Andre Green: The Arborescence of a Conceptual Paradigm, by Rosine J. Perelberg

Posted on Jul 07, 2017

The Greening of Psychoanalysis

In a paper written in 2011 for the Revue Française de Psychanalyse, André Green (2011b) traces the trajectory of his own work in his quest to understand the borderline patient—from the book On Private Madness (which in the French edition was subtitled: “Psychoanalysis of Borderline States”) to his last book, Illusions and Disillusions of Psychoanalytic Work . In the first, the concept of the death instinct had not been mentioned. In-between the two books lies the nine-hour weekend seminar given by Green in Paris on the death instinct, published under the title: Pourquoi les pulsions de destruction ou de mort?

Green regards these three texts as constituting his introduction to the general problems encountered in the treatment of borderline patients. Such patients have led to a shift in psychoanalytic formulations, to include the centrality of the absence of the object and its repercussions on the function of representation and symbolisation. One is attempting to map and understand a population of patients that cannot be understood in terms of a psychic apparatus that is full of representations in the model of the first neurotics treated by Freud in the first two phases of his work. The shift is from an emphasis on dreams to an emphasis on the act—as opposed to specific action—that has the function of discharge bypassing psychic reality.

The background to these formulations is to be found in Freud’s work. In 1920, Freud discovered a drive that does not correspond to any representation but expresses itself in the repetition compulsion. This formulation is at the base of Green’s formulations on the negative, of blank spaces without representation, of mental structures where representations have disappeared from theoretical descriptions. When dealing with borderlines, one thinks about the compulsion to repeat—a clinical manifestation of the death drive.

Such individuals struggle with the overwhelming experience of no meaning. The major contraposition in Green’s psychoanalytic formulations, which led to a paradigm shift in contemporary psychoanalysis, is no longer that between manifest and latent content, but that between meaning and no meaning. Instead of an object representation, there is a hole in the psyche—a nothing, rather than a no-thing (a distinction that Green takes from Bion). This is the province not of symbolisation, but of absence, the realm of the “Dead Mother”, to use the title of Green’s seminal paper. The somatic representative of the drive is now severed from the object representation.

The study of the borderline structures brought to the fore, Green suggests, two types of anxiety: separation anxiety and intrusion anxiety, both as expressions of difficulties in the boundaries of the relationship between ego and object.

Green identifies some characteristics of the structure of such patients: retreat into the somatic; expulsions via actions; splitting rather than repression; disinvestment; and the expression of a primary depression. “Futility, lack of awareness of presence, limited contact are all expressions of the same basic emptiness that characterises the experience of the borderline person”. The various stages in the analyses of the “Wolf Man” are the point of departure in Green’s profound reflection about the clinical practice of psychoanalysis. Nowadays most psychoanalysts would consider this case as borderline.

Green’s formulations include Freudian metapsychology, but they push psychoanalytic thinking further towards a theory of psychotic configurations and a theory of that which has not reached representation, or is of the order of the unrepresentable. It includes a theory of affect, of the drives and objects, of the disjunction between conscious and unconsciousness, of the subject and of the object, of the intrapsychic and the intersubjective, and a theory of the origins of thought itself. Thinking is related to absence, and also to sexuality. The Greenian psychoanalytic framework may be viewed as a theory of gradients, with the total theory being more important than any one of its parts, or as a process of arborescence, with the concepts undergoing organic growth and forming an ever-expanding whole that can be subsumed in what Green called la pensée Clinique – clinical thinking. It may be that any of the terms may represent the whole, but it is the whole that needs to be looked at.

In December 2014, the Scientific Committee of the British Psychoanalytical Society invited Gregorio Kohon and Rosine Jozef Perelberg to devise an event in honour of André Green. We proposed a whole day of papers presented by contemporary psychoanalysts who had been inspired by his works, which was announced as The Greening of Psychoanalysis. It took place on 18 September 2015, at the British Psychoanalytical Society. We were honoured to have the following speakers: Litza Guttieres-Green from France; Jed Sekoff, from the United States; Fernando Urribarri, from Argentina, and Michael Parsons, from the United Kingdom. We both also presented papers. Jan Abram, the Chair of the Scientific Committee, opened the event. It was a memorable homage to a memorable psychoanalytic giant. We are very pleased to be able to publish the various texts in our new volume. Our thanks to the Scientific Committee, and to Rachel Chaplin, who helped us to organize this event. We were very pleased when Karnac invited us to publish the papers into a book, and grateful to Hannah Browne and Anna Streeruwitz, both Members of the British Psychoanalytical Society, for agreeing to write the preface.

Rosine Jozef Perelberg, PhD, is a Fellow and Training Analyst of the British Psychoanalytic Society, Visiting Professor in the Psychoanalysis Unit at University College London, and Corresponding Member of the Paris Psychoanalytical Society. She edited Gender and Power in Families (with Ann Miller); Psychoanalytic Understanding of Violence and SuicideFemale Experience: Four Generations of British Women Psychoanalysts on Work with Women (with Joan Raphael-Leff); Freud: A Modern ReaderTime and Memory; and Dreaming and Thinking. She is the author of Time, Space and Phantasy and Murdered Father, Dead Father: Revisiting the Oedipus Complex (2015). In 2007 she was named one of the ten women of the year by the Brazilian National Council of Women.

Gregorio Kohon is a Fellow and Training Analyst of the British Psycho-Analytical Society and works in London in private practice. He edited The British School of Psychoanalysis: The Independent Tradition, and The Dead Mother: The Work of André Green. He also published No Lost Certainties to be RecoveredLove and its Vicissitudes (co-authored with André Green), and Reflections on the Aesthetic Experience: Psychoanalysis and the Uncanny (2015). He is also a poet and a writer. He has two new books in preparation: The Independent Tradition: Thirty Years Later, and Symbolic Impoverishment.

Their book, The Greening of Psychoanalysis: André Green’s New Paradigm in Contemporary Theory and Practice, has recently been published by Karnac.

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