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The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young

Mental Space

by Robert M. Young

 

 

| Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Bibliography |

Chapter Three

MENTAL SPACE

Having posed the problem of a space for mind in a world of bodies in chapter one and having surveyed ideas about culture - the largest space for exercising our humanity - in chapter two, I now want to turn directly to available ways of thinking about mental space. According to the paradigm of explanation of modern thought, all true and veridical explanations should be in terms of matter, motion and number or extension, figure and number.

As we saw in chapter one, the world is divided into extended substances and thinking substances, bodies and minds. Our humanity is a feature of ourselves as persons, an amalgam of minds and bodies, and we are thereby skewered or rent. We get treated to genuinely reductionist accounts, whereby mind is reduced to matter. Or we are metaphorically reduced so that mind is treated analogously to body. Or we are treated to a reductionism whereby we are considered in terms of a formal, science-like system, of which linguistics and structuralism are examples. Those are the scientific or science-like solutions. The more commonsensical one is that we get split into a mind in relation to a body. This is utterly odd, since who we are is all mixed up with how we feel about our bodies, yet we seem to live in our minds, while our feelings often get put into our bodies - 'somatized' - in ways that are odd, distressing and sometimes fatal, as in some psychosomatic (Menninger, 1938) and eating disorders (Kaufman and Heiman, 1964). Attempts to conceptualise the mind-body relationship have never got very far. It remains a mystery. Indeed, one of the main psychoanalytic texts on the subject is candidly entitled On the Mysterious Leap from the Mind to the Body (Deutsch, 1959).

According to science, finally and fundamentally, the spatio-temporal is thought to constitute nature. This leaves no reliable conceptual niche for the mental or the emotional. It is in the light of that broad issue that I am attempting to locate psychoanalysis. That is why 'mental space' is a problematic concept. According to Cartesian dualism, the reigning conceptualisation of our world view, if something is mental, it can't be spatial, and if it's spatial, it can't be mental.

How, then, is it appropriate to think about how we think, feel, picture? I am trying to draw a broad distinction between diagrammatic and schematic ways of thinking, on the one hand, and humanistic ones, on the other. I am not saying that there is a clear distinction between spatial and evocative explanations. I am trying to discover what kinds of explanations involving space - because all do - will be least likely to treat us as things: desiccated, reductionist, formalistic, mechanical, dead. The mind has always been conceived in some way that is spatial, but it can be statically spatial or dynamically so: picture thinking or movies, schemata or renderings of mental geography which encourage journeys of discovery, where one can learn from experience.

What I want to do in this chapter is not easy to convey. I shall say it at the start, do it and then take stock at the end. This has been the hardest chapter to write. I posed myself the problem: concepts of mental space. Then I drew on my own reading, thinking and clinical experience to address the question: what is in the mind? The more I thought, the more I didn't know. It took me the longest time to figure out that it's okay that I don't know, because it's concepts of mental space, not the contents of any particular mind, that I want to write about. The issue is not one of content but of capacity, not what is contained but that there should be a suitable container so that we can do for ourselves and our lovedones what a good analyst does: take things in; hold, ruminate and detoxify them; and, if seemly, let them out again in good time and good measure so that they can be of some constructive use in facilitating thought, feeling and relating.

The history of thought about the mind and feelings is a terrible muddle. What I am seeking is a sense of the possibility of mental space, not what's in it. The goal of humanity and of psychoanalysis is the facilitation of a suitable space for containing, ruminating and making use of experience - not tipping it out, reprojecting it, mimicking it, batting it away, hoarding it, etc.

What's in the mind? How shall we think of it? The answers to those questions constitute the history of psychology, or, more broadly, the history of ideas of human nature. At other times and places a way into what was meant by human nature was characterised by a pantheon of gods. Every civilization has had its more or less complex complement of ideologies and gods. I will not now plunge into a history of ancient mythologies, but I will share one anecdote. An Indian woman, a psychoanalyst, came to me and offered to write a textbook of Kleinian ideas in terms of the gods of Hindu religion: Vishnu, the Destroyer, various sexualities and so on. It was immediately obvious to me that this would be a map of the way that culture thought about human nature, just as the Greek and Roman and other civilizations' gods are. The history of a civilization's views of that which o'erlooks its people is a reflection of its beliefs, hopes, fears and idealisations about itself. It is a map or a set of dramatis personae of its inner world, projected into the sky and underworld. This was the point of Freud's essay on religion, The Future of an Illusion (1927).

In our own cultural and intellectual tradition - by which I mean the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions - the basic opposition in the history of theories about the inner world has been between that which is permanent, associated with the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, Parminides, and that which is in flux, associated with Heraclitus. That which is permanent came to be thought of as Platonic, since Plato believed that what is most real is eternal - the formal features, forms or ideas. That which is in flux is traditionally associated with empiricism, whose most revered figure is the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, David Hume.

In recent thought, the abiding features in the mind have been referred to as schemata, the organising categories. The other element is the flux of life, the experiential and contingent. The problem of the orienting categories or universals came down to modern psychology as the question of faculties, traits or structural features of the mind. These are the framework for making sense of what we suffer in life - the day-to-day experiences, accidents, surprises, the raw material for learning. The question of how to classify - that in terms of which we think of mind - is the central issue for the psychology of personality. If there were no categories, no organising principles, no niches, we could not make sense of experience. Schemata without experience are empty; experiences without schemata are blind. They would not count as experience, since they would not be contained at all and would have no meaning. That is the point of conditioning in lower functions and symbolism in higher functions. The categories are given in the mind of the individual and - as we now think - have evolved during the history of the species.

There are many such classifications, some commensurable, some not, some deep in folklore, some part of formal notions about human nature, some part of attempts at a science of mind. There are the five senses and the orienting sense, proprioception. These provide the raw materials for perception, which, in turn, on the empiricist account, add up to thoughts. There are various lists of passions. There are the seven deadly sins, a list of base passions. There is the major and basic opposition between good and evil, monitored by the moral sense. There are religions based on this. Manicheanism, a competitor with early Christianity, treated history as an eternal struggle between good and evil. I often think of this as the forerunner of Freud and Klein's idea of the great opposition between Eros and Thanatos.

Inside the recognisably scientific history of physiology and medicine, there is a long tradition of categorisation of mind. A typical list would include senses, intellect or reason, and memory. Many would list the senses separately and specify a place where they flowed together, the sensorium commune. These faculties were not always localised in the substance of the brain. As the diagram shows, they were typically located in the ventricles of the brain, each with its own space, which was literally a cavity. illustration of ventricular localization

Throughout these classifications there was a wide divide between nature - the categories - and nurture or experience. From the seventeenth century onward, this took the form of a distinction between the flux of associations on the one hand and the larger units or categories on the other. This grand dichotomy was treated as analogous to the reigning theories in physics, called 'the mechanical philosophy': something akin to atoms and impacts. The atoms of physics became, by analogy, the particles of experience. How they banged into each other in order to build up experience, and not merely in a billiard ball way, became the problem of psychological theory. The reigning attempt to explain this was and is the association of ideas. There are elementary particles or sensa of experience. There are compounds and combinations - a whole metaphorical physics and chemistry. Thereby, mind was subjected to a reductionism, a metaphorical materialism.

The genealogy of the association of ideas or associationism, as the tradition came to be known, is not important to my present purpose, which is to examine its formal features in the context of notions of mental space. There are useful histories of associationism (Ribot, 1873; Warren, 1921), I have attempted to summarise the tradition (Young, 1968; 1970, chs. 2, 3, 5) and Rapaport, the chief codifier of ego psychology, has traced its history from Bacon to Kant (1974). The leading figures in the associationist tradition include the empiricist philosophers: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume and John Stuart Mill. Others concentrated on the psychological aspects: John Gay, David Hartley (Young, 1972a), Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, James Mill, Alexander Bain (Young, 1970, ch. 3), Herbert Spencer (Ibid., chs. 5, 6), David Ferrier (Ibid., ch. 8) and Sigmund Freud.

Alongside this scientism lay various formalisms from folk psychology, with their own lists of passions, traits and faculties. These provided classifications, containers, ways of codifying raw experiences: form and content.

All of the above addressed themselves to the question of how the flow of experience leads to knowledge, character and personality. However, there are at least two divides. Many were more concerned with questions of epistemology - how can we know - than with questions of character and personality. The second divide had three branches. I have stressed associationism - a sort of mental atomism. Then there was the classification of mind according to reason, memory and other general, rather intellectualist, faculties. Finally, there was the more popular folk psychology of faculties or traits, which merges into folk tales and literature..

Various ideas about the structure of mind floated about in philosophy, debates about human nature and folk psychology for centuries, and some were speculatively linked to ideas about what is in the head. But serious empirical attempts to root conceptions of human nature in real science were not made until the turn of the nineteenth century, when systems for reading character from the visage, part of a long-standing tradition known as physiognomy, were connected to claims about the underlying brain, which came to be known as phrenology. Once again, I have no desire to tell stories at greater length than is relevant to my present purpose, especially since I have done it elsewhere (Young, 1968a, 1970, ch. 1).

What the phrenologists claimed was that there was a one-to-one correlation between features on the surface of the face and cranium, on the one hand, and underlying brain area, on the other. Each faculty or trait had its own localised area of brain, so that the functions of the brain were the faculties or traits. This was a tidy solution, since it raised no problem about relating the language of psychology to the language of physiology, thereby finessing an important aspect of the mind-body problem: mind-brain relations. The more important the faculty or trait, the larger the brain area and the corresponding protuberance on the surface of the skull. This theory was full of flaws. Indeed, it was nonsense at the empirical level, but it bore important conceptual fruits for the history of localisation of functions in the brain and theories of human nature. In particular, it stimulated research on cerebral anatomy and physiology. It also led to clinico-pathological correlations between neurological symptoms and studies of cerebral pathology. For our purpose this was notably true of Freud's neuropathological research on speech disorders due to brain damage, i.e., aphasia, the subject of his first book (1891), which provided the model for mind that he took over into The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). I'll return to this below.

Phrenology had a simple answer to the question: what is human nature? Human nature was the result of the combined action of the twenty-seven fundamental faculties (the list eventually grew to thirty-five), acting with the combined strengths of the particular combination in a given individual. If one looks at a list of phrenological faculties, they offer a fairly comprehensive list of attributes for thinking about human nature. There were debates about what should or should not be on the list, but the approach remained valid up to our own time, and the role of the founder of phrenology, Franz Joseph Gall, was recognised in modern personality theory, just as it is in the history of brain research (Young, 1972). A useful paper in the mid-1930s in a mainstream psychology journal, Character and Personality, was entitled 'Faculty versus Traits: Gall's Solution' (Spoerl, 1935-6), just as esteemed students of the nervous system could refer to important discoveries in the early twentieth century as the 'new phrenology', and a serious student of the history of research could write in The Encyclopedia Britannica, with credible licence, 'We are now all more or less phrenologists' (Anon., 1902, p. 710).

In addition to sketching the general problem of the categories of mental space, the dimension of all of this to which I want to draw particular attention is the role of the concept of 'function' in psychology and brain research. The concept of function and a theoretical tradition deriving from it - functionalism - loom large in the history of the human sciences in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it would take us out of our way to consider them (see Young, 1981a, for an account and bibliography). The concept of function and the adjective 'functional' brought comparative and developmental ideas into psychology and brought biological ideas of evolution and adaptation into theories of mind. These allowed theories of the dynamics of personality to move easily between the psychological, on the one hand, and the physiological and biological, on the other, without leaving the theory skewered or repeatedly jumping across a ghastly chasm between the mental and the bodily. 'Function' and 'functional' created common ground between the mental and the physiological. 'Functions' are exquisitely ambiguous between the categories of the mind and the body: 'mental functions', 'the functions of the brain', 'the functions of digestion and respiration' seem to inhabit a common space of integrated psychological and physiological concepts.

Freud took up this way of thinking from the English evolutionary associationist, Herbert Spencer, in his writings on aphasia, just as he took up the philosophical doctrine of psychophysical parallelism from John Hughlings Jackson in the same study. He learned to think in functional terms in the course of his attempts to classify forms of speech disorder neuropathologically (Riese, 1958).

You may feel that my argument is following a strange trajectory, but, as I mentioned above, I am heading in my own way toward The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and the problematic nature of ideas of mental space in psychoanalysis. In the 'Project for a Scientific Psychology' (1895) Freud gave us five diagrams, one of them about the external world and stimuli (Freud, 1895, p 313), one about how inhibition occurs (p. 324), one depicting the ego in neuronal terms (p. 324), one about the link between conscious and unconscious in dreams (p. 341). The final one, in his discussion of psychopathology, shows a different sort of link. It depicts a mixture of phenomenal matters - shop-assistants, clothes, shop - with psychological matters and biological ones - laughter, assault, flight, sexual release, being alone (p. 354). I think there is a progression here. He becomes increasingly comfortable about moving back and forth between the bodily and the mental and then represents the mental, the neuronal and the personal in a single frame of reference.

I now want to address how Freud wrote about mental spaces in The Interpretation of Dreams. I shall then compare his language with writings by Melanie Klein, Susan Isaacs, Wilfred Bion and Donald Meltzer. My aim is to explore ways of representing mental space. I believe that these writers move from picture thinking in Freud to writing about dimensionality in ways that place the spatial purely at the service of representing emotional dynamics. I think that psychoanalytic writing has moved from rather reductive picture thinking to representations of the problem of a space to think - capaciousness, container and contained.

Freud tells us early on about what a tangle dream thoughts are and refers to the dream's navel, about branching out and directions. This is metaphorical space. Then there is a very important passage where he provides diagrams (Freud, 1900, pp. 536-8). All are based on the reflex arc: stimulus-response. The way he is thinking about dreams is immersed in a functional model of mental and physiological, a physiological notion of the reflex and a neuroanatomical framework of localisation of functions.

Freud is discussing an idea of Fechner, 'that the scene of action of dreams is different from that of waking intellectual life' (p. 536). He comments, 'What is presented to us in these words is the idea of psychical locality. I shall entirely disregard the fact that the mental apparatus with which we are here concerned is also known to us in the form of an anatomical preparation, and I shall carefully avoid the temptation to determine psychical locality in any anatomical fashion', which he has been doing hitherto. 'I shall remain upon psychological ground, and I propose simply to follow the suggestion that we should picture the instrument which carries out our mental functions as resembling a compound microscope or a photographic apparatus, or something of the kind'(ibid.) Here is the I-it notion of subject and object being viewed across epistemological space which I discussed in chapter one. 'On that basis, psychical locality will correspond to a point inside the apparatus at which one of the preliminary stages of an image comes into being. In the microscope and telescope, as we know, these occur in part at ideal points, regions in which no tangible component of the apparatus is situated. I see no necessity to apologise for the imperfections of this or any similar imagery. Analogies of this kind are only intended to assist us in our attempt to make the complications of mental functioning intelligible by dissecting the function and assigning its different constituents to different components of the apparatus. So far as I know, the experiment has not hitherto been made of using this method of dissection in order to investigate the way in which the mental instrument is put together, and I can see no harm in it...

'Accordingly, we will picture the mental apparatus as a compound instrument, to the components of which we will give the name of "agencies", or (for the sake of greater clarity) "systems". It is to be anticipated, in the next place, that these systems may perhaps stand in a regular spatial relation to one another, in the same kind of way in which the various systems of lenses in a telescope are arranged behind one another. Strictly speaking, there is no need for the hypothesis that the psychical systems are actually arranged in a spatial order. It would be sufficient if a fixed order were established by the fact that in a given psychical process the excitation passes though the system in a particular temporal sequence.' Now we are falling back on the reflex arc as a model for thinking. 'The first thing that strikes us is that this apparatus, compounded of Y systems, has a sense of direction. All our psychical activity starts from stimuli (either internal or external) and ends in innervations. Accordingly, we shall ascribe a sensory and motor end to the apparatus. At the sensory end there lies a system which receives perceptions; at the motor end there lies another, which opens the gateway to motor activity. Psychical processes advance in general from the perceptual end to the motor end. Thus the most general schematic picture of the psychical apparatus may be represented thus: [diagram, p. 537]

He concludes, 'This, however, does no more than fulfil a requirement with which we have long been familiar, namely that the psychical apparatus must be constructed like a reflex apparatus. Reflex processes remain the model of every psychical function' (pp. 536-8).

His spatial language is not always based on physiological space (but see p. 565); but it is always topographic. He speaks of dreams located in the unconscious, resistances barring the path to consciousness, wishes finding their way, things slipping through, points of attachment, penetrating more deeply, a schematic picture, a psychological scaffolding, directions, paths, ideas covering others, localities in the mental apparatus. Later on, we find him wishing to get away from notions of locality 'derived from a set of ideas relating to a struggle for a piece of ground' (p. 610). He says he would prefer to 'replace a topographic way of representing things by a dynamic one' (Ibid.). Ideas should 'never be localised in organic elements of the nervous system but, as one might say, between them', like a virtual image in a telescope (p. 611).

Nevertheless, he continues to use spatial analogies (p. 615) and to refer to the unconscious as a 'larger sphere', while the conscious is a 'smaller sphere' (pp. 612-13). He continues to use such images, although he is keen not to allow psychic reality to be confused with material reality (p. 620). If we look ahead to the structural hypothesis of id, ego and superego, these get represented spatially in relation to the topographic concepts of conscious, preconscious and unconscious in the famous egg diagram in The Ego and the Id (1923, p. 24), which is repeated in The New Introductory Lectures (1933, p. 78).

This schematic way of thinking, with topography and structure, employing terms without resonances in the language of everyday life and emotions, became defining characteristics of Freudian metapsychology. There is a continuity of rhetoric from Freud to latter-day Freudians, culminating in the systematic efforts of David Rapaport mentioned in chapter one, and summarized in his joint article with Merton Gill, 'The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology' (1959), which I shall quote here in synoptic form:

'The dynamic point of view demands that the psycho-analytic explanation of any psychological phenomenon include propositions concerning the psychological forces involved in the phenomenon.

'(a) There are psychological forces.

'(b) Psychological forces are defined by their direction and magnitude.

'(c) The effect of simultaneously acting psychological forces may be the simple resultant of the work of each of these forces.

'(d) The effect of simultaneously acting psychological forces may not be the simple resultant of the work of each of these forces.

'The economic point of view demands that the psycho-analytic explanation of any psychological phenomenon include propositions concerning the psychological energy involved in the phenomenon.

'(a) There are psychological energies.

'(b) Psychological energies follow a law of conservation.

'(c) Psychological energies are subject to a law of entropy.

'(d) Psychological energies are subject to transformations, which increase or decrease their entropic tendency.

'The structural point of view demands that the psycho-analytic explanation of any psychological phenomenon include propositions concerning the abiding psychological configurations (structures) involved in the phenomenon.

'(a) There are psychological structures.

'(b) Structures are configurations of a slow rate of change.

'(c) Structures are configurations within which, between which, and by means of which mental processes take place.

'(d) Structures are hierarchically ordered.

'The genetic point of view demands that the psycho-analytic explanation of any psychological phenomenon include propositions concerning its psychological origin and development.

'(a) All psychological phenomena have a psychological origin and development.

'(b) All psychological phenomena originate in innate givens, which mature according to an epigenetic groundplan.

'(c) The earlier forms of a psychological phenomenon, though superceded by later forms, remain potentially active.

'At each point of psychological history the totality of potentially active earlier forms codetermines all psychological phenomena.

'The adaptive point of view demands that the psycho-analytic explanation of any psychological phenomenon include propositions concerning its relationship to the environment.

'(a) There exist psychological states of adaptedness and processes of adaptation at every point in life.

'(b) The processes of (autoplastic and/or alloplastic) adaptation maintain, restore, and improve the existing states of adaptedness and thereby ensure survival.

'(c) Man adapts to his society - both to the physical and human environments which are its products.

'(d) Adaptation relationships are mutual: man and environment adapt to each other' (Rapaport & Gill, 1959, pp. 8- 9).

The systematic spelling out of this way of thinking makes it painfully and irritatingly obvious that this rampant scientism drains the life and feeling out of experience. How's your epigenetic groundplan? Are you adapting enough to your society? Do you prefer to do so autoplastically or alloplastically? The authors grant that some of their assumptions may not pan out, but they suggest that the points of view 'should be accepted - for the time being - as the framework of psycho-analytic metapsychology' (p. 9). When I was taught psychoanalysis at a leading American medical school, it was presented in these terms, proudly rooted in biology.

There is warrant in Freud's corpus for each assertion in neo-Freudian metapsychology. What Rapaport and Gill did was to select the physicalist, biologistic and conformist elements and offer them as the whole. They were rightly criticised by Marcuse, Lacan and others for squeezing the life out of psychoanalysis and reducing it to a palliative, conservative pablum. The exercise of systematising psychoanalysis and filtering out the awkward and messy concepts is directly analogous to the fallacy of misplaced concreteness discussed in chapter one (p. 19). Our abstractions are allowed to be taken as the most concrete rendering of experience at the expense of a more mundane and every-day language which we experience as nearer to life itself, which somehow disappears. Nor is there a place in this scheme for un-worked-out theoretical concepts such as the ego ideal or cussed ontological ones like the death instinct. Heaven knows how this scheme would accommodate some of the more interesting ideas in non-Freudian psychoanalysis such as second skin, autistic cysts, false self, container/contained, claustrum, projective identification, paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, transitional objects and phenomena, countertransference.

But there is more to Freud, as I've said, than physicalist scientism and picture thinking. There are two other major strands to his thinking. The first is the use of myth, the classics, dreams, poetry, literature, jokes and the phenomena of everyday life. The second is case studies, clinical material and the use he makes of autobiography: stories. In my opinion, Freud's writings are in tension between various versions of the language of extended substances, on the one hand, and a rich mixture of evocative and experiential accounts of the inner world, on the other. These are the scientific and the humanistic strands in his work. He is a mixture of picture thinking and functional/dynamic thinking.

In matters of this kind, there is no theory-neutral terrain. The very reading of texts is an interpretive activity. This is doubly true of Freud, since the text most people who are not fluent in German read is the translation into their own language, so what they read is filtered through the translators' way of thinking. The English translation is probably the one used most often. It has recently been pointed out that the translators of the so-called Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud did their work while looking through neo-Freudian spectacles. It was translated under the general editorship of James Strachey, in collaboration with Anna Freud, assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson. They often chose words which were resonant with a scientistic rather than with a humanistic way of interpreting Freud's ideas. Bruno Bettleheim wrote an impassioned little book about this, Freud and Man's Soul (1983). His objection is not merely to the choice of terms but to a misrepresentation of the basic framework of Freud's thought, rendering it in objectivist terms. It could be argued that there is nothing to choose between the Strachey translation and the sort of reading proposed by Bettleheim, but the creation of a group devoted to bringing out a new translation makes it clear, at the very least, that the existing translation does not speak to how many people now interpret Freud's thinking. Karl Figlio (1984) has expanded this point into a wider debate about how we render the inner world psychoanalytically

In my opinion there is everything to choose between the model of mind which characterises neo-Freudianism and other traditions in psychoanalysis, especially the Kleinian (I shall turn to Searles and Winnicott in subsequent chapters). Paradoxically, the sense of spatial knowledge in the work of the latter-day Freudians seems to me to be at the expense of an enabling sense of mental space - a space to think.

I want now to plunge straight into a very different, wholly human and experiential rhetoric, one which could not be more different from the formalistic language of extended substances, forces, and energies. The first point to be made about a different conception of mental space is the need for space itself. This calls for sweeping away the baggage of scientistic metapsychology. I am not claiming that what I am recommending that we put in its place is not metapsychological or even that it is mellifluous. What it is is experiential, albeit significantly unconsciously so.

The second point is the premise that all knowing and experiencing occur through primitive processes, through exploring, interacting with and coming to know the mother's body. The primitive is never transcended; it remains operative and determinant, no matter how abstract and abstruse the knowing involved. Experience is always alimentary. Primitive functions continue to be served. The whole basis of the Kleinian tradition stems from the single proposition that primitive emotionality is never gone beyond. The goal of therapy is not to enhance the so-called 'conflict-free sphere of the ego'. It is always to work on and through the primitive by means of the interpretation of primitive anxieties. Margaret Rustin defines the contents of the inner world as an 'inner picture of mother, father, siblings and so on, and at a more primitive level of the parts of the body - emotionally significant for the baby and small child - breast, nipple, eyes, arms, legs, penis etc. seen as alternatively benevolent and hostile' (Rustin, 1989, p. 312).

On this model, the first thought of the infant is of the absent object. The contents of the baby's mind are three things: the breast, being held and the copulating couple, i.e., the belief or sense that insofar as the parents are together, it is a threat, while maturation involves being able to believe that the mother and father could join together to enrich the baby rather then merely to exclude him' (Meltzer et al, 1975, p. 96). The Oedipal relationship is not only a rite of passage on a developmental scheme which occurs between about three and a half years old and six, it is also a constellation, posing a recurrent triangulation to be borne and negotiated from birth and in every important situation one encounters along life's way (Britton, 1992, Young, 1993-94).

Klein writes in a consistently experiential way and employs an evocative language of feelings throughout. This does not mean that she eschews conceptual terms, but they are always in relation to the world of emotions: 'The first form of anxiety is of a persecutory nature. The working of the death instinct within - which according to Freud is directed against the organism - gives rise to the fear of annihilation, and this is the primordial cause of persecutory anxiety. Furthermore, from the beginning of post-natal life... destructive impulses against the object stir up fear of retaliation. These persecutory feelings from inner sources are intensified by painful external experience for, from the earliest days onwards frustration and discomfort arouse in the infant the feeling that he is being attacked by hostile forces. Therefore the sensations experienced by the infant at birth and the difficulties of adapting himself to entirely new conditions give rise to persecutory anxiety. The comfort and care given after birth, particularly the first feeding experiences, are felt to come from good forces. In speaking of "forces" I am using a rather adult word for what the young infant dimly conceives of as objects, either good or bad. The infant directs his feelings of gratification and love towards the "good" breast, and his destructive impulses and feelings of persecution towards what he feels to be frustrating, i.e., the "bad" breast. At this stage splitting processes are at their height and love and hatred as well as the good and bad aspects of the breast are largely kept apart from one another. The infant's relative security is based on turning the good object into an ideal one as a protection against the dangerous and persecuting object. These processes - that is to say splitting, denial, omnipotence and idealisation - are prevalent during the first three or four months of life (which I termed the "paranoid-schizoid position"). In these ways at a very early stage persecutory anxiety and its corollary, idealisation, fundamentally influence object relations' (Klein, 1952, pp. 48-9).

She turns next to the formation of the superego and to the depressive position. 'In my view... the introjection of the breast is the beginning of superego formation which extends over years. We have grounds for assuming that from the first feeding experience onwards the infant introjects the breast in various aspects. The core of the superego is thus the mother's breast, both good and bad... The ego's growing capacity for integration and synthesis leads more and more, even during these first few months, to states in which love and hatred, and correspondingly the good and bad aspects of objects, are being synthesised; and this gives rise to the second form of anxiety - depressive anxiety - for the infant's aggressive impulses and desires towards the bad breast (mother) are now felt to be a danger to the good breast (mother) as well.' The mother is increasingly perceived as a person, and the infant feels he is destroying a whole object, a loved person, with his greed and uncontrollable aggression. 'These anxieties and corresponding defences constitute the "depressive position", which comes to a head about the middle of the first year and whose essence is the anxiety and guilt relating to the destruction and loss of the loved internal and external objects' (pp. 49-50).

Since I am mounting a critique of objectivist terms and praising emotive language, I suppose that in order to be consistent, I ought to deplore some rather unresonant terms at the heart of Klein's otherwise personal and touching style. 'Paraniod-schizoid position' does convey fragmentation, persecution, craziness, but 'depressive position', which is her goal for mental well-being, is a rather astringent and stoical phrase, especially since it is supposed to convey concern for others and the ability to bear mixtures of good and bad, pleasure and pain.

I particularly regret another term at the heart of post-Freudian psychoanalysis, one which Klein, Winnicott and Fairbairn jointly introduced: 'object relations' (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983). The idea behind this rather objectivist (pun intended) term is that we are always, from the first days, relating to other people as central to our psychic lives, for good and ill. Persons are not objects, and objects are not persons (Kohon, 1985). These are obvious but important points, especially when juxtaposing scientism and humanism. Even so, there it is. In the very act of transcending instinct-oriented ideas about people and placing us once and for all in an interpersonal world, highly-original psychoanalysts retain terminological vestiges of a reifying way of thinking. In this case, the vestige comes from classical libido theory, whereby every instinct has an aim and an object, as in the song: 'The object of my affection can turn my complexion from white to rosy red'. Objects, in the object relations sense, are the objects of our feelings. Klein says, 'The analysis of very young children has taught me that there is no instinctual urge, no anxiety situation, no mental process which does not involve objects, external or internal; in other words, object-relations are at the centre of emotional life. Furthermore, love and hatred, phantasies, anxieties, and defences are also operative from the beginning and are ab initio indivisibly linked with object-relations. This insight showed me many phenomena in a new light' (p. 53).

I said above that primitive processes are never transcended. Klein argues that the introjection of the breast lays the foundation and is the prototype for all internalisation (Klein, 1958, p. 238) and that the vicissitudes of the life and death instincts, as I have already mentioned, govern the whole of mental life (pp. 239, 245). Similarly, primitive phantasies are present throughout life: 'Phantasies - becoming more elaborate and referring to a wider variety of objects and situations - continue throughout development and accompany all activities; they never stop playing a great part in mental life. The influence of unconscious phantasy on art, on scientific work, and on the activities of everyday life cannot be overrated' (p. 251).

Susan Isaacs provides a vivid account of the richness of the unconscious inner world in her classical essay on 'The Nature and Function of Phantasy' (1952). 'We must assume that the incorporation of the breast is bound up with the earliest forms of the phantasy-life. This hallucination of the internal satisfying breast may, however, break down altogether if frustration continues and hunger is not satisfied, instinct tension proving too strong to be denied. Rage and violently aggressive feelings and phantasies will then dominate the mind, and necessitate some adaptation' (p. 86). The power of these phantasies is great: 'The phantasies of incorporating (devouring, absorbing, etc.) loved and hated objects, persons or parts of persons, into ourselves are amongst the earliest and most deeply unconscious phantasies, fundamentally oral in character since they are the psychic representatives of the oral impulses... In our view, phantasy is the operative link between instinct and ego-mechanism... Although themselves psychic phenomena, phantasies are primarily about bodily aims, pains and pleasures, directed to objects of some kind' (p. 99). When we do turn our curiosity onto the external world and act upon it, 'the postponement of satisfaction and the suspense involved in the complicated learning and thinking about external reality which the child presently accomplishes - and for increasingly remote ends - can only be endured and sustained when it also satisfies instinctual urges, represented in phantasies, as well' (p. 108).

As we move from the most primitive phantasies to the domain of symbolism, Klein took up Ferenczi's view 'that primary identification, which is the forerunner of symbolism, "arises out of the baby's endeavour to rediscover in every object its own organs and their functioning"' and Jones' notion that the pleasure principle is at the heart of the equations basic to symbolism (pp. 110-11). Klein showed, 'by means of illuminating clinical material, how the primary symbolic function of external objects enables phantasy to be elaborated by the ego, allows sublimations to develop in play and manipulation and builds a bridge from the inner world to interest in the outer world and knowledge of physical objects and events. His pleasurable interest in his body, his discoveries and experiments in this direction, are clearly shown in the play of an infant of three or four months. In this play he manifests (among other mechanisms) this process of symbol-formation, bound up with those phantasies which we will later discover in analysis to have been operating at the time, The external physical world is in fact libidinalized largely through the process of symbol-formation' (p. 110). And so on to the world, but the primitive is never transcended.

Donald Meltzer's depiction of mental space builds directly on the notion of phantasy described above and provides a lovely account of the nature and benefits of successive dimensions, showing by example that spatial concepts are not inevitably reifying and scientistic. But well before providing his account of dimensionality, he gives a poignant account of an autistic child with no capaciousness, no space to reflect upon and ruminate experience: 'For months he had drawn doors and gates, usually with complex wrought-iron grills. Then gradually rather Victorian gothic houses took shape. One day he painstakingly drew an ornate house seen from the front on one side of the page, a house in Northwood, while on the other side he drew a back view of a pub in Southend. Thus the child demonstrated his experience of a two-dimensional object; when you enter by the front door you simultaneously exit by the rear door of a different object. It is in effect an object without an inside' (Meltzer et al., 1975, p. 18). For this child 'the distinction between inside and outside is not a fact' (p. 19). He has 'a paper-thin object without a delineated inside. This produces a primal failure of the containing function of the external object, and thus of the formation of the concept of self as a container... This deficiency of containment related to internal spacelessness of the self...' (pp. 19-20).

Meltzer turns, at the end of the Explorations in Autism, undertaken with four co-workers, to an account of 'Dimensionality as a Parameter of Mental Functioning...' which I have found helpful in thinking about the meaning of mental space. He begins, 'It is our view that, insofar as an organism can be said to have a mental life and not merely to exist in a system of neurophysiological responses to the stimuli coming to it from internal and external sources, it lives in "the world" and this world may be variously structured. One has perhaps become accustomed to think of "the world" as four-dimensional and constituting the "life space" (K. Levin) of the organism. From the psycho-analytical viewpoint this life-space may be said to comprise the various compartments of the "geography of phantasy" (Meltzer) moving on [in?] the dimension of time. This geography is ordinarily organised into four compartments inside the self; outside the self; inside internal objects; inside external objects; and to these may sometimes, perhaps always, be added the fifth compartment, the "nowhere" of the delusional system, outside the gravitational pull of good objects. The dimension of time on the other hand can be recognised to have a development from circularity to oscillation and finally to the linear time of "life-time" for the individual, from conception to death' (p. 223).

He then characterises the dimensions, one by one. 'Freud's original systematic theory as expressed in the "Project", the VIIth chapter of the "Traumdeutung" or the "Three Essays" is essentially a description of one-dimensionality: source, aim and object of neurophysiologically and genetically determined drive patterns. A linear relationship of time-distance between self and object would give rise to a "world" which had a fixed centre in the self and a system of radiating lines having direction and distance to objects which were conceived as potentially attractive or repellent... It is not a world conducive to emotionality except of the simplest polarised sort. Gratification and fusion with the object would be undifferentiated... a one-dimensional world, which we have characterised as substantially mindless, consisting of a series of events not available for memory or thought' (pp. 224-5).

A two-dimensional world is that of the boy with the paper-thin object. He knows surfaces and 'may be marvellously intelligent in the perception and appreciation of the surface qualities of objects, but its aim will necessarily be curtailed by an impoverished imagination, as it will have no means for constructing in thought objects or events different from those it has actually experienced. In the language of Bion, it would have no means for distinguishing between an absent good-object and the presence of a persecuting absent-object. The reason for this limitation of thought and imagination would reside in the lack of an internal space within the mind in which phantasy as trial action, and therefore as experimental thought, could take place' (p. 225). The two-dimensional personality is the limiting case of shallowness (p. 235). The self would also be impaired in memory, desire, foresight. Threats to the integrity of this world would be experienced as 'break-down of the surfaces - cracking, tearing, suppuration, dissolution, lichenification or ichthyotic desensitizing, freezing numbness, or a diffuse, meaningless, and therefore tormenting sensation such as itching' (pp. 225-6).

Three-dimensionality introduces the notion of 'orifices in object and self' and the self as containing potential spaces. 'The potentiality of a space, and thus the potentiality of a container, can only be realised once a sphincter-function has become effective. The feeling 'of being adequately contained is a precondition for the experience of being as continent container...' (p. 226).

In order to achieve four-dimensionality and thereby to embark on the process of development, projective identification must be relinquished, a struggle against narcissism must be mounted, and introjective identification must begin to replace a narcissistic one.

The details of Meltzer's account - though I find them appealing - are incidental to my purpose, which is to find a way of treating mental space as available for containment, a place where one can bear experience, hold it and be able to ruminate it, metabolise it, reflect upon it, savour it. The meaningfulness of experience is always under threat. It may be batted away or used to locate, amplify and feed madness and then be reprojected or reduced to cliché or collapsed into despair. The point of capaciousness is that it should serve as a container for thought, and the point of thought is to keep emotion alive. Without living emotion there are no viable relationships, and without relationships there is no world. The greater the pressure of primitive anxieties on the dimensionality of mind, the less able we are to symbolise and to participate in culture. In the following chapters I will explore some Kleinian concepts, along with one of Winnicott's, which strike me as bearing on our capacity to be containers of experience and to act on the world of personal and other objects in a worthwhile way. I believe that these concepts provide the parameters of the restriction and enhancement of mental space.


The Human Nature Review
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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