded different behaviour from the Royal Family and of the public e.g. public expressions of grief from the royals- and spontaneous applause – clapping the coffin as it was taken through the streets in contrast to the tradition of silence from the public. Each individual then introjected the impact of the outpouring of public grief- and reacted consciously and unconsciously – making meaning in their own way, and also making meaning collectively. (The film – The Queen – is fascinating in its depiction of this. )
In this formulation, how do we account for the unconscious in terms of Drive? And what happens to jigsaw puzzles that do not make whole pictures: either collectively or for individuals? Pooling of unconscious forces that don’t create wholes, or tangible meaning (except retrospectively perhaps)
The jigsaw analogy is very helpful, but is it not also problematic as it conjures up a finished picture, a completion, in Lacan terms full jouissance, that is not attainable? I am wondering how we account for the associative unconscious that creates powerful libidinal economies, stirring affects that are or are not translated into emotions or feelings that we can express in terms of conscious pictures or meanings? Do you or others have thoughts on this?

Sarah Sutton: How thought-provoking Simon – your ‘stirring affects that are not translated’ made me think of how we talk of stirring music… perhaps there is something about resonance here, in the moment of connection, that is both created and creative in the libidinal economy, in that it stirs towards joint expression.
Your idea Susan of the associative unconscious feels true to me. Maybe the jigsaw is interactively re-assembleable? I agree about the risk of misrepresenting it as static or potentially completable & like the idea of constellations: pulsing, radiant, shifting, pattern-forming networks of associative resonances, greater than the sum of their parts.

The ding is…
Philip: We know that associations can be false, as per Freud’s paper on Negation. But Freud also spoke about how we cover over the gaps in our unconscious associations – what remained lost to us – in terms of dingvorstellung. This ‘covering over’ was like the ‘covering over’ of the blind spot in our visual field, and these unconscious gaps were what Lacan referred to as the ‘objets petit a‘. In our pursuit of jouissance, we weave the imaginary form we give to these objets, i.e. i(a), into the realities supporting our libidinal economy.
These objets, however, are also the objects of the Freudian drive that constellate desire by never wholly covering over the gaps, thus also enabling us to be mindful of the gaps. And in being mindful of these gaps, they act like the attractors in complexity theory, around which swirl pulsing, radiant, shifting, pattern-forming networks of associative creativity.
For those of you who have not traveled underground in London, to “mind the gap” is also a repeated injunction at every stop!

Ruth Silver: An injunction so that ‘a fall’ on to the live wire is avoided…

Philip: Ruth, you are of course right that existential angst unavoidably accompanies ‘being true to desire’…!

Susan: Thanks to all for these comments. I agree that the “jigsaw puzzle” is not complete and Philip’s idea from Lacan of the gaps that are covered over and that are accompanied by existential angst are certainly part of the idea of the associative unconscious and its links to the repressed unconscious of psychoanalysis. Maybe the completed jigsaw is an ideal form – a potentiality for all thought across all time: a possibility to be yearned for at a more spiritual than psychological level. Any one community or organisation has only its incomplete pictures. The example from Diana’s death fits well. I love the idea of the resonances – it fits well with the social dreaming idea of amplification to reach the associative unconscious.

Philip: I like this hypothesis of ‘a yearned-for ideal form in that it supposes this ideal form to be infinitely incomprehensible, even though every hypothesis, as such, supposes its object to be truly conceived in relation to this ideal form’. But I also like Peirce’s concept of vagueness as providing a way of speaking about each individual’s particular way of being in relation to the associative unconscious. To quote from Peirce’s later pragmaticist reading of ‘pragmatism’, this leaves the yearned-for ideal form “as vague yet as true so far as it is definite, and as continually tending to define itself more and more, and without limit”.[2] I guess that means it’s a journey in which we each have to ‘mind the gap’!

Stan Gold: What a fascinating flow of associations. Thank you to all. The only issue that has not been canvassed regarding the “gap” is for me, and those who know me will know where I’m coming from, the gap between the yearned for and necessarily idealised maternal transference object and the reality of the relationship. We would indeed be wise to understand the later significance of that gap, our attempts to cover it over and the desire which emanates from it. Again thanks to you all….

Philip: Ah yes. But the ding is, the gap covered over/revealed by the objet is not the gap between the idealised maternal transference object and the reality of the relationship, but rather the uncanny Aristotelian tuchē that, while disrupting that reality, also creates an opening.

Sophia Ploumaki: Can I ask who is then “perceiving” the opening? Is this a subjective or an a-bjective process ?

Philip: a-bjective in the sense that the uncanny disrupts what the subjective/relational ‘I’ thinks is ‘going on’. The experience is of being subject to something ‘other’ going on, of being subject to the Otherness of being in relation to the unconscious… ‘subject’ as in “wo Es war, soll Ich werden“.

The gap as an encounter with the uncanny Aristotelian tuché
Susan: Philip your comments are usually most apt but often enigmatic. I understand the Aristotelian tuché as those things in human activity that occur by chance rather than by his fourth form of causality – ie the final cause or the cause occurring through our desires. Do you mean the gap is created through that uncanny chance occurrence? Which is really an unconscious desire – Aristotle not having the concept of the unconscious? Can you give us this thought in a less condensed manner?

Philip: Tuché is contrasted with automaton: the automaton is the deterministic, that which can be predicted by past conditions, in contrast to which tuché is an encounter with that which cannot be predicted, with that which appears to be by chance. This is the sense in which the uncanny, or unheimlich, is that about a situation that does not fit, shouldn’t be there, was not predicted. So a matrix of thought is implied here (aka relation to thirdness) within which the pre-diction is made, and the validity of which is put into question by the encounter with tuché. Understood in this way, the tuché presents the matrix of thought (aka mental model) with a ‘gap’ in its ability to pre-dict.
So yes, the ‘being by chance’ may be read as revealing some pre-destined state (aka subject to a final cause), like an omen might be read to fortell imminent good fortune, the experience of ‘being by chance’ excluding the material, formal or efficient causes. And yes, in such a situation, the person attributing the status of an omen to the encounter would certainly be engaging in wishful thinking, thus revealing something about his or her desire in the situation.
The attribution of final cause would, therefore, reveal something about the person’s desire, in the sense that the imaginary form i(a) given to an objet petit a would reveal something of a person’s relation to an unconscious lack. The gap is only “created through that uncanny chance occurrence”, however, in the sense that the tuché is the person’s experience of a gap in the way he or she anticipates what-is-going-on. In the case of attributing the status of an omen to the encounter, then, the person would be exhibiting a transference to the situation in the sense of relating to it as if ‘it’ knew what it was that he or she wanted.  An ISPSO question would then be concerned with how to work with this transference…

Examining the ‘networked’ or ‘associative’ unconscious from a Lacanian perspective
Simon: Philip, sometimes tuchē is translated simply as luck, but this is not what I understand you are saying is it? Can you also say something about the ‘collective unconscious or networked unconscious or associative unconscious in Lacan’s work? Did he work with this and how?

Philip: Simon, here goes!
On the relation between the ‘collective’ and ‘networked’ or ‘associative’ unconscious, Susan and Maurita distinguish Jung’s collective unconscious from the associative unconscious, pointing out that the associative unconscious is not “identical in all individuals” as Jung holds is true for the collective unconscious. Rather, each individual holds only a part of the vaster whole, “like a jigsaw puzzle where each individual part is shaped very differently, yet the picture as a whole has its own unique integrity”, the whole network being ‘supra-individual’.
To relate the ‘networked’ or ‘associative’ unconscious to Lacan’s work we need to look more closely at the use made of Peirce by Susan and Maurita:

Their associative unconscious is formulated as “a mental network of thoughts, signs, and symbols or signifiers, able to give rise to many feelings, impulse and images”. This network is both between people and within each of them, the boundary of this network not coinciding with the boundary of the individual. The boundary of “individual” is nevertheless necessary for other functions, “including the functions described by Bion in his theory of thinking: the functions of the thinker, or the functions of the interpretant in Peirce’s philosophy”.

This equating of the interpretant with the functions of the thinker follows Hanna Segal’s three-term relation between the object, the sign-vehicle and the ego-as-interpretant in her ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’.[3] For Segal, the object is “the thing symbolized”, the sign-vehicle is “the thing functioning as a symbol”, and the interpretant is the ego for which “the one represents the other”. In these terms, symbolic equation arises when sign-vehicles “are not felt by the ego to be symbols or substitutes but to be the original object itself”. Freedom in the use of symbols arises through a fully articulated triadic relation being available to the subject: “The capacity to experience loss and the wish to re-create the object within oneself gives the individual the unconscious freedom in the use of symbols. And as the symbol is acknowledged as a creation of the subject, unlike the symbolic equation, it can be freely used by the subject”.
To relate this thinking to that of Lacan, we must return to Segal’s use of a 1938 text by C.W. Morris, ‘Foundations of the Theory of Signs’,[3] as the source of her three-term relation. In Morris’s text, the three term relation is actually a four-term relation. The example that Morris uses is of a dog (the interpreter) responding to a certain sound (the sign-vehicle) by the type of behavior (the interpretant) involved in the hunting of chipmunks (the object). The object-relating behavior (the interpretant) that puts the sign-vehicle in a particular relation to the object is Segal’s triadic relation, but one that is particular to the subject (the interpreter). This triadic relation is the relation of thirdness of which Peirce speaks. In Lacan, this triadic relation is in the way the signifying ‘bar’ (aka interpretant) puts the signifier ‘S’ (the sign-vehicle) in relation to the signified ‘s’ (the object), written as S/s but to be read differently to Saussure.
Understanding S/s in this way, when I am speaking, I am creating a forward-moving chain of ‘S’ signifiers that you, as a listener, may make some sense of (or not!) through the way you establish a triadic relation to those ‘S’ signifiers. To do this, you will have to take some part of this chain and, against the backcloth of all the possible signifiers ‘A’ that could have been said, make some particular sense s(A), i.e. through a triadic process of attributing meaning, you place the ‘S’ signifiers in some relation to ‘s’ signifieds for you:
sk01
Lacan refers to all the possible signifiers ‘A’ that could have been said as a “treasury of signifiers” (in ‘The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious’[5]). What gets produced by the retroactive attribution of meaning s(A) is produced in relation to the subject. The s(A) is therefore the sense that the subject makes, corresponding to a piece of a jigsaw…
Understood in this way, Lacan’s ‘treasury of signifiers’ corresponds to the “mental network of thoughts, signs, and symbols or signifiers, able to give rise to many feelings, impulse and images” of Susan and Maurita. The triadic relation taken up to this treasury of signifiers by a subject, in which particular associative constructions are placed on the chaining of signifiers, is the retroactive attribution of meaning s(A).
Lacan follows Freud in arguing that the subject is doubly subjected in the sense of being subject both to the reality principle and to the pleasure principle, i.e. the retroactive attribution of meaning is both subject to ‘social’ constructions of meaning, and also subject to unconscious attribution. To conclude, then:

  • To speak of the associative unconscious is to turn into a noun what is actually a process of unconscious attribution by the subject.
  • To speak of a libidinal economy is to speak of the ways in which s(A) is supported by unconscious attribution aka jouissance.
  • To speak of the libidinal economies of the network society, you must be speaking of some new ways in which s(A) is being produced…

Susan: Thanks Philip. I agree that the term associative unconscious makes it sound like a noun whereby we actually refer to a process – just as to speak of the unconscious at all is to make a noun out of a process (the system uncs as Freud put it). It makes me think though of the wave and particle difference in physics. The network of signs and signifiers or the ‘treasury of signifiers’ might be both noun and verb depending on how we approach it as interpreters and create our behaviour in relation to it (interpretant). By making a noun out of a process we are able to understand by ‘holding’ a moment of time or a ‘slice of the universe’ long enough for understanding to take place. Then once again we become lost in the flux of process and the not knowing that might allow a surprising fact to emerge.

The relation between a network economy and the libidinal economy of a network

Simon: Susan, “By making a noun out of a process we are able to understand by ‘holding’ a moment of time or a ‘slice of the universe’ long enough for understanding to take place”. This also sounds like Lacan’s idea of a point de caption or quilting point.. holding thoughts/knowledge together enough, in order to act…?
Philip, what I don’t understand is how a libidinal economy (by its very nature a collective or networked phenomena) is reduced to being a subject’s interpretation of a ‘treasury of signifiers’; albeit one that goes through ‘double subjection of social construction of meaning and unconscious attribution’. This accounts for the subject’s way of making sense of something but not of how wider phenomena I am trying to understand? For example, how does a subject’s retro attribution of meaning, s(A) become or address the libidinal economy of a network of healthcare for example?

Philip: Another difficult question. So here goes…!
On the point de capiton, yes – the diagram above “articulates the point de capiton by which the signifier stops the otherwise indefinite sliding of signification….”[6]
On the question of the relation between the subject’s way of making sense and the libidinal economy, the relationship is less direct than the one you imply in asking “how a libidinal economy is reduced to being a subject’s interpretation of a ‘treasury of signifiers’”.
The function of the first intersection, labeled A, “is the locus of the treasure trove of signifiers, which does not mean of the code, for the one-to-one correspondence between a sign and a thing is not preserved here, the signifier being constituted on the basis of a synchronic and countable collection in which none of the elements is sustained except through its opposition to each of the others.” This treasure trove is a trove of distinctions that may be made.
The second, labeled s(A), is what may be called the punctuation, in which signification ends up as a finished product.” Here is where sense is made, but also where something is covered over. “Observe the dissymmetry between the one, which is a locus (a place, rather than a space), and the other, which is a moment (a scansion, rather than a duration). Both are related to the offer to the signifier that is constituted by the hole in the real, the one as a hollow for concealment, the other as drilling toward a way out.” The ‘holes in the real’ are the gaps that the signifiers offer to cover over, the particular way they are used to cover over being the ‘drilling toward a way out’. The sense-making is subject to the modes of social construction, but is also subject to the unconscious in the particular ways in which it covers over – like decking covers over what lies underneath.
The relation to this ‘underneath’ is like the outline of a question mark planted in the capital A, with two parts to the question:
sk02
My response to your question starts, then, from how that-which-is-covered-over is structured, and how the subject keeps this aligned with their social sense-making. The unconscious leaves gaps, being structured like a language is structured, and jouissance comes with the particular ways the subject has of being in relation to these gaps (aka phantasy, understood as what covers over the impossibility in the relation between the two parts to the question). The alignment of that-which-is-covered-over to the subject’s sense-making is therefore particular to the subject, as in ‘wo Es war, soll Ich werden’.
The pursuit of (ego) sovereignty by the subject, however, leads to adopting ideologies (aka social constructions) that only appear to align things, sort of. (It is the ‘vagueness’ in these ideologies that conceals the ways in which they fail.[7]) Hence the struggle for emancipation is always a struggle between ready-baked ways-of-aligning and a subject’s gradually-built alignment emerging from an ongoing process of ‘minding the gap’.
The economy of the network is a particular form of social organization that is emerging from the internal contradictions of 20th century capitalism (one that is more ‘horizontally’ linked than ‘vertically’ accountable, pursuing economies of alignment more than economies of scale and/or scope). It becomes a libidinal economy of a network only to the extent that this social organization supports forms of emancipation that promise not a ‘full jouissance’ but rather offers ways-of-being in which gaps may be minded, sort of!
It is thus not that the libidinal economy of a healthcare network is reduced to the subject’s phantasy. Rather it is that there are particular forms of emancipatory (gap-minding) phantasy that receive good-enough support from the economy of the healthcare network.[8]

We are living during a period of transition from one dominant ideology in the West to another.  I would express this transition as something like a transition  from the neoliberal ideology born of the aesthetic critique of the social-democratic ideology, to the network ideology born of the gap-minding critique of the neoliberal ideology.[9]

Notes
[1] This is from their chapter in Long, S (ed) 2013 Socioanalytic Methods, Karnac.
[2] Peirce’s break with the pragmatics attributed to him came in Peirce, C. S. (1905). “Issues of Pragmaticism.” The Monist XV(4): 481-499. The text between single quotes here is a paraphrasing of his later development of the implications of vagueness in Peirce, C. S. (1908). “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.” The Hibbert Journal 7(October): 90-112. “The hypothesis of God is a peculiar one, in that it supposes an infinitely incomprehensible object, although every hypothesis, as such, supposes its object to be truly conceived in the hypothesis. This leaves the hypothesis but one way of understanding itself; namely, as vague yet as true so far as it is definite, and as continually tending to define itself more and more, and without limit.” It is this understanding of vagueness that led Peter Ochs to write about irredeemable vagueness in Ochs, P. (1998). Peirce, pragmatism and the logic of scripture, Cambridge University Press.
[3] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[4] Morris, C. W. (1955[1938]). Foundations of the Theory of Signs. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. O. Neurath and R. Carnap. University of Chicago Press.
[5] Lacan, J. (2006[1966]b). The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 671-702.
[6] This and the subsequent quotes in italics are taken from Lacan, J. (2006[1966]b). The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Company: 671-702.
[7] See forthcoming paper, submitted for publication: ‘Defences against Innovation: the Conservation of Vagueness
[8] Juliet Mitchell, in her 2014 paper on ‘Siblings and the Psychosocial’ on Organisational & Social Dynamics 14(1) pp1-12, excellently outlines the ‘horizontal’ dimension of phantasy formation so necessary to understanding these forms of libidinal investment.
[9] Borrowing from Boltanski, L. and E. Chiapello (2005). The New Spirit of Capitalism. London, Verso.

Feb 242014
 

In considering what we can learn from Lance Armstrong, I argued that aside from the moral outrage, we needed to consider if he has something to teach us about the nature of situational resistance – an insistence that goes beyond mere defences against anxiety in a relentless pursuit of innovation pointed towards overcoming a lack. I ended by asking how such courage was mobilised. What follows is a continuation of the dialogue with Simon on this point.

Simon Western: If the unconscious is ‘the knowledge that speaks for itself’(Lacan), then the question arises as to not only what makes us react to stressful situations, but what guides us to choose them in the first place? What is the lack that creates the desire to hurtle down a mountain with immense courage, and at the same time to risk all personal credibility and social capital by cheating? With Lance Armstrong there was a lack of a father in his life, which seemed to create a desire for him to overcome this lack in two ways: a) showing the world he could do it alone, he could beat the best and beat cancer too; b) to buck any form of paternalistic authority, from his coaches or from the governing body of cycling. For Lance, the rules didn’t apply to him – i.e. no father = no paternalist authority for me! The film showed this with great clarity.

Philip Boxer: ‘Hurtling down the mountain’ is the relation to an objet petit a that comes in the place of a lack[1]. The following sets out my understanding of this “lack” and how it relates to Armstrong ‘risking all’.

What is meant by the relation to ‘lack’
Lacan’s understanding of lack started from lack of being – manque à être. The Freudian insight of “Wo Es war, soll Ich warden” (where being was, there I shall be) was understood as asserting that in seeking to be where Being was, the ‘I’ was inevitably putting itself in relation to the lack of the drive structure[2]. Doing this, however, involved a double subjection: firstly to the relation to the other, mediated by the effects of a relation to the Imaginary space-time-bounded reality, itself subject to the effects of signifying structures. Secondly, to the relation to the unconscious, the drive being a necessary consequence of the structural characteristics of the unconscious in support of embodied being.

Lacan came to understand the subject’s relation to this support to their identification in terms of the sinthome, the consistence of a Borromean knotting together of the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic registers that was the subject’s particular way of being-in-relation-to-lack. There were three ways in which this lack was experienced, reflecting progressive transformations in the subject’s relation to his or her subjection (taken from Lacan’s Seminar IV – La relation d’objet):

  • Frustration, in which the subject seeks to bring a Real object into being in the place of an Imaginary lack experienced within the context of the containing maternal (Symbolic) matrix – the child’s frustration is at not having what s/he wants when s/he wants it.
  • Privation, in which the subject puts a Symbolic object in the place of a Real lack experienced within the context of an Imaginary reality of the family story – in response to what is actually lacking, the child develops his or her own signifiers and begins to search for his or her own signification of those signifiers, with all the problematics arising from there always being something lost.
  • Castration, in which the object that comes in the place of a structural lack of the Symbolic is accepted as being Imaginary within the context of an acceptance of the subject’s relation to the Real – over the course of time, the subject accepts that no-one can ‘have’ what they want and that ‘being’ is always in relation to a lack.

What is interesting here is that “death” is a way for the sovereign ego to talk about an encounter with a limit aka lack of being. This is why courage and the ‘pointing up’ with his fear were so important to the alpinist. “Death” is a way of rationalizing why fear exists, except much of the time it is not death per se, but just an encounter with a limit that frightens the sovereign ego. So perhaps it might be better to speak of the ego’s ‘fear of castration’ rather than the death instinct. In whatever way it is spoken of, however, these progressive transformations form a cycle, or course, in the sense that we are always learning about ‘lack’ in this structural sense[3].

Helpful in this is Lacan’s later naming of the ways in which we get stuck at different points in the cycle (taken from Seminar XXI – Les non-dupes errent). So refusal of privation involves getting stuck in trying to say everything; refusal of castration involves getting stuck in trying to realise signifiers for the impossible-to-be-said[4]; and refusal of frustration involves getting stuck in trying to articulate in the present moment the nothing-to-be-said as a way of avoiding saying at least something![5]

Philip Boxer: So culling various biographical details from available sources, it appears that Lance’s mother, Linda, was 17 when she gave birth to him, having dropped out of high school. Soon after his parents divorced, his father abandoning Lance when he was two. Armstrong never saw his father after that, and Lance later referred to him as “the DNA donor”. In 1974, Lance’s mother married Terry Keith Armstrong, adopting Lance when he was 4. So we can say that there was an Imaginary lack – his father was not there – and that the Real object of the stepfather might at first appearances have limited the frustration Lance experienced.

Linda saw athletic potential in her son early on and encouraged him to participate in a variety of sports. Armstrong was running and swimming at 10 and taking up competitive cycling and triathlons at 13. At 16 he became a professional triathlete. So what of the place of the father in the family structure within which he grew up? We can hypothesise that there was a Real lack there, in the sense of the privation brought about by the abandonment that continued to occupy the place of the father in Linda’s relationship to her son. Here we can speculate that Lance developed particular ways of organizing signifiers that covered this Real lack which involved the place of competition in his life, but which also involved a refusal of castration.

From this speculation on his story therefore, the cheating sounds like a refusal of castration by getting stuck in trying to realise signifiers for what is impossible-to-say. In the following fragment from his history, we perhaps get a glimpse of his ego’s refusal of death coinciding with a superhuman effort, within the context of his friend’s death:

In the 1995 Tour de France, three days after teammate Fabio Casartelli died after a fall on a mountain descent, Armstrong vowed to win a stage race for his Italian friend. As the support staff pulled up alongside to give him a status report on the riders behind him, Armstrong waved them off. “I don’t need to know,” he said. “Nobody’s going to catch me.” No one did. Armstrong rode the last few hundred meters with his hands off the bars, index fingers pointing to the heavens. Armstrong recalls the eerie experience: “There’s no doubt there were four feet pushing those pedals that day.” (Racing the demons – inspired by fellow survivors, Lance Armstrong refuses to give in to cancer.)

Simon Western: I agree. He seemed to suffer from an unconscious-conscious dissonance between his great courage and the feelings of being a cheat, that he couldn’t acknowledge even when he consciously admitted cheating (i.e. there was no conscious acknowledgement of shame). ‘The unconscious spoke clearly for itself; when his unconscious took him back to racing after four years break, which reopened all the drugs questions and led to his being exposed, losing social capital and great wealth. When asked why, his conscious rationalisations for this did not answer the question fully, for him or for others, who proclaimed: but why did he do it!! I concluded that his unconscious vis a vis the death drive, took him back to die a public death in order to rid himself of the internal dissonance he felt, but could not rationally acknowledge. Even though he consciously rationalised the cheating, the feeling and emotions of being a cheat did not go away. For repression gets rid of the cognitive thoughts, but leaves a trail of emotions in the body.

Philip Boxer: Yes. On this reading, there is an unconscious refusal of castration, the corollary of which are the narcissistic and perverse defences of the ego trying to sustain its sovereignty. But is this refusal of castration what you are referring to as the death drive? I think so, and of course why shouldn’t you (along with many others, more often expressed in terms of the death instinct). But my point is that by not doing so, it fails to make room for understanding something else about what is going on, apparent when you say:

The knowledge that speaks for itself, that spoke loudly and exposed Lance in order to both kill him publicly but also perhaps to set him free.. this was where the film started. He spoke emotionally of getting his first bike as young child – “for the first time I was free – a bike sets you free!”

This something else is not so much Lance’s bike as the way of being that he takes up when bicycling. This is perhaps Lance’s sinthome. Even though his ego refuses, the Real insists, demanding that Lance pay with his being as he understands it to be in relation to bicycling. This liminal space that he finds himself in as a consequence is, in a sense, exactly where he needs to be to continue to work through (what we have speculated to be) his refusal of castration.

Where is the courage in this?  I think it is in Armstrong’s continuing insistence on being true to his sinthome which, whether he liked it or not, brought him to face a beyond of his refusal of castration. Will he find that he still ‘is’ on the other side of this castration? We shall find out from the way he takes up competing again!

Notes
[1] In saying that objet petit a is the ’cause of desire’, what is meant is not that the objet petit a causes the desire, but rather that it becomes the cause of desire in the sense of a flag standing for a shared cause.
[2] Drive structure is a relation between four things in Freud: Drang, thrust – the tendency to discharge psychic energy; Ziel, the aim; Quelle, the source – the gap defined by a rim-like structure; and Objekt, the object. For more on this see Structural Gaps – the wigo/wiRgo relation
[3] In the same sense that there are always instances of symbolic equation to be worked through. See How does ‘sophisticated’ group mentality relate to basic assumption behaviour?
[4] Godel’s theory of incompleteness (or undecidability) shows how any system of thinking can be presented with a statement, the truth of which is undecidable. This is the function of the paradoxical intervention… In this refusal of castration, this undecidability is not accepted.
[5] These two sets of three are the accommodative (centrifugal) and assimilative (centripetal) forms of the Borromean knotting of the three Registers (Imaginary, Symbolic and Real).

Feb 102014
 

I am particularly interested in organisations that must operate in turbulent environments, in which client-customers must be responded to one-by-one, each demanding a different response designed to address their particular situation. We see the need for this obviously in health and social care, and more generally in public services, but it is also a characteristic, increasingly, of the networked economy.

In such organisations, a person in a role is subject to their organisation as a social system, but to the extent that the organisation must go beyond what it knows in order to respond one-by-one to what ‘more’ its client-customers want, not only must someone be prepared to go beyond what they know. They must also do so in a way that enables the organisation to learn from their ‘going beyond’. A recent dialogue helps to see what we can learn about this from Lance Armstrong. Both the individual and the organisation must face fear in going beyond what they know. What enables an organisation to mobilise courage in the face of such fear and learn from it rather than engaging in a ‘flight to the personal’?

Simon Western: I recently watched a documentary/film about Lance Armstrong- the Armstrong Lie - and was left with three areas of questions:
1. where the boundaries of personal responsibility and collective responsibility lay: Armstrong claimed, ‘we didn’t start this, everybody was using illegal substances- you couldn’t compete unless you did too’ – and even at the end of the documentary, when he admitted everything, Armstrong wondered if history would vindicate him, and his 7 tour de france victories would be re-instated because it was a level playing field of deceit. The moral relativism seen in this movie, I have seen so often in workplaces. An immoral decision is taken that is devastating to an individual but the collective response from ‘good’ people, aligns with the perpetrators. From a psychoanalytic perspective, this raises questions of how ethics are distorted and disavowed, and how individuals and collective groups rationalise or disassociate from their actions
2. The question of how the conscious and unconscious merge and blur: where knowing and denial both operate together. This is key to understanding abuse in the caring professions/church whereby staff both know they do it/ witness it, and deny it at the same time…. This question is compounded in the film by the authorities knowing and not-knowing – thereby legitimising the cheating/abuse (as occurs in many institutions — that demonise abusers but only when caught).
3. The third question was around thanatos and eros: EROS the love of life (Armstrong fighting devastating cancer- making remarkable recovery- raising millions to help others survive-raising a loving family) and this contrasted with Thanatos: the death instinct- Armstrong made a comeback that sealed his fate- recklessly so, observers kept asking why did he do it? Many leaders/celebrities do something reckless like this that ends their career- Does a self-destructive death instinct drive this……?

Philip Boxer: My initial comment was that it was useful to distinguish the perverse narcissistic defence that Armstrong appeared to be using, which took the form of ‘Everyone else was cheating, so to win I had to cheat too, and I had to cheat better than anyone else’. Here indeed was moral relativism, in which those in authority were implicated to the extent that they sustained a position of “Do what you have to do to win, but I don’t want to hear about it” – a version of which appeared in the recent ‘U.N. Panel Criticizes the Vatican Over Sexual Abuse‘. But here too was self-destructiveness.

So I also proposed that the self-destructiveness of this perverse narcissistic defence needed to be distinguished from the nature of the underlying drive that enabled Armstrong to hurtle at break-neck and break-body speeds, exhibiting a courage in pushing the limits of what he felt able to do. This is not well-described as a pursuit of death over life. Manfred Kets de Vries reminds us in his paper on ‘Death and the Executive‘ of the maladaptive responses to ‘death’ in the sense of death anticipated by a sovereign ego-enterprise as the ultimate narcissistic injury – the manic defence, denial of succession and the ‘edifice complex’. But these are the ego’s narcissistic defences, and as Kahn and Liefooghe remind us in their excellent summary ‘Thanatos: Freudian manifestations of death at work’, for Freud there was no death in the unconscious mortal fear aka existential anxiety. Instead, we are looking at repetition and drive structure, through which this drivenness is understood not so much in terms of mortality as in terms of a response to that which remains ‘unassimilable’ about our fellow human being aka not like one of us.[1] Based on Freud, this repetition and drive structure was not so much a “self-destructive death instinct” as a being driven to get as close as possible to an absolute limit, a liminality[2], because it was there that Armstrong could (again?) get a glimpse of the sublime.

Simon Western: My response was to wonder whether the death drive was beyond our capacity to think about it. Your comments moved quickly to the sublime and limitations, but did Freud identify a death-drive that went beyond limitations, to embrace emptiness and self-destruction? Freud witnessed war and Nazi Germany – we witness Syria and multiple conflicts- nations imploding, and banks – financial and economic systems self-destructing whilst a blind eye is turned by both authorities/institutions and participating actors.

Do we, as psychoanalytic thinkers, turn a blind eye to the death-drive, rationalizing it and turning it into something we can symbolize and contain – like narcissistic defences, the sublime or aggressive impulses? Hanna Arendt raised the question of the banality of evil – and Zygmunt Beauman linked bureaucratic modernity to the evil of the holocaust – but is this enough to explain the destructive impulses. Isn’t there a lack here? Perhaps this lack is the death-drive lurking banally in each of us? I have witnessed so-called ‘good’ people self-destructing or externalizing their destructive impulses, trying to destroy others when they are at their most vulnerable. Institutions bureaucratize this ‘evil’ and protect the perpetrators, until exposed; then they absolve themselves and personalize the evil as if it only existed in selective bad individuals. As Freud identified, if we are to understand civilization we have to understand the discontents, and the destructive as well as creative forces. Maybe we need to re-visit the death drive?

Philip Boxer: I agree with you, but it is exactly the sovereign ego’s defences that rationalise, symbolise and attempt to contain – and always fall short. It is the sovereign ego that is the source of the “suppress and repress” referred to by Manfred Kets de Vries in his paper.  I intended my reference to the ‘sublime’ to be understood not as referring to some transcendent notion so much as to something very particular – in Armstrong’s case, feeling that he was right on the edge of what he could possibly do. Freud spoke of this as a relation to that in the particular which remained lost (dingvorstellung), distinguished from that in the particular that was experienced as being repeated (sachvorstellung).[3] Armstrong’s relation to the organisation of the sport served his narcissistic purposes, but his relation to the racing itself was also driven by this relation to what remained ‘lost’, the pursuit of which took him to the edge of what was humanly possible. In this sense, Armstrong was doubly subjected: both subject to the ways he could control how he was ‘known’ by others, and also subject to his unconscious in the particular way he faced the limits of his performance (in Freudian terms, subjection to both reality and to pleasure-pain). It is in relation to this second form of subjection that repetition and drive structure come into play, in which we observe something about the aim of the drive structure and how we might think further about the unconscious structuring of this being driven.[4]

Double subjection is apparent in the following description of an extreme alpinist:

During his apprenticeship he learned the open secret that at the edge of the possible, the rules and techniques of climbing become quite different from the nostrums aimed at beginners. Mark and his partners have tested the conventional wisdom and modified if when they found it wanting.[5]

Here there is both subjection to the ‘conventional wisdom’ and also subjection to the limits of what can be learnt in challenging ‘conventional wisdom’. In Armstrong’s case, the conventional wisdom included ‘having to cheat’, so that winning included having to cheat ‘better’, but this cheating also required him to push the limits of his own body ‘more’, which demanded courage. The value in thinking in terms of a double subjection is therefore that we can think both about the way the social system imposed certain constraints, but also about the way Armstrong had to overcome fear in reaching beyond his own personal limits.

To quote the alpinist again (in the following, a ‘pitch’ is a section of a climb):

To climb through fear, to point fear up instead of down, you need to maintain the desire and strength, the will and discipline, to go until the end of the pitch. If you are scared, reinforce your confidence by biting off what you know you can chew. Successfully swallowing it will encourage you to take another bite, another pitch. … Trust in your skill, and give yourself up to the action.[5]

We can share a moral outrage at Armstrong’s cheating, but surely there is no question that he also showed courage in the way he gave himself up to the action, ‘pointing’ his fear. Clearly there is the destructive impulse and the evil in the banal ‘following of orders’ characteristic of the perverse narcissistic defence by the sovereign ego and its associated envious attacks, but this is not enough to understand what was going on here. And to pick another example of a person showing similar courage in a different context by putting his being ‘on the line’, would we be outraged at Edward Snowden’s cheating too, or in his case call it whistleblowing? What would we say to those who want to award him the Nobel Peace Prize?

What Lance Armstrong has to teach us is something about the nature of situational resistance – an insistence that goes beyond mere defences against anxiety in a relentless pursuit of innovation pointed towards overcoming a lack. How is such courage mobilised?

Notes
[1] This is a reference to Freud’s Project and that which remains unassimilable in nebenmensch. See Reinhard, K. (2005). Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor. The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology. S. Zizek, E. L. Santner and K. Reinhard, University of Chicago Press.
[2] In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
[3] For more on this, see getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency.
[4] This reading of Freud aims to build on the insights of the death instinct as understood by a Kleinian reading in terms of envy. (Stein, M. (2000). “After Eden: Envy and the defences against anxiety paradigm.” Human Relations 53(2): 193-211.)
[5] Taken from ‘Extreme Alpinism: climbing light, fast and high’. By Mark F. Twight and James Martin. The Mountaineers: Seattle 1999

Jan 072014
 

The theory of the enterprise developed based on a largely static and ‘closed’ ontology. This meant that the top management of such an enterprise was assumed to be committed to a form of mental model aka Thirdness, reflecting founding assumptions and constraints established by them within the context of their communities of interest. This form of Thirdness authorised a particular way of composing asset structures appropriate to top management’s (top-down) definition of primary task, well described in terms of the boundaries associated with open systems thinking[1] and the dictates of pursuing sustainable competitive advantage.

Innovation involves enabling this ontology to give way to different ontologies rooted in different processes and values[2]. This means that the asset structures have to be decomposable and capable of re-composition within different mental models[3].  Innovation that does this is disruptive.  This blog considers the effects of such innovation on an individual’s double subjection when it takes them ‘outside’ their existing forms of Thirdness.

Going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness
In the turbulent environments identified by Emery and Trist[4], the failure by an enterprise to accept disruptive innovation prevents it from engaging in the kinds of dynamic adaptation demanded of it by these environments – resisting the situational resistance of the client-customers demanding change, or counter-resisting.  Dynamic adaptation involves adopting new perspectives on the nature of competition as dynamic specialisation [5] and it involves innovation becoming part of the ‘normal’ way of doing business instead of being left to a separate world of ‘entrepreneurs’[3]. This means that the forms of existential anxiety precipitated by the going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness – the underlying driver of counter-resistance – have to become the new  ‘normal’.  In turbulent environments, the effect of counter-resistance is to block dynamic adaptation.

Going ‘outside’ existing forms of Thirdness is not just a matter of working across boundaries under conditions in which the dominance of the vertical over the horizontal can no longer be assumed [6]. For relations across such boundaries to be effective, shared mental models have to emerge in the inter-subjective spaces ultimately able to sustain social institutions[7]. From the perspective of the subject of the enterprise, these will involve subjection to new forms of Thirdness[8].

Spanning Disjunction
Both hierarchical and community systems may be characterised by the ‘Thirdness’ implicit in the way they cohere, even though the source of the mental models in each case may be different. Thus with hierarchically-defined roles, the source of Thirdness will ultimately be the founding assumptions and constraints of the enterprise to which those working for it are subjected ‘vertically’ through their employment.  With community organisations, however, the shared mental model is more likely to have emerged from individuals engaging with a situation in which two-way co-creating is taking place ‘horizontally’, so that the shaping assumptions and constraints emerge from the situation itself. A potential disjunction arises between these, therefore, derived from the disjoint nature of their respective sources (i.e. founding origin versus present situation)[9].

One perspective on this potential disjunction is to be found in the inter-subjective approach used by Susan Long, which argues that these disjoint forms of subjection ultimately reflect gendered forms of identification[10]. Another perspective is to be found in writing about ‘treatment resistance’.  This form of resistance arises, for example, as a consequence of a therapist rigidly holding to procedure, as though the basis of staff authority was synonymous with the form of Thirdness appropriate to a therapeutic session, instead of working with the patient to build a shared Thirdness emerging from their working alliance in the patient’s situation[11].  The patient’s resistance is situational resistance, and it evidences this disjunction in which the therapist’s rigid holding-to-procedure constitutes counter-resistance.

Within the context of an enterprise, a similar potential disjunction may be found in the study of disruptive innovation in which values and processes are introduced that disrupt those of the existing enterprise[12]. An existing enterprise will conserve its established ways of doing things in the same way that the therapist might conserve existing ways of engaging in a therapeutic process: in conserving its own forms of Thirdness, the enterprise excludes other forms, restricting the possible forms of relationship it can sustain with potential customers. The enterprise is conserving the vertical relation to its founding assumptions and constraints (‘counter-resistance’), while ‘situational resistance’ appears on the side of the customer-client as demands for change.  The disjunction corresponds to two forms of resistance, therefore, the employees insisting on their roles and the client-customers insisting on their needs.

Counter-resistance is always on the side of the supplier-provider

Ontological assumptions are made every time a signifier-signified relation is asserted within the context of some form of Thirdness. Double subjection means that in addition to the socially recognisable forms of metonymy and metaphor through which these signifier-signified relations are organised, there are also the ontological assumptions and constraints imposed by an unconscious lexicon[13].  We can therefore approach disruptive innovation in terms of three kinds of disruption to an existing form of Thirdness that are cumulative in their effects:

  • First comes a breakdown in a signifying relation, so that what was previously felt to be a ‘true’ signifying statement about what-is-being-experienced is no longer experienced as true.
  • Second comes inter-subjective disruption, in which what was previously felt to be a shared organisation of relationships between signifiers defining an inter-subjective space is no longer experienced as shared, thus changing what is felt to be true.

From the supply-side perspective of an existing form of Thirdness, to avoid such disruptions would be to avoid errors of  ‘correspondence’ and ‘coherence/consistency’ respectively[14], which would constitute the ‘conscious’ errors in unintentional errors and unconscious valency.  The third kind of disruption is the one that leads to existential anxiety, the avoidance of which would be to avoid the third kind of ‘decidability’ error, corresponding to ‘unintentional’ error, in which the subject is no longer clear what-to-do in response to a demand:

  • Third comes ontological disruption, in which the unconscious lexicon of object-relating behaviours is invalidated in some way. This third form of disruption is to the kinds of entity that constitute the underlying world itself, to the kinds of interaction these entities have among themselves and to how the entities and their interaction modes change as a result of these interactions[2]. It is this form of disruption that is most associated with existential anxiety because it leads to the feeling of ‘not knowing where to start’.[15]

What happens when disruptive innovation challenges an individual’s double subjection by taking them ‘outside’ their existing forms of Thirdness?  Errors of this third kind, through staying within what is consciously known, constitute unintentional errors. Such errors, in defending the subject against anxiety, resist aka conserve the subject’s identifications. While the first two of these errors may be consciously resisted through holding on to existing forms of Thirdness, resisting the third ontological disruption is most problematic because it is unconscious, disrupting the very forms of Thirdness that currently give meaning. Defenses against anxiety thus constitute counter-resistance, and the forms they take include repression, exclusion, expulsion and attacks against other forms of Thirdness on the basis of their political in-correctness![16]

What is the alternative response to ontological disruption?  By adopting an ethic that we can see modeled in the pursuit of extreme sports: to engage in the work of mastering a medium through mastering fear. What is at stake in situational resistance is courage.[17]

Notes
[1] Social defenses against anxiety emphasise the use of such Thirdness as a container. The emerging difficulties with this understanding of the organisation of an enterprise are described in what is happening to boundaries, authority and containment?. An account of how these defenses arise is given in Getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. This understanding of organisation considers resistance on the side of the supplier-provider through its conservation of identity, contrasting this supply-side resistance with demand-side situational resistance. See Situational Resistance: challenges to the supply-side conservation of identity. Identifying ‘true’ resistance with the demand-side in this way renders supply-side resistance as counter-resistance.
[2] Lane, D. A. and R. R. Maxfield (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[3] Foss, N. J. and P. G. Klein (2012). Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgement: A New Approach to the Firm, Cambridge University Press.
[4] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[5] Hagel III, J. and J. Seely Brown (2005). The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press.
[6] Boxer, P. J. (2013a). Leading organisations without boundaries: ‘quantum’ organisation and the work of making meaning. ISPSO Conference. Oxford, UK.
[7] Long, S. (2006). “Organizational Defenses Against Anxiety: What Has Happened Since the 1995 Jaques Paper?” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 3(4): 279-295. p285
[8] Described further in Thirdness, also see Murphey, M. G. (1993). The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Company. and Benjamin, J. (2009). “A relational psychoanalysis perspective on the necessity of acknowledging failure in order to restore the facilitating and containing features of the intersubjective relationship (the shared third).” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 441-450.
[9] This is the third dilemma of affiliation versus alliance – see the diasporic way.
[10] Benjamin, J. (1988). The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and the Problem of Domination. New York, Pantheon Books.  I take up this issue of gender in THE environment does not ex-sist.
[11] Muller, J. (2011). Why the pair needs the third. Treatment Resistance and Patient Authority: The Austen Riggs Reader. New York, Norton Press: 97-120.p98.
[12] Christensen, C. M. and M. Overdorf (2000). “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change.” Harvard Business Review(March-April).
[13] This unconscious lexicon is the . -complex of unconscious valencies through which conscious constructions are constrained by processes of unconscious symbolic equation. See getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency
[14] Judging errors from within a particular form of Thirdness, like conducting science from within a particular paradigm, is to define ‘error’ from within an existing form of discursive practice – see what is happening to ‘boundaries, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’? –   but not from the place of the disruptor.
[15] It is this kind of disruption that is associated with paradigm change, resistance to which is through the pursuit of degenerative research programmes. See also Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago. and Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 91-196.
[16] See footnotes [1] and [2] in getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of Thirdness as an effect of unconscious valency. The success of these forms of counter-resistance transform turbulent environments into vortical environments – see must we fall into the vortex?
[17] An insight into what this is about in the context of climbing is to be found in ‘Extreme Alpinism: climbing light, fast and high’. By Mark F. Twight and James Martin. The Mountaineers: Seattle 1999 “Mark has climbed with many of the world’s best alpinists. During his apprenticeship he learned the open secret that at the edge of the possible, the rules and techniques of climbing become quite different from the nostrums aimed at beginners. Mark and his partners have tested the conventional wisdom and modified if when they found it wanting.” and “To climb through fear, to point fear up instead of down, you need to maintain the desire and strength, the will and discipline, to go until the end of the pitch. If you are scared, reinforce your confidence by biting off what you know you can chew. Successfully swallowing it will encourage you to take another bite, another pitch. Try to keep sight of the long view. Any time your mind can accept a bigger bite, go for the top in one big gulp. Preserve your drive. Don’t sketch around or get psyched out or consider lowering off to relinquish the lead. Trust in your skill, and give yourself up to the action.

Jan 052014
 

This series of blogs started with a difficulty faced at a research colloquium in addressing the effects of libidinal investment on the way the participants ‘were’ in language.  We were getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of ‘Thirdness’ associated with ‘unconscious defences against anxiety’.  The effects of libidinal investment were to be observed in the way it excluded thoughts and expelled thinking that was in some way inconsistent or problematic for its continuing hegemony, preserving a particular form of relation to an ex-sistent ‘more’ that was valued as much as its ability to include and subsume.[1] Viewed through its expression as political correctness, libidinal investment therefore serves to maintain particular constructions of meaning in the face of potentially contradictory experiences. [2]

The work at understanding the nature of this difficulty started with identifying the missing subject-ego relation in Hanna Segal’s ‘three-term relation’ and continued to consider how Bion’s formulation of sophistication and mentality lost something by narrowing his focus to the work group.  This difficulty was most apparent in the way these formulations were able to address the problematic relation between ‘containing’ and ‘otherness’.  Formulating the missing relation in terms of a relation to ‘Thirdness‘, this blog considers how we might understand getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of ‘Thirdness’ as symptomatic of unconscious valency.

Bion’s Grid
Bion’s grid[3] places the subject’s contact-barrier between the subject’s experience of what-is-going-on (wigo) aka things-in-themselves and the subject’s capacity to give meaning to wigo. In this diagram, the dotted blue line represents the processes by which the subject’s embodied experience gets taken up and contained:
Bion
In this schema, the difference between alpha- and beta-elements concerns the way in which experience is taken up in consciousness (words in red referred to later in this blog):

Alpha-function operates on the sense impressions, whatever they are, and the emotions, whatever they are, of which the patient is aware. In so far as alpha-function is successful alpha elements are produced and these elements are suited to storage and the requirements of dream thoughts. If alpha-function is disturbed, and therefore inoperative, the sense impressions of which the patient is aware and the emotions which he is experiencing remain unchanged. I shall call them beta elements. In contrast with the alpha-elements the beta-elements are not felt to be phenomena, but things in themselves. The emotions likewise are objects of sense.[4]

Bion attributes his use of “contact-barrier” to Freud, identifying it with the functioning of a synapse:

I shall now transfer all that I have said about the establishment of conscious and unconscious and a barrier between them to a supposed entity, that I designate a “contact-barrier”; Freud used this term to describe the neuro-physiological entity subsequently known as a synapse. In conformity with this my statement that the man has to “dream” a current emotional experience whether it occurs in sleep or in waking life is re-formulated thus: The man’s alpha-function whether in sleeping or waking transforms the sense-impressions related to an emotional experience, into alpha-elements, which cohere as they proliferate to form the contact-barrier. This contact-barrier, thus continuously in process of formation, marks the point of contact and separation between conscious and unconscious elements and originates the distinction between them. The nature of the contact-barrier will depend on the nature of the supply of alpha-elements and on the manner of their relationships to each other. They may cohere. They may be agglomerated. They may be ordered sequentially to give the appearance of narrative (at least in the form in which the contact-barrier may reveal itself in a dream). They may be ordered logically. They may be ordered geometrically.[5]

Consciousness in these terms therefore rests on the foundations of alpha-elements that may then be progressively organised, leaving beta-elements that may not. These beta-elements and their associated beta-screen produced effects in the analyst that appeared coherent and purposive while outside the consciousness of the subject:

A small number of patients with whom I have had to deal have presented prominently symptoms of disordered capacity for thought… I tested the supposition that I contained the non-psychotic part of his personality, and then began to be aware that I was supposed to be conscious of what was going on while he was not. I was (contained) his “conscious”… Freud’s theory that consciousness is the sense-organ of psychic quality, allowed an assumption that a separation was being effected between consciousness and psychic quality… Now this situation does not correspond to the theoretical framework I have suggested, the theory, namely, of a contact barrier owing its existence to the proliferation of alpha-elements by alpha-function and serving the function of a membrane which by the nature of its composition and permeability separates mental phenomena into two groups one of which performs the functions of consciousness and the other the functions of unconsciousness… The difference in the two states derives from the differences between a contact barrier composed of alpha-elements and one composed, if that is the right word, of beta-elements. These last, it will be remembered, appear to lack a capacity for linkage to each other… comparison of the beta-element screen with the confused states resembling dream shows the beta-element screen to be coherent and purposive. An interpretation that the patient was pouring out a stream of material intended to destroy the analyst’s psych-analytic potency would not seem out of place. Equally apt would be the interpretation that the patient was concerned to withhold rather than to impart information.[6]

Differences to Freud’s Project
There are important differences with Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology[7] in how Bion formulated the relation of the subject’s consciousness to alpha- and beta-elements.  Freud made a fundamental distinction in his Project between the perceptual -system and an -system of word-presentations, and between word-presentation and thing-presentation.[8]  This latter distinction was between a closed -system organising differences in quality, and a -complex organising quantity (quotas of ‘affect’) distributed across different neuronal pathways as networks of complication.[9]

Fundamental to understanding the differences with Freud’s Project was the role of Q – energy – within the ‘psychic apparatus’. Between Q and Q in the external world were Q-screens, which were impermeable to Q. Two kinds of contact-barrier were then hypothesised: those which were permeable (), offering no resistance to the passage of Q; and those which had some degree of impermeability (), and were therefore capable of holding back the passage of Q. The -system was that which was reached by exogenous stimulation and through which the discharge of Q took place; and the -complex was that which was stimulated by Qas well as by endogenous excitation. Facilitation involved altering the thresholds of impermeability of the contact barriers within the -complex – a “-complex” because of its facilitated complexification of distributions of Q across () contact-barrier pathways. The Pleasure Principle was therefore the distribution of Q across this -complex following a principle of constancy, through the facilitation of distribution and discharge via 
project2The -system was that which conducted the periodicity of stimulation arising at the Q-screen back to the -complex as a path of facilitation, and forward to the Q-screen as attention which anticipated stimulation.  This periodicity of any given stimulation was to be thought of as a complex waveform with its own distinctive signature pattern. Thus, on the one hand there were memory traces – specific configurations of -complexification through distributions of quantity; and on the other there were patterns of quality which were the waveform correlates of these memory traces. This distinction between and became the distinction between thing-presentation and word-presentation, the latter being taken as an indication of quality and the two together becoming an object-presentation as per Appendix C of The Unconscious[10]
signifers2
Three important differences are to be noted between Bion and Freud therefore:

  1. Bion’s sense-impressions (quality) and emotional experience (quantity) related to both exogenous (waking) and endogenous (sleeping) excitation, whether accessible to consciousness (alpha-elements) or not (beta-elements);
  2. Bion’s contact-barrier was specific to the relation between the conscious and the unconscious, corresponding to the relationship between word-presentation, where the word-presentation was accessible to consciousness, and thing-presentation.  Conscious word-presentations therefore appeared as alpha-elements, while word-presentations that remained unconscious remained as beta-elements; and
  3. Experience for Bion was reducible to its elements, whether alpha-elements or beta-elements.

In summary, whereas for Bion the irreducible elements were alpha- and beta-elements, in Freud’s Project these elements were themselves epiphenomena of synaptic patterns within the  -complex .

Structuring elements in the way that words are structured
In Freud’s Project, therefore, the relationships between contact-barriers in the  -complex could combine to form an open-ended variety of possible pathways between synaptic neurones, each pathway distributing quantity (quotas of affect) in a different way. The -system was a source of ‘downwards’ regulation of these distributions of affect through the way it facilitated the transmission of quantity through () contact-barriers in ways that regulated levels of pleasure/unpleasure.  Crucial here were the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ natures of thing-presentations and word-presentations respectively.[11]

This ‘open’ nature of thing-presentation implied that there was an open-ended number of possible pathways between synaptic neurones, the differences between which was a function of their differences as pathways with their associated affect. Using the metaphor of the relation between words and letters, there was an open-ended number of possible ‘words’ made up of combinations of ‘letters’ in the -complex. The relation of the -system to the -complex was then like the relation between recognised ‘words’ and combinations of ‘letters’.  Not all combinations of ‘letters’ in the -complex were recognised as ‘words’ in the -system, and combinations of ‘letters’ that were recognised in the -system were recognisable through their difference to other recognised combinations of ‘letters’. Thus while the potential number of combinations of ‘letters’ aka synaptic pathways was open, the number of ‘words’ aka word-presentations that were recognised was closed.

Approached in this way, while the word-presentation in the unconscious could equally be an ideogram or phoneme, it could also be complex patterns of relationship between word-presentations.  These recognised word-presentations and patterns of word-presentations acted as the lexicon of signification, while at the same being bathed in the affective medium through their associated synaptic pathways in the unconscious.[12] To be subject to the unconscious was therefore to be subject to this structuring of difference.  This reading of Freud’s Project does not detract from Bion’s rendering of alpha- and beta-elements.  Rather it takes it further by providing an unconscious basis for ‘formations’ in the 4-term relation in a way that Bion’s Grid did not – ‘formations’ being complex patterns of relationship between word-presentations.  In effect, libidinal investment in particular ‘formations’ can be subject to the equivalent of symbolic equation applied to these complex patterns. How can this be recognised in Freud’s structuring of the ‘psychic apparatus’?

Primary and Secondary Stratification
In his letter to Fleiss of the 6th December 1896, Freud postulated the above structural account in terms of a process of primary stratification:

  • W [Wahrnehmungen (perceptions)] were neurones in which perceptions originated , to which consciousness attached, but which in themselves retained no trace of what had happened.
  • Wz [Wahrnehmungszeichen (indications of perception)] were then the first registration of perceptions, arranged according to associations by simultaneity (,
  • Ub [Unbewusstsein (unconsciousness)] was the second registration arranged according to the process of complexification ), and
  • Vb [Vorbewusstsein (preconsciousness)] was the third transcription, attached to word-presentation (the -system).

In thinking about this third transcription in relation to the -system, the -system and the -complex, Freud commented that “the cathexes proceeding from this Vb become conscious according to certain rules; and this secondary thought consciousness is subsequent in time and is probably linked to the hallucinatory activation of word presentations, so that the neurones of consciousness would once again be perceptual neurones and in themselves without memory”. Just as perception led through indication of perception to produce facilitating effects on the -complex, so the “subsequent in time” indicated that the preconsciousness led back through the system to produce effects of attention – a kind of echo. The important point here was that whereas thing-presentations remain anchored in the -complex, the -system acted as a support for word-presentations, and ultimately for consciousness.

This whole  system therefore acted as a substrate to consciousness. In order to consider the unconscious basis of ‘formation’ aka Thirdness, we therefore need a secondary stratification (the W-Wz-Ub-Vb stratification described by Freud being primary) by introducing as a particular organisation aka ‘formation’ of the subject’s relation to the unconscious object-signifiers. This relation to represents a secondary stratification that is an organisation of word-presentations,[13] producing the following:

The dotted line is there because the -system only affects the -complex in ways that are mediated by and the -system, there being no direct relationship between  and . The secondary stratification is that through which the organisation of relationships between word-presentations takes place on the axis of to .[14] Symbolic equation aka unconscious valency is thus a restricting of the relationship between the -complex and the -system, to which we can now add a second kind of unconscious valency as restricting the relationship between the -complex and .

Implications
This now gives us a way to understand getting caught ‘inside’ particular forms of ‘formation’ aka Thirdness as symptomatic of unconscious valency. Valency is now understood in terms of the relations between ‘truth’ and three other positions: ‘agent’, ‘work’ and ‘production’, so that Thirdness becomes understood as the effect of these three on the fourth. In the position of ‘truth’ are -system constructions.  The thick black line signifies the difference between the conscious nature of these constructions and the rest of the system.  This ‘truth’ is subject to a -organisation (‘agent’ in the figure below) of the relation between the -system and the -complex.  Symbolic equation is thus to be understood not only in the familiar sense of limiting the articulation of the relation between the -system (the ‘work’ of signifying meaning in the sense of an artist’s work) and the -complex, but also between  and the -complex (the ‘production’ of the relation to the radically unconscious -complex, this radicality also signified by a thick black line).   The effect of symbolic equation is therefore to limit the possible forms of construction of ‘truth’ in both ways.
quadripod01a
Consider now how Bion’s Grid is affected by this more complex structuring in which an ‘Other’ axis is formed by the effects of the -complex on mediating the ways in which the -system acts as a support to consciousness. The two sides of the Grid, formulated in terms of the container(♀) and the contained(♂), can now be understood as sophisticated forms of Thirdness and signification respectively freed to some extent from the effects of symbolic equation on both organisations of object-relation and object-relations per se.  The unconscious valency remains there ‘under the surface’ as an ‘Other’ subjection alongside the social forms of subjection associated with inter-subjectively shared forms of Thirdness.[15] 

Our double subjection is now in terms of both the container-contained constructions of the social, and also the . -complex unconscious valencies through which these constructions are constrained by processes of symbolic equation.  We need to understand not only the dotted blue arrow indicating the direct effects of symbolic equation, but also the indirect effects of symbolic equation represented by the mediating effects of the solid blue arrow, through which the inter-subjective experience of Thirdness is also made subject to the unconscious organisation of object-relating.[16]
quadripod2
It is this double subjection that is constitutive of the double challenge, the ethics of which may be understood in terms of  a diasporic way associated with journeying at the edge.[17] Why care?  Because by failing to take up this challenge, an organisation stops learning about how to maintain a dynamic alignment with its environments…  many organisations acting in this way creating an impact on their environments that is the corollary to global climate change – vortical environments.

Notes
[1] The implications of this ex-sistent ‘more’ are explored in THE environment does not ex-sist and written about in Stavrakakis, Y., The Lacanian Left: psychoanalysis, theory, politics. 2007, New York: SUNY Press, as well as in Zizek, S. (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London, Verso.  The ways in which ideology is exercised as a form of Power/Knowledge is written about extensively by Foucault, see footnote [1] in what is happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’ and Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Brighton, UK, The Harvester Press. What this analysis adds is the libidinal investment that underpins this way of exercising Power/Knowledge. In the case of the colloquium about ‘defences against anxiety’, it was as if we had more energy for complaining about the ‘management’ of organisations in, for example, the UK’s National Health Service, than we did by seeing such management as a symptom of current ways of understanding it as a given characteristic of organisations within which we took up roles as individuals. At the heart of this exclusion was the hegemony of (the libidinal investment in) ‘open systems’ thinking.  For more on this, see what is happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’.
[2] This is the basic thrust of Howie Schwartz’s argument in (for example) Political Correctness and organizational nihilism, Human Relations 55(11) November 2002. In the terms of this blog, the nihilism comes from a passage à l’acte signaling the encounter with the ‘difficulty’ axis of anxiety – a signaling of what is experienced as an impossibility of there being any other way.  This (ab)use of ideology in the service of libidinal investment is also the thrust of Susan Long’s book on the Perverse organisation – Long, S., The Perverse Organisation and its Deadly Sins. 2008, London: Karnac – but see my critique of her use of Lacan in support of her argument.
[3] Bion’s ‘Elements of Psycho-Analysis’ 1963
[4] Chapter 3 from Bion’s ‘Learning from Experience’ 1962
[5] ibid Chapter 8
[6] ibid Chapter 9
[7] Freud, S. (1950[1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. I (1886-1889): 283-397.
[8] He made a further distinction between two kinds of thing-presentation: sachvorstellung and dingvorstellung. These are crucial to understanding that about a libidinal investment in ideology that values particular forms of exclusion and expulsion, but is beyond the scope of this blog to pursue here.  See anxiety and innovation and an early framing of this issue in the relation to drive structure. Sachvorstellung is the thing-presentation that can act as support to word-presentation, potentially repressed by the ego through negation (Freud, S. (1961[1925]). Negation. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. XIX (1923-1925): 233-239.).  But dingvorstellung is that about the thing that is lost: “the first and immediate aim, therefore, of reality-testing is, not to find an object in real perception which corresponds to the one presented, but to refind such an object, to convince oneself that it is still there… The reproduction of a perception as a presentation is not always a faithful one; it may be modified by omissions, or changed by the merging of various elements. In that case, reality-testing has to ascertain how far such distortions go. But it is evident that a precondition for the setting up of reality-testing is that objects shall have been lost which once brought real satisfaction” (ibid p235-236). Das Ding is that about the experience that is lost. In the Project, Freud speaks of this reality-testing as judging, and uses the neighbour (fellow human-being) to emphasise the coexistence of the neighbour-as-known with that-about-the-neighbour-that-is-lost: “the complex of the fellow human-being falls apart into two components, of which one makes an impression by its constant structure and stays together as a thing, while the other can be understood by the activity of memory – that is traced back to information from the subject’s own body” (Freud, S. (1950[1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. I (1886-1889): p331.
[9] Freud, S. (1950[1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, The Hogarth Press. I (1886-1889): p315
[10] Freud, S. (1957[1915]a). The Unconscious. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, Hogarth Press. XIV (1914-1916).
[11] It was this difference that led Lacan to propose that the unconscious was structured like a language (was structured): “I say ‘like’ so as not to say that the unconscious is structured by a language. The unconscious is structured like the assemblages in question in set theory, which are like letters” Lacan, J., Ed. (1998 [1972-73]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX, Encore: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge: Book XX Encore 1972-1973, W.W. Norton. p48.
[12] The unconscious was therefore structured like a language is structured in the sense that it was constituted through the articulation of different patterns of distribution of affect, derived from the person’s embodied (and as such affective) experiencing and subject to the particular forms of difference which that experiencing articulated.
[13] These organisations of word-presentation would be through the effects of metaphor and metonymy – condensation and displacement – the structural characteristics of which are taken up in To ‘contain’: signifiers, signified and thirdness.
[14] This is the structure of the ‘quadripod’ which Lacan describes in Savoir (p57-58 – Feb 3rd 1972 Seminar) and which determines the “fundamental topology from which any function of speech derives”.
[15] The curved line below represents the distinction between ‘sach’ and ‘ding’ in footnote [8] above. The curved line to the left represents the distinction between the conscious and the subconscious and/or unconscious, which in Bion is between alpha- and beta-elements.
[16] From here is is a short step to considering as implicit in the maternal containing introject, or  as explicit in the form of a paternal metaphor, the foreclosure of which characterises psychosis.
[17] From the perspective of this ethic, we see how ‘objectivity’ (inter-subjective agreement) and a ‘scientific’ empiricism made it easier to reduce this to a two-way stretch between an ‘above’ and ‘below’ the surface, hiding unconscious valencies to the paternal metaphors behind scientific progress through an ‘unconscious error‘ that invoked the materialism behind Morris’s 1938 International Encyclopedia of Unified Science – see the missing subject-ego relation in true symbolism, symbolic equation and object-relations.

Dec 262013
 

The previous four blogs on the missing subject-ego relation, symbol formation, sophisticated groups and matrices of thought raise a question of how we are to understand ‘container’ in a structural sense. This blog aims to clarify how this word ‘container’ is read in terms of ‘signifiers’, ‘signifieds’, ‘formation’ and the Peircean notion of ‘Thirdness’.[1]

The relationship between signifiers (S) and what is signified (s) by those signifiers[2] is written as S/s. The horizontal bar (shown here as a diagonal slash) is used to represent the particular relation of the signifier to that-which-is-signified, and Thirdness refers to the way in which this particular relation to that-which-is-signified is experienced as shared[3]. Thirdness is thus a way of referring to the experience of shared assumptions and constraints acting as the context within which there is an experience of shared meaning, and is therefore some function of S, written as f(S). This function has the effect of placing what-is-being-experienced under a signifying bar (the diagonal slash here) as that-which-is-signified. The effect of this function is to subject what-is-being-experienced to the signifier through a vertical relation to the signifier.[4]
signifers1
Thus in the figure above, the signifier ‘Tree’ invokes an implicit difference between ‘this’ tree and others, whereas the ‘Ladies’ signifier invokes an explicit difference in the way two rooms are used. How many times have we had to check the images on two identical doors before being sure which one to enter? Finally the signifying chain ‘The cat lay on the mat’ is read as signifying a number of relations between signifiers, to which the experience itself is subjected.

Using this formalisation of S/s, two variations are possible, associated with metonymy and metaphor:

  • With metonymy horizontal linkages between signifiers are themselves taken to signify, for example “can I have a cup [of tea]”, so that there is an implicit signification (the contents of the square brackets in the example). Thirdness applied to this metonymy,  i.e. to the horizontally linked signifiers, results in a new signifier that, when related to as such, places some implicit experience under a signifying bar.[5] For example, the ‘slip of the tongue’ is taken as referring to something under the signifying bar, psychoanalytic work being interested in what this might be.
  • With metaphor, a vertical signifying relation is applied to signifiers that is itself taken to signify, for example, “my life is like a pancake” i.e. Thirdness applied to the vertically linked signifiers imposes a crossing of the signifying bar in a particular way.[6] In the figure above, ‘the cat sat on the mat’ signifying chain functions as a metaphor organising the particular relations between the individual signifiers of ‘cat’, ‘mat’ etc.

Thirdness therefore becomes a particular way of attributing signification to signifiers that have been put into horizontal (metonymic) and vertical (metaphoric) relations to each other, made manifest through speech acts.

Using these concepts, we can return to the notion of the introjected mother-container in the blog on sophisticated groups. This mother-container can now be understood as the child taking up a particular function of Thirdness through which the child establishes a capacity for mental space. The notion of a ‘space’ here is itself a metaphor for the way in which the Thirdness ‘contains’, which can be re-presented as a ‘formation’ of signifiers – a particular way of organising the relationships between object-signifiers and between organisations of object-signifiers and signified-objects.[7]

Armed with this understanding of ‘containment’ as ‘Thirdness’, we need to develop a structural understanding of the effects of meaning described by the function of Thirdness. To do this, we need to look more closely at Freud’s Project and see how Bion’s reading of it left out important structural characteristics. Adding these back in allows us to understand how there might be an unconscious valency for particular organisations of Thirdness aka ‘formation’ as well as for particular forms of symbolic equation.

Notes
[1] The subject’s experience of a ‘shared mental model’ may be expressed as a relation to ‘Thirdness’, a way of referring to a shared set of assumptions and constraints that structure relations, creating the experience of subjection through the way a role is taken up. See Murphey, M. G. (1993). The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy, Hackett Publishing Company on Thirdness, and Benjamin, J. (2009). “A relational psychoanalysis perspective on the necessity of acknowledging failure in order to restore the facilitating and containing features of the intersubjective relationship (the shared third).” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 441-450 on a relational understanding of this relation to Thirdness.
In the understanding of Thirdness used in this blog, particular importance will be attached to Peirce’s later understanding of ‘irremediable vagueness’, elaborated in Ochs, P. (1998). Peirce, pragmatism and the logic of scripture, Cambridge University Press. This irremediable quality is crucial to understanding the effects of the unconscious on double subjection, underpinning the way in which a ‘formation’ is always lacking…
[2] A useful introduction to these concepts is to be found in Guirard, P. (1975[1971]). Semiology. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.
[3] Lacan, J. (2006[1966]). The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. New York, W.W. Norton & Co. p414
[4] By expanding S/s, this effect of subjection can be written as f(S) 1/s ibid p428.
[5] This can be written as f(S…S’)S equivalent to S(-)s, ibid p428
[6] This can be written as f(S’/S)S, equivalent to S(+)s   ibid p429
[7] The significance of a spatial metaphor being its imaginary characteristics and easy ‘fit’ therefore with the notion of boundaries as used in Bion’s definition of the workgroup – see matrices, mattresses and the relation to the referent group.

Dec 232013
 

Bion uses the notion of a “matrix of thought which lies within the confines of the basic group, but not within the confines of the individual.”[1],p79 It is this matrix of thought with which the individual may have some valency and which becomes manifest through the individual’s participation in basic assumption behavior within the group. This matrix of thought corresponds to an organisation of object-relating – the second axis of ‘loosening’ described in the previous blog on ‘sophisticated’ group mentality. The individual’s relationship to both axes of this matrix of thought is modified by a process of sophistication, but what is this process?

Basic assumption behavior is never ‘not there’. If it is not being acted from, it is through having been transformed by a process of sophistication. This transformation cannot, however, be total. There will always be some aspects of group mentality on each axis in which there is no ‘play’ i.e. that have not been ‘loosened’. If we think of the stuffing of a mattress as made from behaviors of symbolisation, then its quilting points are the behaviors based on symbolic equation (the first axis), and the organisation of these quilting points will be that organisation of object-relating that has not been loosened by the process of sophistication. In terms of this metaphor, the organisation of object-relating offered by the group makes a mattress which can support some aspect of the individual’s being.[2] To the extent that an individual subjects himself or herself to a group mentality, s/he is therefore constraining himself or herself along both axes – by both its ‘quilting points’ and by their organisation i.e. by constraints on how the quilting points may be used in relation to each other.

In addition to being subject to his or her unconscious, an individual is likely to be subject to numbers of mentalities, with different valencies to each one of them. The group mentality that characterises any one of these experiences of being ‘contained’ will have placed some constraints on the way sense is made of the individual’s experience,  through the ways in which some ways of attributing meaning (i.e. signifier-signified relationships) remain non-negotiable (i.e. have no ‘play’ in them). What happens, then, when an individual has a relationship to more than one group mentality where there are inconsistencies between the ways in which their respective quilting points are organised? For example, the way Bert is expected to provide social care by his organisation may not be consistent with the way Great-Aunt Agatha expects to be supported in her twilight years! Bert may want to fix mealtimes and organise social events around them while Agatha wants to reverse this – fixing the social events and organising meals around them.[3] How are these potential inconsistencies between different group mentalities resolved within Bion’s way of thinking?

Hierarchy as a way of banishing inconsistencies
As Bion said, “when a group meets, it meets for a specific task, and in most human activities today co-operation has to be achieved by sophisticated means“.[1],p129 During the course of his text, however, he replaced the term ‘sophisticated group’ with ‘work group’[1],p86, with the definition of a work group being uniquely derived from hierarchy as the source of definition for its boundary conditions, i.e. as derived from primary task.[4] Subgroups then appeared in three different forms, depending on what level of system he was talking about:

  1. Group: When writing about a small group, Bion identified subgroups as emerging through schism reflecting a basic assumption.
  2. Institution: When writing about an institutional context, Bion identified two conditions for internal sub-groups: that they should be free from having rigid boundaries (i.e. not centred on any of its members nor on itself), and that their value to the main group should be generally recognised.[1],p17 It was this thinking that evolved into the Institutional Project within the group-relations conference.
  3. Society: When he goes on to talk about specialised workgroups within society, he again refers to them as specialised sub-groups dealing with particular kinds of basic assumption on behalf of society as a whole system.

These three kinds of sub-group fall under a vertical assumption of hierarchy, in the sense that they are each a subordinate part of a larger system. These vertical relations therefore enable inconsistencies to be removed by reference to an authorised larger context, from which the formation of sub-groups may be derived.[5] (In the case of group relations conference within the Tavistock Tradition, this authorisation comes ultimately from the conference director.)

To these we must add a fourth kind of relation between groups, however, identified by Trist as a characteristic of the horizontal cross-boundary relations within turbulent environments. These were the relation of a work group to a referent group, the horizontal relationships to which could give rise to inconsistencies in the relations between object-signifiers and their organisation – mattresses with different organisations of quilting point.

The challenge presented by the relation to ‘referent groups’
Emery and Trist understood that open-systems models could deal with the equifinality of material exchange processes between an enterprise and elements in its environment but not “at all with those processes in the environment itself which were the determining conditions of the exchanges”. Furthermore, the laws connecting parts of the environment to each other were themselves “often incommensurate with those laws connecting parts of the enterprise to each other, or even with those which govern the exchanges[6]. Following this, Emery proposed restricting the term “socio-technical” to ‘operative’ enterprises engaged in material exchange processes[7], distinguishing them from ‘regulative’ enterprises.

Trist further proposed that these regulative enterprises be described as being “concerned directly with the psychosocial ends of their members and instilling and maintaining or changing cultural values and norms, the power and the position of interest groups, or the social structure itself[8]. Trist called these regulative organisations ‘referent’ because they were defined by particular inter-organisational relations and boundary conditions within a larger ecosystem, functioning as a ‘reference group’ for the operative enterprise supplying them. Whereas the focus of the ‘operative’ enterprise was on exchange processes across its boundaries, the ‘regulative’ or ‘referent’ enterprise focused on the way its own interests were served within the context of the larger ecosystem[9].

Not only were the laws constraining the behaviors of these referent groups often incommensurate, but there were also many of them, each one demanding a different relationship with an ‘operative’ enterprise.[10] How, then, were these inconsistencies across the boundaries of an organisation to be resolved?

A four-term relation in which the organisation of symbolic equations corresponds to ‘ego’ prevents us from considering inconsistencies in the organisation of relations between object-signifiers arising from different forms of organisation of symbolic equation – different forms of mattress with different organisations of quilting point. To be able to do this we need to replace the singular ‘ego’ with multiple formations of mentality or ‘container’, later addressed by Bion in terms of multiple forms of ‘vertex’.[11] If we replace the term ‘ego’ with the word ‘formation’, we can begin to consider the subject’s unconscious valency for different ‘formations’.

Is Bion’s thinking able to address this problem of inconsistencies?
The 4-term relation between subject, ‘formation’, object-signifier and signified-object includes signified-objects that are experienced as ‘external’ in the sense of observable by others, and as ‘internal’ in the sense of being experienced in relation to the unconscious. In these terms, the ‘formation’ is organising meaning both in relation to the unconscious and also to the ‘social’, reflecting a double subjection. The organisation of quilting points in a ‘formation’ gives us a way of thinking about this double subjection in terms of how the organisation of relations between object-signifiers may also be over-determined by their relation to the unconscious, thus restricting their use for the purposes of sophisticated symbolisation in ways that indicate unconscious valencies.[12] But in order to articulate both double subjection and also how variations in the form taken by this double subjection are reflected in the relations between subjects, we will need a more complex structure through which a ‘sophisticated’ group mentality may relate to the ‘otherness’ of a referent group.[13]

The replacement of  ‘sophisticated group’ by ‘work group’, however, elides the problem of inconsistencies between formations by staying within the ‘open systems’ definition of the organisation and its overall primary task.  Does this make Bion’s formulation unable to address the problem of inconsistencies?  Bion may have limited his reading Freud’s work, but this did not make his reading inconsistent with a more complex structure able to address the problem.  Seeing how to take Bion’s reading further will make it possible to build on the experience accumulated within the field of group relations.  This is the question I begin to take up in the next blog, looking more closely at how Bion uses the word ‘container‘ in terms of the words ‘formation’, ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’.

Notes
[1] Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. London, Tavistock Publications.
[2] A reflexive example of such quilting points and their organisation would be the particular ways in which the terms ‘primary task’, ‘authority’, ‘leadership’, ‘role’ and ‘boundaries’ are used by group relations conference within the AK Rice and Tavistock Traditions.  The example is ‘reflexive’ because these terms are amongst theroots of these elaborations, while at the same time being questioned as to their adequacy for dealing with organisations that must respond to their clients one-by-one. See, for example, what is happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’?
[3] This is the example taken up in the paper on ‘engendering boundary’, in which boundary is primarily a relationship to otherness rather than a secondary effect of a relationship to hierarchy.
[4] The early use of the concept of the primary task was to account for the role of the supervisor in managing the immediate boundary conditions of the worker-task relation within an organisational structure (Emery, F. E. (1993). Characteristics of Socio-Technical Systems. The Social Engagement of Social Science Volume II: The Socio-Technical Perspective. J. Fichtelberg, H. Murray and B. Trist, University of Pennsylvania Press). This worker-task relation constituted a bounded workgroup if the workgroup could be responsibly autonomous within definable boundaries of technology, territory and/or time (Miller, E. J. (1959). “Technology, Territory and Time: The Internal Differentiation of Complex Production Systems.” Human Relations(12): 243-272).
[5] It follows from these hierarchical assumptions that the primary task of a work group (and therefore its boundary conditions) are assumed to have been defined by reference to super-ordinate definitions of primary task. It is perhaps not suprising that, once Bion replaced ‘sophisticated group’ by ‘work group’, that notions of containment should become so associated with boundary conditions. I continue to use ‘sophisticated’ in order to avoid this conflation.
[6] Emery, F. E. and E. Trist (1965). “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18: 21-32.
[7] Emery, F. E. (1993). Characteristics of Socio-Technical Systems. The Social Engagement of Social Science Volume II: The Socio-Technical Perspective. J. Fichtelberg, H. Murray and B. Trist, University of Pennsylvania Press.
[8] Trist, E. L. (1981). The Evolution of Socio-Technical Systems. Perspectives on Organizational Design and Behaviour. A. F. Van de Ven and W. F. Joyce. New York, John Wiley.
[9] Trist, E. (1983). “Referent Organizations and the Development of Inter-Organizational Domains.” Human Relations 36(3): 269-284.
[10] This leads not only for a form of organisation that can address demands one-by-one, as in ‘organisations without boundaries’, but also the there being no such thing as an ‘environment’ in general, as in ‘THE environment does not exist’.
[11] The concept of ‘vertex’ is introduced in Bion, W. R. (1965). Transformations. London, Heinemann. The difficulty with using this concept arises from its roots in its reading of Freud’s project in terms of the beta-alpha ‘screen’. See ‘Bion, Lacan and the thing-in-itself’. This difference is written about at greater length in ‘anxiety and innovation’.
[12] As Hanna Segal points out, there is a long continuum between abstract symbolisation (at the ‘top’ of Bion’s grid, and full-on symbolic equation in which the object ‘is’ some aspect of an ‘internal’ experience. There are varying degrees of over-determination or ‘fixing’ of meaning-equation, therefore (i.e. ‘fixing’ of the relation between signifier and signified).
[13] In a later blog we take up this issue of the structuring of double subjection. In order to do so, it has to examine how this was not possible using Bion’s reading of Freud’s Project. (see footnote 5 in the earlier blog considering what was happening to ‘boundaries’, ‘authority’ and ‘containment’).

Nov 272013
 

The previous blog examined how the process of symbol formation could be read using a 4-term relation between subject, ego, object-signifier and signified-object. In this translation, the ego was a particular organisation of object-relating.  It raised the question of how Bion understood a sophisticated relation between individual and group mentality, concluding that we needed a better understanding of the relation of these mentalities to Bion’s ‘container’ in order to understand the subject’s double subjection both to the unconscious and to the social. Why should we care? Because we want to understand how unconscious valencies can give us a way of understanding the effects of libidinal investment in particular organisations of object-relating and the ‘unintentional errors’ that they can give rise to.

The relation between mentalities and ‘containing’
Bion defined group mentality as “the unanimous expression of the will of the group, contributed to by the individual in ways of which he is unaware, influencing him disagreeably whenever he thinks or behaves in a manner at variance with the basic assumptions. It is thus a machinery of intercommunication that is designed to ensure that group life is in accordance with the basic assumptions“. His definition of group culture followed as “a function of the conflict between the individual’s desires and the group mentality“. He therefore defined the problem facing a group leader to be “how to mobilize emotions associated with the basic assumptions without endangering the sophisticated structure that appears to secure to the individual his freedom to be an individual while remaining a member of the group.”[1],p56

Organization and structure were the sophisticated product of co-operation between members of the group, while a group acting on a basic assumption needed no organization or co-operation, individual distinctiveness being “no part of life in a group acting on the basic assumptions[1],p122. Bion used the word ‘valency’ to refer to this “capacity for spontaneous instinctive co-operation in the basic assumptions“, using it to refer to the readiness of an individual “to enter into combination with a group in making and acting on the basic assumptions“.[1],p103 The counterpart in the basic-assumption group of sophisticated co-operation was therefore valency, “a spontaneous, unconscious function of the gregarious quality in the personality of man“.[1],p122 Group mentality was therefore manifest as an organisation of object-relating, its sophistication reflecting its independence from taking spontaneous, instinctual forms.

Bion further defined the proto-mental system as “one in which physical and psychological or mental are undifferentiated“, a matrix “from which spring the phenomena which at first appear to be discrete feelings only loosely associated with one another“, and from which “emotions proper to the basic assumption flow to reinforce, pervade, and, on occasion, to dominate the mental life of the group“. Inoperative basic assumptions were confined within this proto-mental system, “victims of a conspiracy between the sophisticated group and the operating basic assumption“. [1],p89-90 In advancing this concept of the proto-mental system, Bion was trying to account for “the solidity with which all the emotions of one basic assumption seemed to be welded together, and at the same time to provide a concept that would account for the whereabouts of inoperative basic assumptions that were obviously felt by a group to be potentially active, and must therefore be considered to be ‘somewhere’.”[1],p91

The individual’s relation to the proto-mental system was therefore a relation to his or her unconscious, with the strength of valency describing the extent to which particular organisations of object-relating gave expression to particular ways of being in relation to the unconscious. The progression from basic-assumption to sophisticated group behavior was thus conceptually equivalent to the progression in individual mentality from symbolic equation to the creative use of symbolisation. How are we to think about this organisation of object-relating?

Such a progression in group behavior also demanded that the individual mentality be capable of ‘containing’ the group dynamics from a depressive rather than a paranoid-schizoid position.  As Hanna Segal observed in a 1979 postscript to her paper on symbol formation (my additions to reflect a 4-term reading in red):

Since writing this paper, and largely under the influence of Bion’s work on the relationship between the container and the contained, I have come to think that it is not projective identification per se that leads to concretization. One has to take into account the particular relationship between the projected part (the signified) and the object projected into (the signified-object operating as a signifier): the container (the signifier) and the contained (the signified).[2],p60

The “object projected into” in the form of the mother was able to give meaning to the projected part (of the infant).  This mother-as-able-to-give-meaning was operating as a ‘container’ that the infant, to the extent that s/he was able to introject it as an object-signifier, ultimately provided a mental space within which the infant could ‘contain’ anxiety for himself or herself.  Except that what is being introjected is an organisation of object-relating.

Hanna Segal later addresses this introjected organisation of object-relating in writing bout the function of dreams – a relationship within the infant between the introjected object-signifier of mother-as-container and the signified-objects ‘contained’ by it:

The infant deals with discomfort and anxiety by projecting it into the mother (the signified-object operating as a signifier). This is not only a phantasy operation. A good mother responds to the infant’s anxiety. A mother capable of containing projective identifications can transform the projections in her own unconscious and respond appropriately, thereby lessening the anxiety and giving meaning to it. In this situation, the infant introjects the maternal object (i.e. the ability to give meaning to signified-objects operating as signifiers) as a mother-container capable of containing anxiety, conflict, etc. and elaborating it meaningfully. This internalized mother-container provides a mental space… [3],p93

The function of this mother-container, being the ability to give meaning to signified-objects operating as signifiers, involves organising the relationships between signifiers-in-relation-to-signifieds in a way that is particular to the embodied situation of the infant.  We encountered it in the previous two blogs on the missing subject-ego relation and reading a 4-term relation as corresponding to the place of the ego in the relation between subject, ego, object-signifier and signified-object. To follow Bion, therefore, this introjected mother-container establishes a capacity for a mental space capable of exhibiting mentality in the way it ‘contains’, becoming manifest as a particular way of organising the relationships between object-signifiers and between organisations of object-signifiers and signified-objects.

To understand how there can be an unconscious valency for this unconscious organisation as well as for particular forms of symbolic equation within it, we need to look more closely at its relation to the notions of ‘superego’ and ‘ego ideal’.  In particular we are looking at an organisation of relationships between object-signifiers implicit in the mother’s containing.  Thus alongside the gradual loosening of symbolic equation between object-signifiers and signified-objects, there may also be a loosening of an introjected organisation of the relations between object-signifiers which nevertheless may remain subject to some degree of unconscious constraint.[4] Understood in this way, we are dealing with two axes of ‘loosening’.[5]

I next consider how these two axes of ‘loosening’ get taken up in Bion’s understanding of the work group.[6]

Notes
[1] Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. London, Tavistock Publications.
[2] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[3] Segal, H. (1986). The Function of Dreams. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association.
[4] For further elaboration on this, see ‘The Archaic Maternal Superego‘ by Leonardo Rodriguez Journal of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research Vol 7 Summer 1996.
[5] These two axes correspond to the two axes of anxiety – performance and difficulty – discussed in anxiety and innovation.
[6] In doing this, I am picking up on the work done by Barry Palmer in Grouping, published in French, R. and Vince, R (1999) Group Relations, Management and Organization, Oxford University Press.  Barry was developing a reflexive framework within which to consider different understandings of what a group ‘was’.  In what follows, I articulate a reading of Freud that shows the reflexive nature of his theory, in terms of which such a reflexive use of a framework may be understood.

Nov 202013
 

The previous blog on ‘the missing subject-ego relation’ described how a 3-term relation was used by Hanna Segal to describe symbol formation – a relation between ego, object and symbol – while her text[1] speaks of the relation between these three terms and a fourth term – the subject:

The capacity to experience loss and the wish to re-create the object within oneself gives the individual unconscious freedom in the use of symbols. And as the symbol is acknowledged as a creation of the subject, unlike the symbolic equation, it can be freely used by the subject.[1],p56

The focus of ‘symbol formation’ was nevertheless clearly on describing the paranoid-schizoid and depressive relations in terms of object-relations, and the transition from symbolic equation to the subject’s use of fully formed symbols:

The development of the ego and the changes in the ego’s relation to its objects are gradual. Also gradual is the change from the early symbols, which I called symbolic equations, to the fully formed symbols during the depressive position. It is only for the sake of clarity that I make here a very sharp distinction between the ego’s relations in the paranoid-schizoid position and in the depressive position respectively, and an equally sharp distinction between the symbolic equations and the symbols which are formed during and after the depressive position.[1],p54

The 3-term relation fitted her purpose, therefore, even though it used as its authority a quote from a text by Morris about the Foundations of a Theory of Signs[2] that was itself inconsistent with the rest of Morris’ text. Morris was in fact using a 4-term relation between the symbol (the ‘sign-vehicle’ or ‘signifer’), an object (the ‘designatum’ or ‘signified’), the ego (‘behavior’ in relation to the object), and the subject (the ‘interpreter’), even though, as I show below, translating from a 3-term to a 4-term reading of the relations between subject, ego, object and symbol does not affect Segal’s argument . Why make this translation therefore?

The translation introduces a distinction between the-object-as-signifier (the ‘object-signifier’) and the-object-that-is-signified (the ‘signified-object’). This helps clarify how the word “object” slips between referring to signifiers and signifieds, and how the phrase “object-relation” slips between referring to a subject’s object-relating-behavior and organisations-of-object-signifiers.[3]  Making a 4-term relation explicit in this way therefore has consequences for how we understand both Bion’s concept of the ‘container’, and also the concepts of ‘individual mentality’ and ‘group mentality’ in ‘Experiences in Groups’.[4]

The Translation
We start with Segal’s introduction to the relation between the subject, the ego, the object and the symbol in which the ego translates as an organisation of signifier-signifier and signifier-signified relationships[2], equivalent to an organisation of object-relating (in what follows, my additions are in red and my deletions are marked with a strikethrough):

I find it helpful, following Morris (1938) [as amended by (Ducasse 1942)], to consider symbolizing as a threefour-term relation , i.e. a relation between the thing symbolizedto which meaning is attributed (the signified), the thing functioning as a symbol (the signifier by means of which meaning is attributed), and a personsubject for whom the one signifier represents the othersignified. In psychological terms, symbolism would be a relation between a subject (the interpreter), the ego (an organisation of signifier-signifier and signifier-signified relationships[3]), the object (the signified), and the symbol (the signifier).
Symbol formation (aka the attribution of meaning by a signifier to a signified) is a signifying activity of the ego attempting to deal with the anxieties stirred by its relation to the signified-object and is generated primarily by the fear of signified-objects experienced as bad object-signifiers and the fear of the loss or inaccessibility of good object-signifiers. Disturbances in the egosubject‘s relation to signified-objects mediated by the ego are reflected in disturbances of symbol formation (i.e. disturbances in the attribution of meaning by a signifier to a signified as mediated by the ego). In particular, disturbances in differentiation by the subject between ego and signified-object lead to disturbances in differentiation between the symbol (the object-signifier) and the object symbolized (the signified-object) and therefore to the concrete thinking characteristic of psychoses.
[1],p52

Replacing “the ego’s relation to objects” by “the subject’s relation to signified-objects mediated by the ego” unpacks the 3-term reading to a 4-term reading while preserving the original relations between the signifiers. These relations continue to be preserved in the next paragraph:

Symbol formation starts very early, probably as early as object relations, but changes its character and functions with the changes in the character of the ego and object relations. Not only the actual content of the symbol but the very way in which symbols are formed and used seems to reflect precisely the ego’s state of development and its way of dealing with its signified-objects. If symbolism is seen as a threefour-term relation, problems of symbol formation must always be examined in the context of the subject’s relation to the ego’s way of putting signifiers in relation with its signified-objects.[1],p52

Applying a 4-term reading of object-relations
The effect of this 4-term reading is to clarify what was previously an ambiguity in the use of the word ‘object’ in understanding ‘splitting’:

The chief characteristics of the infant’s first object relations are the following. The signifer of the signified-object is seen as split into an ideally good and a wholly bad one. The aim of the ego is total union with the ideal object-signifier and total annihilation of the bad one, as well as of the signifiers of bad parts of the self-as-subject. Omnipotent thinking is paramount and reality sense intermittent and precarious. The concept of absence hardly exists. Whenever the state of union with the ideal object-signifier is not fulfilled, what is experienced is not absence; the ego feels assailed by the counterpart of the good object-signifier—the bad object-signifier, or objects. It is the time of the hallucinatory wish-fulfillment, described by Freud, when the mind creates object-signifiers which are then felt to be available as signified-objects. According to Melanie Klein, it is also the time of the bad hallucinosis when, if the ideal conditions are not fulfilled, the bad signified-object is equally hallucinated and felt as real.[1],p53

It expands on the nature of projective identification:

A leading defense mechanism in this phase is projective identification. In projective identification, the subject in phantasy projects large parts of himself into the signified-object, and the signified-object becomes identified with the parts of the self-as-subject that it is felt to contain. Similarly, internal signified-objects are projected outside and identified with parts of the external world which come to represent them. These first projections and identifications are the beginning of the process of symbol formation.[1],p53

It opens up the question of the subject’s relation to the depressive position:

When the depressive position has been reached, the main characteristic of object relations is that the signified-object is felt as a whole object. In connection with this there is a greater degree of awareness of differentiation and of the separateness between the signifier as mediated by the ego and the signified-object. At the same time, since the signified-object is recognized as a whole, ambivalence is more fully experienced. The ego in this phase is struggling with its (i.e. presenting the subject with the experience of) ambivalence. Its relation to the signified-object is characterized by guilt, fear of loss or actual experience of loss and mourning, and a striving to re-create the relation to the signified-object. At the same time, processes of introjection become more pronounced than those of projection, in keeping with the striving to retain the signified-object inside as well as to repair, restore and re-create it.[1],p55

And from here it is a short step to a consideration of the subject’s relation to the ego’s aggression and possessiveness:

In normal development, after repeated experiences of loss, recovery, and re-creation, a good object-signifier is securely established in the ego. As the ego develops and integrates, these changes in relation to the object-signifier affect fundamentally the ego’s reality sense. With an increased awareness of ambivalence, the lessening of the intensity of projection, and the growing differentiation between the self-as-subject and the signified-object, there is a growing sense of reality both internal and external. The internal world becomes differentiated from the external world. Omnipotent thinking, characteristic of the earlier phase, gradually gives way to more realistic thinking. Simultaneously, and as part of the same process, there is a certain modification of the primary instinctual aims. Earlier on, the aim was to possess the signified-object totally if it was felt as good or to annihilate it totally if it was felt as bad. With the recognition that the good and the bad signified-objects are one (i.e. object-signifiers both identified with the whole signified-object), both these instinctual aims are gradually modified. The ego is increasingly concerned with saving the signified-object from its aggression and possessiveness. And this implies a certain degree of inhibition of the direct instinctual aims, both aggressive and libidinal.[1],p55

And consideration of the subject’s capacity for creating symbols:

This situation is a powerful stimulus for the creation of symbols, and symbols acquire new functions which change their character. The symbol is needed to displace aggression by the ego from the original signified-object and, in that way, to lessen the subject’s guilt and the fear of loss. The aim of the displacement is to save the object-signifier, and the guilt experienced in relation to it is far less than that due to an attack on the original signified-object. Thus, the symbol here is not equivalent to the original signified-object. The symbols are also created in the internal world as object-signifiers, providing the means of restoring, re-creating, recapturing and owning again the original signified-object. But in keeping with the increased reality sense, they are now felt as created by the ego and therefore never completely equated with the original signified-object.[1],p55

From ‘subject of the unconscious’ to ‘double subjection’
In conclusion, this translation works in the way it leads into Segal’s own reference to the subject, but raises the question of how Wilfred Bion, in his ‘Experiences in Groups’[4], understands a “sophisticated” relation between individual and group mentality.   In Bion’s terms, the transition by either a group or an individual mentality from a paranoid-schizoid to a depressive position in its relation to the unconscious is always also partial.  How does this partial transition therefore affect the subject’s relation to these mentalities and to Bion’s ‘container’, and where does this take us in how we understand the subject’s double subjection both to the unconscious and to the social?

Notes
[1] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[2] Morris, C. W. (1955[1938]). Foundations of the Theory of Signs. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. O. Neurath and R. Carnap. University of Chicago Press. I.
[3] As in the previous blog on the missing subject-ego relation, this ‘organisation of relationships between signifiers’ gets taken up by Lacan as metaphor. See pp218-220 and pp222-230 in Lacan, J. (1993[1981]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book III 1955-1956: The Psychoses. London, Routledge.
[4] Bion, W. R. (1959). Experiences in Groups. London, Tavistock Publications.

Nov 192013
 

I recently participated in a research colloquium organized by the Independent Social Research Foundation and Tavistock Consulting, which revisited Isabel Menzies-Lyth’s  thesis on the ‘Unconscious Defences against Anxiety’. My own contribution to this was a paper on anxiety and innovation, which tried to pick up and elaborate on issues raised previously in my earlier blog on ‘what is happening to boundaries, authority and containment’ and subsequently developed in ‘leading organizations without boundaries’ and ‘THE environment does not ex-sist’. It was an interesting experience.

I was struck by the difficulty we faced in addressing the effects of our respective libidinal investments in the way we ‘were’ in language. Borrowing from the work of Kuhn and Lakatos, it was as if the colloquium was itself caught up within the mental models of Menzies’ thesis, only able to discuss what was going on ‘elsewhere’ in its own terms.  Even though there was a feeling of crisis in the room, this was related to individuals’ own experiences rather than to a crisis facing the ability of these mental models to get traction on the phenomenon and effects of neoliberal managerialism.

This difficulty had echos of Emery and Trist’s experience with the top management of a newly-merged enterprise in the aerospace industry, in which there was a flight to the personal and interpersonal:

we found that what they needed most was time in a supporting environment to share their common anxieties, and through doing this intensively to become able to make a collective re-appreciation of their entire situation. There were no deep incompatibilities; nor was there stubborn adherence to previous loyalties. T group procedures intended to facilitate the disclosure of hidden agendas and eyeball to eyeball leveling became rather marginal. The anxieties were existential rather than interpersonal. For the issue was survival. In a turbulent environment the issue is survival. The need is to stop the flight into personal paralysis and interpersonal discord and to replace these by participation in a process of group innovation. In systems of organizational ecology the locus of innovation is in the set of the partners involved.[1]

When trying to speak about the unconscious valencies we might have had for particular mental models over others, whether individually or in groups, we had no shared language for this beyond there being a multiplicity of organization-in-the-mind introjects. How could we speak of the organization of these introjects, and of our apparent subjection to them?  How could we understand psychoanalytically the “flight to the personal” so beloved by those invested in (what Barry Palmer called) the Tavistock Paradigm?

After the colloquium, this led me to examine what assumptions had been built into the Bionic notion of “flight”, which in turn led to the assumptions built into the dynamics of symbol formation and Segal.  In both cases, what was being addressed was the impact of unconscious processes on the emergence of symbol formation in the individual and group, not on the impact of unconscious processes on the subsequent organization of (i.e. relationships between) symbols themselves. Why?  Was this structural, or just a matter of further elaboration?  I have come to the view that it was structural, a view that I want to explore in this and subsequent blogs. In effect, I think it is structural because of a limitation in the theorization of the ‘subjection’ of the subject.

Hanna Segal on Symbol Formation
I start by asking why did Hanna Segal, in seeking to give an account of symbol formation in terms of object-relations[2], used a reading of Peirce’s work by Morris that was later criticised as being behaviorist[3,4], and from which reading the relation of the subject to the ego had been excised by Morris in a way that was inconsistent with the rest of Morris’s text? Why the apparent valency to a behaviorist account?

Segal, in her ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’ wanted to build on Jones’s concept of ‘True Symbolism’ in his ‘Theory of Symbolism’[5] to give an account of the Kleinian Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive positions and their relation to symbol formation. Jones argued that ‘true symbolism’ arose when there was an absence of sublimation. Segal described this ‘true symbolism’ as ‘symbolic equation’ in terms of projective identification:

In projective identification, the subject in phantasy projects large parts of himself into the object, and the object becomes identified with the parts of the self that it is felt to contain. Similarly, internal objects are projected outside and identified with parts of the external world which come to represent them. These first projections and identifications are the beginning of the process of symbol formation. The early symbols, however, are not felt by the ego to be symbols or substitutes but to be the original object itself. They are so different from symbols formed later that I think they deserve a name of their own… symbolic equation…[2],p53

The excision of the relation of the subject to the ego in the text is noteworthy, given that in the text Segal was describing the process by which the subject was able to engage in the creative use of symbols:

The capacity to experience loss and the wish to re-create the object within oneself gives the individual the unconscious freedom in the use of symbols. And as the symbol is acknowledged as a creation of the subject, unlike the symbolic equation, it can be freely used by the subject.[2],p56

The excision
Segal started her “new and more careful study” of the processes of symbolization as follows:

I find it helpful, following Morris[6], to consider symbolizing as a three-term relation, i.e. a relation between the thing symbolized, the thing functioning as a symbol, and a person for whom the one represents the other. In psychological terms, symbolism would be a relation between the ego, the object, and the symbol.[2],p52

This was taken directly from Morris, in whose text this construction appeared as:

a dog (the ‘interpreter’) responds by the type of behavior I (the ‘interpretant’) involved in the hunting of chipmunks D (the ‘designatum’) to a certain sound S (the ‘sign-vehicle’).[6],p4

Using this example, Morris characterized a sign as follows:

S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) is a sign of D (the ‘designatum’) for I (the ‘interpretant’) to the degree that I takes account of D in virtue of the presence of S.[6],p4

In Segal’s text, this became the “three-term relation” in which the behavior (i.e. the object-relation) and the interpreter (i.e. the subject) were conflated, excising an explicit relation between the subject-interpreter and the organisation of symbols within the context of which the object-relation was formed:

S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) becomes the symbol, D (the ‘designatum’) becomes the object, and I (the ‘interpretant’) becomes the ego.[2],p52

Ducasse, in his critique of Morris’s reading of Peirce’s work[3], pointed out the inconsistency in Morris’s own characterization of a sign S:

Morris’s example and his characterization of a sign do not match. Whereas Morris states that ‘I’ stands for the interpretant, i.e. the hunting behavior, in the characterization he makes ‘I’ stand for the interpreter, namely, the dog. That it stands for the dog becomes evident if the example is expanded as follows: The sound S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) is a sign of chipmunks D (the ‘designatum’) for I (that is, for a dog – the ‘interpreter’ – and not for the hunting behavior) to the degree that I (viz., the dog) takes account of chipmunks D (that is, behaves in the manner B called chipmunk-hunting) in virtue of the presence of S.[3],p43

Correcting this inconsistency to make Morris’s characterization of a sign fit Morris’s own example, Ducasse proposed the following amendment:

S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) is a sign of D (the ‘designatum’) for I (an ‘interpreter’) to the degree that, in virtue of the presence of S, I behaves in a manner B (the ‘behavior’) which would be appropriate to the presence of D.”[3],p43

With this correction, Segal’s ‘three-term relation’ becomes a four-term relation that includes the presence of a subject: S (the ‘sign-vehicle’) remains the symbol and D (the ‘designatum’) remains the object, but if B (the ‘behavior’ which would be appropriate in the presence of D) is to be the ego, then we have an additional term I (the ‘interpreter’) corresponding to the subject.

In these terms, the ego is an organisation of symbols aka object-relating[7] aka behaviors-in-relation-to-objects, and ‘true symbolism’ or symbolic equation is a particular form of relation between ‘S’ and ‘D’ associated with behaviors ‘B’ to which ‘I’ is subjected.

The hypothesis
Jones distinguished true symbolism from other forms of indirect representation[5],p132, which Segal followed in distinguishing symbolic equation from the wider concept of symbolism[2],p52. Segal was therefore very well aware of the subject of symbolisation, as evidenced in the first two quotes above. Why, then, did she use Morris’s 3-term behaviorist reading?

We can perhaps impute an unconscious valency for this particular 3-term reading by Morris, one that did not complicate Segal’s focus on understanding the early emergence of symbolic equation[8]. From this perspective, it was only later in a person’s life, as forms of indirect representation emerged, that the need for a 4-term reading became necessary. The adoption of a 3-term reading therefore fitted very well with a wish to explain how the relation to the interpreter ‘I’ might initially have been implicit in the processes of symbol formation in object-relations behavior.

Drawing on Morris’s reading might have also conferred the secondary gain of having been published in an International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, supporting the wish at that time of psychoanalysts to present their work as ‘scientific’ within the mores of the 1950′s, bypassing the need to address the problematics of the subject.

Consequences
A more modern reading of the relation between the sign-vehicle ‘S’ and the designatum ‘D’ would be in terms of the relation between the signifier and the signified. Object-relations would then become relations between object-signifiers and signified-objects, and the ego, as an organisation of object-relating, would become a particular organisation of relationships between object-signifiers and between organisations of object-signifiers and signified-objects.[7]  Paranoid-Schizoid and Depressive positions would, in these terms, become particular ways in which the subject experienced himself or herself as subjected to this ego.  Segal added a postscript in 1979 “under the influence of work on the relationship between the container and the contained”. Using the proposed terms above, this read (my additions in brackets):

I have come to think that it is not projective identification per se that leads to concretization. One has to take into account the particular relationship between the projected part (i.e. the signified in the subject’s experience of themselves) and the object projected into (i.e. the signified-object operating as a signifier): the container (signifier) and the contained (signified).[2],p60

A first question is, therefore, does the adoption of a 4-term reading detract from the argument presented by Segal in ‘Notes on Symbol Formation’?  I address this next in ‘reading symbol formation as a 4-term relation’, which then raises a further question concerning how we are to understand Bion’s “container” in terms of object-signifiers.

Notes
[1] Trist, E. (1977). “A Concept of Organizational Ecology.” Australian Journal of Management 2(2): 161-176.
[2] Segal, H. (1986[1957]). Notes on Symbol Formation. The Work of Hanna Segal: A Kleinian Approach to Clinical Practice. London, Free Association Books.
[3] Ducasse, C. J. (1942). “Some Comments on C.W. Morris’s ‘Foundations of the Theory of Signs’.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 3(1): 43-52.
[4] For example, Honrubia, T. and A. Herrera (1991). “Two ‘signs’: Peirce and Morris.” Culture and History of Design 05.
[5] Jones, E. (1916). The theory of symbolism. In E. Jones, Papers on Psycho-Analysis. 2nd ed. London: Balliere, Tindall and Cox, 1918.
[6] Morris, C. W. (1955[1938]). Foundations of the Theory of Signs. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. O. Neurath and R. Carnap. University of Chicago Press. I.
[7] It is this ‘organisation of relationships between signifiers’ that gets taken up by Lacan as metaphor. See pp218-220 and pp222-230 in Lacan, J. (1993[1981]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book III 1955-1956: The Psychoses. London, Routledge.
[8] Referring to the use of Morris’s 3-term reading as evidencing an ‘unconscious valency’ carries with it the implication that it was an unintentional error on the part of Hanna Segal. This means that there was a ‘decidability error’ in the model of symbol formation presented that was unable to account for the relation of the subject to object-relations, an error in which the Segal acted ‘as if’ there was no undecidability because of her unconscious valency to that way of knowing.