Wednesday, 9 December 2015

on 'what makes correct' an interpretation - coda on self-alienation

I find myself still perseverating, if now with diminishing spasms, on the issue of what makes correct a particular psychoanalytic interpretation. Having disposed of answers to that question which legitimately but - so far as scratching my itch goes - irrelevantly frame it as an inquiry into apt technique or into the criteria for this or that unconscious thought or feeling, the question still remains.

It remains, in particular, as a friend recently suggested, for the analysand who is mooting his analyst's offerings, perhaps taking them away with him, wondering something like 'but does this really apply to me and, if so, how do I know it is true?'

My suggestion, now, is that the question is unanswerable because it arises, in its most important and compelling if nonsensical form, only within an as-yet unacknowledged state of self-alienation.

If, that is, I am still in the business of asking this question of myself, then I am not yet of an unalienated piece with that which forms the content of the interpretation. Even if we  believed it true it would still not be something we could speak from. We could only speak about it. In this predicament we are yet treating ourselves like a second or third person.

Compare situations in which the question does not come up. You ask me 'It's getting late - are you hungry?' I say 'fo'shizzle ma dizzle, I'm ravenous'. There is, here, no question of my being correct or incorrect about my hunger, nothing which makes this avowal right or wrong. It is true, since it truly reports, whilst I truthfully propound, the fact of my hunger. I avow the hunger directly, and do not get into the business of, say, expressing a belief I have about myself. Lazily, we might say of ourselves here, 'I just know' that I'm hungry. That'll do fine, so long as we don't take ourselves to have thereby opened up an intelligible 'how (do you know)?' question.

And now compare such situations as those that prompted the question. I am left pondering my analyst's remark. Clearly, I want to say, the pondering obtains because the interpretation did not yet prompt my acknowledgement of my still-unconscious thought or feeling. I may be able to contemplate, in a theoretical mode, whether I have such a thought or feeling. But if I am doing that, and if it is true that I do have the thought or feeling in question, it is analytic (in the philosophical sense!) that my defences are still up. By contrast, if I could now simply avow the previously unconscious thought or feeling, it is not clear what the question would be asking. Now I know it in the way in which I know that I'm hungry. (Here my talk of 'knowledge' just means: 'shut up, you, you with your mis-placed disrespectful 'how?' questions...')

....

In other news, but relatedly: sitting in the pub after our seminar on Monday a psychotherapist described how she encouraged her patients to think of their emotions as providing them with information. As signals, if you like - as clueing them in to the obtaining of something significant in their life. Not to be ignored or wished away. It's a way of cultivating a friendly relationship with one's feelings: they have a meaning, one wants to say; they're important! Take note!

That is something I sometimes say, too, but I've noticed I do it rather less these days, and I want to think about why in the terms provided by the above blogpost. I think it is because if what we have to do with is normal ('conscious') emotional experience, the idea that our feelings convey information to us is misplaced. You do something spiteful to me. I am angry at you for it. Does my anger here carry information for me about the significance of what you have done? - Well: isn't that a bit of an estranged way of thinking about the relationship between myself and my anger? For surely it is in my anger itself that I know you've wronged me.

In the normal case the intentional content is not sheared away from the affect; they are of a piece. When we are estranged from ourselves, then we may do well to attend to our feelings, to see them as signals, as carrying information for or to us. But when we are of a piece with our feelings, then they themselves are our recognition of the significance of our interpersonal interactions. They don't clue us into grasping that something is up for us - rather they themselves are already of a piece with that grasp.

This, then, is the reason why I am less likely, these days, to urge the patient to view her feelings as carrying information for her. It can, to be sure, be a valuable half-way step towards integration. But since it is integration we are aiming at, I would these days be more likely to explore the situation in which the affect arose, to encourage the patient to think about its meaning, to ask at select times how she now feels towards the person the encounter with whom she is describing - which all aids in the development of conscious affect about which the question 'what does it mean?' does not arise.