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  • The Analyst as (Auto)biographer
  • Adrienne Harris

The conventional relationship of biography to psychoanalysis has been that the latter serves the former as a mode of analysis, that psychoanalysis is a powerful tool of biography. Feeling that this transaction flows too unidirectionally, I am going to work against this arrangement to explore the presence of biography and autobiography in analytic writing. This would not be a simple reversal but more likely a dialectic. Neither psychoanalysis nor biography exist any longer in pure uninflected form. Many literary genres, particularly biography and autobiography, are already infused and permeated with psychoanalytic technique and concepts. Tracing the reflection of literary conventions back into psychoanalytic writing could involve an uncanny double mirroring. But I think it could be productive to watch for the tropes of narration and of personal voice. Story telling is a form of identity making and identity maintenance, in clinical psychoanalytic writing, as Schafer (1992) has argued.

I am going to approach this topic in two ways. First, I will explore both the presence of a biographical and autobiographical impulse in analysts’ writing by a close reading of three texts about and/or by the English psychoanalyst, Margaret Little. Little, an analyst who did groundbreaking work on countertransference and transference regression, was in analysis with Winnicott from 1949 to 1955. She appears (disguised) in clinical vignettes in a number of Winnicott’s clinical papers. Most powerfully, however, one can see the use to which she put her personal experience in her collection of essays “Transference Neurosis and Transference Psychosis” (1980). This interdependence of writer as subject and object is illuminated by a reading of an explicitly autobiographical essay she wrote in 1985. In Winnicott’s texts, in Little’s memoir and in her theoretical work, it is possible to watch subtle turns of the prism through which an analyst views and records his/her [End Page 255] experience. Theory and insight emerge from deeply personal life events and occasions.

Secondly I want to look, in a more general way, at how conventions of biographical writing have entered and shaped analytic writing. Is there a genre of the psychoanalytic essay, in particular of the presentation of case material and clinical vignettes? How have the conventions of life story telling or the aesthetic demands of drama influenced the organization or presentation of clinical work? Most psychoanalysts who write seem influenced by the formal conventions of scientific writing and so produce writing in a dispassionate, objectifying voice. Relatively few psychoanalytic writers have an individual voice or style or see their written work in artistic or literary terms even if the artistic elements in psychoanalytic practice are frankly acknowledged (Loewald 1970). One might say that the passive voice is a kind of professional fetish. Yet despite this somewhat generic neutrality, miming perhaps an idealized clinical stance of neutrality, one can detect the presence and organizing power of literary and biographical conventions in psychoanalytic writing.

There are a number of developments within psychoanalysis upon which this essay is predicated. Relational psychoanalysis is an emerging clinical and theoretical perspective (Mitchell 1988, 1993), drawn from British and American object relations theory and from the interpersonal tradition of Sullivan and Fromm. From this perspective, analytic work is always considered to be the co-construction of shared meaning and often the co-creation of multiple narratives. This has led to a quite thorough reworking of the concepts of transference and countertransference. Ogden, an important influence on relational theory, perhaps a fellow traveler, defines these terms as follows: “I do not view transference and countertransference as separable entities that arise in response to one another: rather I understand these terms to refer to aspects of a single intersubjective totality experienced separately (and individually) by analyst and analysand.” (Ogden 1995, 696).

There has been a profound epistemological and ideological shift within psychoanalysis of which countertransference analysis is but one feature. Relational psychoanalysis entails a [End Page 256] shift from a one person to two person psychology. Hermeneutics, theories of social construction, pragmatic theories which address how meaning and reality are constituted in contexts: all these movements in philosophy and social theory have played powerful and complex roles in the reshaping and reworking of...

Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 255-275
Launched on MUSE
1998-06-01
Open Access
No
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