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American Imago 61.3 (2004) 411-418

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Conversations at the Frontier of Dreaming. Thomas H. Ogden. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. 2001. 255 pp. $32.00.

Thomas Ogden is a poet's psychoanalyst—someone who listens to his patients on the level of voice, metaphor, and what he describes (somewhat more enigmatically) as "the music of what happens" (79-113). Those familiar with Ogden's work in Reverie and Interpretation: Sensing Something Human (1997) will recognize his concept of the "analytic third," a feeling state that is co-created by patient and analyst in which they communicate on nearly unconscious levels with each other. For Ogden, this is where the real work of analysis takes place—not in the space of interpretation per se, but at the level of mutual entanglement in reverie or something like waking dream. This condition is also akin to the location described by D. W. Winnicott (1971) as that of "transitional phenomena," where boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, become permeable—the space of creativity and play.

Here is a selection of statements from Ogden's introductory essay about this elusive state:

Metaphor is an integral part of the attempt of two people to convey to one another a sense of what each is feeling (like) in the present moment and what one's past experience felt like in the past (as viewed from the vantage point of the present). (26)

Reverie is a process in which metaphors are created that give shape to the analyst's experience of the unconscious dimensions of the analytic relationship. (38)

Dreams are metaphors, reveries are metaphors, symptoms are metaphors for the individual's unconscious experience. To the degree that we as analysts are interested in unconscious experience, we are students of metaphor. (41) [End Page 411]

I view reveries (and all other derivatives of the unconscious) not as glimpses into the unconscious, but as metaphoric expressions of what the unconscious experience is like. In my experience, when an analysis is a "going concern," the analytic dialogue often takes the form of a "verbal squiggle game" . . . in which the analytic pair elaborates and modifies the metaphors that the other has unself-consciously introduced. (45-46)

As a writer and literary critic, I am naturally drawn to someone who values metaphor in these ways. Poets and fiction writers do not say things directly; rather, as Emily Dickinson aptly put it, we express our meanings "slant." Each of the eight chapters in Conversations on the Frontier of Dreaming explores one facet of this complex form of poetic and psychoanalytic interchange. While some essays are largely concerned with the ways in which poetry communicates with the reader, others focus on the way the analyst listens to his patients. What binds these two modes of attention is not only the state of reverie that each induces but also the feeling of enhanced "aliveness" that results.

As a reader of poetry, Ogden is acutely sensitive to what he calls "voice," a quality that transmits itself through the actual sounds of the poem read aloud. "It is the 'aliveness' of voice created in one's use of language," he asserts, "that is the measure of what is most real to both speaker and listener, writer and reader" (51). In "A Question of Voice," an essay that offers a reading of Frost's "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same," Ogden demonstrates what he means.

Frost's poem, a witty exploration of the idea that birds' song acquired an "oversound" from the influence of Eve's voice in the garden, develops its own interplay of sound and oversound, Ogden maintains, in the lines: "Admittedly an eloquence so soft / Could only have had an influence on birds / When call or laughter carried it aloft." Ogden hears, in the repeated "s" sounds a "tenderness, respectfulness and grace" that seems to "float above the hard 'c' sounds of the words 'could,' and 'call' and 'carriage.'" In the experience "of softer sounds suspended over harder ones," the poem enacts its own meaning, becoming itself an experience, rather than a mere [End...


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