Comments by Leopoldo Bleger

Comments by Leopoldo Bleger

It’s a pleasure to discuss Stefano’s paper. I had the opportunity to see him working in the EPF and in the IPA with great skill and with a vision of the situation of psychoanalysis all around the world. His paper is certainly informed by his wide experience and can be read as his reflections about it.

Stefano’s paper discusses several subtle points choosing as his point of view the analyst’s functioning in his or her clinical work, the “internal laboratory” of each analyst, which is necessarily unique. He centres his perspective on the unconscious functioning of the analyst at work. This point is, I think, of capital importance.

As his paper touches on many important points, I’ll have to limit my comment to only three aspects. His paper is full of very interesting propositions which would deserve a much longer and more thorough discussion. While reading his paper, I have the impression of hearing his voice and his personal way of speaking and arguing, inviting his interlocutor to take part in a fruitful exchange.

 

His starting point is « how little the ‘Theoretical Ego’ is master in its own house » exploring “the complex interweaving of object relations and internal fantasied interdependences which at a deep level sustain psychoanalysts’ theoretical investments

If I emphasise this point first, it is because, even if Stefano does not state it overtly, he makes one realize the extreme fragility of our work and of our theorizations. It is by now a banality to remind ourselves that the analyst at work is subjected to very intense internal movements (Bion’s ‘emotional storm’) even when he’s an experienced analyst. Or perhaps, precisely because he or she has a long experience (as does Stefano), this fragility and the storm of the analytic situation are in the foreground.

On the other hand, Stefano points out « the excessively idealizing residual transference components », the paranoid reactions and the climate of religious war in the psychoanalytic movement. The long history of the psychoanalytic movement proves clearly that this is not a recent phenomenon. The panorama he sketches corresponds exactly to the state of the psychoanalytic community: idealization, sectarianism and rivalry. It is not very different from the description Ferenczi gave in his paper at the moment of the foundation of IPA in 1910! Stefano would like, as he puts it, « to help to reduce to some extent” this idealization.

 

Stefano sketches a kind of “history of theorizing”, describing the period in which in IPA conference speeches were « rigorously impermeable to each other » with a «narcissistic over-investment” and a « totalitarian and “determined” tone”.  And he adds: “the conflict between theoretical groups is a matter of life and death”. I will take Stefano’s statement literally: a matter of life and death.

My first question to Stefano would then be whether the strong reactions, the idealization and the identifications are « logical » if one considers the difficulty of the task. Up to what point are these reactions, let’s say, if not « normal », at least “logical”? The unconscious is quite obstinate but clinical practice is a very fragile activity.

In 1981, Serge Leclaire published a book whose tittle was Rompre les charmes. Recueil pour des enchantés de la psychanalyse (Inter Editions) [Breaking the spell. A collection for those enchanted by psychoanalysis], playing with the possibility of understanding the wording in French in two possible ways: a book for people enchanted by psychoanalysis or to disenchant from psychoanalysis. Having gone through the whole history of Lacan’s Ecole Freudienne and from even earlier, Leclaire knew well what he was talking about. But, what would a completely disenchanted psychoanalysis be like or, even worse, a completely disenchanted analyst?

Stefano is making a plea for a more tolerant attitude in our discussions and our exchanges. He does it with a particular tone in which he is easily recognisable.

What is the status of (new) psychoanalytical theories? This would be a second question to Stefano. Are they « discoveries » as Stefano describes Winnicott’s paper on the use of the object? The description he offers of how an analyst functions with different fragments of theory, and even more so with a more or less « fragmented » theorization, is accurate and illuminating.

Let’s take one major concept that Stefano discusses briefly: projective identification. When Melanie Klein finally gave a name to a particular psychic mechanism, was she « discovering» something new or re-drawing a whole fragment of psychoanalytic theory? Perhaps both. But, as epistemologists indicate very clearly, the same phenomena may not only be described differently but the “cutting out” [le découpage] organizes the whole in a different way, happily not at all coherent or logical. Perhaps, Melanie Klein’s strong reaction against Paula Heimann’s introduction of her point of view concerning counter transference a few years later, could be considered not only on the personal level (treason!) but also as a completely different way of  “cutting the field” of what Melanie Klein was trying to grasp.

In Melanie Klein’s and her disciples’ reactions I see something, let’s say « normal”, considering the fragility of the task which pertains, as Stefano states, partly to primary process.

 

Stefano points out particularly “the fundamental importance of the powerful, inescapable, and never sufficiently analysed transference of individual analysts to their formative Authors and Schools” after having recalled the decisive influence of the “cultural surrounding in the formation of an analyst”. I don’t like the word “training” (nor “education”) and in fact Stefano uses the words “formative” and “formation”.

Stefano stresses the “inescapable” transference. He describes very nicely the impact on the candidate when they leave the analytic dyad and embark on their training and, afterwards, when confronted with other ways of thinking in psychoanalysis, for instance in international meetings.

I think the time of “closing” [fermeture] during the formation is probably necessary in the process of becoming an analyst. As a matter of fact, formation is a good example of the storm set up when a candidate is accepted in analysis and in an institute. Up to a certain point, the candidate encounters something of a « mad » situation and also of his or her own madness. Without this madness coming into play in his analysis, there are few possibilities to really grasp what psychoanalysis is all about. As Stefano points out quoting Gaddini, imitation is an absolute necessity for human experience. We probably begin thinking with other’s thoughts until we are able to put them once more to work in a different context than formation. In a seminar we organized in the early ‘90s on the psychoanalysis of the ‘60s and ‘70s in the Rio de la Plata (the river between Buenos Aires and Montevideo), Eduardo Vera Ocampo had this illuminating formula: « to think what thinks us” [penser ce qui nous pense].

The formation of an analyst implies necessary identifications and idealizations. I think this, not only cannot be avoided but is clearly also necessary. Furthermore, the formation of an analyst concerns also the elaboration (or not) of these identifications and idealizations. Formation is a highly personal experience and senior analysts allow it (or not) to take place without encouraging idealization and identification.

 

One the major points in the last part of his paper is the relationship of analysts with the questions of theory and practice. I will briefly discuss this point. With humour, Stefano describes the cases of “undigested incorporations” or theories “swallowed but not introjected”.

The question of the relationship between theory and practice has long been at the heart of psychoanalytical debates. In 1922, Freud proposed a prize on this subject.

Stefano writes about the sacred relationship of psychoanalysts with theory but, he adds with humour, psychoanalysts are like “other human beings”. As far as I remember, from the very first time I read Freud’s description of the organized groups of the Church and the Army, in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, I had the impression he was alluding quite directly to the organization of psychoanalysts. Totem and Taboo seems to me to be a very good guide to the psychoanalytic movement.

Between the kingdom of ideas and theoretical relativism, Stefano advocates for “a third area, dialectic, open, and suspended, in which the seasoned associative and creative freedom of an analyst may allow him the right and the duty to construct (and in some cases, co-construct with the patient) the model of psychic reality which best represents what happens in the analyst himself, in the patient, and in them both in the shared field”. Probably I’m less confident than Stefano in the analyst’s knowing which model “best represents what happens in the analyst himself, in the patient, and in them both in the shared field”. Among other reasons, because of the intense but sometimes unnoticed action of the patient’s fantasy which tends to organize the analytical field.

 

Leopoldo Bleger left Argentina in 1976, where he trained as medical doctor and psychiatrist, and since then he lives in Paris. He is a « supervisor analyst » of the French Association (Association Psychanalytique de France). He was General Secretary of the European Federation (2012-2016) and President of his society (2017-2019).