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  • Bion's Dream: A Reading of the Autobiographies
  • James S. Grotstein
Bion's Dream: A Reading of the Autobiographies. Meg Harris Williams. London: Karnac Books, 2010. xv + 116 pp. $21.95 (pb).

When Bion published his autobiographical works, The Long Week-End (1982), "All My Sins Remembered" (1985), and his three-part A Memoir of the Future (1975; 1977; 1979), he initiated a new genre of psychoanalytic writing. It was as if he had crossed a veritable Rubicon of a strongly held analytic canon that the analyst should never reveal his personal life to his patients. Why did he undertake this provocative turn? We might reasonably surmise that he may have felt the desire to present the entirety of his radical new psychology by employing a clinical example consisting of his own emotional truth, the one truth he could really vouch for. To this end Meg Harris Williams cites and paraphrases Bion:

"Anyone can 'know' which school, regiment, colleagues, friends I write about. In all but the most superficial sense they would be wrong. I write about 'me.'" For, in writing about "me," he recognizes that he is "more likely to approximate to [his] ambition" of formulating "phenomena as close as possible to noumena."

(2; see Bion 1982, 8)

If this formulation is correct, then by writing his autobiographies Bion would seem to have boldly martyred himself in order to put forth publicly his own lived truth along with how he transformed that truth through dreaming. This act on his part seems to support the notion, as I have suggested in A Beam of Intense Darkness (2007), that Bion may have been unconsciously living out the myths of Prometheus as well as Christ. He is initially Prometheus Bound in that he is eaten by the vultures of psychoanalytic orthodoxy in London as punishment for daring to be curious about Absolute Truth or Ultimate Reality, before becoming Prometheus Unbound when, [End Page 463] having moved to Los Angeles, he continued his inquiry into such concepts as O, the mystical, and the godhead, as well as by writing and publishing first Attention and Interpretation (1970) and then the autobiographies. Bion is also Christ because his theory proposes that, together with the patient's experience of reowning his hitherto unbearable emotions (and proceeding from "pre-conception" to "conception"), there comes the phenomenon of "incarnation" of the "god-container" of O into the potential and potentially evolving mystical self of the patient. The patient does not incarnate the godhead; that would constitute mania or psychosis. Rather, it is the godhead, as in the Christ myth, that must choose to incarnate the patient (Grotstein 2007, 107). We get a clue to the presence of the Prometheus myth in the following passage from All My Sins Remembered, quoted by Meg Harris Williams:

Don't interrupt [Bion says to himself], I'm thinking. It would be useful if I could search through the debris of my mind, the ashy remnants what once was a flaming fire, in the hope of revealing some treasure which would reconstitute a valuable piece of wisdom—a spark amidst the ashes that could be blown into a flame at which others could warm their hands.

(xii; see Bion 1985, 31; italics added)

By embracing Bion's formal autobiographies (The Long Week-End and All My Sins Remembered) and his three-part oneiric autobiography (A Memoir of the Future), Williams has united and thereby integrated these three works into Bion's composite Dream. In so doing she has, in conventional terms, construed the last text as the dream itself—as Bion in some ways did himself by titling the first volume of the trilogy The Dream (1975), and by saying, in its prologue, "this is a fictitious account of psychoanalysis including an artificially constructed dream" (4)—and the first two as its associations. In both Bion's and Williams's terms, however, all three would be considered dreams but on different levels of consciousness. Bion's conception of dreaming, along with that of "O"—a term that encompasses nameless dread, beta elements, things-in-themselves, the noumenon, absolute truth, ultimate reality, as well as reverence and [End Page 464] awe—constitutes...


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