Hannah Segal. Dream, Phantasy and Art
‘If it where possible that a person should give a faithful history of his being from the earliest epochs of his recollection, a picture would be presented such as the world has never contemplated before. A mirror would be held up to all men in which they might behold there own recollections and, in dim perspective, their shadowy hopes and fears – all that they dare not, or that daring or desiring, they could not expose to the open eyes of the day. But thought can with difficulty visit the intricate and winding chambers which it inhabits.’
Unconscious Phantasy is a key aspect of Kleinian theory and with it comes her mental picture of emotional activity. It is this psychological aspect of instinct, says Klein that produces ‘image potentials’, these enable the infant to construct meaningful memories, a way of testing phantasy against reality.
Klein’s ideas, of the movement between the Paranoid Schizoid to Depressive Position and its influence on aesthetic communication influenced the psychoanalyst and theorist Segal profoundly. She emphasises the importance of the discussion of Unconscious Phantasy to our understanding of dreams and argues that it is incomplete unless ideas of symbolism are introduced. She opens up discourse between the relations between art, dreaming and daydreaming.
Freud described dreaming in 1900 as;
‘… a piece of infantile mental life that has the power to suspend’ and that ‘Psychic dream work aims at fulfilling the unacceptable and conflicting wishes by disguising them, and this involves a particular mode of expression- the dream language’
An integral part of this language, are symbols (any indirect representation of various kinds) that may be used through the defences of condensation and displacement. Condensation, where the immediate recollection of a dream doesn’t immediately surface but may offer other valuable links that arise at a future date and displacement, which would be to emphasise or dwell upon some seemingly insignificant detail. We find surfacing, through these two defence mechanisms, the currency of symbol formation, the visual language of unconscious communication.
Phantasy and symbolism are seen as an important combination in the process of art production. It is this internal unconscious dialogue that is the ‘working through’ of art production, where latent images can immerge and dissolve back into the unconscious to be re-assimilated at a future date.
Segal states. ‘The richness, scope, and correctness of our mental activity is linked with our relation to Unconscious Phantasy. If our Unconscious Phantasies are split off or too severely repressed, our conscious life is impoverished and restricted. On the other hand, if our reality testing is impeded and uncorrected by reality testing, our mental life may appear to be rich but it is delusional’
The Symbolic Expression Of Unconscious Phantasy
Feud came to the conclusion that symbols where universal, that they may vary in different cultures, but they are given and not formed and derives from the archaic past. Jones (1916) takes Freud further by describing ‘conscious and unconscious symbolism’ and that only what is repressed is symbolised, that the repressed symbol often has an opposite meaning.
Symbolism underpins Unconscious Phantasy, it is its ‘language and currency’. These symbols could be described as either object, behaviours expressed in relationships, or a repressed thought. All psychotherapists working with patients would recognise the use of symbols used in communication, often to protect repressed feelings. As a therapist you are thinking as much about what the client is saying as much as what he may not be saying.
Segal suggests two types of symbol formation, one she calls symbol equation, this is concrete and rational, the other she called symbolic representational, a form representing the object, however is not wholly equated with it. Segal suggests that these two modes represent both the Paranoid-Schizoid and the Depressive position respectively.
Segal sates ‘I should like at this to point to summarise what I mean by the terms ‘symbolic equation’ and ‘symbol’ respectively, and the conditions under which they arise. In the symbolic equation, the symbol-substitute is felt to be the original object. The substitutes own properties are not recognised or admitted. The symbolic equation is used to deny the absence of the ideal object, or to control a persecuting one. It belongs to the earliest stages of development’.
This is what gives an image it’s initial punch, its primary reading. This is the concrete impact on the viewer’s own experience. But the real achievement of an image that evokes something else is the key achievement of artistic expression. It is these symbolic equations that Segal talks of that are the more primitive aspects of this experience and, I would argue, come from a more universal pre verbal time.
The Dream Function
Why do we, as viewer, enjoy these phantasy worlds? Why would we stand before the repressed wishes of an artist, airing their conflicts in public?
The dream as Freud describes is a way, through symbols, of expressing and elaborating unconscious fantasy. He imagined a compromise-taking place, in the form of wish fulfilment, satisfying both wishes and defences. The dream is performing the function of expression of this unconscious conflict and is the communication between these conscious and unconscious worlds.
The recounting of a dream in the therapeutic session, can be seen as a client offering the analyst unbearable feelings in the form of symbols, perhaps this is what a work of art can do, asking the viewer to create something of his own, to be understood from the position of the artists internal conflicts. When we view work, we are looking for Unconscious Phantasy imbedded in it and how, through this process, it enriches our understanding and empathy with the work.
The understanding of Unconscious Phantasy does not mean interpreting the dream, but rather interpreting ‘Such stuff dreams are made of’.
Klein however developed her theories around the representation of aggression resulting from anxiety and guilt. She saw anxiety and guilt as the prime movers in symbol formation, this is where the ideas of aesthetic production from Klein and Segal differs from the work of , for instance, Winnicott and Milner.
So in Kleinian thinking, the act of creation is the movement to and from the Depressive Position. This movement involves reparation. Through reparation the artist’s inner and outer worlds are brought together and given a new voice, whether reconciliation in the conflict within ones own artwork or insight gained in a therapy session, this is how these affects are reconciled.
The need for reparation is central to Klein’s view on creative expression. This need for salvation is what Segal in 1952 writes, ‘the artists need is to recreate what he feels in the depth of his internal world.’ that my internal world is shattered and that there is a need to recreate something that will become part of a new whole. The fragmented self, reassembled in my own way and during this process that, states Segal, ‘there can be no art without aggression and that true reparation includes the acknowledgment of this aggression’. Adrian Stokes, also talks of what he describes as art being the ‘first step in the containment of this aggression’.
Fry describes ‘This found echo of emotion’. It is this ‘aesthetic emotion’, if found and described by Bell as, ‘a central common quality peculiar to all aesthetic interaction [that] we will have discovered and that distinguishes art from other classes of objects’.
To translate a dream to reality, to face and find expression for the internal conflicts, to achieve lasting reparation in reality as well as in Phantasy is the joy of aesthetic expression.
Spencer Rowell 2011