BION'S "TRANSFORMATION IN 'O'" AND
THE CONCEPT OF THE "TRANSCENDENT POSITION"
by James S. Grotstein
Bion, who was to become the awesome explorer of the "deep and formless infinite" of the psyche, first immersed himself in the theories of Freud and Klein and then gradually developed a revolutionary metapsychological metatheory for psychoanalysis. Bion incurred the criticism of his colleagues by daring to investigate faith, spirituality, religion, mysticism, metaphysics, and fetal mental life. His concepts of transformations in L(ove), H(ate), and K(nowledge), as well as of intuitionistic and subjective science [Transformations in "O" (Ultimate Truth, Absolute Reality)], constitute an objective and numinous psychoanalytic epistemology.
Bion was preoccupied with the concept of ultimate reality and absolute truth and reoriented psychoanalytic metapsychology into a theory of thinking and meta-thinking about emotions. He distinguished the "thoughts-without-a-thinker" from the mind that had to develop in order to think them. I believe that his concept of "intuitionistic thinking" also presumes the presence of a more profound aspect of that mind: Not only did a mind develop to harvest the "thoughts without a thinker," but another aspect of the mind had to originate these "unthought thoughts." I believe that Bion came to a realization that true "thinking" ("dream work alpha" along the dimensions of "L, H, and K") is an unconscious -- if not preconscious -- act and that what we normally term "thinking" (application of the ordinate and abscissa of the "Grid") is really "after-thinking."
By realigning psychoanalysis with metaphysics and ontology (existentialism), Bion perforated the mystique of ontic "objectivity" implicit to logical-positivistic, deterministic science and revealed its own unsuspected mythology--its absolute dependence on sense data. Applying his concept of reversible perspective, he found myths, both collective and personal, to be themselves "scientific deductive systems" in their own right (Bion, 1992). Mostly, Bion founded a new mystical science of psychoanalysis, a numinous discipline based on the abandonment of memory, desire, and understanding. To Bion, mysticism is "seeing things as they truly are -- without disguise" (personal communication). He was preoccupied with the question of how we know what we know.
In this contribution I emphasize my understanding of Bion as the intuitionistic
epistemologist, the "emotional mathematician" (Bion, 1965), the
"mystical scientist" (Bion, 1970), the intrepid voyager into the deep and
formless infinite, "O." I suggest that a "Transcendent Position"
is implied by Bion's conception of "O," the latter of which overarches "nameless
dread," beta elements, the "thing-in-themselves," the noumenon,
"absolute truth," "ultimate reality," and "reverence and
BION'S EPISTEMOLOGICAL ODYSSEY INTO THE "DEEP AND FORMLESS INFINITE"
"O" is perhaps Bion's most far-reaching conception. It designates an ineffable, inscrutable, and constantly evolving domain that intimates an aesthetic completeness and coherence. He refers to it by different terms, "Absolute Truth," "Ultimate Reality," or "reverence and awe." When preternaturally personified, it is called "God." The "Keter-Ayn-Sof" of the Zohar Kabbalah translated it as "Nothing" (Scholem, 1960; Bloom, 1983), a designation Bion (1962, 1963, 1965) focused on as the "no-thing." "O" lies beyond the grasp of the external senses and is only experienced by an inwardly receptive sense organ, intuition, Bion's "seventh servant." Intuition is observation's reversible perspective, the latter requiring the senses. A transformation in "O" is attainable only by the disciplined abandonment of memory, desire, understanding, sense impressions -- and perhaps also the abandonment of ego itself. Ultimate Reality is also associated with Bion's "beta elements," Kant's "things-in-themselves," Lacan's "Register of the Real," primal chaos (today we would say "complexity"), and yet, paradoxically, primal harmony and serenity, depending on the maturity of our capacity to be "at-one" with it. The Greeks called it "Ananake" (Necessity). Milton (1667) alluded to it as "the deep and formless infinite" and "the Void," and Blake (1789-1794; Frye, 1947) referred to it as "fearful symmetry" and "frightful fiend." I have dealt with this area of numinousness as the "background presence of primary identification" (Grotstein, 1978, 1979) and as the "Black Hole" (1990a, 1990b).
The concept of "O," beginning with "thoughts without a thinker," the "things-in-themselves," "beta elements," "memoirs of the future," and "inherent preconceptions" transcended both Freud's Unconscious and its constant conjunction with infantile sexuality and Klein's concepts of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Bion replaced Freud's concepts of the id, the unconscious, and the "seething cauldron" with an epistemic function that harkens back to the creative role of the unconscious in the construction of dreams and jokes (Freud, 1900, 1905). Bion revealed the ineffable matrix, the container beyond the container of our existence, the eternally unsaturated Void, one that undermines every deterministic certainty with a mocking transcending doubt.
Bion's conception of the "container/contained" (1959) transformed Klein's intrapsychic psychology into an interpersonal or intersubjective one. At the same time, Bion elevated the concept of the death instinct into the infant's fear of dying, which the containing mother must in turn suffer in order to detoxify it in her reverie function (dreamwork alpha). When he described the mother's need to "translate" her infant's dire messages into meaning, he entered the field of epistemology. He described how normal thinking begins as the projective identification by the infant of its "fear of dying" into the mother, whose reverie helps her to bear, absorb, and "translate" her infant's fears into meaning. Bion's "Theory of Thinking" (1962) went further in the direction of epistemology. Starting with Klein's (1928) concept of the epistemophilic instinct and grafting onto it his concepts of L (love), H (hate), and K (knowledge) relatedness, he had "second thoughts" about his formulations regarding the psychotic's difficulty in thinking (Bion, 1967). His new approach was characterized by a change from a strictly Kleinian emphasis on the intrapsychic destruction of the breast to a destructiveness directed interpersonally and intrapsychically against the L, H, and K relatedness (links) to the object (de Bianchedi, 1995). In his next series of contributions, Bion established an evolving theorem of epistemological concepts that included: (a) alpha function, (b) alpha elements, (c) beta elements, (d) constant conjunctions, (e) invariants, (f) reversible perspectives, (g) the grid, (h) "common sense," (i) correlation, and (j) the vertices. His theories innovatively portrayed how the normal person thinks and processes the data of emotional experiences as psychological facts ("K") in contrast to how the psychotic person "thinks" ("-K"). The concept of the vertices allowed Bion to describe how many different points of view were needed to establish a consensus for an ultimate portrayal of Truth. In Cogitations Bion cites many scholars to demonstrate the limitations of science and concludes that psychoanalysis is an emotional, numinous, and mathematical science.
With Transformations (1965) Bion made his next epistemological foray, describing Truth as "O," a domain extraterritorial to the reality that we all, except for Lacan (1966) had taken for granted. He also adumbrated the concept of the mystic, whom he analogized with the hero and/or messiah, ideas that he was to develop at greater length in his later works (Bion, 1965, 1970, 11992). Bion left behind the preconceptions of the psychoanalytic establishment and ventured inward in a soul-searching, mystic journey. I have come to believe that this journey led him to transcend the positivistic certainty of psychoanalytic ontic determinism and "messianically" return it to its proper home in numinous parallax and doubt, where the mystic and relativistic "science of man" truly resides. Bion thus forged a psychoanalytic metatheory based on an epistemology of elements, functions, and transformations relating to the mental and emotional processing of Truth and ultimately on the fundamental universality of "O."
"Common sense" comprises the congruence of the individual senses and the coordination of that congruence with the consensus of others to arrive at K, which is then abstracted into its basic common denominators -- and then reconstructed into new meanings via intuition. "Catastrophic change" is the ineluctable event that catalyzes these changes with the inexorable occurrence of "emotional turbulence" (Bion, 1970, 1992). Once Bion formulated the transformations in "L,", "H," and "K" in their positive and negative forms and transformations in "O," he entered into a new metaphysical domain, the only passport to which was the abandonment of emotional and sensual L, H, and K. In this domain one must "feel" by intuiting rather than by sensing. Nevertheless Bion (1965, 1970, 1992) strongly suggests that "common sense," the final arbiter of K and ultimately of "O," represents the conflation, not only of the external senses, both of the individual and of the consensual Other, but also the verdict of the inner sense organ, intuition.
Ultimate Reality, that which is beyond the senses, beyond our imagination, and beyond our conception, belongs to the category of a meta-conceptualization that includes Ultimate Unknowable Truth, chaos, the thing-in-itself, and the so-called "beta elements." It also includes Plato's Theory of Eternal Forms and Bion's "thoughts without a thinker," by which he means "inherent preconceptions" or "memoirs of the future," those inherent entities that search for confirming realizations in conjured moieties, emptied of pre-existing meaning and anticipated in their natural future. "Thoughts without a thinker" derive from "O." They are the "unborns," the "intimations of immortality" that we seemingly experience as located within our inner cosmos, but they are placeless, unlocatable. They cannot be found because they can never be the object; they can only enhance our sense of subjectivity.
"O" overarches Heaven and Hell ("nameless dread") in its paradoxical sweep. It is what it is and therefore is beyond knowing. One may either experience "O" as ultimate dread or as beatific serenity, depending on the vertex of emotional maturity and preparedness from which one approaches it. I believe that we are born into "O" (or the "Real," in Lacan's  terminology) and are hopefully rescued under the beneficent canopy of the organizing and mediating "filters" of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions (sequentially, alternately, and in parallel). Randomness (chaos) is, with mother's reverie, transformed into phantasies and then into symbolic meaning in the depressive position. The libidinal and death instincts serve to signify, express, and mediate the infant's distress about its experiences of randomness. "O" is inchoate and occurs before the paranoid-schizoid position -- and awaits our transcendence beyond the depressive position so that we may be rejoined -- for a moment -- with it. Bion's concept of "O" seems to be circular. It is within us, around us, and beyond us -- as well as before us and after us; we temporally proceed from it, through it, and toward it. T.S. Eliot's (1943) "The end is where we start from..." says it well. "O" as our mystically directed trajectory fulfills Plato's conception, "That which is always becoming" -- but never really attained. It is like Marlowe's description of Tamburlaine's Samarkand, "always on the horizon, ever distant, always receding." Bion introduced us to a cosmic domain that spatially, temporally, philosophically, and existentially existed beyond our sensual capacity to comprehend, although psychotics and mystics have always known of its existence.
For Bion, we become "O" through a transubjective mystical realization, a
resonance or "communion in 'O'." The object slides under the mystic signifier in
order to prepare us for a transient glimpse of fleeting, ineffable Truth. This process
constitutes contemplation without an object to contemplate. It is a totally
intra-subjective, meditative transformation. Enjoining us to abandon the objects of
sensation -- abandon memory, desire, and understanding -- Bion reaffirmed the rationale
for sensory deprivation in psychoanalytic technique (so that we may look inward). He also
joined the ancient tradition of the mystics, such as Meister Eckhart (Fox, 1980, 1981),
Ibn 'Arabi (Sells, 1994), Isaac Luria (Sells, 1994), and the early Christian and Hebrew
mystics, particularly the Gnostics (Pagels, 1979), who had discovered that, through
asceticism and self-abnegation, one could look inward and find the immanent and incarnate
God. Bion discovered for psychoanalysis the technique of intuition taken in its
literal sense, "looking inward," by foreswearing the glimpse of the external
object. "'O' is a dark spot that must be illuminated by blindness," he stated
(Bion, 1970, p. 88). Bion liberally translated a letter by Freud to Lou Andreas Salomé
(1966) as: "The analyst must cast a beam of intense darkness into the interior of the
patient's associations so that some object that has hitherto been obscured in the light
can now glow in that darkness" (Bion, personal communication). He discovered that
awareness of the transcending and transcendent awesomeness of our inner world -- that
which we have called the Unconscious -- when released from its positivistic strictures is,
as the mystics have long believed, the inner presence of the "Immanent or Incarnate
God," one who is in direct connection with the ineffable and inscrutable
"Godhead." It is the Subject of subjects; the unconscious is never meant to be
-- nor can it ever be -- the object. In brief, Bion, standing on Freud's and Klein's
shoulders, transcended instinctual drive, ego, and object-relations theory and helped us
find our mysterious way to "Intra-Subjectivity" by daring to rejoin us to that
branch of epistemology, metaphysics, that has lurked in the shadow of psychoanalytic
respectability. He formulated a unified field theory or metatheory for
psychoanalysis, in which "O" served as the unifying element that allowed for the
continuation of the individual's personal unconscious in the cosmic vastness of ultimate
THE TRUTH AND "O"
Bion contrasted "truth" and its opposite, the lie. Bion believed that truth is as necessary for mental growth as food is for physical growth, and the lie is the negative validation of the truth that needs to be disavowed. Bion believed that the truth spoke for itself and therefore required no thinker, whereas the liar did require a thinker. Bion seems to emphasize the importance of the pre-conceptions of the unconscious as the yet unconfirmed intimations of truths that need to be realized by contact with their anticipated "memoir"-counterparts from the future. The ego, in seeking to disguise, repress, or alter the unconscious, becomes disingenuous and dissembles the truth. The lie (-K), in Bion's thinking, is a negative faith that replaces the faith that either never appeared sufficiently or which defaulted because of the loss of innocence. I understand Bion here as alluding to the profound demoralization which occurrs after a catastrophic change and a failure of proper transformation from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. This demoralization is also a failure, I believe, of the holding environment as well as the containing environment, i.e., the background presence of primary identification (Grotstein, 1981). This state presupposes that the infant has prematurely plummeted into the Real ("O") before being baptized by the blessed protection of the covenant of parental imagination and conception. This now hapless one is predisposed to a cataclysmic "orphandom of the Real" ("O") and is impelled to swear a new allegiance to the dark (and only) savior, -K. Bion (1977) describes this phenomenon as the postnatal persistence of fetal existence in which the fetus has become prematurely aware of pain and then closed off, forfeiting its developmental and maturational future.
Bion postulated that "common sense," and "sense, myth, and passion" are stereoscopic locators for ultimate correlation with one's emotions. He invoked a series of interdisciplinary perspectives that he believed would be impervious to the sensuous pull to which verbal language was subject. These are the vertices, or perspectives of (a) mathematics and logic for their abstract clarifications, (b) science for the generalizing capacity of its deductive systems, (c) myths for their ability, like scientific deductive systems, to detect constant conjunctions, (d) aesthetics for its ability to represent the whole pre-formed gestalt, the backdrop and landscape of Absolute Reality, (e) the religious (or spiritual) because it relates to man's need to worship a God Whom he cannot objectify, and (f) the mystical for the elegant simplicity with which one can contemplate the Ultimate without objectifying it.
In Bion's conception of "O," we are introduced to the possibility of a mental activity which may transcend what is ordinarily meant by "thinking." We have to be curious, unsaturated, and ready for the unexpected, Bion believes. Once we encounter it -- perhaps it is better to say that once we are encountered by the unexpected "it" and are able to allow its entry into us by our readiness to tolerate it (because we are able to attenuate our fears of its potential awesomeness) - we process it as it processes us. We unconsciously stamp it with the imprimatur of our personalness (autochthony), that is, we allow ourselves to "create" it imaginatively before "discovering" it and then allow it to be internalized and enter into the digestive alchemy of transformation. "Thinking" for Bion was not a conscious, intentional act. By allowing familiarity with the unfamiliar, we allow thoughts without a thinker to be thought about by a receptive mind that realizes the presence of a lost yet remembered echo-moiety from its future. The "memoir of the future" now has a home-mind in which it can play and be played with -- thoughtfully -- in the preconscious. Thus August von Kekulé could discover the hexagonal ring of carbon molecules that defined the aromatic series of hydrocarbons -- but not through conscious thought. He could only intuitively anticipate this thought without a thinker. It was in his dream that the realization was able to make its dramatic epiphany.
The "thinker who thinks the thoughts" is akin to the "dreamer who dreams the dream" and the "dreamer who understands the dream" (Grotstein, 1981b). The "thinker who understands the thoughts" is the constantly expectant internal playmate of this unsaturated, disciplined unconscious thinker. Together, they patiently await the entry from the future of their unknown but always suspected "thought without a thinker," who becomes their transient infant thought as it transforms them into a childless but expectant empty couple of the next epistemic generation. The point is that thoughts seem to think themselves if we are optimally able to allow them their intercourse in our tolerantly receptive containers. Perhaps what we call thinking, consequently, constitutes the afterthoughts and "bare-bones" derivatives from a numinous thinking couple.
Bion united Freud's (1911a) concept of two principles of mental functioning (primary and secondary process) as indivisible complementary functions under the concept of alpha function, which originates in mother's reverie as she absorbs, detoxifies, and then "translates" her infant's cries of distress into acceptable meaning. He rendered bonding and attachment into a primitive epistemological feat. Eventually the infant introjects mother's alpha function and becomes its own "thinker." In Cogitations (1992), however, Bion used the new term "dream work alpha." The concept of "dream work alpha" as opposed to "alpha function" conveys a more profound sense of intimacy on the part of the analyst with the patient as well as the mother with her infant. The analyst must "dream" (daydream) the patient, or, in my way of understanding the concept, the analyst must absorb the essence of the patient. Bion's concept of alpha function altered the understanding of projective identification from an intra-psychic to an interpersonal one. It implied a new respect for countertransference phenomena and, even more to the point, significantly anticipated the advent of the post-modern intersubjective paradigm.
Further, it would seem that dream work alpha suggests that both parties, the analyst and the patient, should "surrender" to the analytic experience; that is, they both must enter into a meditative trance. I believe that this "surrender" presupposes that the analyst, whose disciplined behavior allows the patient the experience of reasonable safety in the analytic procedure, has already "transcended" (in the Jungian sense of regular, successive developmental progression) his own persecutory anxieties in the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive anxieties (manic and depressive defenses) against mourning and against acknowledgment of dependency on the object [Klein, 1940]). Bion (1970) is very specific about the requisite experience for the analyst:
In every session the psycho-analyst should be able...to be aware of the
aspects of the material that, however familiar they seem to be, relate to what is unknown
both to him and the analysand. Any attempt to cling to what he knows must be resisted for
the sake of achieving a state of mind analogous to the paranoid-schizoid position. For
this state I have coined the term 'patience' to distinguish it from 'paranoid-schizoid
position'....I mean this term to retain its association with suffering and tolerance of
Patience should be retained without 'irritable reaching after fact and reason' until a pattern 'evolves.' This state is analogous to what Melanie Klein called the depressive position. For this state I use the term 'security'...I consider that no analyst is entitled to believe that he has done the work required to give an interpretation unless he has passed through both phases-- 'patience' and 'security'...In short, a sense of achievement of a correct interpretation will be commonly found to be followed by a sense of depression (p. 124).
I would modify and extend Bion's conception. I believe that there are three, not two, positions (the third being the "transcendent") involved in the analyst's reverie-containment mode, and three requisite affects apposite to them: (a) "patience," (b) "security," and (c) "serenity." Firstly, I will introduce my conception of the "transcendent position" with some of my own conjectures. I believe we must revise the traditional psychoanalytic conception of the unconscious away from Freud's "seething cauldron" (Freud, 1923). Matte-Blanco (1975, 1988), Noy (1969), Weininger (19930, and others conceive of the unconscious as an affective cognitive module that specializes in the abstractions of similarities and is governed primarily by the principles of symmetry and infinity. The "drives" are for Matte-Blanco merely semiotic signifiers of the infinite sets of the unconscious. In order to avoid the extremes of infinity and symmetry, however, MatteBlanco constructs the unconscious along various categories or strata of bi-logic structures. These are dominated by negation asymmetrically and-on one hand-by the principle of distinction and -- on the other-by the principle of symmetry or infinitization-generalization. In other words, on the higher strata of mind, one is predominantly discriminating, whereas on the lower aspects of mind, one generalizes and loses distinctions. Ultimate asymmetry, which MatteBlanco designates as the "indivisible mode," represents absolute infinitization (Grotstein, 1997) and a cataclysmic descent into the zero dimension of psychic space (Grotstein, 1978). I think this is what Lacan (1966) means by the Register of the "Real," a dimensionless domain of brute "Reality" that exists beyond or before the capacity of the Imaginary or Symbolic Registers (consensual reality) to process or to encode. Lacan's "Real" is equivalent to Kant's "thing-in-itself" and Bion's "O" (Absolute Reality, Ultimate Truth). The Imaginary and Symbolic Registers render these numina into experienced phenomena. The inability to process numina into phenomena confers upon the former the quality of infinite "nameless dread" (Bion, 1962, 1963).
In addition, I believe there is a difficulty in Klein's concept of the depressive position. The issue is a complicated one, but I will try to deal with it briefly. Klein conceived of the depressive position before its predecessor, the paranoid-schizoid position. Originally, her concept of the depressive position included the development of a persecutory superego which made the infant feel depressed because of the burden of feelings consequent to its phantasied and real attacks on the breast-mother. After she developed the concept of the paranoid-schizoid position, she differentiated persecutory anxiety from depressive anxiety. Klein's concept of depression was based on Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia" and his differentiation between the narcissistic incapacity to mourn, which resulted in depression, and mourning itself, which allowed relief. Thus, Klein's concept of the depressive position ultimately devolved into a paradox. She originally had spoken of the depressive position as the seat of clinical depressive illness which had to be overcome in order for the person to become well. Later, as she considered the persecutory anxiety of the paranoid-schizoid position, the depressive position became more sublimated and idealized and devolved into a distant goal for mental health. The problem is that the depressive position carries with it the notion of clinical depressive illness-which designates the failure of the infant to mourn the object -- as well as the feelings of guilt and remorse for damage caused to the object. The confusion in the Kleinian conception of the depressive position has to do with the confusion between successful "mourning" and unsuccessful clinical depressive illness (depression, melancholia). The two are related but are fundamentally incompatible.
Klein had alluded to a horizontal dialectical tension between the split egos and internal objects within the paranoid-schizoid position as follows: P-S [BO]« P-S [GO], and Bion postulated a reversible dialectical tension between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions (P-S«D). His conception of "nameless dread," the "thing-in-itself," and "O" strongly suggest another dialectical tension, one between each of the two known positions and "O," the transcendent position, (P-S « D) « "O." I would emphasize Klein's original concept of infant's need to transcend the depressive position, that is, to free itself not only of persecutory anxieties but also of depressive anxieties, to complete mourning and reach the position of solitude and serenity-- without objects to contemplate--the transcendent position.
The importance of this in terms of Bion's epistemology is as follows: In the paranoid-schizoid position the infant has its first painful interaction with its part objects and then has to process how it has imaginatively (autochthonously) created these objects in phantasy in order to render them intact, separate, and whole, to mourn them, and to allow them to return as evocative symbolic images in the depressive position. L(ove) and H(ate) are the epistemologies evolved in the paranoid-schizoid position. K(nowledge) is the attribute of the depressive position, but K, too, is the consequence of the sense impressions. Bion wanted to get beyond this, to "O," which has to do with intuition which itself is ultrasensual. One cannot know "O;" One must resonate with it in a transformation or evolution in "O." In other words, one has left the domain of phantasy (in the paranoid-schizoid position) and of objective (K)nowledge (in the depressive position) and is now in the realm of a realization beyond knowing, a concept that approaches faith and coherence. I believe that the schizoid mechanisms Klein described (1946) govern mental life in the paranoid-schizoid position and are comparable to Freud's (1900) conception of dreamwork (displacement and condensation). They constitute the mythopoeic function that comprises Bion's (1962, 1963, 1992) alpha function or dreamwork alpha. In other words, the paranoid-schizoid position mediates "O" and all its associated beta elements (things-in-themselves) by transforming them into mythemes (unconscious phantasies of "good objects" and "bad objects") in anticipation of transformations in K in the depressive position where they become symbols and can be spoken of in language about objects.
Thus I believe that another position, which I call the transcendent position, is required to accomodate the conception of transformations and evolutions in "O." Whereas the paranoid-schizoid position prepares for the ability to know K, and the depressive position allows for the actual knowing of K, K is always the object to be known. In the transcendent position, the object dissolves into the ultimate, ineffable Subject. There is no object in the transcendent position. "O" not only involves a transformation and evolution from the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, it also involves a resonance with a total subjectivity. One intuits -- internally "senses" -- the objectlessness of the object without ever contemplating it, yet experiences its presence. In the transcendent position, the individual must forsake the presence of the object in order to look inward into his or her own subjectivity. Thus, in the transcendent position one experiences the quintessence of subjectivity that transcends (for the moment) object relations. It is the apotheosis of solitude and the attainment of serenity.
I believe that "O" is a general metaphysical metaphor for the "dark matter" of our inner and outer worlds. "O" includes Freud's drives, his (1923) "seething cauldron," Freud's (1923) and Klein's (1923) death instinct. Bion's (1962, 1963) "nameless dread," Winnicott's (1988) "chaos," Grotstein's (1990) "black hole." "O" is the inchoate chaos that even precedes the paranoid-schizoid position. At the same time, "O" represents serenity and harmony. The problem is not with "O" but with the human being's position in regard to it. When persecutory and depressive anxieties subside and the individual is able to transcend the depressive position, that sense of serenity is experienced that belongs to transformations and evolutions in "O." From this point of view, "O" is primal. Psychic reality is "O," not the drives or affects that describe or mediate it. In mental processing, we must experience "O" and then be able to (self)-reflect upon it in K and then use this K, with the help of the analyst's own "O," to return to higher, ever-evolving "O" in the spiraling cycle of transformations.
As a consequence of these assumptions, I believe that Bion is saying that the primary
and most fundamental of all anxieties is the ontic, "nameless dread," of
"O," and that the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions with their
respective persecutory and depressive anxieties constitute filters or techniques or
strategies for mediating this ontic terror. Put another way, the schizoid mechanisms of
the paranoid-schizoid position and the defenses of the depressive position constitute the
infant's normal "manic defenses" against the Void insofar as they provide a
canopy of protective myth and consensual knowledge.
BACKGROUND OF THE TERM "TRANSCENDENT"
The term transcendent emerges from the work of Kant (1787), Wittgenstein (1933-1935), Heidegger (1927, 1968), and by Jung (1916) and some of Jung's followers (Dehing, 1993; Solomon, 1994). Bion refers to transcendence as follows:
My object is to show that certain elements in the development of psycho-analysis are not new or peculiar to analysis, but have in fact a history that suggests that they transcend barriers of race, time, and discipline, and are inherent in the relationship between the mystic and the group (Bion, 1970, p. 75).
--and on the next page:
One result of separation [between man and his god] is no direct access of the individual to the god with whom he used formerly to be on familiar terms. But the god has undergone a change as part of the process of discrimination. The god with whom he was familiar was finite; the god from whom he is now separated is transcendent and infinite (Bion, 1970, p. 76).
Transcendence belongs to an epistemological tradition that began with the pre-Socratic philosophers, flourished in Plato and Plotinus, continued in other forms in the so-called "mysteries," (Orphic, Eleusinian, and others), in the Hebrew Zohar Kabbalah and early Christian mystics, became prominent in the Gnostic Gospels and in Zoroastrianism, and was dealt with by later mystical writers such as Meister Eckhart, Ibn'Arabi, John Scotus Eriugena, Marguerite Porete. The concept was bleached out by the glare of the Enlightenment and dismissed by the certainty and determinism of logical positivism. It surfaced briefly with the transcendalistic movement of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth century and resurfaced again in the mystical works of Kierkegaard. It arose as a Zoroastrian revival in the works of Nietzsche and played a prominent position in Schreber's Denkwürdigkeiten.
The concept of mysticsm has always been respected in metaphysics. It is referred to in Hegel (1807) and in Kant's (1787) Critique of Pure Reason as the epistemological quest for the transcendent, particularly the "transcendent aesthetic." This concept found its consummate expression in the existential literature, such as Sartre and the works of Heidegger, who left us the legacy of his obsession with the nuances implicit in the subjectivity of Being -- in contrast to Hegel's legacy of the object.
Jung (1916) was the first psychoanalyst to appreciate its importance. Lacan had the most profound respect for mysticism, and his work can be read as an appreciation of its importance in mental life. Bion too respected the presence of a "moral" or "religious instinct" in man. Not formally religious himself, he was a secular mystic. Briefly put, Bion's works focus on the episteme of how man seeks and hides from the ineffable and represent a distillation of the collective wisdom of Western and Eastern civilizations. Reality, better known in its limited sense by most psychoanalysts as "external reality," had become so saturated that it shrunk into a positivistic enclave.
Heidegger (1968) explores transcendence from a metaphysical and existential point of view. His use of the term closely approaches Bion's.
Transcendence, in the Kantian sense, is above all, oriented to two possible ways of grasping the being-in-itself, on two essentially different sorts of intuition.... We must therefore distinguish the thing-in-itself qua appearance and qua thing-in-itself. 1) Proceeding from the correctly understood concept of the thing-in-itself, one can validly deduce the concept of appearance qua "finite" object. 2) Proceeding from appearance, one can show the "X" immanent in it qua thing itself, which is not, however, the "thing-in-itself" in the strict sense (Heidegger, 1978, p. 164).
And on the next page:
Transcendence is...the primordial constitution of the subjectivity of a subject. The subject transcends qua subject; it would not be a subject if it did not transcend. To be subject means to transcend (Heidegger, 1978, p. 165).
And later in the same work:
Transcendence is being-in-the world. Because it pertains to transcendence as such, world is a transcendental concept in the strictest sense of the term. In Kant "transcendental has a meaning equivalent to ontological but pertaining to the ontology of "nature" in the broadest sense. For us the term has the meaning equivalent to "fundamental ontolological" (Heidegger, 1978, p. 170).
Jung's (1916) use of transcendence seems more general in its application to development. He defines it as follows:
It means a psychological function (Collected Works 8, paragraph 131), combined ...of conscious and unconscious elements (CW 6, par. 184), a...discursive co-operation of conscious and unconscious factors (CW 10, par. 855). It is called transcendent "because it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible, without loss of the unconscious (CW 8, par 145) and because it facilitates the transition from one psychic condition to another by means of the mutual confrontation of opposites (CW 11, par. 780). The transcendent function unites the the pairs of opposites (DAI, p. 648; CW 14, par. 261; CW 18, par. 1554). It is linked closely with symbol formation... (Dehing, 1993, p. 16).
Ricoeur (1970), in his discussion of hermeneutics, says the following:
The only radical way to justify hermeneutics is to seek in the very
nature of reflective thought the principle of a logic of double meaning, a logic
that is complex but not arbitrary, rigorous in its articulations but irreducible to the
linearity of symbolic logic. This logic is no longer a formal logic, but a transcendental
logic established on the level of the conditions of possibility....Thus the logic of
double meanings, which is proper to hermeneutics, is of a transcendental order (p. 48).
THE CONCEPT OF "O" AS A REVISION OF THE NATURE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS
Bion (1965, 1970) would frequently cite Milton's phrase, "the deep and formless infinite" in regard to his comments about "O." He and Matte-Blanco (1975, 1988) ascribe the quality of infinity (dimensionally), of infinite sets (mathematically), and of chaos or complexity cosmically to the Unconscious. Freud's and Klein's perspectives on the nature of the unconscious were fundamentally constrained by their positivistic and deterministic assumptions. The libidinal and destructive drives represented the inchoate motor of the human will and, as a consequence, of its fate or destinty. Beginning with Winnicott's (1954) concept of "chaos" and Bion's (1965) concept of "O," as well as Matte-Blanco's (1975, 1988) concept of infinite sets, we begin to see a post-modern revision of the picture of the fundamental nature of the Unconscious. The "deep and formless infinite" is its nature. It is dimensionless, infinite, and chaotic, or, in Matte-Blanco's terms, symmetrical and infinitized. In other words, Bion's picture of the Unconscious, along with that of Winnicott and Matte-Blanco, conveys an ineffable, inscrutable, and utterly indefinable inchoate formlessness that is both infinite and chaotic--or complex--by nature. It is what it is and is always changing while paradoxically remaining the same. From this point of view, Freud's instinctual drives and Klein's paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions can be understood as secondary structures, strategies or filters, to assist the infant in mediating this chaos. Lacan (1966), in delineating this aspect of the Unconscious as the "Register of the Real," as distinguished from the "Registers of the Imaginary and the Symbolic," fortifies my view of Bion's conception of the Unconscious as inchoately chaotic--vis-a-vis any attempt to "understand" it or perceive it. The Unconscious, as the Subject of subjects, is "O" and is therefore, like the "Immanent God" with which it is associated, utterly uncontemplatable. The only way to access it is by resonance in "O" with it.
Chaos and infinity belong to, to use a term from Derrida, the "always already" formed transcendent position of the numinous thing-in-itself awaiting the act of creation and continuing re-creation. P-S organizes and mediates the horror of its awesome chaotic infinity by transforming beta elements into phantasies. In the depressive position, the phantasied part-objects are transformed into symbolic whole objects (K), which undergo the depressive and manic defenses against depressive anxiety and then undergo mourning. The successful mourner is then enabled to undergo a shift to a loftier but fleeting state, that of the transcendent, where serenity, composure, equanimity, harmony, and charity are possible for brief moments. One is not able to transcend in it until one has been able to tolerate, first the persecutory anxieties of the P-S and then the depressive anxieties, ambivalences, and mourning that inhere in the depressive position. Once there, one can be in communion with a sense of an Absolute Truth that one can tolerate never really knowing, i.e., truth lies in the gap made apparent by parallax.
What I believe that Bion had ultimately learned from his study of psychotics -- and from liars too, for that matter -- was that the psychotic, like the liar, is, by default, closer to "O" than to "K." In other words, the psychotic is not able sufficiently to exercise his "privileges" in the Registers of the Imaginary (unconscious phantasy) or the Symbolic. A precocious exposure to "O" is therefore his/her curse and default position. The psychotic, like the liar, confuses "O" with "K," whereas the normal and the neurotic individual confuse "K" with "O." By this I mean that psychotics confuse external reality with the thing-in-itself,without imaginary or symbolic disguise,whereas the normal or neurotic individual, being protectively screened from the "thing-in-itself," may not even know that it exists--were it not for the mystics such as Bion. They are talking about different realities.
It is my belief that the "transcendent position" represents the achievement of the state of meditative-like grace in which one experiences solitude with a serenity that transcends conflict. One has transcended the ontological skirmishes of the paranoid-schizoid position and the lugubrious agonies of the depressive position and has achieved the capacity for mourning, reparation, empathy, tolerance of ambivalence, and true love and caring. One must then continue an ontological pilgrimage to the next state, one of solitude with enlightenment and serenity where one is at peace with oneself and with the world, both internal and external. Whereas, when one was unprepared as an infant to confront the Register of the Real (e.g., chaos, beta elements, the things-in-themselves, inherent preconceptions, the "shadow side of God," the noumenon), one now as an individual who has "learned from experience" is privileged to be able to achieve serenity and to be at peace within the entire range of the Register of the Real. In its comprehensive capacity for "at-one-ment," the transcendent position reconciles virtually all the "vertices" or cosmic perspectives which inform Bion's higher epistemological endeavors, i.e., the scientific, mathematical, spiritual, mystical, noumenal, and aesthetic, to which I now add the transcendent.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is
charity (Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, 13:9-13).
In the Kaballah, according to Scholem (1962) and Bloom (1983), there once was a unitary
Godhead, but, in order for the world to be created, He had to "shrink" from His
primal cosmic Being to the inner ineffable Godhead ("Keter-Ayn-Sof"
["Nothing]) in order to become immanent. The immanent God has been referred to in
Greek texts as the "Demiurge," the creator of the world. When we are in a state
of "transformation in 'O,'" we believe we are at one with the Godhead itself,
the Ultimate Subject. "God," the Demiurge, is the colloquial way in which we
innocently yet sacrilegiously refer to Him (as Object, which He never can become).
Ultimately, if we can tolerate "O," we are in a state of serenity that is
experienced by the mystic. Yet we must also be prepared for the dark face of
"O," i.e., "O's" reversible perspective, the ineluctable journey to
which Bion (1979) cryptically refers to as "Dawn of Oblivion."
"THE TRANSCENDENT SUBJECT OF BEING"
Bion, like Lacan, moved away from deterministic object relatedness towards the phenomenon of Subjectivity and found, like the mystics, that Being experiences its own Beingness transcendently if it is in a state of meditation in empty thoughtfulness, i.e., without an object to disguise its self-awareness. Paradoxically, Subjective Being can be revealed to itself only in the presence of an object whose ineffable Otherness is experienced. I proffer the term the "Transcendent Subject of Being" as an ontological (existential) way of designating the Unconscious as an ineffable "I" (Other "I") that is Other to the "I" of the speaking self, the ego, which at the same time is its "channel" to the other. Put succinctly, this Numinous Subject is both higher and profounder, and may be what Nietzsche (1883) meant by das Übermensch, which I translate as "higher man" (Grotstein, 1997).
Bion apparently tapped into a universal cycle of "mental digestion" in terms of Truth. The "Numinous Thinker," who "thinks" the "thoughts without a thinker," dreams and understands our dreams, creates and arranges free associations for analysis, and ultimately puts the the analyst's interpretations to use by allowing their transformation from "K" to "O" where it can enter into the numinous alchemy of internal change. Thus, the "Numinous Thinker" can be thought of as the "homunculus of dreamwork alpha" and is the mystical agent who mediates the miracles of transformation. In His forge "K" is transformed into "O" and enters into growth. Then a new cycle takes place in which the patient's "O" becomes transformed by his Numinous Analytic Subject into revelations in "K" to the analyst about his (the patient's) "Analytic Object." The analyst, in turn, is enabled to discern the "Analytic Object" with the assistance of the "selected fact" (that gives the hitherto chaotic data a sense of coherence). The analyst's "O" is thereby able to transform the "K" of the patient's "Analytic Object" ("O") into his own "O" and share this "O" interpretively with his patient in a state of transcendent reverie once more. A continuous cycle of transformations thus constitutes the deep structure of our dreamlife in wakefulness and in sleep.
Ultimately, the Subject who resonates in the transformational evolution in "O" constitutes the "Transcendent Subject of Being," which the analyst and his patient become or approximate becoming when a transformative evolution in "O" occurs, i.e., a resonance with one's own respective "O" as with the "O" that is communal between them. The experience constitutes an epiphany in which one, for that exquisite moment, becomes the "Numinous Thinker" of "the thoughts without a thinker," which in psychoanalysis corresponds to the Subject in Bion's (1962, 1963, 1965, 1970) consideration of the "psychoanalytic object." In an earlier contribution in tribute to Bion, I proffered the concept of the "Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream" and the "Dreamer Who Understands the Dream" as a composite unconscious Subject who initiates the production of dreams, analytic free associations, etc. and who understands them (Grotstein, 1979, 1981b, 1984). Today I would modify the latter concept to that of the "Dreamer Who Resonates with the Dream." I am postulating, in other words, a Coherent Presence, an Intelligence, or Wisdom that is preternatural in nature and that can be understood to function as a putatively "divine" creator and organizer of unconscious mental life, including our (?) spontaneous free associative "thoughts without a thinker" and arranges rendezvous for them with the "selected fact" that, in turn, arranges for further rendezvous with the objects that await their rendezvous with the "memoirs of the future." The concept of the "Transcendent Subject of Being" can be associated with the teleological perspective. Samuels et al. (1989) cite Jung's (1954) teleological perspective as follows, "It is not I who create myself, rather I happen to myself" (p. 291). The self, according to this teleological perspective, has an a priori existence and is the hidden order behind our lives. This concept helps us to conceive of the possibility of an ultimate rendezvous with our numinous, teleogical archetype ("Now through a glass darkly, then face to face...").
AN "IMAGINATIVE CONJECTURE" ON BION'S PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP TO "O"
Bion arrived at this new concept of transformation and evolution in "O," first by intuiting the existence (presence) of the absent breast, the "no-thing," in the clinical situation. He may also have arrived at it from having experienced his own terrors and traumas, according to Meg Harris Williams (1983, 1985). When we read in his autobiography that he "...died on the Amiens/Roye Road on August 8, 1917," we get a haunting piece of subjective archive that informs us with graphic certainty that he had been baptised into, and thus had become an "orphan of, the Real" and had been certified in the experience of "nameless dread" (Bion, 1982). Who could be more qualified to be our guide in that indescribable domain, the very existence of which most of us are privileged never even to have suspected. In regard to those experiences, one wonders that in his few but trenchant critiques of Klein, his analyst, in his autobiography if he were not suggesting that Klein effectively analyzed the envy, greed, and omnipotence of the putatively surviving Bion (i.e., she helped him to evolve from P-S to D), but she may have neglected the "dead" one, the one who was amberized on the holocaustal side of "O." Bion, who had been nominated in the field for the Victoria Cross and had received the D.S.O, always maintained that he was a "coward." This paradox is understandable if we think of him as suffering from what we now prosaically term a "post-traumatic stress disorder," in which he may have believed that he had surrendered to the darkness of dread. His autobiography and metapsychology may constitute desperate "radio signals" from an "undead"/"dead" self who is struggling to be heard -- from the other side. When he spoke of "making the best of a bad deal," we perhaps begin to realize that, in his attempted rehabilitation from that ultimate trauma, he was trying to put his agony, surrender, and reconciliation to optimum use -- to experience hope under the foreboding shadow of intimidating dread and demonstrate to us how to use our sublimated agony as an analytic instrument.
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