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MENTAL SPACE

by Robert M. Young

What enhances and constricts mental space - space for reflection, for feeling, for being open to experience and relationships? The author addresses this question in the light of two issues: first, how we locate psychoanalysis in the history of thought about nature and human nature; second, which psychoanalytic approaches are most useful and resonant with our experience. He then turns to key concepts which bear upon these issues: culture and cultural studies, the analytic space, primitive processes, projective identification and transitional phenomena. In each case he gives a careful exposition of the history of the concept and the debates about it scope and validity, in individual and social terms, including applications to racism, virulent nationalism and group relations [Bion, Jaques, Menzies Lyth]. These expositions have been called 'models of exegesis', 'brilliant', and 'masterful' by readers of the manuscript, and the book has been described as 'a good read' and 'just what is needed' to make these concepts accessible to students, practitioners and others interested in cultivating human civility. Among its other merits it is arguably the most accessible exposition of basic Kleinian ideas. Particular attention has been paid to the kinds of accounts of human experience which are most enabling, as opposed to those which diminish the depth of the inner world. This is, then, a book about the problematic idea of mental space and about the concepts which the author has found most helpful in understanding what enhances and threatens it.

Contents

Human Nature and Spatial Nature
Cultural Space
Mental Space
Analytic Space: Countertransference
Primitive Space: Psychotic Anxieties
Projective Space: The Racial Other
Ambiguous Space: Projective Identification
Potential Space: Transitional Phenomena
Misplaced Concreteness and Human Stories


ISBN 1-899209-00-x London: Process Press Paperback Pp. viii + 200 PRICE: 15.95


Some comments on Mental Space

'Your book is precious to me. It is superb... Your writing is in every way outstanding... In Mental Space you have written a formidably erudite book, a book rendered accessible to my pedestrian mind by the unusual clarity with which your book is written.'

Harold Searles, psychoanalyst, author of Countertransference and My Work with Borderline Patients

'[In Mental Space Robert Young] ranges from foundational issues (how to think about mental space itself) to such delicate and complex cultural issues as racism, demonstrating throughout great sophistication and originality - without ever losing a direct, conversational style that helps the reader to be consistently engaged with the argument.'

E. V. Wolfenstein, psychoanalyst, political scientist and author of The Victims of Democracy

'It is excellent as a discourse on psychoanalytic topics that all butt up against other scientific, moral and political ones. It seems to me extremely suited to the kind of student on the burgeoning university degrees, as it so effectively claims a valid position for modern psychoanalytic ideas within the much wider terrain of intellectual life.'

R. D. Hinshelwood, psychoanalyst, author of A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought and What Happens in Groups

'I have now finished reading your book, finding it quite fascinating, readable and important. There are not many people like you who combine a real knowledge of philosophy, the history of ideas, sociology, etc. with psychoanalysis, so that so many ideas that I had touched on were richly filled out. It also resonated of course with the idea of the collective unconscious but brought down out of the cloud of mythology into human existence... it is so full of information that I expect to be referring to it frequently.'

Michael Fordham, Jungian analyst, co-editor of The Collected Works of Jung, author of The Making of an Analyst

'I think it is a first rate and brilliant piece of work, and an important contribution to the psychoanalytic literature, especially the section on factors which restrict and foster mental space. I have made it required reading for all my psychotherapy students.'

Brett Kahr, Lecturer in Psychotherapy, Regent's College, London

'I finished reading your book on the flight home. I am still very much under the impression of it. It inspired me, which is an experience I had not had for a very long time. I keep re-reading parts of it and the more I do it, the more deep meaning I discover. A major quality of this book is the easy way in which it introduces major issues, its capacity of being academic yet vivacious. In a word, it embodies what it argues for. Congratulations!'

Toma Tomov, President, Bulgarian Psychiatic Association

'I have the feeling that I have known the essence of what you are saying all my life... for me your book is full of thoughts that I hope to follow through, and sources I hope to refer to; also your philosophic and political understanding is a boon to me...'

Diana Bremner, psychotherapist, Lincoln Centre and Institute for Psychotherapy

'It is a serious and well-executed attempt to locate psychoanalysis, particularly Kleinian psychoanalysis, in the history of ideas, in culture and in the social world, and to treat it in an interdisciplinary manner. To my knowledge this is a unique undertaking. ...The discussion of groups and group processes is particularly illuminating. The author admirably maps the development of such thinking, which is too little known outside the world of group relations and group therapy and points the way for future work in this area. A further strength of the book is the way in which it places psychoanalysis in the history of ideas about the mind and human nature... The chapters on psychotic anxieties, projective identification and countertransference are models of exegesis. The writer's command of the literature, both psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic, is enviable... The book speaks of much that ought to be regarded as essential to any serious study in this area, yet is all too frequently ignored.

Paul Gordon, psychotherapist, Open Door, London; formerly Reviews Editor, British Journal of Psyvchotherapy

'It has stimulated me as much as anything I have read in some time.'

Charles Lloyd, theologian, Southern Methodist University

'[Robert Young] has played a major role in the development of psychoanalytic studies... As a teacher of psychoanalytic concepts, and of philosophical and sociological ideas as they bear upon thinking about human nature, I would think he is without equal. He combines a depth and scope of knowledge with an extraordinary facility for producing lucid and telling synopses of bodies of work, and a unique alertness to the connections and contrasts between different positions, both within psychoanalysis and between psychoanalytic ideas and their correlates in the wider culture.'

Barry Richards, joint co-ordinator of the Tavistock Clinic/University of East London MA in Psychoanalytic Studies, author of Images of Freud and Disciplines of Delight

'I was captivated by brilliance wherever I looked. How I admire and envy the clarity with which you can hold other people's ideas and present them as the background of your own understanding of things... Reading the chapters on the racial other, on transitional and cultural space, on the nature of the social influence and the nature of intellectual and cultural endeavour... I don't think I have ever been as clear about any of them before.

Josephine Klein, London Centre for Psychotherapy

'This book is an account of an extraordinary exploration in which Young charts the various mental spaces which we can inhabit: cultural, mental, analytic, primitive, projective, ambiguous and potential. By so mapping out mental worlds Young offers a new synthesis of psychoanalytic thinking as it can interpenetrate our cultural and social lives individually, in groups, in institutions and in society. With an erudition spanning the psychoanalytic literature and cultural and historical studies he has infused them with a new vitality that forces the reader to acknowledge that the unconscious is part of everyday life and not just located in the consulting room.
'And this is the great service that Young has rendered the reader. In a prose style that is not off-putting, as much of the literature is couched in, he persistently places before us the fact that we order our lives to avoid psychotic anxieties. Furthermore, he reaffirms the Kleinian view that 'our group behaviour and institutional arrangements are quite specifically and exquisitely designed to avoid consciously experiencing psychotic anxieties' (p. 156). But he presents his thoughts not as bizarre undigested objects but as necessary insights for understanding life in contemporary institutions and societies.
'There is an excitement present in the pages that evokes a fresh understanding of, for instance, life in the workplace. Just as reading George Steiner or Lewis Mumford brings alive the desire to try and make sense of life on the tragic plane, Young has conveyed a considered perspective that lifts the reader from the trivial plane, to use a distinction made by Arthur Koestler. Young offers no facile solutions for salvation from our psycho-cultural "ills" but provides a model of, and for, trying to internalise the social world as it is and persists in trying to understand the complexity of what we conventionally call external reality through revelation - no matter how uncomfortable and irksome to acknowledge.
In making available his thinking, which is securely grounded in psychoanalysis, he has pointed a way to illuminating the world of business and why, for example, we have an unconscious tendency to select narcissistic leaders to run commercial enterprises. At the same time, he offers the stoic hope that by enlarging and deepening our understanding of mental space we may bring into being institutions and societies that reflect the human wish to be creative and not completely destructive.'

Gordon Lawrence, group relations consultant, Director of Imago East-West, author of Exploring Individual and Organisational Behaviour and To Surprise the Soul


Comments on Robert Young's work and influence

'He is a "walking university without walls".'

James Grotstein, psychoanalyst, author of Splitting and Projective Identification, editor of Fairbairn and the Origins of Object Relations

'Young's work has combined research in analytical perspectives that weave together historical studies of the brain and nervous system, psychological theories, medicine, the human sciences, labour process issues, attention to pedagogy and race, historical and contemporary apparatuses of cultural production and fundamental questions of epistemology. Even a cursory reading of his complex, cogent, incisive writings shows the depth of his scholarship and his groping beyond orthodoxies, whether they be professional or political. He has engaged controversies with deep intelligence in difficult circumstances, and he has had the courage of his convictions in print and in action. I consider Robert Young to be one of the central founders of critical science and technology studies as they have developed in the last twenty years in the anglophone world. His pursuit of the issues where they led, rather than his pursuit of an orthodox academic career, has, in my view, been his greatest strength. Young has attempted to influence cultural and intellectual practice through first-rate historical, philosophical and political analysis in professional and popular media. Therefore, his major scholarly contribution has been made in the midst of richly interesting, but also independent, publishing, editing, media production and psychoanalytic careers.'

Donna Haraway, Professor of the History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Primate Visions and Simians, Cyborgs and Women

 


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

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