The Creation of Reality in Psychoanalysis: A View of the Contributions of Donald Spence, Roy Schafer, Robert Stolorow, Irwin Z. Hoffman and Beyond (Book Review)

Author:  Moore, Richard
Publisher: Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1999
Reviewed By: Gemma Ainslie, Winter 2000, pp. 17-19

Richard Moore’s first book is a far-reaching engagement with one of the most critical issues in this psychoanalytic time. Exploring with great attention and a finely-honed integrative sensibility Freud’s position as well as those of four contemporary pillars of narrative psychoanalytic theorizing, Moore opens the readers eyes to problems with logic and consistency, implication and application, both acknowledged and unacknowledged, in each of them. He demonstrates extensive appreciation for the literature of our field - particularly, but not exclusively that of the last two decades - as well as a capacity to communicate clearly regarding its implications for our definitions of man and mind, and for clinical practice. It is rare that I find myself telling others so enthusiastically of a new authors work, and rarer still that I read each and every footnote with a concern that I might otherwise miss an interesting aside; I did both as I read The Creation of Reality in Psychoanalysis.

Introducing his work as “...a psychoanalytic discussion about the relationship between subjectivity and external reality,” (p.1), Moore offers as a cultural context for his examination of this topic “...the recent spate of public interest about the authenticity of reported memories of childhood sexual abuse.” (p.4) As he clearly and succinctly describes each of four theorists’ position regarding truth, history,and reality, he circles back to trauma as the litmus for the explanatory power of each perspective. While initially I was engaged by this, it eventually came to feel like a reference point that diluted the arguments via taking them out of the consulting room, into another sphere with other experts whose opinions demanded other tests for truth. Nonetheless, as the critiques advance, Moore convincingly builds a case for the inescapable superiority of a narrative position, examines four representatives of such a position, engaging the reader in consideration of both finely articulated, familiar arguments and worthy, new commentary, and finally outlines his own constructivist psychoanalysis.

Moore escorts us through major contributions of Spence, Schafer, Stolorow, and Hoffman, positing that they constitute “a response to a deep and ongoing need to clarify the theoretical ground of psychoanalysis...”(p.45). He methodically organizes his comparative readings around five questions: What is the nature of reality? What is the nature of the human experience of reality? What is the nature of human communication of the experience of reality? What kind of knowledge can reasonably be acquired on the basis of information about the past acquired in a psychoanalytic session? What kind of action can reasonably be taken on the basis of such knowledge acquire in the psychoanalytic session? His examination is logical and thorough, his eye for internal inconsistency and contradiction is acute, and the critiques he offers are well-founded. Complementing his careful, reasoned approach to examining each theory is a remarkable capacity to characterize the content and impact of each of the four theorists’ work via metaphors. Like in an analysis, understanding Moore’s psychic reality with regard to the theories he examines can be approximated via tracing these metaphors, comparing them to one another as synthetic representations of his experience of each author’s work and of their relative merit, that is, by trying to find meanings both intentionally and unintentionally communicated. A few examples, I hope, will illustrate both his astute grasp of the evidence and the inevitable bias in his evaluation of these four authors. Here I proceed interpretively and cautiously, inviting Moore and other readers to respond, and bearing in mind Moore’s counsel regarding narrative perspectives: “Often...the additional construction added to constructed reality is probably slight...Usually, a cigar is just a cigar.”( p.138)

Having absolved us of our guilt regarding potentially destroying psychoanalysis via demythologizing Freud
“ while it is obvious that no statute of limitations pertains to unearthing flaws in Freud’s character, there must be some point in the development of a discipline when questions about its founder no longer bring the whole structure into doubt. The discovery of dishonesty in Darwin’s reports would pose little threat to modern zoology.” (p. 37) Moore begins by challenging Freud’s archeological metaphor: “Perhaps it is more as if Freud had found a method analogous to sonar to locate and provide a rough outline of buried memories and then help the patient (or himself) make a facsimile that seemed sufficiently familiar and could be worked with as though it were the original...With the archeological metaphor Freud seems to have confused his faith in an accurately recorded objective past (psychic and external) with his critically limited ability to contact it” (p. 33).

Next, he moves to his consideration of the narrativist revolution, seating Spence as the founding father: “Overall, Spence seems to have dropped a kind of depth charge into psychoanalysis from which neither he nor psychoanalysis is has been able to recover.” (p. 59) In his treatment of Schafer, I believe there is evidence of unconsidered bias. Moore at various points characterizes Schafer’s work as a “somewhat parochial narrative perspective” (p. 63) via which “(t)he search for coherence is revealed to be essentially a movement toward adherence.” (p. 72) and sums up by likening Schafer “to someone who, on discovering that there is no precious metal underlying the world’s currency, feels quite comfortable designing and printing his own.” (p. 124) Certainly, none of the four narrativists escapes Moore’s wit : Stolorow’s school, for example. is viewed as one in which “intersubjective theorists elevate their inferences by more or less pulling on their own subjective bootstraps and raising the inference to the level of truth.” (p. 94). Even Hoffman, clearly the narrative champ in Moore’s eyes, is scrutinized for fault: “His comments retain all the problems of positivism and add all the problems of relativism. In short, it is a positivism with very bad eyesight, and a relativism that keep bumping into objectively hard things.” (p. 107) However, Moore’s caricature of Schafer borders on that of a counterfeiter and I believe there is more of an idiosyncratically constructed and unexamined tone to his criticism of Schafer. Further, I wonder if Moore’s characterization of Hoffman’s work as “a psychoanalytic Talmud” (p. 124) is a default, as if Moore is not yet able to see beyond the transferential idealization that he refers us to later in his book: “Patients bring important aspects of the analyst’s authority with them...This source of the analyst’s authority is the tail of the tiger itself.” (p. 162) In effect, Moore is not able as yet to play with Hoffman’s ideas, to respond to them with an image via which he communicates his experience of Hoffman and thereby offers space enough for the reader to play. Especially from one so adept at metaphor and humor, this “speechlessness” is a communication.

In his final chapter, “In Search of a Constructivist Metapsychology,” Moore outlines his own theory of a constructed narrative truth, based in his belief that “how a given person creates (or constructs) his or her reality is...more important than any particular experiential example of that process.”(p. 135) He covers multiple questions in detail, although I experienced many sections as worthy of considerable expansion, particularly via comparison to other psychoanalytic perspectives. However, I choose to highlight two especially noteworthy central points here, sequencing and trauma.
In explicating a constructivist perspective, Moore centers his thinking on “the experience of sequence,” positing that “(t)he general configuration of this subjective process can be traced through three postulated stages of experience...the moment prior to experience, the moment of experience, and the moment after...Memory is previously constructed experience, can be experienced itself directly (as memory), and has the potential to be experienced in the future (in recall).” (p. 135) Both Winnicott and Bollas are used well to ground aspects of Moore’s formulation. Bollas’s “transformational object” especially offers a clear corollary to Moore’s moments of construction. I believe it fair to note the parallels to Freud’s psychoanalytic appreciation of the development of a sense of reality - that there is a contextualizing fantasy or anticipatory thought, followed by an experience of frustration or gratification followed by a memory and incremental structure. This pivotal point regarding sequencing certainly warrants examination as an entry into our theorizing and it also allows him to return again to issues of history and memory, in the now highlighted context that the experience of reality is created and that the narrative is for the benefit of the listener and inherently different from the already constructed reality of the narrator.

The application of Moore’s contructivist theory to trauma, too, has much to recommend it. Counter to other analytic positions, for example, that trauma results when overwhelming events match fantasies or that trauma destroys earlier benevolent internalizations and expectations, Moore posits that trauma destroys the capacity to construct: “Trauma can be seen not so much as constructed as an overwhelming, externally initiated interaction conducted largely despite existing psychological constructs. That which might otherwise be constructed overwhelms the construction process and therefore the constructor. ... Potential reality overflows the capacity to construct it, and the result is not reality created by one’s experience, but a loss of one’s capacity to participate in it at all.” (p. 168)

This conceptualization both requires and appreciates the position of the analyst as Moore conceives of it: “...the constructivist analyst’s main claim to authority as an analyst lies in his or her openness to sharing in constructing the reality that the analyst and the patient inhabit together...The analyst, it is hoped, remains exemplary in the process to construct anew and provides a model and an experience of that process often not available elsewhere in the patients life.” (p. 161)

As well as the content of this rich book, Moore’s style is worthy of comment. He can logically proceed with the reading of a theoretical position with clarity and grace. However, he also employs metaphors masterfully, capturing nuances that a more academic tongue misses. Finally, Moore is wonderfully humorous at times - his dry and wry commentary surprisingly peppering the text in a way that enlivens it and him in the reader’s mind. I was drawn to this quality early on and therefore was amused to find the reference to Huizinga’s l950 Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture late in the book as if my reading of Moore had been “true.” Moore has found a playground in this work regarding reality: in a telephone conversation he referred this kind of theoretical work as “such a squiggley thing.” Indeed what better way is there of understanding our invitations to our analysands to dream with us.

Reviewer Note

Gemma Ainslie is in private practice in Austin TX, and is on the faculty of the Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute. She serves on the Division 39 Board as a Member-at-large.


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