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American Imago 60.4 (2003) 501-528

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Differance and Psychic Space

Jared Russell

"There is me and there is something inside me, not something, but someone, but since that someone is inside me, I can have an idea who it is and not just be it. Sometimes this is connected with a feeling that it's a physical space inside my body, but it's sometimes in my head or isn't located any specific place in my body. It's a feeling, not a place, but it feels like a place."

—A patient quoted in Thomas Ogden, Matrix of the Mind

When a patient shifts, while engaged in free association, from one item to another, a process of spatialization occurs. The twists and turns of the clinical narrative depict the contours of psychic space as it evolves. The patient is talking about her boyfriend. Suddenly she finds herself thinking of an incident she witnessed in her parents' relationship. What links these two thoughts is a space whose interior can then be fleshed out and filled with associative understanding through reflection. New perspectives can be opened up and new positions in relation to what was previously thought of as unquestionable reality can be assumed. The owning and integration of these new angles from which inner experience can be reflected upon are the goals of an insight-oriented approach to treatment. In order to accomplish this, psychodynamic therapy offers the patient the opportunity to refine the capacity for symbolizing his or her experience, so that the boundaries of agency are expanded—so that "I" (as a symbolizing ego) might become in the place where "it" (unsymbolized experience, to which one feels passively subjected) resides.

Yet the therapeutic process must also be understood as a process of temporalization. Telling stories takes time. Narration and transference open up and unfold over the course of the treatment. Symbolization occurs when the patient's stories begin to reveal to him the interaction of past and present. The [End Page 501] question governing interpretation of the transference is: what is the contemporary relevance of the story the patient is elaborating? Why is he telling this particular story now? The very act of selecting and telling stories comes to have meaning, and the unfolding of narratives of the past is understood as significant in its function of representing the present. We understand that in the present we repeat and therefore represent our past, through our symptoms, interpersonal failures, actings-out, etc. What is always more elusive is how, in the act of recounting the past, we represent the present. How is the telling of stories of the past a determining factor in the experience of the present? In treatment, we tell our presents by recounting our pasts. This is essentially the reason why an insight-oriented approach produces a therapeutic effect: to re-present the present is to allow for the possibility for change.

The development of the capacity for symbolization allows for increasing reflection on the complexity of experience. It is worth rehearsing here the fact that the concept of reflection itself contains both spatial and temporal dimensions: it implies a certain distance between consciousness and the object of contemplation as poles between which reflection occurs, as well as the repetition of a previous encounter between the two (re-flection). Over the time of reflection, the space of reflection opens; in the space of reflection, the time of reflection unfolds. Consciousness, as the experience of the self reflecting itself into itself (i.e. "self-reflection"), might best be understood in relation to this space and this time.

Despite the crucial interplay between spatial and temporal dimensions in theoretical and clinical psychodynamics, spatial metaphors historically have been granted the upper hand. Time has not been a subject of great attention among American and British theorists, with Loewald (1962; 1972) and Winnicott (1971) being notable exceptions. Nevertheless, the concept of psychic or inner space implicates time in a way which has generally remained unthought. Distinguishing between the subjectively internal and the objectively external has traditionally depended upon space as a metaphor for comparing the...


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