Back to contents
Number 10: Spring 2015

It’s Out There Somewhere

Francesca Joseph

Adam Phillips speaks of tantrums as ‘the magical act of a desperate person’ (Phillips, 2013) The babies discovered in Ceausescu’s orphanages lay listless, undemanding; for them there was no illusion of frustration’s magic power. ‘Helplessness is an experience that is available only to those who were once omnipotent; lack is an experience that is available only to those who were once, if only in fantasy, complete. …it’s the wound of need that constitutes the human subject’ (Phillips 2010: 161). Bion’s inference that all babies are psychotic reflects something of the omnipotent infant’s refusal to accept that hope can remain frustrated. 

Anne Patchett’s brilliant novel State of Wonder (Patchett, 2012) is all about hope and the dangers of getting what we yearn for ; the boy hero (aptly named Easter), epitomises hope yet he is cruelly sacrificed; the tyrannical septuagenarian spinster becomes pregnant and gives birth—mother and baby die gruesomely. It’s the young female heroine—a virgin who never gets the man she yearns for – who remarks, ‘hope is like having a fish hook your mouth,’ that finds her way through the story and survives to experience a type of hopeful future. So what are we hoping for?

Oedipus is about something we at least once had the illusion of once having had. When Winnicott remarked that the child who steals show signs of hope, he was referring to a sign that the child hasn’t given up, is attempting to retrieve something, to ‘reach back to a time before the deprivation’. (Winnicott D, 1990: 93) It is implicit here that hope is a good thing and that it might lead to a recovery of something good. Do we steal, as Winnicott suggests, in an attempt to get back what’s lost, to be re- found? Perhaps what the child is looking for harks back to some distant forgotten knowledge of something good, of what Freud describes in his Project for a Scientific Psychology as ‘an experience of satisfaction.’ (Freud, 1950: 316.)

In his Project Freud precisely describes the process, of what occurs when a baby feels discomfort, (stimulus). He describes the sequence from stimulus to hope and so to frustration, which invokes response through provision, and so ultimately to satisfaction:

The removal of the stimulus can only be effected by an intervention which will temporarily stop the release of quantity in the interior of the body…this involves …the supply of nourishment or the proximity of the sexual object…, the attention of an experienced person is drawn to the child’s condition by a discharge taking place along the path of internal change (child’s screaming). This path of discharge thus acquires an extremely important secondary function- viz , of bringing about an understanding with other people; and the original helplessness of human beings is thus the source of all moral motives. When the helper has carried out the action on behalf of the helpless subject, the baby is in a position to remove the endogenous stimuli. This total event then constitutes an experience of satisfaction which has the most momentous consequences in the functional development of the individual (Freud 1950: 316).