Wilfred Ruprecht Bion. Past and Future

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Transformations and Dreams
Observation Of Emotional Experience
A paper by Deocleciano Bendocchi Alves

My special thanks to Deocleciano for writing the following paper and making it available on our site ...


This paper was written as my contribution to expand some ideas included in Bion's paper "Notes on Memory and Desire". It was prepared based on an idea of Frank Julian Philips, and afterwards it was discussed with a group of colleagues. In April, 1999 it was presented at a "Forum about Bion's papers", in the Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of São Paulo.
The initial stimulus was a personal communication from Frank J. Philips, who is a member of the British Psycho- Analytical Society and of the Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of São Paulo; he had worked a long time in São Paulo and now he lives in London. In his personal communication, he told me about some ideas that he called "Fragmentation", following some indications in the paper "Notes on Memory and Desire".
This paper is my transformation of the ideas of Bion and Philips. It is based on my own clinical experience and I take for responsibility for the conclusions it includes. Thus some of them are quite different from Frank J. Philips' ideas and clinical experience.
This paper will be published in Portuguese in São Paulo. The English version was prepared to be sent to the Centennial Bion site.
I would like to know the opinion of other colleagues. If anyone becomes interested in my paper, I will be glad to discuss with them. It will be a very stimulating experience for me.
Thank you.

Deocleciano Bendocchi Alves

Transformations and Dreams
From the fragmentary experience, from the "evolution", the apprehension of the unknown.

Deocleciano Bendocchi Alves

The following psychoanalysts cooperated in writing this paper:
Vera Cecília Bresser Pereira, Maria Lucia Riviera, Julia Macruz Bendocchi Alves, Maria Alice Franciosi.

I shall begin by quoting from the book Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1):

A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red. Alice thought this a very curious thing, and she went nearer to watch them, and, just as she came up to them, she heard one of them say,
"Look out now, Five! Don't go splashing paint over me like that!"
"I couldn't help it," said Five, in a sulky tone. "Seven jogged my elbow."
On which Seven looked up and said,
"That's right, Five! Always lay the blame on others!" 
"You'd better not talk!" said Five. "I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded."
"What for?" said the one who had spoken first.
"That's none of your business, Two!" said Seven" Yes, it is his business!" said Five. "And I'll tell him - it was for bringing the cook tulip-roots instead of onions."
Seven flung down his brush, and had just begun, "Well, of all the unjust things -" when his eye chanced to fall upon Alice, as she stood watching them, and he checked himself suddenly: the others looked round also, and all of them bowed low.
"Would you tell me, please," said Alice, a little timidly, "why you are painting those roses?"
Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began, in a low voice,
"Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, but we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know. So you see, Miss, we're doing our best, afore she comes, to - "
At this moment, Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out "The Queen! The Queen!" and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen.
When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped and looked at her, and the Queen said severely, "Who is this?" She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply.
"Idiot" said the Queen, tossing her head impatiently; and turning to Alice, she went on:
"What's your name, child?"
"My name is Alice, so please your Majesty", said Alice very politely; but she added to herself:
" Why, they are only a pack of cards, after all. I needn't be afraid of them".
"And who are these? said the Queen pointing to the three gardeners who were lying round the rose-tree; ......................................................
"How should I know?" said Alice surprised at her own courage. "It's no business of mine."
The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming
"Off with her head! Off with -"
"Nonsense!" said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.
The King laid his hand upon her arm, and timidly said,
"Consider, my dear: she is only a child!"

Since we are dealing with a Forum whose theme is the work of W. R. Bion, we have to take into account the epilogue of the book "Memory of the Future"(2), where he writes:

However successful my attempt has been, there always existed a risk that this book become acceptable, respectable, honored and not read. So, you may ask, why then write it? To avoid someone who "knows" from filling in the empty space - but, I suspect that I am being "rational", this big ape. Wishing you all a Happy Lunacy and a Relativistic Fission.

I shall start by asserting that on distributing the work "Notes on Memory and Desire" by W. R. Bion, I had no intention of discussing its contents, but use it as an incentive, to introduce my contribution to this Forum. This work, from 1967, is extremely familiar to all of us. I know it is a controversial paper because, when explaining the discipline needed to enable us to carry out Freud's recommendation to work with fluctuating attention, he also introduced a new concept for memory and desire, creating a certain confusion and ambiguity about these terms. I do not consider it appropriate to return to this discussion and I really believe that it is irrelevant with regard to our contribution. I do not think that the discrepancies among analysts are due to difficulties related to the different theories used by psychoanalysts, but are perhaps due to the different trends relating to the clinical work.

I think that we are always faced with the possibility of becoming the specialists on a subject matter or on an author, turning it/him/her into an icon in a specific area, turning his/her contributions into something glossy, precious, but useless. What is known and is endlessly repeated, overshadows the possibility of inquiry, making it banal, and diverts us from the only sensible thing that is relevant in any human activity, above all in scientific investigation, i.e. the search for the unknown. Evidently when we are willing to ponder on the work of an author like Bion, we feel slightly abashed by our insignificant scientific stature. However, once again it is Bion's work that helps us, because today we know that whenever anything is learned by any person, it undergoes a transformation that progresses according to the characteristics of this peculiar person's psychic reality. Similarly, nothing is really incorporated without being also transformed. It seems that when this happens, we are faced by another phenomenon, in other words, we are faced by an imitation, and thus by a hallucination. Thus I believe that when challenged by an instigating contribution, our attitude should be to try and expand it, through observations based on our experience of life and work. From this point of view, I shall try to contribute to the subject in question, with some other ideas that may enrich our theme.

I frequently correspond with and meet Frank Philips. It was he who recommended translating the work "Notes on Memory and Desire". In a personal communication, Frank Philips presented his ideas on what he called Fragmentation. I owe my first contact with the theme to Philips. Fortunately, afterwards I had the opportunity to be with him several times and to exchange remarks with him on my observations of the phenomena included under this title. One day Philips wrote to me:

When a child is born, it can hear sounds. And very soon after birth, it can have feelings about sounds. These sounds are fragments. They gradually become words for the baby as well as for the mother. This happens because as the sounds have been aggregated into words, language begins.

Since then, in my clinical work, I have dedicated myself to observing the suggestions made by Bion and Philips, and now I wish to submit my clinical observations and my conclusions.

I highlighted two paragraphs of the work by W. R. Bion: "Notes on Memory and Desire"(4), to motivate this exposure:

  1. "These rules must be obeyed all the time and not simply during sessions. In time the psychoanalyst will become more aware of the pressure of memories and of desires and more skilled at eschewing them.
    If this discipline is followed, there will be increase of anxiety in the psychoanalyst at first, but it must not interfere with preservation of the rules.. This procedure should be started at once and not abandoned on any pretext whatever".

  2. "In any session, evolution takes place. Out of the darkness and formlessness, something evolves. That evolution can bear a superficial resemblance to memory, but once it has been experienced, it can never be confounded with memory. It shares with dreams the quality of being wholly present or unaccountably and suddenly absent. This evolution is what the psychoanalyst must be ready to interpret".

Some days ago, we were surprised by a big blackout, which left São Paulo in the dark. Looking at the city from my home, plunged into the blackness of the night, I was able to experience the "darkness", that had always been there, but that the habitual and familiar luminosity had hidden from us. It thus split from our perception that real darkness, which retreated at each gesture of our hand, expanding the illusory horizon of the visible, thanks to the magic of electricity. We take this luminosity so much for granted that we do not question its nonexistence, even if transitory, nor what takes place in real darkness.

I am using this visual image to make what I intend to explain, easier to grasp. The constant idea of continuity, of the existence of the customary day-to-day also, creates an ongoing illusion that we are going through a continuum of experiences in which we can say, as I heard stated by a patient at the beginning of a session: "today was an atypical day". This is as if typical days, perennial perceptions, or perpetuity of the mind existed.

If we substituted the word rule for discipline in the 2nd paragraph of the above-mentioned work by Bion, we would feel the impact of this suggestion. It is a question of expanding the discipline of psychoanalytical work to the observation of our day-to-day life and to the observation of psychic reality of a new point of view. The same way as each day we face a new patient at a session, our frame of mind frequently undergoes changes, as a result of diverse and kaleidoscopic emotional experiences; the apprehension of our psychic life is kaleidoscopic and it results of our emotional experiences that begin, develop and end. When one ends, another begins and so on. In a panoramic perspective, the grasp of our experiences is fragmentary. We shall give the name of fragmentation to the phenomenon as a whole. What we can initially perceive is the individual's continued attempt to build a framework of continuity using the habitual and daily events to cover the knowledge of the human experiences which is a painful perception. I think that the anguishes ensuing from frustrations and from the eternal anxiety of keeping up the state of satisfaction or pleasure leads the individual to put aside all awareness of doubt and uncertainty .The individual tends to replace the awareness of reality by the illusion of permanence and continuity. Bion (3) talks of a principle of continuity in the attempt to retain pleasure. What is truly remarkable is the building up of this permanent illusion that replaces life itself, when it denies what is awesome albeit natural: the individual has an awareness of his own existence and of the person he is, different from all the others, in the diversity of his own experiences, and in the organization of his own thoughts, of his original mental configurations and of his variegated life experiences.

I believe that we could suggest that our mind encompasses a wide multiplicity of experiences, which are fragmentary. At this moment, the following quotation by Isaiah Berlin, in "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (6) comes to mind. In it, he opens his analysis of Tolstoy's works with a reference that is both recondite and down to earth:

There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus that says: The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. He was referring to writers who wanted to put all things together and who wanted to bestow single common meaning on all of them, as opposed to others who seemed to favor the recording of the world's multiplicity without passing judgement.

I think we can extend this quotation to the grasp of psychic reality, without any attempt to bring together different experiences to form a single whole and understand psychic processes.

I carefully reread Freud's book "The Interpretation of Dreams"(5) and was able to see how Freud's great intuition grasped the numerous mental phenomena distributed in the different chapters. From these I select:

I think we can learn two facts:

The word fragmentation adequately describes the grasp of emotional experiences, as well as the apprehension of psychic reality at its different moments, which are fragmented. I am trying to disclose how I grasp the fragmentation of emotional experience and I used the paragraph mentioned above as a basis for the conclusions I reached by observing both my patients and myself and the people I live with. For example, it is very useful to observe children. I have two observations, which I consider illustrative.

In the first, I was in a swimming pool and my one year and seven-months old granddaughter was sitting at the edge of the pool and throwing a ball to me. At a given moment, when she threw the ball, she made a more abrupt movement and fell into the pool, plunging into the deepest part. I rushed and caught her by the nape of her neck, picked her up and placed her on the edge again. She was very ashamed, turned her back on me and on her mother who was also in the pool, bent her head down, raised her buttocks and stayed like that for a long time. Then she went to play, but did not come back into the water. Some hours later her father arrived, she took him by the hand (she speaks very little) and took him to the pool, pointed to her hair, pulled it up and said: "like this"; then she pointed to the pool and immediately pointed at me and said, "Grandpa, grandpa". She repeated the dramatization several times on that same day and on subsequent days. This child fell while she was playing; for a long time her mother had been trying to put floats on her arms, but she didn't accept them, she always went into the water without any protection. Three days later, having repeated the story several times, always pointing to her head and pretending someone was holding her by the hair, she wanted to go into the pool again and now accepted the floats without any problem.

A second example was told by one of my colleagues in our group. A child who was already speaking Portuguese fluently, moved with her parents to an English-speaking country. One day her grandmother noticed that the child was repeating sounds as if she were speaking English, but without articulating any word; they were just sounds imitating the inflection of the words in English. The child was trying to imitate the words, even though she did not know how to speak the language.

These two experiences show the fragmentation that was aggregated along the way; in the first example the fall, the fear, the hatred, the disappointment and the depression are several emotional experiences that the child had lived through and that later served as logical framework for the story she told. Finally, on the third day of evolution, a new attitude appeared, suggesting an aggregate, and she had become able to use the floats on her arms. In the second case, our colleague's grand-child, after some time was able to speak English, and now speaks it well, having started from the emission of imitative sounds accompanied by different unknown feelings but which could be guessed at until she had become able to aggregate sounds, turning them into words.

If the discipline of psychoanalytical observation is extended to day to day life, it shows us that the apparent continuity is brought about by the utilization of memories, desires and understanding, preventing us from being in contact with the present. The present, which is being experienced, is always a perceptible fragment and the momentary experience will be transformed by the a function and will remain in stock for the individual's use. These experiences have the characteristics of what is alive: they are transitory, fleeting, and ephemeral.

I would like to explain that the Klein concept of fragmentation is different, because it is related to and the result of the Ego's and Object's splitting, as we can learn from her works. As I use it, the term fragmentation is related to "evolution", as described in Bion's work referred to at the beginning of this presentation.

The result of the suspension of the memory, desire and understanding is that awareness of our mental life is always fragmentary. Assertions like: - "they lived happily ever after" (as in children's stories), or like "it is always the same thing"; or those fitting into what I call the senile mind always in search of the known, the common and the comfortable, are expressions of hostility and denial of the awareness of psychic reality. We can temporarily conclude that the feeling of permanence is nonexistent. Its expressions in the myths about immortality, in the negation of the finite reality, are expressions of primitive and religious states of mind. I see the myth of the Tower of Babel in the sense of language diversity, as representing the disconnection of emotional experiences and the resulting states of mind, in opposition to the feeling of permanence, represented in the myth by the desire to build a tower that would reach Heaven, therefore, immortality. Immortality does not exist, as the observation of life shows us: all living things end, stop existing as such.

Evolution as conceived by Bion is not easy to express, because it corresponds much more to an experience undergone than to something to be understood. I cannot find words to explain it. When commenting the work mentioned, during his presentation in New York, Bion (4) opposed memory (evocation) to evolution, showing that evolution corresponds to the experience in which some pictorial impression or some idea arises in the mind unexpectedly and as a whole. He differentiates this phenomenon of ideas that arise as the result of a deliberate and conscious attempt of evocation and understanding. He calls this second phenomenon memory.

Extending these observations to the life of each individual, what always develops from the unknown is the relevant, in contrast to the established knowledge or devices fitting in with the keeping of the illusion of permanence. Only constant discipline and subtle observation, after deepest possible psychoanalysis, will enable us to observe in ourselves the "evolution", and to live the life without interfering in the events in order to make it more comfortable and more predicable. The perception of our psychic phenomena presupposes grasping the evolution that arises from the fragmentary, revealing to us something new of the unknown in ourselves, at that very moment, whose immediate, fleeting and ephemeral destiny is to disappear.

This intuitive apprehension is the result of the practice of discipline and of suspension of memory, desire and understanding and of recognizing the fact that evolution emerges from the fragmentary, that it achieves a meaning by the appearance of the selected fact, which express itself visually and verbally at the precise moment it is being experienced as something new and never previously lived through. This apprehension has the characteristics of a dream.


1 - Carrol, L. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. VII. The Queen's Croquet-Ground, page 105. In "The Annotated Alice". A Meridian Book, 1974.

2 - Bion, W.R. A memoir of the Future & Epilogue,.page 578. London: Karnak.Book.

3 - Bion, W.R. Dreams cap. 36 page 170

4 - Notes on Memory and Desire. In Cogitatios.page380 Karnak Books.1994

5 - Freud .S. Interpretation of Dreams (1900). S.E.4/5.

6. Quotation from "Time", November 17, 1997 pag. 60. "The Foxy Philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlim -1909-1997.", by Paul Gray . - The original quotation I found in: "Fragments, Epodes" pg.54 , by Archiloque. Transl: André Bonnard. Societé D' Edition "Les Belles Lettres" -1958.

Deocleciano Bendocchi Alves

© Deocleciano Bendocchi Alves, 2000


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