On Shedding a Little Bobscurity on Your Subject
It's difficult for me to blog about anything other than what's immediately on my mind, and in this case, it's a new book about Bion (1897-1979; pronounced BEE-on) that a government agent deposited into my greedy hands just yesterday, A Beam of Intense Darkness, by the eminent psychoanalyst James Grotstein (see also here for a more complete description). It's partly an attempt to present Bion's revolutionary ideas to a wider audience, but in eagerly reading the first few chapters, I'm not sure if that is even possible, or if Grotstein is the man to do it. Grotstein's intellect hovers so far above the average person's, that I don't know if it even reaches that low. In any event, I'll probably be discussing this book in the next few weeks, just as I spent several weeks playfully calmposting The Symmetry of God.
I've written before of how encountering Bion's work in 1985 is what first exploded -- or O-bliterated -- my mind. Interestingly, that was in only the second year of my Ph.D. program. As Grotstein points out, people either "get" Bion or they don't. Most -- including most trained psychoanalysts -- don't, but a few do. And those who do tend to become disciples, even over-idealizing the man as a sort of mystic messiah. Bion was aware of this latter tendency of people to see him this way, and it apparently made him very uncomfortable. One reason he said that he left England for America in the late 1960s is that "he was so loaded down with honors that he nearly sank without a trace."
Bion's work is highly specialized and aimed at a narrow audience of psychoanalysts, and yet, I was one of those people who completely got it. (By the way, I do not recommend straight Bion to a lay audience, any more than I would recommend trying to read Finnegans Wake; in both cases, you definitely want to begin with the secondary literature.) Perhaps I shouldn't say "completely," because no one can completely get Bion due to the very nature of his writing, which is quite skeletal and suggestive, almost like sutras, which consist of a few words that the "awakened" person must fill out based upon experience.
Grotstein surmises that Bion "dreamed his utterances and his writings -- that is, he spoke and wrote in a transformational state of reverie (wakeful sleep)," something with which I can certainly relight. Further, he "leaves you orphaned outside his text for you to seek your own way by your own inherent navigational compass -- one you never believed you possessed until you met him." And in his later works, he tried to develop "a more evocative form of writing" with which "to convey his experiences to the reader directly -- as the experience itself -- an authentic replication of the latter without going through obfuscating explanations." The only way to understand his books is to become the author of your own book "more or less based on Bion's."
I think I used this metaphor in my book, that this kind of writing is analogous to the reflector lights on the back of a car, which emit no light of their own, but become quite bright if light is shined in their direction. Bion's writing is always indicative, but of an unKnown part of yourself that presently exists in your own future.
In short, in order understand Bion, you must bring your own light, and plenty of it, to the inner table (which is also precisely true of religious texts). In fact, Grotstein quotes one writer who suggested that those who do not comprehend Bion fall into certain categories, including lack of truly attentive reading, lack of analytic experience, lack of experience in life itself, or a combination of all three.
In my case, I obviously had no psychoanalytic experience, but I suppose that's not completely correct, since I was in psychoanalytic therapy at the time, but still, not enough to remotely qualify me as One Who Knows much about what lay beyond the interior horizon. Nevertheless, his ideas spoke to me in such a manner as to tie up, or bring together, countless unresolved ideas, pre-ideas, and ideas for ideas that were otherwise running wild in my head. By that time I had read a fair amount of philosophy during the previous seven years or so, and was pretty well familiar with all the main schools.
But as I read Bion, something in me told me that he had surpassed all of these, which is something I couldn't have "known" at the time, and which few people would claim. For example, I'm guessing that Bion is completely unknown in professional philosophy absircles, so that no one from that world would claim that he was one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived. And when I say "something told me," I mean something quite palpably and physically present. It was as if his words were depth charges dropped into my psyche and exploding various connections so that new ones could be forged. This is a lesson I never forgot, and I definitely aspire to that kind of writing. But who reads in the requisite manner, especially blogs? Thankfully, I am aware that many Raccoons do. It's what makes you bloody Raccoon, now isn't it?
Grotstein cites a passage from another book on Bion, in which the authors state that "Psychoanalysis seen through Bion's eyes is a radical departure from all conceptualizations which preceded him. We have not the slightest hesitation in saying that he is the deepest thinker within psychoanalysis -- and this statement does not exclude Freud." So you see, I'm not alone. And yet, we must resist the temptation to idealize the man. Rather, we must play with him, which is what we will be doing in subsequent posts. For one thing, since I haven't read Bion in a long time, I'm very curious as to how the present me will react to him, since I'm not the same Bob that existed in 1985. Furthermore, his ideas have so thoroughly trickled down to the water table and become part of my own psychic substance, that it may even feel as if he's plagiarized me, whereas I'm the one who iconibalized and rewordgitated him. Grotstein puts it exactly thus in reference to his own assimilation of the work of a few other Bionians:
I "dreamed" their works, disassembled them into kaleidoscopic bits, and reassembled them anew as they spontaneously came into my mind. In short, I have "cannibalized," not "plagiarized," the works of my colleagues and have transformed them as they made sense to me anew.
For example -- and I don't want to make him self-conscious -- but some of you may have noticed that Robin Starfish often seems to do this with my posts on his beautiful blog. Here is a fine example. Perhaps it's just me, but I feel as if he "re-dreams" what I have written, both visually and verbally. In fact, this may well be true of many of the One Cosmos "spin-offs" that have become coonveyers of O in their own write. This is exactly the type of reaction Bion tried to produce in his readers, although in a very different way. But the main point is to reach in and provoke a deep, personal response in the reader, not merely to convey unambiguous information from mind to mind, like a couple of ants bumping heads together. Like Bion, I would never want to have "followers" per se, but simply reintroduce people to their own minds -- to O. This is how Grotstein puts it in the book's touching dedication to Bion:
My gratitude to you for allowing Me to become reunited with me -- and for encouraging me to play with your ideas as well as my own.
In my case, I might say "thank you for allowing others to play with your ideas as reflected through me, and thereby reyounighting themselves with their own dark deus."
Or, perhaps to focus an intense beam of darkness on themselves. Is this merely a poetic way of expressing it? No, not at all, which is to say, yes, completely. Grotstein cites a letter by Freud, in which he wrote,
"When conducting an analysis, one must cast a beam of intense darkness so that something which has hitherto been obscured by the glare of illumination can glitter all the more in darkness." I suppose it's somewhat analogous to the way you have to look at distant stars in order to see them. If you look directly at them, they disappear. But if you look away, out of the corner of your eye, they magically emerge from the darkness.
In coming days, I hope to shed some additional obscurity on the subject of Bion, but I am once again promising myself that I won't blog on weekends, so that I can attend to some even more distant obscurities in my spiritual galaxy.