WILLY AND MADELEINE BARANGER’S
PSYCHOANALYTIC FIELD THEORY
This text clearly showed the imprint of two of their teachers in the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, Enrique Pichon-Rivière and Heinrich Racker, as well as the Gestalt concepts of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, which Willy had incorporated during his philosophical studies in France. Nonetheless, the result of this combination was clearly their own, as it was based on their practice and experience of psychoanalysis.
Their basic assertion was that the psychoanalytic situation was not to be conceived as the solitary experience and discourse of a person placed in a failed attempt to establish a relation with a neutral, passive, and anonymous other —the analyst— which provides a blank screen for the projection of the patient’s inner world —ultimately, a person vis-à-vis him or herself. Quite on the contrary, the analyst is very much present and the two parties are mutually interrelated in such a way that neither can be conceived without the other.
But this is not the whole story: the minute details of the environment in which the analytic encounter takes place —the disposition and furnishings of the office (what we might call the scenography, furniture, and props of the analytic scene), the analytic contract, and many other contextual elements that remain tacit until an unexpected turn of the analytic process demands that they be inquired— also intervene determining the organization and dynamics of the field. In a later paper, written with Jorge Mom and read in the 1978 Latin American Psychoanalytic Congress, held in Mexico City, they showed how the analyst’s theories were also a factor in the field and could contribute to the creation of unconscious bipersonal resistances —what they called in Spanish a baluarte (usually translated as “bastion” or “bulwark”), meaning an unconscious pact between analyst and analysand of not talking about certain painful and conflictive aspects of the analysand’s life (both inner and outer) and of their mutual relationship.
This clear-cut formulation was nonetheless restricted in some of their later contributions. In another article written in 1983 with Mom, called “Process and non-process in analytic work”, they posed that the field phenomena characterized by “crossed-over and reciprocal projective identifications … could only apply, and without great precision, to extremely pathological states of the field: a field characterized either by an invincible symbiosis between the two participants, or by the annihilating parasiting of the analyst by the analysand”. This implies that a regressive process is going on, which blurs the necessary asymmetry and halts the forward-moving process. In such cases, the analyst has to be able to take a “second look” to free him or her from the symmetrical transference-transference organization of the field at the moment and restore the psychoanalytic process by means of interpretation.
It is difficult to see why they moved from an initial revolutionary statement that affirmed the universality of field phenomena, to a more conservative stance that seemed to restore the conventional view of psychoanalysis as a technical intervention by a knowledgeable expert. Perhaps they were worried by what they felt to be some possible abuses of their radical revision of clinical theory. Indeed, field theory implied the kind of mutuality between analyst and analysand posed by Ferenczi’s last inquiries, which has always been —and still is— unacceptable to the classical psychoanalytic view. In any case, I still feel more in tune with their original formulation, in which all insight, for example, was viewed, not as an internal process fostered by the analyst’s (correct) interpretation, but as an emergent reorganization of the field, resulting from the psychoanalytic dialogue.
There is no doubt, however, that the Barangers’ ideas are worth reading and studying in depth, and this has now become a possibility, for the English-speaking psychoanalytic world, with the translation and publication of a selection of their writings.
Baranger, M. & Baranger, W. (1961–1962). La situación analítica como campo dinámico [The analytic situation as a dynamic field]. Revista Uruguaya de Psicoanálisis, 4 (1): 3–54. [Reprinted with small changes in Baranger, W. and Baranger, M. (1961–1969). English translation: Baranger & Baranger (2008).]
Baranger, M. & Baranger, W. (1961–1969). La situación analítica como campo dinámico [The analytic situation as a dynamic field]. In Baranger, W. & Baranger, M. (1969), pp. 129–164.
Baranger M. & Baranger W. (2008). The analytic situation as a dynamic field. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 89: 795–826. [Original Spanish publication: Baranger, M. & Baranger, W. (1961–1962).]
Baranger, M. & Baranger, W. (1964). Insight in the analytic situation. In Baranger, M. & Baranger W. (2009), pp. 1–15. [Original Spanish publication: El insight en la situación analítica. Revista Uruguaya de Psicoanálisis, 6: 19–38. Reprinted in Baranger, W. and Baranger, M. (1969), pp. 165–177.]
Baranger M. & Baranger W. (2009). The Work of Confluence: Listening and Interpreting in the Psychoanalytic Field, L. Glocer Fiorini (Ed.). London: International Psychoanalytic Association/Karnac.
Baranger, W. & Baranger, M. (1969). Problemas del campo psicoanalítico. [Problems of the psychoanalytic field.] Buenos Aires: Kargieman
Baranger, W., Baranger, M. & Mom, J. M. (1978). Patología de la transferencia y contratransferencia en el psicoanálisis actual; el campo perverso [Pathology of transference and countertransference in present-day psychoanalysis: the perverse field]. Revista de Psicoanálisis, 35: 1101–1106.
Baranger, M., Baranger, W., & Mom, J. M. (1983). Process and non-process in analytic work. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 64: 1–15. [Reprinted in Baranger, M. and Baranger, W. (2009), pp. 63–88.]