Stephen Frosh For and Against Psychoanalysis. 1997 Routledge
The Visualisation of Incoherence (The Difficulties Of Using Psychoanalysis In the Process of Research)
The Mystical Process
Psychoanalysis is born to the encounter between the hysterical woman and the positivist man of science’ (Moi 1989)
Can we ever get away from the controversy that psychoanalysis brings to the area of research? Does it have standing of true value, as in the status of science as Freud believed, or can we trust its empirical effectiveness at all? If is has a cognitive and affective dimension, that may be seen as knowledge, how can this be represented?
As voiced by Hans Essence, perhaps psychotherapy and its associated milieu are just a series of tell-tales. But can these unconscious utterances, as I would prefer to call them, be used to build some kind of narrative of the human condition, that may ultimately be used in the pursuit of both understanding and insight.
‘Psychoanalysis, in a very strict sense of the term, is a mystical experience. Mystical experiences can be best defined as follows; an emotional experience, which at the same time purports to be and is felt as being the acquisition of knowledge which is important, privileged and out of the ordinary’ (Gellner 1992)
Perhaps we need to move the debate about psychoanalytical research forward, rather than engaging in the same old arguments that Gellner highlights above. The plague is here now, perhaps we need to engage with it more as a process of discovery, as a way forward, to take us further down the road towards an alternative form of knowledge.
In Gellner’s words, (1985), ‘a beast is at work; something that lies within us and systematically disrupts everything we think and do.’
But this ‘beast’ is worthy of enquiry, a way of exploring this new semantic space, constructed and reconstructed, in every move made by patient and analyst, (artist/viewer) deeply complex, multilayered, heavily contextualised, obscure and performative in its knowledge.
At root, the psychoanalytical experience is formulated as a discipline and practice of uncovering latent meanings, of reaching below the surface of action and consciousness to reveal the disturbing elements of unconscious life. To be a legitimate form of study, psychoanalytical enquiry has to be accountable, should show evidence, be responsive to criticism and it is still a view of knowledge that is produced through human activity and underpinned by theory. Even though its role seems to be to disrupt common sense.
‘To search for historical truth is to live out the metaphor of analyst as archaeologist and to believe, along with Freud, that pieces of the past lie buried somewhere in the persons unconscious’ (Spence. D. 1987)
The limits of language
‘Psychoanalysis, it might be argued, processes some of the most versatile explanatory concepts in intellectual history, so versatile that they are immune to appraisal by rational means’ Frosh. S.
It is essential for this enquiry, to remain a critical vision of ones own and throw light on the process of this new discovery. The research question that is asked is, can the documentation of image production deepen our understanding of human functioning and is the methodology consistent and honest? The goal is not necessarily the truth, in the empirical sense of what really happened, but rather an understanding that it includes a powerful affective and experiential component. As Flax (1981) states, ‘The past is lived through the transference, it is not mealy grasped intellectually’.
In the therapist’s session, successful outcomes are a form of linguistically mediated self-knowledge that places a client in a more controlled position over his life’s experiences and relationships. It uncovers a process as a system of tensions and reconciliations always on the move and in flux. The production and assessment of my photographs will uncover ‘truths’ or series of ‘truths’ of the human condition. The to and fro between the analysing of, and production of, work in this intersubjective domain will be reflected upon and integrated into the production of new images to be then interpreted. A new narrative will be produced.
What criteria can I employ to assess an approach that is seen as having a claim to new knowledge? (i.e. rational). In the words of Frosh, ‘Although not always dependant on language and aimed at a consistent meeting of the unconscious, taking the significant residue and putting it into a rational form’. Is it in this residue where creativity of subjectivity resides?
Free association Interpretation and insight
Freud stated the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis is free association, that it is no more than a joint process of free association and transference. The later being the key mechanism and the former the ‘fundamental rule’.
Macmillan (1997) says this free association effectively creates its data, rather than recovers it and ‘cannot be used as any guide to the facts of human behaviour and mental life’. It is at best, ‘an unreliable guide to memory’, and as Grunbaum reminds us, ‘can be contaminated with the promptings of the analyst. All this makes it at untrustworthy’.
The important thing is how this created data is used, as a part of this process and how its interpretation influences further production. The interpretation becoming new information in the patient’s free association, a deepening of the understanding of the conflict and in doing so broadens the patient’s capacity for psychic experience. The above quotes, of MacMillan and Grunbaum, I feel, fail to understand beyond Freud, as interpretations are now seen as combined truths of thousands of supervised client hours. Interpretation is, in a broader sense, simply the understanding of any text, be it a film, poem or interview. The process of making the artist/patient aware of some aspect of his psychological process that he had been not previously conscious of.
‘Far from offering the analysand a new message, the interpretation should serve merely to enable the analysand to hear the message he is unconsciously addressing himself… The analysis plays on the ambiguity of the analysand speech, bringing out its multiple meanings’ (Evans 1996)
These resulting interpretations involve the change in the thing being interpreted, making the original interpretation immediately out of date and informing the process in a forward motion. It is constructive and transformative without being right or wrong, the artist is changed, something new appears in the place of what was there before.
Frosh describes this as like taking a stills camera to photograph something, It represents something that was there at that moment, ‘true’ in an approximate kind of way, but never quite to be the same again’. ‘No interpretation can be the truth, but like language itself, performative.’ This act of interpretation gives the subject the opportunity to seize the lost or hidden meanings and re-own them, restoring an identity between the subject and ones own subject-hood, interpersonal intersubjective truths allowing the emergence of unconscious fantasies out of which meaningful insight might become known, and in doing so, improving that flow to free associations.
Every picture produced is then, a provisional state, often reflecting potential confusion, emotional investment and desire. At each stage it is open to negotiation of its own development and assessment, indeed as the process moves forward, re assessments of previous works are integrated into this provisional narrative. Backed by theory these assessments will seek to validate events and how they are perceived. Psychoanalysis works with phantasy, with the internalised version of the world through which individuals communicate and relate to shared external events. There are no true or false statement, each reading is intriguing and unique and its understanding will be able to be taken to the next engagement.
This collaborative enterprise and validation of enquiry, aims at constructing meaning, has both an affective as well as cognitive part and will depend more upon the empirical accuracy of interpretations and than on the accomplishments of self-reflection. It is these joint narratives, of interlocked theories, of corrected distortions and the creation of a revised set of narratives of personally transformative knowledge that will form a convincing and new photo biography.
Provisional transitional truths
‘Narrative truths convince because of their capacity to evoke and structure experiences, to offer coherence where there is fragmentation, to articulate half understood meanings and to throw light on obscurity.’ Frosh
As in any assessment, these psychological states are often characterised by a kind of alienation, where the subject is separated from objects, experiencing as if an object split from ones own meanings, wishes and desires. As individual images, they represent a temporary transitional stage showing these splits. As a series they becomes narrative of theoretical coherence, inner consistency and have narrative intelligibility.
What if everything is a fairy story? Does this mean that the narrative holds no potency? The alternative family album is a process of unravelling those things that are not as they seem, into a new understanding, an understanding of the human condition, underpinned by established theory and extensive supervision. Thus is the intense experience of psychotherapy as reseach, the searching for or staving off of something new, on the journey to insight, this road to personal change may be the same route towards that of human understanding.
‘Phantasy is not merely an escape from reality, but a constant and unavoidable accompaniment of real experiences, (we are) constantly interacting with them’ Segal 1973
Spencer Rowell 2011