Who is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream? A Study of Psychic Presences (Book Review)

Author:  Grotstein, James
Publisher: Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 2000
Reviewed By: Lawrence Hedges, Winter 2002, 37-40

Construction, Destruction, and the Deconstruction of Dreaming

Consider the soup of the universe. Imagine individual human minds coming to make sense of all that is relevant to their lives. Ponder the task of de-constructing the mental formations and operations we have each employed to construct our phenomenal worlds. Contemplate attempting to retrace our psychic paths far back into their ontogenetic and phylogenetic origins. Envisage disassembling, taking apart, analyzing the infinite mysteries and constructions of psyche. Occasionally comes a book daring enough to encompass such complexity and expanse—Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Bion’s Transformations (1965), Lacan’s Ècrits (1977)-and now Grotstein’s Who is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream?

A supersaturated text, Grotstein’s Magnus Opus represents the work of a lifetime linking the diverse psychoanalytic heritages of Freud, Klein, Bion, Lacan, Jung, Kohut and many others. The text integrates traditional as well as original psychoanalytic formulations with knowledge gleaned from the physical sciences, the social sciences, developmental psychology, neuropsychological research, philosophy, and mathematics. Those who have long thought psychoanalysis to be nothing but a conglomeration of ghosts and presences will find in this volume ample confirmation of their biases. However, those who, following Freud, seek after the ever-elusive mysteries of psyche will find the book mind-boggling and provocative. It weaves together Grotstein’s numerous themes that we have been following for decades into a massive and spellbinding tapestry. Those who practice psychoanalysis daily will find themselves, as Thomas Ogden suggests in the forward, on a tour de force not unlike that undertaken by Dante through the ghostly presences of The Inferno. I can only hint at a few of the rich threads that have caught my own imagination.

The Labyrinth and the Arena of Dreams

We have the Labyrinth, ancient representation in many forms of the home or prison house of our unconscious shadow, personified by the Greeks into the half-man, half-beast Minotaur. His sister, Ariadne, alone possesses the thread, the means of connection, that allows Theseus to challenge and triumph over the beast who demands ongoing human sacrifice. Grotstein establishes a developmental line of courage through which we haltingly and alternatingly meet and fail life’s challenges, each of us experiencing triumph and glory, defeat and shame, challenge and nemesis in our endeavors to construct phenomenal worlds that serve our senses and our sensibilities. Through the ineffable worlds of our day and night dreams and our dreaming processes we passionately pursue Ariadne’s delicate thread wending our way through the interminable challenges of the Labyrinth of our unconscious in search of an ongoing sense of aliveness, well-being, wholeness, and safety. Asks Grotstein, how do our phenomenal constructions arise out of the infinite and the ineffable? Who is the dreamer who threads through these dreams?

“Dreams are dramatic narrations written, directed, and produced by a composite dreamer who is unknown to us, who employs narrative as the instrument of phantasy and myth and uses neurophysiological perception-namely, visualization-to organize the chaotic, fragmented accretions of mental pain left over as residues of yet one more day of existence. What we commonly call a dream is the visual transformation of a never-ending pageant of events in the internal world….we never stop dreaming….There is a dream audience who anticipates the dream and requisitions it from the dream producer in order to recognize its own problems and resonate with its own hostaged self...,which is forged in the smithy of dream work by the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream….In the rhythmic concordance between the dream actor and the dream audience, the preliminary certification of one’s emerging authenticity occurs preparatory to a real certification through experience in the real world….The Dreamer Who Understands the Dream is the audience that verifies the passion of the dreamer….it is also the barrier that contains the dream….the background that compels the foreground hypothesis to remain in the foreground until it has become sufficiently defined, at which time authentication, correlation, and self-publication are established…. “ (pp 10-12).

Grotstein formulates that within this ongoing dream arena each human hypothesis, attempt, and endeavor to make sense of the truth of the universal soup (Bion’s “O”, 1970) is measured between the ever-eliding I who produces and acts the dreaming, and the audience I who requisitions and certifies the dream hypothesis-that momentary thin thread of resonating meaning and truth. Each sensation (Bion’s beta elements) leads toward dream hypotheses that build on the ones that have gone before (including preconceptions) through an endless series of externally derived containing (alpha) functions-metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor, and metathesis (condensation and displacement) towards yet higher processes of thought (Bion’s Grid, 1977).

Against this imaginary backdrop of a passion play in the Labyrinth of the unconscious that can only originate in and evolve through transformations deriving out of Bion’s universal, ineffable O, Grotstein considers numerous historical, theoretical, and clinical issues brought forward through more than a century of psychoanalytic study. I will pick up on two of Grotstein’s themes that have become particularly important in the current trend toward “relational psychoanalysis,” (1) the destruction of the internalized other giving rise to subjectivity and (2) the construction of a diversity of analytic thirds.

The Destruction of the Internalized Other Giving Rise to Subjectivity

Donald Winnicott, pediatrician-psychoanalyst, formulates that babies from conception are caught up in endless relating to others in an almost knee-jerk fashion which proceeds through a series of developmental progressions (1969). Grotstein describes the experiences of fear and pain in early childhood that gradually buildup internalized (learned patterns of) persecutory expectation that determine the child’s ongoing organization of perception. At some point the child develops willfulness and starts using others for her or his own purposes-in the words of Heinz Kohut, for confirmation of the sense of self (1971). The child aims its aggressive destruction at these subjectively formed controlling internal persecutory others-images that are projectively superimposed upon real others-in an effort to destroy them as perceived obstacles to its aims and pursuits. After the child’s destructive energy toward the persecutory others is spent and the internal persecutors destroyed there remains (hopefully) a loving, supporting, attuned, patient, and containing real other relatively untainted by persecutory projections. Relational psychoanalysts (such as Jessica Benjamin, 1995) celebrate this moment of survival of the real other as the emergence of full awareness of the subjectivity of the self and of the other. Co-creation and enactment of this emotional moment within the transference-countertransference matrix of psychoanalysis allows the analyst to be experienced with her/his own subjectivity and for the analysand to recuperate her/his lost subjectivity. Grotstein expands our understanding of this process by distinguishing between natural enemies, internal persecutors, and the ultimate enemy-infantile states of trauma during which the child was overwhelmed by experiences with O that could not be adequately processed at the time.

“Our fears of our own destructive feelings [projected and then re-introjected] lead to confusion between the persecutor and the true enemy that threatens us and our loved ones. The Minotaur is our persecutor, that is, we have created it through projective identification; it is ourselves. The true enemy…is in the Real…Bion’s O….One’s rendezvous with the metaphoric labyrinth [of the unconscious] and the Minotaur (objects of challenge or nemesis) requires differentiating between the infantile neurosis and the infantile/childhood traumatic state (infantile catastrophe), differentiating between [persecutor and enemy]” (p. 207).

“We may properly fear the other as our natural, pro tempore enemy, but we feel persecuted by how we believe we have unconsciously altered the other with our projective attributions. “(p. 158).

The Construction of a Diversity of Analytic Thirds

At the center of the contemporary relational movement within psychoanalysis is the study of a third relational force, vector, entity, or space variously considered and designated by different writers. Ogden’s (1994) well defined Analytic Third Subject of Analysis stands as an unconsciously co-created, reified, and personified third subject of the analysis that actively informs both participating subjects of the state of their unconscious relatedness, especially through the medium of the analyst’s states of reverie. The following brief quotes illustrate Grotstein’s multiple formulation approach highlighting a variety of different and interesting ways of considering thirdness that resist reification and personification.

“Winnicott placed the subjectively created, illusional object in potential space, apart from the real object, while Klein would see a perceptual and conceptual confusion between what the infant or toddler creates and the real object….Ogden (1994b) retains Winnicott’s (1967) concept of potential space and there locates a bivalent subjective object, that of ‘the analytic third’….During the course of analysis it is experienced as a ‘subjugating subjectivity,’ Ogden’s innovative way of designating what may also be called ‘the transference-countertransference neurosis’ (Grotstein, 1994b, 1995a)” (p. 163).

“Internal objects…constitute psychical presence, a third force within the psyche (third in regard to the subject and the external object as the first two). Since they result from splitting, projective identification and introjective identification…internal objects must be thought of as third internal entities, paralleling another thirdness, Ogden’s (1994b, 1997) “intersubjective third” [which] owes its provenance to the analysand’s own subjugating (demanding) id and superego, in addition to those of the analyst” (p. 160).

“The concept of third form comes from the Kleinian notion of the “internal object” and its phantasmal creation via splitting and projective identification….which thereupon is transformed in the infant’s mind-as a third form” (p. 171).

“Insofar as [the subjugating third] is operant as a manipulating or controlling (even if analytically informative) force, I believe that this third subject is the equivalent of what Mason (1994) terms folie à deux or mutual projective identification (mutual hypnosis) and what Girard (1972) terms mimesis” (p.137).

“By psychoanalytic object I understand Bion to mean the unconscious theme that the analysand maximally presents for understanding and interpretation…. That is, the analytic object becomes the ongoing theme which the “subjugating third subject”…presents to both analysand and analyst for them to play out, to understand, and to interpret” (p. 114-115).

“I myself regard the subjugating subjective third subject as a twinship of subjectivities in which that of the analysand normally predominates over the subjectivity of the analyst so that the former can direct the analytic play, as it were…” (p. 108).

A designation other than subjugating third is required, in my opinion, to encompass Bion’s (1970) concept of reverie and transformations, or evolutions, in O. What Bion’s concept refers to is not situated in the mutual force field created by the subjugating third; instead, it approximates the idea of “meditative surrender” (pp 137-138).

“[T]he infantile neurosis of the infant paradoxically exists both separately and inextricably bound to that of each of his parents. The mysterious third subject…is who the infant is supposed to be, from the infant’s and the parents’ perspectives. Thus, the infant, because of developmentally progressive object-usage phantasies, experiences guilt toward the maternal, then paternal, then combined parental superego. Each of the parents, as well as the parents together as a parental group also experiences guilt toward the child, who was given them in “trusteeship.” The Oedipus complex is a complex of guilt and sacrifice involving each member and subgroup of the oedipal family intersubjectivly. At issue is how best to conceive and treat patients who have been seriously victimized” (pp 262-263).

“Child abuse implicates the psychology of the abusive family and culture….[Numerous researchers have] dealt with the apparent transmission of psychopathology from one generation to the other….One aspect of this transmission leads to the concept of the ‘Pietà covenant’ as a covenant of ‘thirdness’….The contributing subjects seek to protect and, unconsciously, abuse or be abused or controlled by this third subject” (p. 263-264).

“We can perhaps conceive that the covenant binding man to God (what Christians call the Holy Ghost) comprises a ‘subjugating thirdness’ whose omnipotent power of subjugating His worshipers arises from the projective identification of their ego ideals ‘unto Him’…(p. 277).

The flaw of Grotstein’s rich text (if it is ever correct to speak of extravagant scholarship as a flaw) is its seeming over-inclusiveness which gives the book a sense of over-complexity-when, in fact, the author’s ideas, when considered slowly and carefully are clearly stated, well documented, and highly evocative.

References

Benjamin, J. (1995). Like subjects, love objects: Essays on recognition and sexual difference. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Bion, W. R. (1965). Transformations: Change from learning to growth. New York: Basic Books.
Bion, W. R. (1977). Two papers: The grid and the caesura, ed. J. Salomâo. Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora.
Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. Standard Edition, 5:339-630. London: Hogarth Press.
Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Universities Press.
Lacan, J. (1966). Ècrits. Tr. A Sheridan. New York: Norton,1977.
Ogden, T. (1994). Subjects of analysis. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.
Winnnicott, D. W. (1969). The use of the object and relating through identification. In: Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock, 1971, pp. 86-9 

Reviewer Note

Lawrence E. Hedges, PhD, ABPP is a psychologist-psychoanalyst in private practice in Orange, California, specializing in the training of psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. He is director of the Listening Perspectives Study Center and the founding director of the Newport Psychoanalytic Institute. He holds faculty appointments at the California Graduate Institute and the University of California, Irvine, Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Hedges holds Diplomates from The American Board of Professional Psychology and The American Board of Forensic Examiners. He is author of numerous papers and books on the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

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