The analytic situation may be studied from the point of view of the methodology it stands for: a framework comprised of technique, context, and the variables of temporal and material reality imposed upon a subject, and therefore the subjective experience. The current analytic situation, rendered “Telepresent” by the outbreak of Covid-19 and the resultant lockdown of motility, brings a range of affordances which disturb the project that is analysis, yielding a new situation, shorn of its familiar parameters of sight and sound, and creating others due to the illusions of both distance and proximity. Nearly forty years ago, during a meeting of the British psychoanalytic society congress, what some dismiss as an apocryphal instance occurred: Society member W.O. Wodcot emerged from his seat to alert his quarrelsome colleagues, “excuse me gentleman, we’ve just invaded the Falklands”. That few in the room had ever heard of the obscure archipelago southeast of Argentina was aptly reflective of a psychic and material reality, the not-happening-here phenomena, as Abstemios (1969) refers to it. Such experiences are echoed in our transitional analytic situation wherein features of telepresence enable a secondary, man-made wall of resistances, most of which privilege an absence that is circumambient to the present experience. “I could be swearing,” exclaims a consultant psychiatrist, referring to the possibility of muting herself within the telepresent framework. “I could be lip-reading” I counter from the viewpoint of resilient, human adaptability. Or, I imagine an aliveness-draining parallel to another famous exchange, this between two notable figures of political history. Lady Astor: “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d unfriend you on Facebook”. Churchill: “Madam, if you were my wife I’d unfriend myself”. This dystopic vision draws our attention to a fresh project: how to restore the “kicking and kissing” problem of psychoanalysis; that lurking danger that lies beneath the veneer of civilized meeting that spares our profession from an imputing of utter hypocrisy.
Building upon Freud (1912), the conditions of a framework that include an analyst’s “evenly hovering attention”, Ariel (1992) offers the permutation, “evenly hovering presence” to signal the totality of the analyst’s being in the analytic situation, both with material and dynamic implications. “What’s the ladder for?” asked a patient when encountering an early experiment in this manner of working. The querulous anxiety in this patient was partly assuaged, according to Ariel, by the observation that note-taking was obviated by the analyst position, due to the risk of falling. This finding highlights the dichotomy of absence and presence that seems intrinsic to theories of change, or as Abstemios (1971) observes in his follow-up work: “Yes, that happens, but then so does something else”. The vicissitudes of affect, and of subjective experience in its entirety, is thus impacted by the variables of an analytic situation which, despite the contrivances of technique, process, and setting, are subject to collective contingency. So convinced was Ariel by the impact of the analyst upon the patient within the analytic frame that her homonymic nom d’une analyse was itself subject to mutation at different stages of her career. It is understood that while she never entirely renounced the validity of her “ladder” technique during her middle period, subsequent incarnations of her treatment method have introduced Le Terre analyse to indicate the grounded position of the analyst in the presence of the subject. This quiet failing notwithstanding, the absence of an alternative frame of being, as Obstinach (1975) has described, has hitherto placed a stifling burden upon the evolution of modern psychoanalysis.
The way I have stated this problem suggests the institutionalization of our project, and yet that project continues with the paradoxes of equidistance and absence unabated. The possibilities of thought, untouched by orthodox opinion, and tangential to zeitgeist, or else subsumed within a cornucopia of literature, are obscured over temporal and subjective reality. The inchoate emergence of dissident voices upon the analytic situation signal new affordances in our extant frameworks while echoing the creative opinion of silenced innovators. “That silence is selective”, wrote Quixote (1984), with double-meaning, referring to a patient with selective mutism, but also to a generalized observation that experiences in the patient third, in which an othered space disallows the pressure of the concrete interpretation, is transformed into a collective happening, observable yet indeterminate, and thus subject to disappearance. Falsthink (1987), whose neuroscientific research into the continuity of genomes has been discredited, views this same transformation in the context of a happening now versus post-phenomenon experience wherein subjective experiences of crisis and grief intersect, and then split-off. The dividend of his observation is today present, telekinetically or not, for our close reading and inspection: that what continues is the function of the mind despite the impinging of the environmental third, the vicissitudes of engagement and dissociation. Indeed, this happening accentuates the connection that we and our patients seek. It is our answer, to be alone in the presence of the absence.
Abstemios, J. (1969) The diary of Fogo Von Slack: a dissertation upon smells. Flack lit press, Fargo, ND.
Abstemios, J. (1971) The mother of Moby Dick and the death of whaling. Carnic books, Muncie, Indiana.
Ariel, F. (1992) “Assault upon the frame: the evenly hovered presence”. Eurasian regional journal of free associative discourse. Vol 12: pp.73-73(about two-thirds of a page)
Falsthink, J. (1987). Forget about the genome thing, how about this? Carnic books, Muncie, Indiana.
Freud, S. (1912) “Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psychoanalysis”, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol 12: 97-108.
Obstinach, O. (1975) “In response to the suppression of Ariel’s ladder technique: a step down” International Journal of Psychoanalytic Controversies not otherwise published. Vol 1, p. 3.
Quixote, Q. (1984) Selective Mutism: the patient who would not be heard…sometimes. Carnic books, Muncie, Indiana.