As our loyal readers will be aware, since becoming editor of American Imago in the Fall of 2001, I have sought to give every issue a thematic focus by bringing together papers that all address a common topic. To the extent that I have succeeded in this aim, I hope others will agree that each of the past twenty issues has indeed been a "special issue," though I hasten to remind prospective contributors that a preponderance of our articles are unsolicited, and only the Fall issue, which always has a guest editor, consists entirely of commissioned pieces.
Having completed five years chained to the masthead, perhaps I may be forgiven for adapting George Orwell's words in Animal Farm and confessing that, while all issues of American Imago are special, some issues are more special than others. And none of my love-children is closer to my heart than "Notable Encounters."
Never before have I appropriated the title of a single article for an entire issue. That I have done so in this instance attests to the importance I attach to our lead essay by J.-B. Pontalis. Presented last November to the British Psychoanalytical Society, "Notable Encounters" is Pontalis's lyrical tribute to the people who have made him the analyst he is "still trying to become" today. Pontalis begins by reflecting on how the British Society has served as "a key point of reference" for French analysts and on the history of exchanges (not without moments of tragicomic misunderstanding) that have taken place between analysts "from both sides of the Channel—this waterway that both divides and links us." Among other anecdotes, Pontalis, ruefully recognizing that he is best known in the English-speaking world as the coauthor of The Language of Psychoanalysis, regales his audience with the story of the prospective patient who confused him with Jean Laplanche!
The three "notable encounters" that have been formative in Pontalis's professional development were with Sartre, Lacan, [End Page 137] and Merleau-Ponty. Two of these men were philosophers, as was Pontalis himself in an earlier incarnation, though he makes the point that "once we become convinced by psychoanalysis we need to break with that initial calling"—whatever it may have been—"in order to explore the terra incognita and to engage fully in what Freud called 'the other scene.'" Pontalis credits Lacan, who was both his teacher and his analyst, with having been "very good at waking people up." On a theoretical plane, however, he distanced himself from Lacan above all because he could not accept the latter's premise that "the unconscious is structured like a language," which Pontalis regards as a misunderstanding of "the very nature of human sickness that we all experience." From Merleau-Ponty, by contrast, Pontalis learned to cultivate "a style as far removed as possible from the technical language of philosophers," and in the process he has become known in his own right as "a specialist of the 'between' and of the 'in-between'" realms.
This mention of the "in-between" leads Pontalis to the fourth of his notable encounters—that with Winnicott and with the entire "Middle Group" of the British Society. Beyond his own substantial body of work, Pontalis has made his mark as the editor from 1970 to 1995 of the Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, the journal largely responsible for disseminating the writings of Winnicott and his associates in France, a breath of fresh air that "freed me—freed us—from Lacanianism." Pontalis collaborated in this enterprise with such eminent figures as Didier Anzieu, Guy Rosolato, André Green, and Jean Starobinski, as well as with the London-based Masud Khan. As one who has edited a journal not for a quarter but for a mere twentieth of a century, I have a long way to go to match Pontalis's longevity, but I aspire to emulate him above all in his passion and ecumenical temperament.
The last two of Pontalis's encounters are those with his patients and with the texts of Freud. He shows through two vivid examples how his writing is ignited by "words straight from the couch" and how his thinking is...