"Nachträglichkeit" and "Mimesis"

Against the disease of writing one

must take special precautions, since

it is a dangerous and contagious disease.

Peter Abelard,(1079-1142)

Letter 8, Abelard to Héloise


My introduction to the abbreviated history and explication of Nachträglichkeit is a report of Bion's work with his patient who used narrated monologue. The latter term entitles the patient, qua narrator, identifying with a character within the told story in such a way so that the inner or outer listener cannot distinguish between the poetic factuality of Mr. X (Bion's patient) and a fictional Mr.X.

I assert that because of Freud's own need to disavow the "striking" and painful fact of his mother's pregnancy, then nursing/circumcision/death of Julius when Freud was two, he was never able to "avow" or devote a definitive paper to the concept Nachträglichkeit. He would often act in clinical situations ( not unlike Bion) "as if" he was in personal possession of his own selvings ( the "I" positions of author, narrator, protagonist, antagonist, audience).

With Emma of the "Project for a Scientific Psychology II" , Freud first speculates that a deferred interpretation by Emma was made at the moment of seeing two female clerks looking at her and laughing. They were laughing at her clothes and one of the female shop-assistants "pleased her sexually". Scene I occurred when Emma was twelve years old. She remembered another scene when she was eight. Unfortunately, we do not know the sequence of events within the clinical setting. Scene II occurred when Emma was eight. She entered a candy store to buy sweets. The laughing male shop keeper grabbed at her genitals. Freud theorized that Emma, in the "remembered present" of Scene I travelled back in time to Scene II and re-interpreted that eight year old experience in light of what she experienced ( one of the female shop-assistants pleased her sexually) as a twelve year old.

When writing about the Wolf Man Freud theorized that little Sergei went forward in time and re-interpreted his dream. At age one and a half years he had been impressed by the actions of his parents performing coitus a tergo. He carried these unintegrated/uninterpreted impressions forward in time to age four when he experienced his dream.

I offer what little that I could recall of my lived experiences in my shower one morning several months ago. To help the reader to understand my lived experience as well as my remembrance of things past ( that is, my experience in the shower) I submit that we all are within a camera obscura. We all project upon the inner screen ( the wake/dream screen) the images. story lines, sound tracks of our own "home movies". These are mingled with the perceptions of our outer world that come through a pin hole ( touch, vision, kinesthetic, auditory stimuli,etc.) in the wall of the camera obscura. In this "in between", this space of intersubjectivity, one can see within the co-mingling how the past lived experience of one's home movies might be restructured, redirected and reinterpreted. One can also see how one's interaction with one's environment can be influenced by one's home movies. Without one's home movies in the camera obscura there could conceivably be an immaculate conception/perception. Therapeutic action is done by means of recognition scenes. One recognizes one's "me-ness" in the projections of both the external environment and one's home movies. I compare this recognition of "me-ness" in one's perceptions, arguments, plots, narratives, narrator, dramas and audiences to the concept of "fixing" proposed by Howard Shevrin et al in their work on conscious and unconscious process.

For almost sixty years nothing was done with Nachtr_glichkeit. Lacan gave his famous lecture in Rome in 1953. Stanley Leavy, Arnold Modell and the Nobel prize winning neuroscientist, Gerald Edelman have helped to call attention to this concept in the United States.

These people are not as explicit ( or obsessive) as I am about the elements to be re-categorized. For Edelman, memory is a performance of re-categorizations. For me this means that higher order consciousness entails cyclical, oneiric, narrative time with analeptic leaps (flashbacks) backward in time and proleptic leaps forward in one's experienced camera obscura. The elements to be categorized and re-categorized are : author/playwright, narrator, protagonist, antagonist, lyrical and existential characters, listeners, director, critics, and audiences.

In the case of Dr. Deed one can see, I believe, the proleptic jump forward in time as Deed, the twelve year old wrote the story of his experiences when, at the crossroads, his mother was struck by an automobile. He remembered the story which, up until our work together, was his way of "forgetting". Once again, he had "left his watch". He brought a re-categorized story to his experience with the bus accident. Some bits and pieces were under the rubric of "the contingency of being". It was a "happening" that the sky was blue. It happened that the configuration of color, dispositions of limbs and clothing were grasped by Deed and taken "back in time" to a lived experience in which he looked at the blue sky and then returned to find his mother in a configuration of color, disposition of limbs, etc. In one instance, he is the phallic man of the hour. In another he is the passive participant in some oceanic experience and not, as he put it, the perspicacious penis of his mother.

When Susan experiences carnal knowledge she remembered going back in time and restructuring her "doctor office" episodes, as she put it. Now, at eighteen years of age, she goes back to the doctor office stories and re-categorizes the nurse into a madame of a whore house who is seducing and indoctrinating her into the life of a prostitute. Her mother who was hungrily and grimly staring in the doctor's office is now resignedly staring at her knitting. Susan, when imagining herself moving to the foot of the couch and watching me as I, presumably am looking up her skirt, has taken playwrights and directors with her to the opposite end of the couch. Dramas from her past both in the doctor office stories as well as the drama enacted in her doctor's home are brought forward in time. She experiences recognition scenes after feeling enraged. She recognizes her "me-ness" in the imagined scenes at the other end of the couch.

I attempt to delineate the difference between Nachtr_glichkeit and what I term unconscious organizing fantasy process. A very brief and what might seem to be a reductionistic allusion is made to UOF process in the case of Susan. There is little feedback, assimilation or accommodation to UOF process. We do not know what "becomes" of UOF process. Loewald tells us that the ghosts of the underground that awaken, taste the blood of recognition and haunt us in ways not fully understood gradually become ancestors, buried and of much less importance. Nachtr_glichkeit, on the other hand, is subject to the haunting presence of ghosts but is constantly being re-imagined, re-argued, re-interpreted, re-directed, re-performed, re-told from some character's point of view or by focalization one tells the story of one's childhood experience through the eyes and ears of a childhood parental figure.

There is a constant co-mingling of meanings of what is perceived with old home movies of what was once in the past thought to have been the meaning of a performance.

Mimesis is the constant testing, externalizing, projecting, directing, requesting, demanding, seducing, threatening, etc. people and objects in one's environment into playing a part in one's inner drama on the theater of the mind. Recently psychoanalysts have become interested in enactments. I think of mimesis as a definite mode of being/discourse in the psychoanalytic situation. Mimesis is the dramatic enactment performance mode (DEPM) of discourse. DEPM is known by the use of dialogue, high incidence of deictics, the feeling of estrangement in one or more of the characters, the use of a certain kind of metonymy, use of the present tense and the high incidence of iconic actions ( gestures, prosody, paralinguistic features rather than words). When one asserts, as I do, that Nachtr_glichkeit is the theory of transference, mimesis must be included in the how of that assertion. Projective identification falls within these two concepts by virtue of the need of someone to "direct" the other person. The subject qua director is, more or less, in touch with the playwright.

Mimesis entails someone grasping the performance of some sequential events and meanings. This is "the before". Then, in "the after", someone creatively invents yet another version and wishes to engage another, to impose and direct another to play a certain character within the dramatic/narrative space of the psychoanalytic situation. Sometimes the analyst has "to get better" before the analysand can get better. This was seen in the work of Bion who freed himself from his arrest and in the case of The Skinned Alive Lady.


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Donald J. Coleman, M.D.
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©1997 - Copyright by Donald J. Coleman