Making sense of our common Geworfenheit
The “being-thrown-out” into the world as existential premise to understand delusional and non-delusional cosmologies
Italian Psychoanalytic Society
I was asked here today (by the Scientific Committee who organized this Congress of the European Federation of Psychoanalysis) to comment on Salomon Resnik’s latest book: An archeology of the mind (Silvy Edizioni, 2011).
I felt very honoured to be given this task, which I have worked on with interest and pleasure, not least because today (the day we meet the Author), as Dr. Bronstein has just mentioned, is an extra special day: it’s Salomon’s 92nd birthday. He is also about to be awarded an ‘honoris causa’ laurea in filosofia (a degree in philosophy) by a distinguished Italian University – a much deserved recognition of his precious contribution to this specific field of research: philo-sophy, the love (philía) for the knowledge (sophía).
The concise subtitle of Professor Resnik’s book, Through early wounds, scars and aesthetic impacts, immediately conveys one of its central messages to the reader. The traumatic human experiences that cause wounds and scars are not only a pain to be faced and therefore a trouble to overcome, but also an existential premise that enables us to understand the aesthetic impact of the world (the discovery of beauty, as Donald Meltzer wrote) and to elaborate the resulting philosophical realisations.
The introduction is written by one of the most important Italian philosopher: Aldo Gargani. According to him, Resnik’s research is a good example of creative dialogue between different fields of knowledge, which he proposes to define ‘transdisciplinarity’: the transfiguration of every form of knowledge in the light of another (Gargani, ibid., p. 11). Firmly grounded on clinical practice, the book deals with cosmologies and cosmogonies, the specific experience of time and space in schizophrenic patients, the nature of narcissistic depression and the art of the psychoanalytic play with clinical data.
Given the depth and complexity of the book, I am only going to focus on two chapters today: the first one is The basic gap – an archeological approach to the unconscious; and the second one is Confessions of a psychoanalyst who has not forgotten how to play.
1) In preparation for today, I decided to go and meet the Author to learn more about his outer and inner reality in one of the wonderful cities where this astute man, many years ago, wisely chose to spend his life.
[to the audience, aside: You might not know that Salomon
spends three weeks of every month in Paris and the other
week in Venice. Coincidentally Dr. Bronstein and I had the
same thought: she came to Paris to meet him, weeks ago;
and I went to Venice.]
The main reason I decided to go to see him was that as we grow older, I guess we develop scepticism towards books. Books help us to understand patients and to accept life, but they may mislead us and make it difficult for us to learn from real experiences in the present.
It’s true, as Yourcenar writes, we can say that the written words teach us to listen to human voices (more or less as the great and still attitudes of the statues teach us to appreciate the human movement). On the other hand, and as a side effect, life makes books clearer to us. Life helps us to understand books. But books lie, write the writer (again Margeurite Yourcenar: Memoirs of Hadrian), even the most sincere.
In the first chapter of his book, Resnik introduces the readers to some of the most difficult themes of ancient and current philosophy. The basic gap (the title of the first chapter) is Salomon’s way of condensing the results of his research into a few words.
When Salomon was 20-years old, he read Martin Heidegger’s groundbreaking book Sein und Zeit: Being and Time. Within its pages, he found the idea of the “being-thrown-out-into-the-world” – Geworfenheit (in the German language werfen roughly means to throw away) as a basic human experience. “Being – writes Resnik – means to be somewhere” and compares Heidegger’s concept of human life as Dasein (being here), with Melanie Klein’s hypotheses about the baby’s going out into the open air and Winnicott’s ideas on the process of corporizations.
The word Geworfenheit refers to the existential fact that we are ontologically, and therefore inescapably, connected to a human environment where we are in fact, from the very beginning, ‘geworfen’ – thrown out.
We belong to the space/place and to the time/history where we are and which constitute us.
We are not everywhere. We are where we are.
And the ‘where’ is crucial to open up and also to close off, perspectives and opportunities.
We are always in one here and in several, successive nows which shape our existence.
[to the audience, aside: This could be the reason for the
decision Resnik took at a certain point in his life when he
established himself in two different cities. His philosophy
could perhaps be translated as follows: as far as possible,
not to belong to only one place and to only one language.]
In emigrating from Argentina to Europe in the mid fifties in working with children and psychotic patients in the UK and in France, and in having the opportunity to discuss his experience with psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott, Wilfred Bion, Herbert Rosenfeld, and many others, Salomon Resnik has conceptually reframed the basic idea of having always and already been thrown out into any (and too often unwelcoming) given place.
To my ear, this idea parallels Racamier’s hypothesis on deuil originaire, the fundamental mourning: a very fine, and clinical indispensable, integration of Freudian concepts and Kleinian theories.
If we succeed in overcoming the emotional consequences of this basic gap we can understand sooner or later how to take advantage of these extremely unpleasant yet inescapable experiences. Heidegger called the emotional situation of human beings Befindlichkeit: the too often desolate wasteland where we find ourselves at the beginning. “In the beginning was Chaos”, writes Resnik, quoting Hesiod.
“As I write this book, I understand that my concern is about the cultural past and history of man that we carry with us in our bodily experience in the present. We are all “carriers”, living archives in which present and future are part of our baggage” (Resnik, ibid. p.45).
2) Let us focus, now, on the second chapter I chose.
It is about the importance of playing with both clinical material and group dynamics. Salomon is very competent at helping groups of clinicians to take advantage of group dynamics and group thinking as a tool to rethink clinical cases. That’s what I saw in Venice.
Books lie, writes Marguerite Yourcenar, even the most sincere. Poets transfer us “dans un monde plus vaste ou plus beau, plus ardent ou plus doux que celui qui nous est donné”: “… en pratique, presque inabitabile”. To study reality, philosophers subject it to almost the same transformations as fire or pestle (“le feu ou le pilon”) make substance undergo: nothing that we have known of a person or of a fact seems to subsist in those ashes or those crystals to which they are reduced. Historians, on the other hand, present our past experiences to us as a very precise system of cause and effect, which is too clear to have been completely true and too linear to express what really happened at a certain point in history.
And psychoanalysts? What do they do – what do we do – with our realties and our realizations?
To try to better understand Salomon’s book, I attended three different kinds of meetings chaired by him (or four if we consider a remarkable supper, in the trattoria which is near the Venetian palace where Salomon’s group meets and works).
My purpose was clear: I wanted to try to experience the real existential stuff – the true Resnik: not the Resnik on paper, but the real thing, Resnik himself.
The first meeting only involved two people, but through the discourse that developed within that frame, many other characters and experiences were evoked and brought to life (his original Mentors in Argentina, the Kleinian group in London, the great Authors, his patients and close friends…). The second and third meetings were group events: theoretical work on Saturday evening, a lecture followed by a debate, and clinical work on Sunday morning, a friendly group supervision about a case presented by a member of the Venetian psychoanalytic community led by Salomon.
All three of these events allowed me to see and appreciate the man who wrote Confessions of a psychoanlyst who has not forgotten how to play. A man who has developed the capacity to help other people to move, both internally and externally, as if they were on a theatre stage. Directed by this director, they were able to rekindle the ‘inner theatre’ of a group or single subject’s psychic life, making it possible to see and enact plays that had been previously fixed and closed for a long time.
This practice is grounded in a theory.
“Being in analysis and being a psychoanalyst – writes Resnik – is an expression of what I call the double transferece” (ibid. p. 270). When our patients are in analysis, at the same time we ourselves are in analysis with them, again and again. In the double-mirror of the psychoanalytic relationship, in the person to person meeting which occur within the setting, we have to bring to life the child that we never cease to be.
At the end of the third act of the theatrical play I took part in – the act which was played in the Venetian trattoria – someone addressed Salomon with words he probably found too simple and perhaps somewhat flattering, about the “extraordinary” quality of his life and mind. His answer was remarkable and very sober: “Don’t forget that I still remain a poor Jewish child who feels alone”.
The Resnik I met is the man who writes – as he did in the conclusions of his book – that the child in us who is still very much alive and able to play with others, should be compared to and differentiated from the demanding, greedy, paranoid one: the child who was painfully disappointed and can easily remain wrapped within some sort of professional ideology.
Ideas to ask Salomon to elaborate on.
Questions to warm up the emotional climate and to structure the debate.
Can you tell us something about your experiences as a psychoanalyst and trainee in Argentina?
Would you like to share with us the reason which prompted you to begin your European pilgrimage?
What do you think about the importance, for people who undergo psychoanalytic training, of studying group dynamics?
What do you mean by the visibility of the unconscious?
Can you tell us something more about your notion of “unconscious biography”?
Reading Freud… You mentioned me the importance of some ideas about the projective processes that we can read in one of the first psychoanalytic papers written by Freud The neuroses of defence (1896). Can you expand your thinking on this specific point?
“The substance of the mind is very fragile and can easily be wounded.” (p. 50)
“What is the difference between a linear and curved vision of the world?” (p. 67).
You wrote that your clinical approach is based on a way of thinking that is aimed at avoiding the split between theory and experience (p. 185). What do you mean? Can you tell us more on this issue?