I appreciate Bolognini’s attempt to limit the psychoanalysts’ frequent tendency toward triggering ‘wars of religion’. These controversies are not only ideological, but often influenced by psychoanalytic politics and practical interests of power, compromising the need of psychoanalysis to update its knowledge and modernize its clinical approach. The identification with the author (or theory), that Bolognini indicates as a possible source of disagreement among psychoanalysts, seems however to me not so much a negative element in itself, but rather an inevitable component, that can be better elaborated through time together with the personal growth of the analyst. As Bleger points out: “The formation of an analyst implies necessary identifications and idealizations”.
In the name of what he calls “theoretical pluralism”, Bolognini invokes the occasional suspension of the logical principle of non-contradiction. Various authors indeed, from Freud to Matte Blanco, have examined the violation of the logical principle of contradiction for the unconscious mind. Differently from unconscious logic, the construction of a scientific discourse cannot however prescind from a rigorous use of the non-contradiction principle. His conception of a “theoretical pluralism” would inevitably lead to an uncontrolled increase in numbers of psychoanalytic theories: something that, as I will explain further on, could prove to be more of a hindrance than a help.
I will now attempt to shift the vertex, briefly reconsidering the role of theories. It should certainly be recognized that a theory is useful for representing clinical questions at a more general level of abstraction, facilitating the understanding of clinical work. But do we need few or many theories in psychoanalysis? (Lombardi 2015)
In his comment Abel-Hirsch mentions Bion’s efforts to restrict “the number of theories we can really have”, adding the expression “in our blood”, because it is well known that Bion discouraged keeping psychoanalytic theories in mind during a session. If certain theories have become part of “the blood of the analyst”, it is because they have been deeply elaborated through an intimate personal experience at the interface between body and mind, rather than through an abstract system of intellectualizations. The analytic work during sessions in fact relies on the analyst’s negative capability to tolerate doubts and uncertainties (Keats) in order to construct together with the analysand representations of his modes and forms of functioning.
The driving force of the analytic working through is the construction of ‘mental models’, as elective instruments that oscillate from the concrete to the abstract and from the abstract to the concrete. These models have a “disposable” function in the construction of thinking, with the expectation that they will solicit more organized transitory hypotheses (Lombardi 2003). In other words, when we are open to learning from experience, the road to the definition of theories is a long one: in the initial phase theories are the patient’s internal theories rather than the more abstract and formalized psychoanalytic theories. Continuing research after the clinical sessions, the analyst can proceed towards the construction of theories based on experience, that can then be publicly reviewed for possible approval.
The number of theories should necessarily be small if they are to be used as a parameter of reference! Bion (1957) identified five main theories: a number that demonstrates his conviction that we can have important advantages (mainly in flexibility of thinking) if we are able to reduce our theoretical reference system. The approach introduced by Bion presupposes an unsaturated epistemological questioning in which whoever speaks assumes the responsibility for their statements, based on what has been learnt from experience.
In stating this I do not exclude that elements common to different psychoanalytic schools can be identified in order to obtain a simplification of the theoretic system, as, for example, I have attempted to propose in identifying a key element in the body from the diverse models of Freud, Klein and Bion (Lombardi 2012, 2019): a topic that I have extended to other authors on various occasions. I think we would greatly benefit from revisiting the widespread tendency to idealize theories in psychoanalysis, since theories are often confused with ‘weapons’ that prove the analyst’s power. Instead of increasing the number of theories, the clinical foundation of psychoanalysis would allow analysts of diverse orientations to better communicate and understand each other.
Where Jacobs speaks of “the infantile fear of the other, of the strange and the unknown” referring to “rival theories”, I would question the fear of the unknown that leads to an idealized use of theories as reassurances in the face of overwhelming archaic sensations, which emerge in the analytic relationship. In the frequent tendency to idealize theories in psychoanalysis I would ask how much influence occurs by the body-mind dissociation (Lombardi 2016, 2017): a dissociation that emphasizes the “mental” as a flight from the bodily impact in human interactions and the challenge of the body-affect-thought evolution (Lombardi 2009).
An excessive emphasis on theories could reduce psychoanalysis to an abstract system of ideas not necessarily grounded in reality (Freud 1915, Vassalli 2001), where it is rather the relational exchange, the ability to observe, the work-in-progress of the construction of hypotheses (to compare with few essential psychoanalytic theories) and the therapeutic benefit (as an essential source of reality check) that can offer effective parameters in psychoanalysis.
BION, WR (1957). Differentiation of psychotic from the non-psychotic personalities. In Second Thoughts. London, Karnac.
FREUD S. (1915) The unconscious. S.E. 14
LOMBARDI R. (2003). Mental models and language registers in the psychoanalysis of psychosis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 84(4):843-863
LOMBARDI R. (2009). Body, Affect, Thought: Reflections on the Work of Matte Blanco and Ferrari. Psychoanal. Q., 78(1):123-160
LOMBARDI R. (2012). Il corpo nella teoria della mente di Wilfred R. Bion. http://www.consecutio.org/2012/02/il-corpo-nella-teoria-della-mente-di-wilfred-r-bion/
LOMBARDI R. (2015). Few or Thousands of Theories in Psychoanalysis? Internationalpsychoanalys.net, August the 3rd.
LOMBARDI R. (2016). Metà prigioniero, metà alato: La dissociazione corpo-mente in psicoanalisi. Torino, Bollati Boringhieri.
LOMBARDI R. (2017). Body-Mind Dissociation in Psychoanalysis: Development after Bion. London, Routledge.
LOMBARDI R. (2019). Il corpo in Freud e Klein. Appunti su continuità e differenze. Riv. Psicoanal., 65, 1, 45-66.
VASSALLI G. (2001). The birth of psychoanalysis from the spirit of technique, Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 82, 3-26
Riccardo Lombardi (CdPR) is a Training and Supervising Analyst of SPI and IPA. He lives and practice in Rome.