important and one of the most difficult of psychoanalytic concepts. It
is a way of conceptualizing a fundamental aspect of the way I practice
psychoanalysis, which I must rediscover again and again. The concept is
impossible to pin down, which is a reflection of how full of life it can be,
and how mysterious and elusive it can be. “(Ogden, T. Dreaming the analytic session, Psychoan.Quart. LXXXVI, 2017, 1)
Recently, while reading works of contemporary psychoanalytic literature, published or discussed at scientific meetings, I often came across what seemed to me like a sort of profound misunderstanding of the specificity of the analytic work, to which alludes the theoretical concept of transformation in dreaming-dreaming analysis advanced in the last ten years, in a sort of intercontinental psychoanalytic jam session, by authors such as Civitarese, Ferro, Grotstein, Ogden and others.
The first essential element that seems elusive belongs to what I would call an area of metapsychological identity of a concept and of its corresponding phenomenology in clinical practice. The concept of transformation in dream, of dreaming in analysis, corresponds to that concept of transformation in O, (T O→K), formulated by Bion in his later theoretical works (1967-1970) and then illustrated in living clinical practice in his last clinical seminars as the core of both the most authentic and profound psychic transformations in analytic cure and of a new method of analytic work suitable to facilitate its realization.
It almost seems like we’re witnessing a paradox. On the one hand, after 50 years of misunderstandings, denial and incomprehension, Bion's later theoretical-clinical work (1967-1979) today begins to be recognized and understood as the revolutionary intuition of a great master about the active principle of a deeper and more effective psychic transformation in psychoanalysis and on the new theoretical and technical equipment needed for its realization. On the other hand, the works of some of his keenest and most creative followers, who have realized in the formulation of the dream model of mind and analytic cure the last Bionian preconceptions on the psychoanalysis of O, are being mistaken for prosecutors of the thought of the early Bion (1957-1963), the so-called Kleinian Bion. The concept of transformation in dream is thus often read within a theoretical-clinical model of bipersonal, Kleinian origin, as if it belonged to the family of transformations in K (K→O), without being intuited in its essence of oneiric transformation that can only arise via analytical passages in a dark at-one-ment with the O: the unknown, terrifying and unthinkable emotional experience that flows in the here-and-now in the session.
Just an example
In a recent and beautiful article about the idea of a rising new paradigm for care in psychoanalysis brought about by the visionary suggestions of unprecedented paths of analytic care suggested by Bion and Winnicott in the 20th century, O. Eshel wrote:
“ Vermote identifies three distinct zones or modes
of psychic functioning, to describe the scope of psychoanalytic work and
the range of possible psychic changes, each characterized by varying degrees
of differentiation, different major psychoanalytic models, and distinct
clinical implications for the analyst:
1. The mode of reason (reason as a secondary process)—oedipal,
understanding Ucs. system (Freud, Klein);
2. Transformation in Knowledge—container-contained, reverie,
dream-work, alpha function (Bion, Marty, de M’Uzan,
Bollas, Botella and Botella, Ogden, Ferro); (emphasis mine)
3. Transformation in O, when dealing with the most unthought,
unknown, undifferentiated mode of psychic functioning
(Winnicott, Milner, late Bion, late Lacan). Real, life-giving
psychic change occurs at the level of radical experience, unrepresented
and unknowable-O (called O for Origin), while
the epistemological exploration of the traumatic unknown, in
mode 2 of transformation in Knowledge or dream-thought, remains
at the level of representations. Thus, the difference
between transformation in Knowledge and transformation in
O is that T(K) is a thought for something that has not been
thought yet, and T(O) is a new experience that happens,
that can only “be ‘become,’ but it cannot be ‘known’” (Bion
1970 , p. 26 ). “It can only be experienced.” [Vermote 2013 ]
In my view, Vermote’s mode 2 , transformation in Knowledge, is an
extension of the existing paradigm, while mode 3 , transformation in O,
introduces a revolutionary ontological change that is taking place in psychoanalysis,
reflecting a fundamental commitment to the principle of
being and becoming in the experience rather than an epistemological
exploration; this extends the reach of psychoanalytic treatment to more
disturbed patients and difficult treatment situations. (Eshel, O. From extension to revolutionary change in psychoanalysis: the radical influence of Bion and Winnicott, Psychoan. Quart. LXXXVI, 4 2017.)
In reading the Dreaming analysis texts, the essence of the analytic work that corresponds to the concept of transforming an emotional experience into a dream seems to have been neglected: being able to dream with a patient in analysis the nightmares and night terrors (Ogden 2005) that stalk the mind and that generate symptoms of mental suffering means, above all, being able in the analytic here-and-now, to endure at-one-ment, the terrible and unspeakable mental experience (O) that cannot be dreamt alone, with Faith (Bion 1970) that by becoming that experience, by unconsciousing (Civitarese 2014) it together, it can be intuited and dreamed by the analytic couple. So, this is exactly the kind of analytic experience that Vermote identifies as the core of that revolutionary change in the ontology of analytic cure itself that Bion introduced with the concepts of O and Transformation in O. The transformation in dream of which Ogden and Ferro speak is a concept that alludes to, and in a certain sense coincides with, the analytic experience of a Transformation in O (O→K) of which Bion speaks in Attention and Interpretation, not with the experience of a transformation in K (K→O).
I can’t help but wonder what could be the reason for what appears to be such a common misunderstanding in the clinical translation of the concept of dreaming in analysis primarily advanced by Ferro and Ogden for more than a decade.
The first hypothesis that comes to my mind, almost trivial in its simplicity, perhaps reflects the emotional experience of a reader who, faced with such an apparently simple, easy, light, almost romantic-sounding concept, as the idea of dreaming our own undreamed dreams in analysis, could hardly feel the urge to imagine the Gorgonic quality of an analytic work in long, dark contact with the violence of those proto-mental, un-alphabetized turbulences that inhabit nightmares and night terrors, which is a necessary first step for the possible birth of a reverie and transformation into dream in analysis. It’s really hard to imagine that the levity of the term dreaming in analysis could be in itself an expression and manifestation of the effects of a long trans-generational process of mental digestion and transformation into dream of that much denser, heavier and dodecaphonic fare of new metapsychology that Bion bequeathed us with Attention and Interpretation, and its associated corollary, in crude images, of the new analytic practice in at-one-ment with the unthinkable and unspeakable unknown (O) in search of a dreamer, depicted in his last clinical seminars.
Is it possible that specifying the late Bionian metapsychological origin of this concept could foster a passage from this creeping misunderstanding to a deep understanding of the concept of transformation in dreaming as an oneiric development of the psychoanalysis of O?
In the Babel of theories spreading through the universe of contemporary psychoanalytic literature, it is sometimes perhaps difficult to understand the specificity of the analytic work performed by a colleague, if we read the transcript of a session or a clinical vignette through the lenses of our own metapsychology. The idea that different metapsychologies imply different models of the mind and of analytical cure - perhaps not comparable without the premise of the assumption of the species-specific analytic point of view - easily slips from the mind. And perhaps understanding the specificity of the oneiric work suggested by Bion’s Field Theory is still difficult for those who have long worked with other models, since it is after all a theory at the beginning of its scientific life...