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A Textual Empiricism

According to Bion, the ‘pre- or non-verbal’ manifestation of the unconscious in the cure is what makes the communication of psychoanalytic work so difficult (Bion, 1970, p. 15). The written account of a psychoanalytic session raises very peculiar difficulties. Anyone, analyst or analysand, who has tried to write down the content of a psychoanalytic session knows how complex an exercise it is. The complexity comes partly from the great heterogeneousness of the analytical material which becomes intermingled: an event from the day before, a dream, a type of silence, a phantasy, a certain noise, a distant memory, elliptical phrases, secret intimate languages, and so on. However, at a deeper level, I believe it is the non-verbal nature of some clinical phenomena that explains this difficulty.

Bion pointed out that even the words can be used by the patient in a hallucinatory non-verbal way: ‘words are used both in the expression of verbal communication and in transformation in hallucinosis’ (ibid., p. 17). To write about an analytic session, one needs a form of writing that could transcribe this non-verbal mode of thinking.

The study of psychoneurosis led Freud to evolve from ‘local diagnoses and electro-prognosis’ to the verbal ‘detailed description of mental processes such as we are accustomed to find in the works of imaginative writers’ (Freud, 1893–1895, p. 160). Freud developed an empiricism that does not rest on the observation of the senses but on the intelligibility of a text. Regarding Freud’s textual empiricism, The Interpretation of Dreams is a founding text. This book is also the story of Freud’s self-analysis and many commentators have pointed out that it could be read as an autobiography.1