Towards A Theory of That Which Lies Beyond Imagery

François Martin-Vallas
Grenoble, France
Sociétié Française de Psychologie Analytique

Today, I want to share in a discussion with you about an issue which seems to me to take up more and more space in clinical practice, in any event, in my own as a psychiatrist. It is precisely because I am a doctor and a psychiatrist that a certain number of patients contact me, as if intuiting the depth of their troubles and in the belief that my medical training will enable me to accompany them better, which obviously remains to be seen …

The issue which concerns me is how to represent psychic energy, such that, without the capacity to represent it, this energy remains beyond consideration, and becomes instead a source of anxiety, of depression, of acting out or of somatic symptoms. Indeed, without the possibility of representation, psychic energy is unthinkable, cannot be discussed, cannot be symbolised, so that in the end, it must inevitably become destructive.

We know that for Jung, representation (or imagery) is a form of libido, that is to say, it has the same sort of relationship to psychic energy as there is between matter and energy in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. We know, also, that for Jung, representations are structured, organised and mobilised by archetypes, which in their turn, are decisive in the nature of representations, how reliable they may be and how forceful. But just as in physics, it is difficult to generate matter out of energy, whereas the converse is easier (which is one of the applications of the principle of entropy), it seems that in the sphere of clinical practice which is how I was led to think about this, it is very difficult to transform the unrepresented libido into imagery.

A final word, then, about the comparison between the relationship between energy and matter in the physics of relativity and the relationship between the libido and imagery in analytical psychology: in the physics of relativity the relationship is unequivocal: so that when energy is in the form of matter, it is no longer free; conversely, if it is free, matter no longer exists. In Jung’s terms, imagery is certainly a form of energy, but one that is capable of transformation, without its previous aspect needing to disappear from the psychic apparatus. And if we want to retain a certain coherence of the identity between imagery and libido as postulated by Jung, we are led inevitably to differentiate the form and weight or the force of imagery. The form then becomes what is accessible to consciousness, or, if one prefers, it becomes the representation itself. Its force is the quantity of libido which, at any given time, is contained in and by the representation. We are well aware, for example, that imagery can be more or less fueled by energy according to the extent to which the archetype, to which it is linked, is itself more or less activated.

However, all this does not seem to bring us much further forward in considering the original point about transforming the libido into imagery. Moreover, the differences between this Jungian postulate and the Freudian approach which speaks of cathexis, may appear Byzantine and to say in Jung’s terms, that imagery is a form of libido could appear trivial. And yet, even though he may not have been directly interested in this issue, nor having in the least elaborated a developmental approach to the human soul, Jung nevertheless gives us an opening which will enable us to develop our thinking.

The opening which I am suggesting we pursue is through one of the aspects of the definition of the archetype as elaborated by Jung. Indeed, whereas classical definitions of the archetype see it as organising the processes of thought, and how representations and the objects upon which they are projected are cathected, Jung often speaks of the archetype as equivalent to a pattern of behaviour. Two examples of this struck me particularly, one was about the Yucca butterfly (C.G. Jung, “L’instinct et l’inconscient,” 1948, in L’énergétique psychique, George: Geneve, 1973, p. 97), and the other was about the weaver bird’s ability to build his nest. Here is what he wrote about it:

The archetype is practically a synonym of the biological concept of pattern of behaviour. But as that concept deals primarily with external phenomena, I have chosen the term archetype to stand for the pattern of behaviour. We do not know whether the weaver bird has a vision of an internal image when he obeys a formal structure received through ancient heredity when building his nest, but everything we know from experience, confirms that no weaver bird has ever devised his nest by himself. It all happens as if the image of how to build the nest were innate. (Jung, Correspondence 1950-1954, Albin Michel: Paris, 1994, pp. 219-220, [letter of 23 February 1954 to Pr. G.A. von Den])

Obviously, we cannot know if the image of how to build the nest is or isn’t present in the bird’s consciousness before he has built it, but we can reasonably assume that the image is present once it is built which would tend to indicate that the bird found in his environment all the necessary conditions for its construction. We can thus differentiate the first image, which we cannot know for certain to be an image, and the memory trace which is an image capable of being recognised, so long as the conditions obtaining at its first occurence (as it is governed by the archetype) were sufficient for the experience of a satisfactory construction of the nest.

We have here a first element which tells us that the archetype mobilizes experiences in the world through its instinctual project and that and in so far as these experiences are sufficiently satisfactory, they enable the representation of the archetypal energy which has thus been mobilised. Put another way, a sufficient satisfaction of needs is necessary for the transformation of energy into imagery: the trace memory of this experience then becomes the carrier of the libidinal charge which lead to the experience, which allows it to become its representation. Only then can the hallucinatory wish fulfilment take place as described by Freud, since such an hallucinatory fulfilment presupposes a representation of the wish to be fulfilled.

You will perhaps wonder why I should introduce here a reference to the Freudian concept of hallucinatory wish fulfilment. It is for two reasons. In the first place it relates to a clinical fact, before becoming established as an actual concept, and besides, this clinical fact seems especially pertinent to the discussion at hand: in my view it is the first demonstration of the existence of actual imagery.

Indeed, the possibility of an hallucinatory fulfilment does not imply that this is about a biological need and introduces the fact that an infant’s needs are far from being of a purely biological nature. For example, if a baby awakened by hunger seeks to find hallucinatory satisfaction, this will not help it overcome the hunger and go back to sleep. Yet if it manages to hallucinate the presence of the mother (for instance while she is preparing a feed), this will enable it to relieve some of the anxiety and the uncomfortable sensations linked to hunger and that way to defer the fulfilment of that need: this would then imply paradoxically that an hallucinatory possibility lay at the origin of the possibility of the reality principle.

We can see therefore that an hallucinatory satisfaction bears witness to an actual representation, that is, to a memory complex able, to an extent, to stand in for the absent object. And if I refer to a memory complex it is so as to emphasise that this is not merely about an image, but about a complex consisting of sensory motor experiences, which arose in the presence of a sufficiently satisfactory object. Imagery defined in this way, is no longer just a collection of memory traces. To call it a complex amounts to saying that such a collection of memory traces doesn’t only consist of the sum of its elements, but that it is moreover organised both by the experience the subject has already had of the object and by the archetype which initiated the possibility of this experience.

At this stage in my presentation, I could pursue an enquiry into imagery by going down the road of a more in-depth consideration of the hallucinatory wish fulfilment, and particularly talking about how it relates on the one hand to fears of abandonment (the failure of the hallucinatory presence of the anaclictic and or counterphobic object), and on the other, to the transitional object and the entire clinical field relating to it. However, this is not the aim of my current research. In fact, it seems to me that many failures in the hallucinatory wish fulfilment are linked to a fault in the primary process of representation and that there is a similar problem for a host of disturbances in the transitional area. I am therefore going to refer to the people whose theories will help me to conceptualise what lies beyond representation and therefore necessarily beyond the transitional: Michael Fordham on the one hand, and Jean Laplanche on the other.

Michael Fordham

As most of you are already familiar with Fordham’s theory, I shall summarise it very briefly. He has defined the primary self as the initial psychic state, a state of homeostatic equilibrium where no differentiation between the inner and outer world is available to a baby. Nor is it possible for it to discern any differentiation in the inner world, so that for a baby in that state, the world is it, and it is the world: this is an initial totality, a monad, a state of integration. But this state of homeostasis is only a more or less unstable equilibrium and it can be rocked by as many internal as external stimuli. If the stimuli reach a certain threshold, a disequilibrium occurs, a loss of homeostasis, a de-integration takes place. And it is this de-integration that lies at the origin of the activation of archetypal potential which will in turn organise all psychomotor activity enabling the baby to “make itself understood” by its environment. We confront the baby like the ethologist confronts the weaver bird about to build his nest for the first time, and is incapable of deciding whether the bird actually possesses an image of the environment and how it can be stimulated. Nonetheless, just as the weaver bird shows a truly innate competence to build his nest, so the neonate manifests an innate competence to communicate his needs to his environment.

In this state of de-integration, if the environment provides the baby with a sufficiently satisfactory response, a state of homeostasis arises which includes the outer world which the baby is then able to explore for a while before going back to sleep assuaged. This then is a re-integration. I believe this time of re-integration is particularly important. Since that which is re-integrated isn’t only a state of homeostasis, but surely a whole complex set of conditions, internal as well as external, which have contributed to the new equilibrium. And if the baby has been able to experience a moment of homeostasis with the outer world and has been able to explore at its leisure the surroundings, the latter begin to assume a particular importance for it. For one thing, his external nature is very likely perceptible to the infant, witness, for example, his response to the mimicries of the mother (and vice versa). For another, the fact that there is a sufficient homeostasis in the outer world means that the infant experiences it as an integrating part of his own self: this is what Fordham means by self object. The self object opens up both the possibility of hallucinatory wish fulfilment and access to the transitionality described by Winnicott.

Jean Laplanche

Jean Laplanche’s vision of the early phase in the emergence of differentiation may appear quite different. He believes in fact that the fundamental difference between the adults who care for the baby and the baby itself is that the former have both a sexual life in its real and phantasy forms and are subject to their own unconscious processes, particularly their own sexual cathexis. This is very Freudian metapsychological thinking, but I consider it to be a most interesting idea because at its base is the issue of the development of sexuality out of instinct. Moreover, sexual is not merely the concrete sexuality of Freud writing in 1910, it concerns also the unknowable in the life of others, of all others which, in a word, he calls the cultural.

He writes that in her cathexis of the baby, the adult continues to be partially sexually cathected, so that while looking after the baby, part of her responds to its instinctual needs, and another part, the sexual part occurs like “a hair floating in the soup” since it is totally alien to the baby’s instinctual expectations. In this case, the baby, according to Laplanche, is thus confronted by a partial cathexis of the adult which is wholly alien to it which it therefore disregards, not possessing the instinctual equipment to deal otherwise with such a cathexis. The baby’s disregard of the adult’s sexual cathexis would be the primary repression and the source object of the sexual drive. He calls this the primary seduction. He thinks, therefore, that this aspect of sexual cathexis of the baby by the adult has the effect of seducing the baby and thereby perverts part of the baby’s instinctual energy. In Laplanche’s terms, this is the origin of the energy which gives rise to the sexual drive, which, put this way, amounts to a perversion of instinct.

This thesis strikes me as very interesting for us Jungians as it offers the possibility of a link at the heart of our own theory between the contributions of Freud and of Jung. Moreover, this thesis answers the apparent paradox in Jung’s theory between a purely instinctual and quasi mechanical vision of the archetype and at the same time, a teleological, spiritual and symbolising vision of that very archetype.

In effect, the seduction described by Laplanche introduces the baby into the world of transcendence in a Kantian sense as used by Jung; in other words, in terms that totally evade consciousness. The baby is thus plunged into a world that adequately meets his instinctual and archetypal needs and which at the same time is, in part, totally incomprehensible to it. This leads us into the centre of Michael Fordham’s notion of de-integration so that the baby is then able to re-integrate the homeostasis regained along with the transcendent part of the world. This then allows us to say that the baby becomes subject to itself by the same movement which renders it alien to itself.

And when we return to Jung’s theory of archetypes, as a part of our instinctual human baggage, we realise that Jean Laplanche’s amounts to a theory about the origins of the spiritual and transcendent in the archetype: which in turn is the outcome of the primary seduction which perverts a part of the predetermined instinctual energy of the archetype to open it up to the dimension of transcendence. Moreover, the fact that all religions, all mystics, have always used sexual and erotic imagery to illustrate an intimate encounter with transcendence, seems to me to confirm the accuracy of what Jean Laplanche postulates.

Chaos Theory: The Strange Attractor

towards_a_theory_1 To conclude this short introduction to our discussion, I want to invite you to consider a theory of modern physics which can stand as a metaphorical model for that primary seduction and its effect on instinctual and therefore archetypal determinants. I am referring to Chaos Theory and the definition of the strange attractor. This is a theory which applies to systems which perfectly well obey the laws of physical causality and which, in spite of that, are quite unpredictable. The simplest example is that of the dual pendulum. If you attach to a pendulum the string of a second pendulum and put the system in motion, it becomes impossible to predict its position from one moment to the next. On the face of it, with the help of a sound knowledge of mathematics we could write a corresponding equation, one that would exactly describe the system’s position at any point in the past or the future. But the results of such an equation will be found to work only over a very short spell!

Here we have a system which can be mathematically modelled and which seems unpredictable. This outcome is the result of the margin of error which grows exponentially over time. We could quite easily predict the position of the two pendulums after a few seconds, but very soon the system will evade our capacity to predict. To describe such a system, physicists talk about a strange attractor: it is the outcome of two simple systems (for our purposes the two pendulums) whose combination gives rise to a system quite different from that which would otherwise result from the sum or multiplication of the original two. A further important point about such chaotic systems is that a minute variation in the conditions of the system can create far-reaching consequences: which is why some physicists have been led to say that a butterfly flapping its wings in the forests of Brazil can be the cause of a cyclone at the other end of the Earth!

This is what prompts me to imagine that the primary seduction, as described by Jean Laplanche, lies at the root of a chaotic system by subverting a very weak part of the archetypal energy, which is why in spite of certain predetermined instinctual patterns, a human being cannot be reduced to a causal and predetermined model. I believe also that the primary seduction cannot be dissociated from the dynamics of de- and re-integration as described by Fordham. This leads me to think that the bipolar nature of the archetype, which Jung talks about, subverts instinctual determinism through its instinctual and spiritual poles and turns the archetype into a truly strange psychic attractor, a creator of chaos. This way, representations cathected not only by the instinctual pole of the archetype, but also by its spiritual pole become sufficiently unstable to remain intimately linked to what is unknowable about life, what is the proper domain of the symbolic and which in any event ensures that cathexis can pass more freely from one representation to another, which is a necessary condition for the metamorphosis of the libido (and incidentally relates to Freud’s definition of the sexual). Only then, according to my own clinical experience, is it possible to really speak about representation.

A viewpoint such as this one is not devoid of clinical consequences, since what then comes into play is not only a matter of interpretation, amplification, but involves an internal position which occupies the actual unconscious of the analyst. Such an analytical attitude alone, can enable a recapturing in the transference of the primary seduction. This is an instance of Jung’s affirmation that the person of the analyst is his main work implement.

Clinical Vignette

Finally, just a brief clinical vignette. Claire is a woman in her fifties whom I have been seeing for over five years in once a week therapy. She is better, she has managed to separate definitively from her husband who went off to set up house with his secretary, she has managed to let her grown children fly the nest without holding on too much, she has managed at last to find a companion with whom to have a reasonably satisfying partnership. Even though she has achieved her original quest, she still comes. There has never been any question of stopping. She speaks to me rather freely, but there remains something, which I can feel but cannot represent to myself, which she feels, but about which she cannot speak, something unimaginable which travels between us, some kind of agony in the sense that Winnicott would have it.

On one particular occasion, after a two-week break, she comes to her session as usual and begins with a silence, as is her wont. But then two things happen: first, her silence continues and lasts much longer than usual, ten minutes according to my watch, secondly, her gaze is fixed all this time, stuck to mine, strangely without unnerving me in the least. Eventually a small stirring by her permits me to enquire what is happening for her. At this point her gaze enters upon itself, the time it takes to find the words and she tells it like this: “It’s odd. It’s as if I could stay like that for ever. Then it’s as if I was madly in love with you, with your gaze, but it was odd. It’s as if I were in another world. I was going to say it was not me. Also, it was as if nothing was important anymore. And also it was something coming towards me. But OK, this won’t help solve my problems …” and the session continued with her problems gone over many times before, only this time her level of thought was a bit different, as if she were able not to lose this newly acquired thread to the source of her subjectivity, where she is both really herself and alien to herself.