Kavanaugh - Influences from Philosophy, the Theatre, and Poetry On Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique - Revised

Influences from Philosophy, the Theatre, and Poetry On
Psychoanalytic Theory and Technique - Revised ©

by Patrick B. Kavanaugh, Ph.D.
Copyright, 2000

I would like to preface this paper with a brief recounting of the context in which it was written. The Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology sponsored a weekend workshop in the summer of '94, the particular focus of which was the question: How does one listen, understand, and respond when sexual or physical abuse is in the associations?. Each panelist was asked to present a paper organized around five questions: (1) How does one's philosophical and theoretical approach to the understanding of treatment, mental functioning, and developmental processes within the individual, family, and society at large, determine how one listens to the subject and intervenes in the analytic hour?; (2) How are experiences of abuse communicated in the analytic hour?; (3) What special and sometimes non-verbal forms do these communications take?; (4) How is the therapist to decipher, understand, and interpret such communications?; and, lastly, (5) What role, if any, should the therapist play in validating the patient's recollections as they are lived in the discourse? Also, each panelist was asked to exemplify with detailed example the respective answers to these questions. (In the interests of confidentiality, such material will not be referenced in this version of the paper.)

Influences from Philosophy, the Theatre, and Poetry ... proceeds from a different set of philosophical pre-suppositions and influences than do many, if not most, of the versions of psychoanalysis of the Modern Era. And understands the human condition from a psychological theoretical framework that is more compatible with philosophy, the humanities, and the arts than with biology, medicine, and the natural sciences. Further, this version of analysis is understood as contextualized from the arts, e.g., psychic theatre of the mind, in contrast to medical psychologies of psychoanalysis that proceed from an organizing conceptual framework of symptomatology, etiology, and psychopathology and are contextualized in metaphors from the health care professions, eg., health and disease and treatment and cure.

In the American tradition, applied psychoanalysis has made application of medicalized principles of psychology to non-medical subjects such as the theater, poetry, and the arts. Through such applications, applied psychoanalysis exercises an assumed theoretical authority in which, for example, literature, poetry, and movies are interpreted and evaluated for signs of borderline pathologies as scientifically determined by correspondence criteria and evidence. Influences from Philosophy, the Theatre, and Poetry ... is intended as a contribution to rethinking psychoanalysis outside of this pathology and science driven health-care model and its preoccupations with diseases, deficiencies, and disorders. In this rethinking, a different relationship between psychoanalysis, philosophy, the humanities, and the arts is proposed; namely, the essence of psychoanalysis derives from philosophy, the humanities, and the arts. From this perspective, different ways of thinking open new pathways for discourse, debate, and discovery. And different interpretive and theoretical possibilities might emerge in the understanding of ourselves and others.

Influences from Philosophy, the Theatre, and Poetry ... is considered to be a working draft and is intended as a contribution to the study of the psychoanalytic arts.

Introduction: I would like to consider with you this morning certain influences from philosophy, the theatre, and poetry upon psychoanalytic theory and technique. Further, to consider these influences from the perspective of a process theory of psychoanalysis that conceptualizes the analytic endeavor as a venture into communication via the associative method within the contextualizing metaphor of the psychic theatre of the mind. This process theory proceeds from the premise that there is an inextricable link between every day life, psychoanalysis, and the theatre. In everyday life, individuals find in their object relationships an other who embodies, behaviorally enacts, and in some way is experienced as the external concretization of an internal other, an object relationship that is unconsciously selected, organized, and experienced as conforming with certain ingrained images of self and other; and, confirming certain ingrained images of self and other. This embodiment of an internal other in concretized form can provide, at least partially, certain longed for and desired sensory experiences through a reciprocal living out of certain roles of complimentarily through the behavioral enactments between individuals.

There is a living and breathing link between everyday life and psychoanalysis. The internal psychic drama that gradually unfolds in the analytic setting is the same drama that unfolds in the relationships in an individual's everyday life. It is neither the appearance nor the defining presence of this psychic drama in the analytic setting that distinguishes psychoanalysis as being psychoanalysis. It is how the practitioner listens, understands, and responds. (Brenner, 1976) One of the major differences between everyday life and the analytic hour is that in the analytic hour the therapist does not attempt to live out and behaviorally enact this drama and internal experiences with the subject, even though the therapist might be experiencing, at times, rather intense object hungers and desires which could lead to such behavioral enactments. Rather than to behaviorally enact, the analytic therapist attempts to translate into words that which is being communicated. More specifically, to symbolize the as of yet unsymbolized; to elaborate further in words concealed dimensions of experiences not yet known, revealed, or recognized; and, to explain certain discontinuities in the individual's experiences from the enunciating subject's understanding of cause and effect.

Each person's everyday life could be also viewed as an instance of theatrical performance of culturally prescribed roles and socialized expectations as to that which constitutes "appropriateness" in one's behaviors, thinking, and conduct. Indeed, all of life has been considered to be but a stage upon which each individual plays their part engaged in their own very personal, ongoing and continuous performance. This special link, between the theatre and everyday life is not, however, because the theatre is able to imitate and reflect life. Rather, this link is forged because social life is designed as a continuous, spatio-temporal, theatrical performance (Eco, 1990). It is this special link between everyday life, psychoanalysis, and the theatre that is contained and expressed in psychic theatre as a contextualizing metaphor for psychoanalysis. As a way of conceptualizing both mental phenomenon and functioning and the analytic process, psychic theatre holds considerable conceptual promise for the analytic discourse not yet realized.

Since the publication of The Studies on Hysteria (1895), psychoanalytic theory has, for the most part, modelled its understanding and conceptualization of behaviors considered to be pathological after the traumatic neuroses. In accepting the traumatic neuroses as a conceptual model of theoretical truth for one's analytic work, however, one also accepts the largely unquestioned philosophic underpinnings of this theory of symptomatology, pathology, and etiology which subsequently guides how one listens, formulates, and responds during any given analytic hour. I would like to briefly consider some of these underpinnings regarding the relationship of linear time and causality on the one hand and this theory of symptomatology, etiology, and psychopathology on the other before considering psychic theatre from a different philosophic framework.

In The Studies... (1895), Freud and Breuer's development of a psychological way of understanding and treating hysterical symptoms proceeded from the philosophical objectivism of John Locke, developed under the influence of the naturalistic, evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, and was understood from within the meta-narrative of the Age of Enlightenment. The philosophic underpinnings of Freud and Breuer's conceptualization presumed a linearity of absolute and categorical time in which traumatizing archaic events of the past were understood to have occurred at specific points in time existing in Anna O.'s past. These archaic events were presumed to be continuous with and related in a causative, deterministic, and evolutionary way to those behaviors occurring later in time: past traumatizing events were conceptualized as determining symptomatology and interfering with current adaptations to the objective and knowable world. Put another way, that which preceded in absolute categorical time was understood as causally related to that which followed. With this presumed linearization of time and causality, the world, in its essential state, was also understood to be continuous and orderly with its events interrelated and linear in organization, universal in its laws, and as providing an objective frame of reference existing independently of the observer. All knowledge in and about the world was gained by the individual through experiences with people and events (Slife, 1993). This mind independent reality of the world was gradually acquired and internalized as was that which constitutes its Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Much of current psychoanalytic theory follows in this philosophical-theoretical tradition and would hold that the basic motive of pathological behavior is that the individual is attempting to repeat the faulty attunement of the childhood surround in order to master, or to attempt to master through the repetition, a particular traumatic event or series of events that impacted on them in early life. Or that the individual's current pathological behavior is the consequence of arrest at critical developmental junctures or stages because of certain traumatic events having occurred at that time. In the therapist's mind, behaviors considered to be pathological are viewed as a consequence of such developmental arrest or developmental anomaly due to objective, real, live people and events which impacted so profoundly and dramatically long ago in childhood (Kavanaugh, 1992b). From this philosophic framework of objectivism, the infant is conceptually created as having been born into the world as a blank slate (tabula rosa) and, whose development is essentially and subsequently shaped, molded, and determined by the impact of these independently existing real objects, people, and events. As all knowledge originates and exists in this external world independent of the individual, then all that is one day internal is understood as having been external at an earlier time in the individual's life. A kind of socio-psychological determinism in which primacy lies with environmental factors has guided modernistic systems of psychoanalytic thinking and theorizing. The external world has an objective temporal priority and it is this primacy, it is believed, that organizes one's experiences. Current symptoms are then conceptualized as being the disguised representations of these traumatic archaic events occurring in the present, correspondent to actual people and events having occurred in one's past life. From this perspective, the mind is a product of the environment with internal mental representations of self and other in some way related to, if not actual reflections of, the actual traumatizing people and events; empirical events existed in this positivist view of history. And in this philosophic context, correspondence theory, criteria, and evidence combine to perpetuate the myth of psychoanalysis as a natural science of the mind.

This presumed linearity of time and causality provides for the correlative, if not causative, bases for: (1) theoretical understandings and relationships between early personality development and current behaviors considered to be pathological - a conceptual linearization of time moving from past to present; (2) empirical predictions into the future regarding the impact of current environ-mental factors in the shaping of personality - a conceptual linearization of time moving from present to future; and, (3) the retrospective genetic reconstructions in analysis of what must have happened to have resulted in the individual's present behaviors - a conceptual linearization of time moving from present to past. In effect, a linearization of theory and methodology has evolved which presumes its etiology and its results.

Psychic Theatre: Conceptualization of Mental Functioning and Phenomenon

Anna O's reference to freely associating during her therapy sessions with Breuer (1895) as "chimney sweeping", the "talking cure", and as her "private theatre" has been cited by Joyce McDougall as first suggesting the concept of an inner psychic theatre of the mind (McDougall, 1985). McDougall's construction and elaboration of a theoretical framework for various psychic theaters of the mind and the body (McDougall, 1989) represent her highly creative integration of classical psychoanalytic thinking with contemporary object relations theory in the positivist tradition and her further elaboration of theory and concepts from its philosophic context. I would like to consider a conceptualization of psychic theatre also suggested by Anna O's characterization of the therapeutic process as a private psychic theatre. This conceptualization of psychic theatre, however, is recast in the philosophic framework of a radicalized subjectivism; draws heavily from Freud's understanding of dreams (1900); embraces the Lacanian conception of the unconscious, language, and the structured third; and, incorporates the theoretical perspective of the philosopher-semiotician C. S. Pierce.

It is one's underlying philosophical assumptions and premise that determine the context for how one might listen, understand, and respond in the analytic discourse. Thus, I would like to speak first to the philosophic premise underlying this conception of psychic theatre. It is from this philosophical context that I will be then speaking to the remaining four questions under consideration during the workshop.

As a way of conceptualizing mental functioning and phenomenon, psychic theatre -- as recast in this philosophic framework of subjectivism -- is, perhaps, best illustrated by a play performed several years ago at Oakland University's Meadow Brook Theatre (1992). The name of this play was Cobb by the playwright Lee Blessing. Cobb was about Ty Cobb, the legendary baseball player for the Detroit Tigers during the early 1900's. The play begins with the curtain opening to reveal a stage which is cast mostly in shadows and darkness. In the center of the stage, there is a six or seven row section of bleachers as would be found at the baseball park; the bleachers are the only background scenery throughout the performance. Cobb begins with a bright, focused spotlight cutting through the darkness and shining down on a solitary figure off to the right and back in the shadows of the bleachers. The light shines down on an older man who begins to slowly walk forward while speaking to the audience. He introduces himself as Ty Cobb; he is over 70 years of age, he says. And as he continues speaking, it becomes more and more obvious that he is quite troubled and pained. He speaks with a great sense of sadness and urgency about his life and approaching death. He increasingly thinks about and senses Death's uninvited presence in his daily life. True enough, he says, he was famous and considered to be the best baseball player in all of baseball ... but... his fame and recognition as the best was because he had been "the meanest son of a bitch in baseball." Mr. Cobb goes on to recount how, as a young man, he had started many violent barroom fights. And he goes on to recall the many times when running out a hit to first base he would slide into first base with his spikes high. Many first basemen who had stood their ground now carried the scars from his unsportsmanlike playing. His obnoxious, aggressive, and competitively combative playing both on and off the field had won for him fame, fortune, and recognition but he was neither liked nor was he admired.

Mr. Cobb's obvious sadness and troubled manner lay in his acute awareness of the approaching presence of death and his concern that whereas he might be occasionally mentioned or even remembered as being the unquestioned best in the record books, it would be only in the haunting context of having been 'the meanest son of a bitch in baseball." Players like Babe Ruth and Charlie Gheringer, now they would be remembered and live on in the minds of the people; they were well liked. People might recall his records but they would not remember him. And without such remembrance, it would be as if he had never lived; he would be forgotten. The conflict within Mr. Cobb is quite palpable and intense: to be remembered as the best because he had been the meanest son of a bitch in baseball was not to be remembered at all. As he continues to speak, one starts to notice that he begins to rethink and to revise these past memories and events of his life. This revision of his memories and images of self is in the service of his present wishes to live on in the minds of others, to achieve a form of immortality. "Maybe", he says, "that really wasn't the way it had been at all." "Of course not!!!" He hadn't sucker punched that guy in the bar in Detroit... And those brawls back in Georgia in his youth? Why they were in self defense. He didn't start any fights. He didn't slide into first base with his spikes high. It wasn't his intent to spike anyone; ... that was just a rumor started by his competitors, probably the Babe and Charlie started those vicious lies just to discredit him so they could elevate themselves in the eyes of the public at his expense. Yeah! that was it!"

Quite unexpectedly, a second spotlight shines brightly down on the stage but over on the left, back in the shadows, behind the bleachers. A young man about 20 years of age comes out of the shadows, brazenly and aggressively striding forward and obnoxiously screaming at Mr. Cobb, "You can't do that, old man!. You can't start changing things around! What about me! You're killing me!! You're acting like I never lived!!, Like I never existed!!! You can't live forever, not at my expense!!! I did so sucker punch that guy in Detroit and he had it coming, and back in Georgia? You're god damned right!! I was in those brawls! I had a reputation to maintain, you know. What would they think of me? How else could I get out of that god damn town! I had to get away from my old man!!" This young man then turns to the audience and goes on to describe in great detail the trapped and desperate urgency to get out of the house, to get out of town, to escape the relationship with his father; he had to be somebody. He turns again to Mr. Cobb and he screams and rages: to change the past is to kill him! What is this??? Who is this brash and rash, aggressively and stridently disrespectful young man? It gradually comes to be known that this young man is The Georgia Peach. The Georgia Peach is Mr. Cobb as he was known as a young man 50 years earlier, at about age 20, when he first made his spectacular entrance into the major leagues. This young man who leapt to life from the shadows of the bleachers, is an invincible young man with a point to desperately prove, a world to conquer, looking for a fight and ready to "... kick ass and take addresses", as he is quick to say.

As they scream and yell at each other, it takes a while to realize that both characters are embodiments of Ty Cobb at different times in his life. It is disorienting as that which is being portrayed on the stage is so contrary to one's expected linear understandings as to time, person, place, and causality. Both images of self exist in the present tense, are experienced as being separate from each other, and are palpably alive. Each aspect of self interacts with the present wishes and needs of Mr. Cobb as embodiment of the present and the Georgia Peach as embodiment of the phenomenal past. The past blends inseparably with the present; the past co-exists and co-determines with the present. Put another way: the present is the present moment of the past ... and something more. The conflict within the Georgia Peach is as profoundly intense, palpable, desperate, and uncompromising as is the conflict within Mr. Cobb. The conflict between these different aspects of self e.g., between the Georgia Peach and Mr. Cobb, is just as intense and desperate. The experience of a literal life and death struggle within each representation of self and between these different aspects of self provides a unifying thematic thread that spans and unites these different aspects of self. In effect, each aspect of self i.e. Mr. Cobb and The Georgia Peach, experiences the internal other in objectified form, external to, separate from, and different than self, not unlike phenomena one might find in a dream. Indeed, the French philosopher Delboeuf, as cited in the Interpretation of Dreams (1900), speaks to certain characteristics of the dream that are quite relevant to this conception of mental functioning and phenomenon as embodied in the psychic theatre of the mind. Delboeuf states that the dreamer is an actor or an actress who plays the parts in the dream of both madman and philosopher, of both executioner and victim, of both dwarf and giant, of both demon and angel". (Freud, 1900, p. 60) The dreamer singlehandedly plays the parts of each of the characters on the stage. The dreamer's relationship to the various elements of the dream is one in which each and every element of the dream is representational of an aspect of self with some aspects of self experienced as other.

It is certainly not the experience by either the Georgia Peach or Mr. Cobb that this is an intrapsychic conflictual phenomenon. Each experiences the conflict as being external to oneself, as objectively verifiable, and, as being done to himself from without by the other. Paradoxically, the intrapsychic conflict is expressed through an intrapsychic dialogue, represented and experienced as taking place in the context of an interpersonal relationship in which the unconscious of self is revealed in the discourse of the other. To further elaborate: all behaviors could be viewed as a solution to an internally conflicted situation. This conscious solution is comprised of the different aspects of the internally conflicted situation, e.g., certain protective and wishful aspects, various sources of anxiety, and communicative aspects. This conscious solution is conceptualized as being the consequence of an intricately complex compromise formation expressive of all elements of the conflicted aspects of self… and, something more. For example, Mr. Cobb's solution to the problem of not being remembered in the future is to not remember himself, as embodied in the Georgia Peach, in his phenomenal past. His act of rememberance under the influence of his present longings and desires incorporate his future goals for life and immortality and could be viewed through the eyes of Mr. Cobb as rememberance as an act of creativity designed to permit and continue his life. The same act as viewed through the eyes of the Georgia Peach, however, could be viewed as rememberance as an act of murder designed to end and conclude his life. Mr. Cobb's solution reflects, repeats, and perpetuates within and between different aspects of self his life-long life and death struggle. Neither the Georgia Peach nor Mr. Cobb, however, experiences self as a murderer; for each, the murderer is revealed and contained within the discourse of the other. It is in this discourse that the embodiment of the unconscious is revealed in the other. Conscious is inseparable from unconscious. In a sense, it all depends on the perspective taken in the discourse. ... As process and dynamic, the unconscious structures the reality of everyday life with which we interact and attempt to negotiate with throughout life. As a dynamic process, the unconscious could be conceptualized and thought of as an "incessant sliding of the signified beneath the signifier" (Lacan, 1977 ). In the case of Mr. Cobb and the Georgia Peach, it could be thought of as the experience of sliding the phenomenal past as signified through the eyes of the Georgia Peach beneath the signifier , Mr. Cobb. Of course, in this instance, the sliding of the signified system as represented by the Georgia Peach beneath the signifier as represented by Mr. Cobb, takes place in a most unsportsmanlike way ---the Georgia Peach is sliding beneath the signifier with his spikes high! But then, again, how else could it be?

Lastly, the solution to the internal conflict is conceptualized as being psychically determined with manifest behavior understood as the consequence of multiple contextual and experiential forces emanating from within the internal representations of self and other. For example, each of the embodiments of self as represented and illustrated by Mr. Cobb and The Georgia Peach could be conceptualized as comprising a complex and dynamic system of signification considered to be complete at any given moment in space-time. That is, the world as signified by the Georgia Peach represents his linearized version of time, person, place, and causality. And this version constitutes his vision of the world that is notably different from but similar to that version and vision of Mr. Cobb. This conceptualization of psychic determinism is predicated on Mr. Cobb's phenomenal past, includes his present wishes, desires, and longings; and, incorporates his purposes and future goals ... and something more. Psychic determinism is, thus, conceptualized as a non linear determinism responsive to a complex dynamic interplay of teleological forces in the mind which represent a complete system at any given point in time. From this radicalized perspectivism, phenomenalism, and subjectivism, psychic determinism is conceptualized as one might a poetic text in which there is a system of systems with a relation of relations. Within this conceptualization of mental functioning and phenomenon, a supraordinate system of systems of a signifying self coexist in the present moment with a relation of relations between and within these systems of signification by and of self. The supraordinate system of systems of self and signification always transcends the sum of its systems. But for now, back to the play --- as the play is the thing!

The play continues with all of the complexities and unexpected twists and turns one might find in everyday life. Other aspects of self make their appearances on stage to join in the conversation in the form of Ty as the embodiment of Mr. Cobb at 40 years of age. Ty's conflictual dilemmas co-exist in the present moment, seeking their resolution through negotiating compromises with the other aspects of self. And near the end of the play, just as a satisfactory compromise solution is finding agreement amongst Mr. Cobb, the Georgia Peach, and Ty, a black man makes his sudden and unexpected appearance. He introduces himself to be none other than Oscar Charleston from the segregated Negro League where he is also known as the Black Cobb. The Black Cobb is the one, he says, that history will be certain to prove to have been the unquestioned absolute best in all of baseball; the Black Cobb as the external concretized embodiment of those aspects of the black other so long ago segregated from the white self in Mr. Cobb's mind. As the play draws to a close, Mr. Cobb's torment goes on as he will never know if he will be remembered as the best in all of baseball.

The play Cobb helps to illustrate in a somewhat linear fashion the essentially non-linear nature of mental functioning, phenomenon, and processes. And also, the fundamental importance of the philosophical underpinnings of theory in the understanding of basic psychoanalytic concepts and the defining influence on how one listens, understands, and responds in the analytic discourse. From this philosophic position of a radicalized subjectivism, cause and effect relationships are not conceptualized as being in the external world. Rather, they are conceptualized as extending from the mind and are experienced as occurring outside of self. Indeed, cause and effect relationships are not detectable "out there" by science or research as cause and effect are the relationships in our own minds imposed upon, ordering, and interpreting phenomenon (sensations). Our everyday experiences are not of the world as it really is; rather, our everyday experiences of the world as it is are structured by our minds, interpreted by the cause-effect relationships in our minds, and experienced as external to ourselves. In the analytic discourse, the environment and its causal relationships are considered to be a product of mind; the contents of one's mind, including the mental representations of self and other, are understood to be aspects of self. And the past is not considered to be a determinant of the present, as neither linear continuity nor causality between experiences is assumed. Thus from this philosophic position, all reality is understood to be psychic reality, aspects of which are experienced by the individual as actual reality; the agent of responsibility and causality are found with the enunciating subject. A radicalized subjectivism proceeds from the basic premise that that which exists is whatever it is that occurs when the senses of the observer experiences. (Eaker, 1975) There can be no perception independent of one's perception. The infant, the speechless one, is conceptually created as born into the world with a priori principles of organization and activity. From the beginning, the infant with her visual precocity is quite actively organizing and interpreting the surrounding disordered sensations and quite actively engages in a process of signifying the world and determining how that world is constituted. Throughout one's life, ongoing internal experiences determine one's particular vision of the world and one's particular version of the linearity of time and of causality; reality is slowly, idiosyncratically, and provisionally constructed and is inextricably linked to one's development of language. From the beginning, the process of constructing and signifying reality is in the eye of the beholder as is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. (Kavanaugh, 1993)

One final comment regarding "psychic theatre" as a way of conceptualizing mental functioning and mental phenomenon: there is no intermission in this psychic theatre of the mind--- it is a continuous and ongoing dynamic process.

Psychic Theatre:  A Way of Conceptualizing the Analytic Process and Endeavor

The philosophical underpinnings of a radicalized subjectivism recasts the meaning of the psychic theatre of the mind as a way of conceptualizing mental functioning and phenomenon and the analytic process. From this context of radicalized subjectivism comes a theoretical understanding and rationale of psychoanalysis that could be succinctly stated as: To understand the intrapsychic conflict as given voice through the intrapsychic dialogue of self in the present moment of the past in the discourse of the concretized other; the intrapsychic dialogue is given voice in the context of an interpersonal relationship. The deceptively simple purpose of analysis is to attempt to understand idiothetic meaning through the associative-communicative process and to attempt to communicate that understanding in a meaningful way to the subject.

With this rather succinct statement of a theory of psychoanalysis as method and purpose, the remaining four questions were considered and addressed, e.g., How are experiences of abuse communicated in the analytic hour?; What special and sometimes nonverbal forms do these communications take?; How is the therapist to decipher, understand and interpret such communications?; and, lastly, What role, if any, should the therapist play in validating the subject's recollections as they are lived out in the discourse? From the context and theoretical understanding of mental life and phenomenon as presented, I would like to consider psychic theatre as a contextualizing metaphor for the analytic process in more detail.

The Drama of Trauma in the Theatre of the Mime

How are experiences of sexual abuse communicated during the clinical hour? How does one listen? Certainly, an avenue of communication of abuse during the analytic hour is through the subject's manifest verbal associations. The organizing question of the workshop, however, was: How does one listen to and understand such reports of early memories and experiences of childhood abuse? Within the contextualizing metaphor of psychic theatre, the enunciating subject is viewed as the producer, director, choreographer, and very importantly, the playwright of all that transpires on the analytic stage. The subject directs where the discourse will go, when it will proceed, at what pace, the emotional context at different times, and when the play ends. Further, the subject through various avenues of communication associatively produces all that is necessary to be understood. In this psychic theatre of the mind, all behavior is conceptualized as having a communicative function, and as constituting a multi-level and multi-dimensional statement (Searles, 1961) which has both rhyme and reason, meaning and purpose for that individual. In the conversation of the analytic moment, meaning derives from the associative context in which the statement occurs.

One listens to all communications as part of the associative process brought to mind for the purpose of communicating something about the individual's understanding and experience of self, others, their world, and their relationship to that world. One listens with and through all perceptual senses and systems as the communicative aspects of behavior are conceptualized as expressed through the verbal language of speech, the visual language of dreams, and the iconic language of the body, eg., somatic expressions, experiences, and processes. All of these communicative aspects of the individual join together in a choreographed conversation during the analytic hour reflecting the assumption of a monistic view of mind and body. (Kavanaugh, 1992a) This choreographed conversation reflects a view of the unconscious as "...structured in the most radical way like a language" (Lacan, 1977, p. 234). And as a quite sophisticated form of thinking in its organization. One listens to the "Is"-- to the present moment of the past --- through a particular methodology i.e. the associative method, a very inclusive methodology by which the therapist listens to all of the individual's thoughts, actions, pictures, and experiences as reflections of a continuous process of symphonic communication (Kavanaugh, 1993) ---- there is no intermission in this psychic theatre of the analytic process.

One "listens" to the associations as brought to mind to communicate something about the subject's past perceived object relationships with other, and as a way of communicating certain current aspects of self and other. And also, as communicating in and through the same associative context experiences which in some way relate to the subject's experience of the relationship with the therapist. In this venture into communication via the associative method, the subject is understood as represented by his words, as being her words, and as being in the words. Clearly, from this philosophical-theoretical perspective: that which is understood by the therapist as to be constitutive of language and communication, as well as the nature of the relationship to that language and communication, is absolutely crucial to the "talking therapy" (Ragland-Sullivan, 1991).

What special and sometimes non-verbal forms do these communications take? The subject's way of recalling and speaking to past memories and events might not be in the usual, customary, and linear way one might be accustomed to thinking about talking and communicating. Rather, talking might be in the form of being or becoming the internal representation of self from within the particular scene of the action of the particular memory-experience-event in the theatre of the subject's mind. That is, the subject might become one of the perceived archaic images within the metaphor. If action is, indeed, trial thought, then much of what transpires in the analytic discourse might be like a theatre without words, a theatre of the mime, in which communications are spoken in a more primal linguistic, a language of movement and action in which the subject becomes the communication of the iconic image. And listening to and understanding these communications might not be in the usual, customary, and linearized way of thinking about listening and understanding.

One of the defining and noteworthy characteristics of the role that the therapist plays in this psychic theatre is that of an understudy to the lead character in the play serving in a role of complimentarity to that of the subject's. As an understudy, the therapist attempts to continuously understand and conceptualize the evolving themes and multiple transference paradigms including the emotional context of the particular internal mental representations. In this respect, the therapist is one hundred percent detached and observing of the play. The therapist, as the external concretization or embodiment of the internal sensory image of other, is required to be one hundred percent immersed in the psychic play in a role of complimentarily to the subject's self. In a very real sense (figuratively speaking, of course) the therapist becomes the character of the other, to become means to think like, feel like, and be like the particular other as an actor or actress becomes a particular character in the theatre. Thus, as an understudy, the therapist is one hundred percent detached and observing of the psychic play as it unfolds while, at the same time, one hundred percent immersed and participating in the psychic play as it unfolds. As the subject comes to recreate, relive, and repeat certain archaic patterns of self and other with the therapist, the complimentarily of role of the subject's internal other may evocatively and continuously plays on the object hungers, fears, terrors, and desires of the therapist. As an understudy, the therapist attempts to translate into words that which has not yet been symbolized, provide further elaboration as to that which is being communicated, and explain from the individual's system of logic and causality, e.g., the individual's world of significance, meaning, purpose, and internal adaptation, that which would be important to be understood. In a sense, the therapist would be enacting the transference in translative and explanative thinking and words rather than in other forms of action. (Kavanaugh, 1992a)

A final comment as to how one might listen, understand, and decipher from this philosophical-theoretical framework. The analytic discourse is understood to be a semiotic discourse to be understood as one would understand a poetic text. Broadly defined, semiotics refers to the means by which we can conjure reality from illusion by the use of signs and systems of signification. (Sebeock, 1991) Psychic theatre, as considered, rests on the semiotic of the philosopher and semiotician C.S. Pierce. (Fisch, 1978; Eco, 1984; Haley, 1988) His is understood to be a radical theory of meaning and interpretation which considers everything in the universe to be, at least potentially, a sign of and a sign for something else; every entity, including the human entity, is potentially a sign for something else much as one would listen to and understand the visual images and language of dreams. His semiotic represents the insistence that the interpretation of a sign's meaning must not proceed upon the simplistic notion that the meaning is the sign's object. To understand the associative process as a semiotic discourse is to consider the analytic discourse, much like with poetry, as one of the most complex forms of human discourse and ...... as having several systems of meaning and signification condensed together; each system of which contains its own tensions, parallelisms, repetitions, and oppositions; and, each system of which is continually modifying all of the others" (Lotman as cited in Eagleton, 1983, p. 102); and, wherein which all thinking is considered to be radically metaphoric. It is this radical extension in degree and compression in time or space of universal semiotic functions which renders the analytic discourse effectively a venture into communication via the associative process within the contextual metaphor of the psychic theatre of the mind; psychoanalysis becomes a venture into this dynamic process and system of signification.

The listener must be with the words, and in the words, and be the words, yet at the same time go beyond the literal signification of the words. The listener must be in the dimension of literal signification of words and, at the same time, in a different dimension beyond words and speakers into the field provided by the individual that structures the words and the speakers in meaningful ways, the Lacanian structured third (Mueller, 1990). One listens and blends literal meaning with contextual meaning from somewhere in the space in between. And in so doing, makes a leap, a discovery, and a solution that is something more than what could be represented in any other way. It is from somewhere in this space between literal meaning and contextual meaning, between the symbolic and the embodiment of the imaginary-time-sensorial, that the blended experiences of the something more fill the dead carcasses of empty words with idiosyncratic meaning and purpose, rhyme and reason.

From this philosophical-theoretical perspective, the special link forged between psychoanalysis, everyday life, and the theatre places the question of the subject as central in the analytic endeavor; one attempts to listen, understand, and respond to the quest(ion) of the subject. More specifically, the quest of psychoanalysis becomes the attempt to understand the individual's world as predicated and constructed on that person's particular philosophical framework while accepting the subject's particular version of what constitutes objective reality and subjective reality. And from this idiosyncratically constructed objective-subjective framework, to understand that person's particular construction of the world with its various systems and forms of logic, thinking, and knowing. And the various versions and experiencing definitions of person, time, logic, and causality. In one's attempt to understand the poetic text of meaning and significance, it is the person and the system of systems which always transcends the sum of the systems in this dynamic process and system of signification. The person is always something more. Each and every aspect of the subject's world is considered to be representational of self with his or her relationship to its unbroken flesh established and reflected through these living and breathing systems of signification. And the desire of this other (Lacan, 1977) as represented by language, is language, and is frustrated by language speaks to the something more of desire and the person.

The last question to be formally considered at the workshop was: What role, if any, should the therapist play in validating the patient's recollections as they are lived out in the treatment? From this philosophical-theoretical perspective, validation of the subject's recollections as they are lived in the analytic discourse is considered to be absolutely crucial in at least two respects: (1) to accept and attempt to understand the individual's reality as one's senses reveals it to be is to validate the individual's ongoing statement I experience, therefore it is. If it is, it is, therefore, valid as an experience, an event-in-the-mind-of-the-individual. And, the corollary holds as well for historical realities, I experienced, therefore it was, and (2) if abuse is in the associations of the subject, then abuse is also in the experience of the immediate moment, at some level of discourse in the interpersonal context with the therapist. To acknowledge and to validate this sensory experience, when indicated, is absolutely crucial. .... to be continued


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Dr. Kavanaugh received his doctorate in philosophy (psychology) from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.  Since the completion of his doctoral studies, he has been active in the academic, organizational, and practice areas of the psychoanalytic-psychological community.  In the academic area, he has served as Director of Clinical Training and member of the core teaching and supervisory faculty in the doctoral program in psychoanalytic psychology at the University of Detroit; as a member of the teaching and supervisory faculty in the Program for Advanced Studies in Psychoanalysis in Wyandotte, Michigan, an interdisciplinary program for the study of the analytic discourse; and, as a member of the teaching and supervisory faculty in the pre-and post doctoral educational programs at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute, the Wyandotte General Hospital, and the V.A. Medical Center in Detroit.  In the organizational area, he is the founding and current president of the Academy for the Study of the Psychoanalytic Arts; past president of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education; the Michigan Psychological Association, and the Michigan Society of Clinical Psychologists.  In the practice area, many of his professional interests during the past 35 years are directly related to experiences in the discourses of various residential treatment facilities.

Dr. Kavanaugh is a recipient of The Distinguished Psychologist Award  from the Michigan Psychological Association and the Master Lecturer Award from the doctoral students at the University of Detroit.

Currently Dr. Kavanaugh is in the private practice of psychoanalysis in Farmington Hills, Michigan:

Office:     31805 Middlebelt, Suite #305
               Farmington Hills, Michigan, USA  48334
               Phone: (248) 626-6460
               Fax:      (248) 626-4808