The GRID, that two-dimensional crutch !



Let me first explain this rather bizarre title. In Bion's (1970,1977a) view, his GRID may be used as a tool when meditating on a passed session. It is also a mental climbing frame for training intuition. During the session itself the GRID should not be used. Hence the image of a crutch, which we need but of which we hope also it can be thrown away.The consequences of this throwing away of the crutch on the inner attitude of the analyst will be dicussed.

Two-dimensional because the GRID as C-element is a rather compact, flat image. Considered as a representation of Bions model of the mind, features such as emptiness, movement, relation between the elements are better reflected when the GRID is transformed in three dimensions. Due to the time limit, however this will not be further eleborated on in this paper.

We shall focus on the use of the GRID by trying to grasp what happens in emotional transformation more specifically at the basal level of the beta-alphalink. First a number of difficulties in this use of the GRID will be highlighted. After doing so we try to gain some clarity in approaching the GRID from a T(K) and a T(O) point of view.

Difficulties with the GRID

1. In the GRID two approaches are combined (Bion,1963). On the one hand a genetic approach on the origin of thoughts and on the other hand a users' approach on dealing with thoughts. At the outset, this was confusing to me. In the genetic approach, beta elements e.g. are raw or hardly mentalised sensorial materials. From the users' approach, beta elements are fitted for projective identification and can be the débris of a complex thought in given circumstances.

2. Bion separates the processing of emotions from the processing of thoughts (Bion,1964). In his opinion, a beta element in thoughts is a thing, something which coincides with what is there (a dog that comes when it is called). In emotions, a beta element is a phantasy which is handled as a fact. This separation between emotions and thoughts is also present in the other elements: premonitions are to emotions what preconcepts are to thoughts. The transformation of thoughts and emotions is different too. In thoughts this is carried out following a mental counterpart of the digestive system. Emotions are transformed in compliance with a mental counterpart of the reproductive system or the senses: olfactory, visual and tactile.

If so, should we think of a separate emotional grid? On the other hand, Bion claims he does not differentiate between emotions, feelings and instincts although they differ substantially as far as complexity is concerned. Are emotions the elements or the link-delink between elements (L, H, K and -L, -H, -K)? Or can they be understood as the atmosphere colouring the thinking process like the weather does to a landscape (Bion,1964).

I suggest that, in our search of clarity, we approach the GRID from the transformation point of view: transformation in K and transformation in O, with a focus on the beta-alphalink.

Transformations in K

A transformation in K is sometimes presented as descending the GRID, the side-effect being that an increasing sophistication is experienced as good, whereas climbing up to a more primitive way of thinking is seen as a denudation of meaning and therefore bad. The same moral attitude is found towards beta- and alpha elements. Because of the digestive model, we tend to see beta elements as bad, something to be evacuated, to be spit out, and alpha elements as good. Bion, however, introduced them as meaningless terms. Indeed, Bion did not take into account these moral connotations. He mentioned a negative growth bringing about increased freshness, liveliness, naivity (Bion,1963).

Let us, from this point of view of negative growth, concentrate on the beta-alpha link. It is a point where feeling, perception and thought convert. I will try to shed some light on it from three different angles.

1. Infant research. Stern (1985) describes a whole series of experiments as a proof of what he calls mysterious amodal perception. In the experiment of Meltzoff and Borton (1979) for instance, three-week-old blindfolded babies were given a dummy teat. When the blindfold was removed, they immediately recognised out of various dummies the one they had been sucking on. In other words, there seems to be some kind of direct perception going beyond the senses. Stern assumes that this amodal perception has an affective nature. I suggest we call this feeling, as opposed to emotion, which can be situated as phantasy in a higher GRID category.

2. Neurodarwinism (Edelman,1992; Vermote,1995). The cortex contains some 10 million neurons, one million trillion connections and 10 followed by a million noughts possible combinations. There is not only a jungle outside but inside as well. Edelman suggests that phylogenetically determined neuron combinations were selected giving rise to complex forms into which parts of reality can be fitted. It is as if a flash illuminates this part of reality which can be fitted into a form. The degree of consciousness depends on the capacity to associate forms and create new forms matching with changing situations.

3. British empiricist philosohers exerted a strong influence on Bion. A few of their ideas as a point of reference. Locke (1689): "An idea is a sensation and more complex ideas are produced by association". Hume (1739): "A sensation arouses an impression giving rise to an idea…two ideas of the same object can only be different in their feeling differently… Thinking is a custom before we have any time for reflection…" Contrary to Locke's and Hume's view, Berkeley (1709) believes in the existence of innate ideas to account for the fact that inspite of a disunity of the senses (for instance between seeing and touching) there is yet a coherent perception.

In these different approaches, we come across an identical pattern which can be used in the presentation of what happens on the level of the beta-alpha link. This pattern can be described as follows: sensorial data (perception) or psychic data (intuition) cause a sensation, a fitting of a form, which coincides with a feeling conjuring an image. This happens at once, it is not a sequential process. Feelings and images may, so to speak, relate to each other as matter and energy do in terms of quantum mechanics; they are different facets of the same phenomenon. A telling example of this complex phenomenon is one of Borges' (1975) sayings: "a verse must touch us physically as the presence of the sea does." There is a sensation by the fitting of a form, this is a feeling giving rise to an image.

Following this outline, feeling is intertwined with the beta-alfalink. An emotion on the other hand is fitted in a phantasy and can be situated at higher GRID levels.

Bion describes the return to the beta-alpha link in the following way:

" In the practice of psychoanalysis, the emotional experience can be discerned as a constantly changing pattern of emotional experience. If the psychonanalyst develops his capacity to intuit these experiences, he can become aware of certain experiences which are constantly conjoined. These constant conjunctions become manifest to the psychoanalyst after a period of time (provided he resists an irritable searching after certainty) as a sensuous caleidoscopic change" (Bion,1977a, p.11).

de M'Uzan describes an identical situation using an other frame of reference, though: "the analyst assists, lives a whole series of words which translate how much he is caught by an aggravation of his passiveness, and undergoes an internal transformation. When he closes his eyes, he might even think that the upsurge of images is happening to him without his own participation, sometimes even at the verge of sensation.( de M'Uzan, 1989, p.156, my own translation)"

Both de M'Uzan and Bion describe how in such experiences C-elements originate. de M'Uzan calls these images Chimera. We might call this phenomenon reverie in T(K) as opposed to reverie in T(O), which will be described below.

Case illustration

The patient's hand is congenitally malformed. She lies down on the coach between the cushion and the wall. (I am thinking of a hospital bed). She says she thinks of a ghost-rider crossing the motorway, afterwards she associates this with crushing (I am thinking of the crushable zone of a car). Then she tells a fragment of a dream she had in which she tries to catch a sheep turning into a shapeless mass. At the same moment, my mind jumps to an image of ropes, an image I cannot allocate. The image fades into the veines on one's lower leg, followed by the image of an infusion filled with blood from a drip, an operation, a bandaged hand and sheep's wool. I tell her something about the operation, the bandaged hand like sheep's wool and the swollen hand like a shapeless mass after the operation. She says that the image of her hand after being operated on, did not affect her whatsoever as a child but that her father was shocked when the bandage was removed. She associates with the fact that she used to feel like a misfit, a failure. These images inside of me surprised me, but to her the intervention was of little effect.

The way elements are transformed in T(K), Bion (1963) describes as a mental counterpart of the digestive system. The analyst's attitude in this process consists in releasing given shapes, desaturating given elements. It is an unnatural attitude arousing anxiety. This attitude is the basis of creativity in which thoughts originate in the analyst which he can share with his analysand and which the latter can use for thinking or not.

It is not clear to me whether a negative growth in T(K) in the analyst leads to T(O) or whether there is a caesura between the two transformations. Anyway, I think there is a difference in the analyst's internal attitude when facilitating T(K) and T(O). In T(K), the analyst assumes an internal attitude which facilitates regression towards a sensuous experience. In T(O) he voluntarily tries to keep away from this sensuous experience.

Transformation in O

The negative growth in T(K) leads us to experience how new thoughts are shaped but at the same time it confronts us with the limitations of our thinking. The kind of thinking that, to various extents, is typical of all living creatures. It is a system of shapes, mind constructs, which tries to get a hold on the sensuous reality in a defensive way.

"We children of the absolute sell our birthright for a bowl of pottage", Kant ( cited in Appelbaum, 1995) says, or "The contact with the thing in itself, is found in the void between two thoughts." Or else: "To speak of the thing in itself or the transcendental object is to reveal the mind's impulse to shape the formless and the unknowable."

Plato ( cited in Hare, 1982) warns us in a similar way of the influence of the sensuous: "The soul when it uses the body to look at something by sight or hearing or other senses … is dragged by the body among things which never stay the same and itself gets lost and disturbed and tipsy … But when it looks by itself, it goes in the other direction, to the pure, the eternal, the immortal, the unchanging because affinity with them joins their company…"

Bion is extremely well aware of the poverty and determinations of our thinking. Inspired by Plato and Kant, among others, (who also accept innate ideas, between parenthesis) he takes the opposite direction: away from emprisonment in the sensuous determination of T(K). He disposes of the sensuous and suggests to consciously fight the thought processes: renounce every cohesion, understanding (Bion,1977b). Whereas in T(K) the analytical attitude may still be compared to a far-reaching free-floating attention, in T(0) the demand to the analyst is extremely radical. He is asked to disregard the entire shaping and thinking process and consciously oppose himself to it. The crutch is thrown away, it is a leap into the unknown, an act of faith (Bion,1970). This enables a contact with an analytical reality instead of with the sensuous one of our mind-constructs. This process is paradoxically described by Bion as a mental counterpart of the senses: it is something which penetrates as a scent, as an image growing in the analysand before the eyes of the analyst . There are direct changes in the analysand, although they cannot be clearly understood.

Case illustration

The patient's father is manic-depressive and she suspects that she was sexually abused by him. She is in analysis for nearly two years, without any regression taking place. When I oppose myself to every thought and image inside of me, a period comes about when she is scared , during which she experiences her body as if it were poisoned. She develops some kind of asthmatic reaction and consults a doctor. Then she brings the image of a ramshackle, flaking wall in which you could not see the electric wires, the insulation of which has been pulverized. The image is formed within her. I feel fear, the catastrophic character of the situation. After this, something changed in her.

The analyst facilitates the process in T(O) although it does not take place in himself alone. T(K) was described as what happened when the mind is touched, now touch and mind are throwed away. The dissolution of the ego of the analyst brings fear of going mad but brings a contact with the magma, the matrix out of which the toughts of the analysand are formed. We can call this a reverie in T(O). It implies a humble attitude, being nothing, dust among the dust. What Goethe means by tender empiricism seems to border on this reverie in T(O): "There is a tender kind of empiricism identifying itself with the object so intimately that in the process it becomes the actual theory." ( cited in Benjamin, 1973, my own translation)



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