Diachrony in Psychoanalysis (Book Review)

Author:  Green, André
Publisher:  London: Free Association Books, 2003
Reviewed By:  Susan DeMattos, Winter 2005, pp. 74-77

Diachrony in Psychoanalysis is a series of essays by André Green about time in psychoanalytic thinking, written and published in French between 1967 and 1994 and translated into English by André w Weller and published in 2003. It is clear that time, psychoanalytic time, has been on André Green’s mind for a very long time. I had been time-deaf while reading Green’s other work, not attending to the role of time in his work. In this review, I will first review the impact of Green’s work published in English before this book on diachrony, then explore what he says in Diachrony in Psychoanalysis, and end with how an understanding of diachrony helped me to better understand Green’s thinking and quarrels with structuralists and Daniel Stern.

I keep coming back again and again to the work of André Green. There is so much that he has written that has been incredibly illuminating. For instance, in 1975 he published in English the article “The analyst, symbolization, and absence in the analytic setting” that anticipated much of the thinking of relational and intersubjective theorists. Green (1975, p. 11) noted that at the beginning of the development of object relations theory, attention was directed at the interaction of the self and the object in terms of internal processes.

“Not enough attention was paid to the fact that in the phrase “object relation” the word “relation” was the most important. This is to say that our interest should have been directed at what lies between these terms, which are united by actions, or between the effects of different actions. In other words, the study of relations is that of links rather than that of the terms united by them. It is the nature of the link which confers on the material its truly psychic character which is responsible for intellectual development (Green, 1975, p. 11).”

In exploring “what lies between” self and object, infant and mother, patient and analyst, Green drew on the work of Bion and Winnicott to develop the idea of an “analytic object”:

“But in the end the real analytic object is neither on the patient’s side nor on the analyst’s, but in the meeting of these two communications in the potential space that lies between them, limited by the setting which is broken at each separation and reconstituted at each new meeting. If we consider that each party present, the patient and the analyst, is composed of two parts (what they live and what they communicate), one of which is the double of the other (I use the word double in the sense of a wide homologous connection while admitting the existence of differences), one can see that the analytic object is formed of two doubles, one belonging to the patient and the other to the analyst (Green, 1975, p. 12).”

In addition to the emphasis on relationality and introducing the idea of the analytic object, Green also outlined the idea of the analytic third in this article. Green (1975, p. 13) expanded on Winnicott’s observation that “there is no such thing as a baby” by noting that there is no such couple formed by the mother and baby, without the father. In every meeting of baby and mother, a third is also present. Similarly, when the mother mirrors the baby, a third, the mirror, is also introduced. And every communication introduces a distance between the self and the object. In every analytic hour, there is the patient and the analyst and the space between, the potentially analytical space that is the third.

This early article by Green has been used by Thomas Ogden (1997, 1998) to develop his understanding of analytic objects, the analytic third, and transference. Ogden described in Reverie and Interpretation how analytic objects are created in the process of generating analytic meaning in the analytic relationship: what had seemed to be just an envelope or the taking of one’s pulse, in the analyst’s reverie, takes on meaning in relationship to the patient. When the envelope became more than an envelope and the taking of one’s pulse more than a nervous, personal habit, a third subjectivity is discerned. Ogden (1998, p. 64) noted that “this third subjectivity, the intersubjective analytic third, is the product of a unique dialectic generated by/between the separate subjectivities of analyst and analysand within the analytic setting.” Both patient and analyst transfer their “experience of the internal environment within which one lives” (Ogden, 1998, p. 138) onto the analytic setting. Jessica Benjamin (1999, p. 208) also utilized Green’s article to suggest “that the mother-infant relationship already contains this thirdness in the very form of communicative dialogue prior to the child’s symbolic process to language.”

There was so much in this early article that excited me and informed my clinical work, and yet Green also troubled me. He continued to emphasize drives when I was not sure they were necessary. And at the end of this article he alluded to something that I did not understand. “Without embarking on a critique of our psychoanalytic concepts of development, of which many seem to me to adopt a non-psychoanalytic notion of time,” Green (1975, p. 18) wrote in his final paragraph in 1975 and I felt uneasy. What is it about development that Green would critique? What is a psychoanalytic notion of time?

In 1986 Green published in English what has become his best-known article among English speakers, “The dead mother”. In this paper Green described a patient suffering from “the dead mother complex” in which the mother is not literally dead but is not available anymore because of her own bereavement. The child experiences this as a catastrophe and it “carries in its wake, beside the loss of love, the loss of meaning” (Green, 1986, p. 150). Green noted that adults with a dead mother complex who come into analysis do so not with depression but with “acute conflicts with those who are close” (Green, 1986, p. 149) and impotence to withdraw from a conflictual situation, impotence to love, to make the most of one’s talents, to multiply one’s assets, or when this does take place, a profound dissatisfaction with the results (Green, 1986, p. 149).

Thomas Ogden used this article to reflect on emotional deadness and its role in interfering with the analyst’s freedom to think. For Ogden (1997, p. 25) Green “made a pivotal contribution to the analytic understanding of the experience of deadness as an early internalization of the unconscious state of the depressed mother.” Faced with the patient with a dead mother complex, the analyst often experiences deadness and an inability to think. Michael Parsons (2000) used the article to explore the relationship between psychic reality, negation, and the analytic setting. Parsons (p. 184) noted that the dead mother, absorbed in bereavement, “cannot give up what is no longer there” and “the child’s life and the mother’s relationship with the living child have been negated.” Parsons called this a destructuring use of negation. The constructive work of the negative, on the other hand,

“requires a certain psychic mobility, a capacity to shift between negating and affirming, separation and connection. Broadly speaking, the ability to use negation in this provisional, flexible way, so as to establish a creative kind of psychic reality, is an index of well-being…. The depth and quality of our emotional and thinking life thus moves to a kind of tidal rhythm, which we may sense both in the short term, within a single hour or day, or over the years (Parsons, p. 185).”

Reading “The dead mother” years after it was published, I found myself thinking of the work of Geraldine Dawson (1994) and Beebe and Lachmann (1988). They too had observed infants abandoned by mothers preoccupied with loss and had written about its impact on development and implications for treatment. My earlier concerns about Green’s allusions to psychoanalytic concepts of development having a non-psychoanalytic notion of time were eased. But reading Green’s (2000) response to Daniel Stern, I began to see that I may have misread Green just as Green (2000, p. 42) was accusing Stern of doing: “he (Stern) curbs my description in order to make them fit his own point of view.”

I certainly curbed my description of Green, ignoring his 1995 article, “Has sexuality anything to do with psychoanalysis?” Green (1995, p. 871) reminded his readers that “Freud placed sexuality at the centre of psychic development, psychoanalytic theory and clinical work.” And when Green talks about sexuality, instincts and drives also enter the picture. This would be reason enough for me to curb my description, but Green also criticizes Balint and Klein and the contribution of infant observation to psychoanalytic thought:

“Too much importance has been given to the ideas of the observers who can only observe what happens during the moments of exchanges. As there is hardly anything to observe at the other periods when the baby is by himself, the reaction is to understate their importance and to deny the world of solitude of the baby, because it is unthinkable for us (Green, 1995, p. 876).”

In responding to Stern, Green (2000, p. 69) stated,

“We have to remember, again and again, that the specific task of psychoanalysis is the analysis of intrapsychic work, either in a subjective way or through the intersubjective relationship. But we should not forget that an intersubjective experience or an object relationship or “being with the other’, as Stern says, necessarily connects two intrapsychic structures both anchored in the unconscious and in bodies.”

What does it mean to say that the specific task of psychoanalysis is the analysis of intrapsychic work? I thought I was understanding Green when I read about the importance of the analytic object and the analytic third, but in reading his article on sexuality and his debate with Daniel Stern, it was clear that I was missing something that Green feels is essential.

In the plenary discussion of his debate with Daniel Stern, Green (2000, p. 128) mentions that he has been working on the concept of time in psychoanalysis and I wondered if there, in his work on the concept of time, I might reach a better understanding about Green’s wariness about developmental theories and his thinking on intrapsychic work, the unconscious and bodies. In 2002 Green published Time in Psychoanalysis in which he reviewed several (sometimes conflicting) hypotheses Freud developed about the concept of time in psychoanalysis. These hypotheses included libido theory as a developmental point of view with fixations and regressions, the process of nachtraeglich or “retroaction”, dreams as a form of indirect recollection, the timelessness of the unconscious, the role of primal phantasies in categorizing experience, and repetition compulsion. Taken together, Green suggested, these hypotheses give a complex theory of temporality with a diachronic heterogeneity. But what do we mean by the diachronic in psychoanalysis? And how does Green’s work on time in psychoanalysis fit with his earlier work?

Interestingly enough, Green does not define diachrony in Diachrony in Psychoanalysis. Instead he refers to the Saussurean position which “rests on a common denominator ‘chronic’ which is divided into syn-chronic and dia-chronic” (Green, 2003, p. 25). Green also seems to be comparing structuralism with psychoanalysis: structuralists are concerned with structure (synchrony) while psychoanalysts are concerned with history (diachrony). This understanding of the difference between synchrony and diachrony is consonant with Frank Kermode’s (1985) distinction of diachrony studying things in their coming to be as they are while synchrony concerns itself with things as they are and ignores the question of how they got that way. This also suggests that diachrony will be concerned with origins and development, phantasy, memory and meaning.

Green (2003, p. 4) is quite clear about the six elements that constitute a Freudian model of diachrony:

“1. libido development and the points of view of regression and fixation it implies
2. the compulsion to repeat with its phenomena of scansion
3. the timelessness of the unconscious underlining the permanence of desire
4. the diphasic development of sexuality which, as the individual progresses, turns the adult’s choices into as many returns—without his knowing it—towards the object choices of infancy, after the silence of repression
5. the opposition between perception and memory, and their respective connection with the conscious and unconscious systems
6. the hypothesis of hereditary memory-traces.”

Here is how I understand what Green is saying about these six elements:

1. Green (2003, p. 2) distinguishes between two tendencies in psychoanalysis: valuing history to the detriment of structure versus favoring synchrony that has discourse and language take dominance and precedence over the historical point of view. I believe Green is saying that we need to balance both tendencies. Green (2003, p. 2) writes that it is an error to make an absolute identification between history and libidinal development. But we also need to attend to “the dragging movement of regression and the fascinating power of fixation” (Green, 2003, pp. 2-3). Libidinal development is spurred by Eros but regression and fixation come from the death drive. So here Green is putting the libidinal and death drives in the first element of diachronic time. The death drive can stop time or cause us to return to an earlier time. The death drive splits time.

2. Green also notes that libidinal development is punctuated by loss as we move from one stage to another (e.g., oral to anal to phallic to genital) and by loss of the object. This movement and these losses create a gap or a blank that punctuates time (so it can be scanned). We learn as infants that our caregivers are not available every moment of our lives. Green devotes a chapter to how we deal with this loss by repeating the dance of loss and reunion, illustrated through a re-reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle and retellings of Freud’s description of his grandson’s wooden reel game (fort da).

3. Green (2003, p. 77) would also say that repetition of the fort-da game gives it meaning and allowed Freud to see that the repetition functioned “to abolish the lack created by his mother’s absence.” In repeating the desire for the mother’s return, the game illustrates the indestructibility of desire. And because desire is indestructible, there is a timeless element to the unconscious.

4. Green (2003, p. 14) notes that desire is not only indestructible but also “has a retroactive effect, referring the subject to a past desire. This is nachtraeglich again. And that first desire was for the mother who in her absence was Other.

5. Nachtraeglich, retroaction, is a deferred action and indicate again the splitting of time into the present moment of perceptions and the unconscious moment of a past desire. Green tells us that experience happens in the present moment and that we consciously perceive it. He (2003, p. 15) reminds us that Freud said “all repressions are of memories, not of experiences.” Since repressions live in the unconscious, so memories are residents of the unconscious. Green (2003, p. 16) also reminds us that Freud stated that memories are structured retroactively “which separates the moment of experience from the moment of signification.” So we live in two times; experience and signification are not contemporaneous.

6. Green devotes a chapter to the primal in psychoanalysis in which he struggles with the idea that the Oedipus Complex is a hereditary memory-trace. Green (2003, p. 66) writes that “from the moment there is intergenerational transmission – and this is the inescapable case of human beings – the primal no longer exists except as a convention which, for practical reasons, fixes more or less arbitrarily a limit to the theory that is more arbitrary than logical.” Green (2003, pp. 66-67) that the Oedipus Complex is just one primordial schema and that four others might be taken into account: phantasies of separation and loss, phantasies of destructive penetration, phantasies of expelling and emptying, and phantasies of autonomy and autolysis.

How can we connect what Green is writing about diachrony to his earlier writings? As I think back to Green’s writing on the analytic object, I remember that in the creation of an analytic third, a distance is introduced between the self and the object. This distance is like a cut (Green [2003, p. 6] uses the French word coupure) between self and experience. This cut is a form of scansion.

This distance created by the analytic third is also felt as a loss of the object. Green introduces Diachrony in Psychoanalysis with a poem by Neruda in which there is the image of a watch cutting time. Time also cuts up our experience and meaning comes after the fact. Meaning comes after experience, after loss.

“The real discovery of psychoanalysis is not only to have shown that dreams, phantasy, parapraxes, symptoms and neurosis have a meaning, or that the essential aspects of the life of a given subject reveal a certain order; it is in having discerned that this order, this latent organization also carries the scar of a refusal, a rejection, a bar (Green, 2003, p. 7).”

Part of what Green is trying to tell us is that the distance created by the analytic third is not only spatial but also temporal. Perception exists in the present moment; it is what the infant observers see. But memory comes later, sometimes much later. Memory involves making meaning of our perceptions. It is a structuring after the fact, what Freud called nachtraeglich. In an interview with Gregorio Kohon (1999, pp. 13-14), Green reported that he believed that “the dead mother is a paper which has been valued not only for its clinical findings, but because it is linked to a personal experience. When I was 2 years old, my mother had a depression… I can only suppose that I have been strongly marked by this experience which, of course, needed three analyses to relive fully.”

What Green is doing in his analyses is transforming the experience, the perception of his mother’s depression, into a psychoanalytic object. The dead mother and the dead mother’s living child are not able to do this. The dead mother cannot let go of a lost object and a lost time. And so both the dead mother and her living child are frozen in time, unable to use time to heal. Green makes a point in Diachrony in Psychoanalysis that cutting is part of a dialectic with suturing. We make meaning of the cuts by generating analytic objects that linking our experiences, by suturing meaning together.

In his interview with Kohon Green demonstrates the diachronic element of the compulsion to repeat. He also devotes a chapter to this theme in an article titled “Repetition, difference, replication: A re-reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. In discussing the fort da game, Green emphasizes the importance of repetition and the importance of absence and negativity:

“But it is necessary to stress the importance of absence, of negativity. The mother has to be experienced as lost for the child to have a need to repeat something by playing the game….Played just once, the game has no meaning. It was in seeing it repeated that Freud concluded that its function was to abolish the lack created by his mother’s absence. The subject constitutes himself through the repetition marking the new passage over earlier traces (Green, 2003, pp. 76-77).”

Reading Diachrony in Psychoanalysis helps me to see how much Green has been dealing with time in all his writing. It takes time to develop a relationship. It takes time to generate analytic objects. It takes time to grieve. We each have our individual histories marked by our desires and our losses. I have a better understanding of Green’s argument with the structuralist who want to do away with personal history. I also begin to see why he has a quarrel with Daniel Stern. Infant observation involves conscious perception of present experience. What psychoanalysis is about, Green is saying, is the meaning we make retroactively.

References

Beebe, B., and Lachmann, F.M. (1988). The contribution of mother-infant influence to the origin of self and object representations. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 5: 305-337.
Benjamin, J. (1999). Recognition and destruction: Afterward. In S.A. Mitchell & L. Aron (Eds.), Relational psychoanalysis: The emergence of a tradition (pp. 201-210). Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
Dawson, G. (1994). Development of emotional expression and emotion regulation in infancy. In G. Dawson & K.W. Fischer (Eds.), Human behavior and the developing brain (pp. 346-379). New York: Guilford.
Green, A. (1975). The analyst, symbolization, and absence in the analytic setting (On changes in analytic practice and analytic experience)—In memory of D.W. Winnicott. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 56: 1-22.
Green, A. (1986). The dead mother. In: On Private Madness (pp. 142-173). London: Hogarth Press.
Green, A. (1995). Has sexuality anything to do with psychoanalysis? International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76:871-883.
Green, A. (2000). Science and science fiction. In J. Sandler, A-M. Sandler, & R. Davies, (Eds), Clinical and observational psychoanalytic research: Roots of a controversy (pp. 41-72). London: Karnac.
Green, A. (2002). Time and psychoanalysis. London: Free Association Books.
Green, A. (2003). Diachrony in psychoanalysis London: Free Association Books.
Kermode, F. (1985). Freud and interpretation. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 12: 3-12.
Kohon, G. (Ed.) (1999). The dead mother: The work of André Green. London: Routledge.
Ogden, T. (1997). Reverie and interpretation: Sensing something human. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Ogden, T. (1998). Subjects of analysis. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Parsons, M. (2000). The dove that returns, The dove that vanishes: paradox and creativity in psychoanalysis. London: Routledge.

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