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Plenary discussion paper to be read at the 2nd. International Winnicott Conference

Dra. Raquel Zak de Goldstein
16th-19th November, 2000

A shared personal event
It sounds so familiar to me..., the language used, the ideas, the flow of thought...
So much so that I have found a surprise which illustrates what I mean: our first communication instance was myself telling Ken Wright more or less something like this: “I'm getting ready to sing together”. Could this metaphor have been an unnoticed effect of my relationship with the author? This idea that imbued our first contact - electronic contact, of course, but not so much- this was a combination of pleasure and surprise for me, since I then discovered that it constitutes a very meaningful expression in his thinking. One of his papers is titled, as I later learned: “To make experience sing”. What kind of dialogue had already settled in without us being aware of it?
Are KW's metaphors universal? Is our impregnation with Winnicott's thinking what produces dialogical metaphors, a state of feeling at ease within the “in-between”?
Reading the presented text filled me with satisfaction, new things, stimulating agreement and exciting disagreement.
I am deeply interested in several elements, which I'll group as:
The new
Accordance and differences
Further questions to psychoanalysis together with the author and Winnicott
So, as I was reading today's text and while thinking about one of the latent issues, the following came to my mind: early trauma and creativity, -and Winnicott's well-known text titled “Deprivation and delinquency”, just to remember that the quality of loss is essential, also in art. So I decided to put my relevant ideas in order, based on some possible classification according to Winnicott's thinking on the conditions of loss. Thus we find:
1. He who never had the sufficient minimum of a good enough mother.
2. He who had and lost prematurely (“doesn't even know what he lost”).
3. He who had and lost in a somewhat ulterior, but still decisive period (“knows what he has lost, but will recover it through theft”).
4. He who does not know what he used to have, nor considers the question of “losing or not”; just survives.
5. He who avoided the loss too long, and stopped there...
It is clear that in these variants of the founding situation, the maternal possibility or impossibility, including the paternal and family function, is decisive.
Leonardo or Schreber, immersed in the narcissistic tragedy, subdued and on the verge of fragmentation, have full well proved several forms of creation in suffering.
On the other hand, Monet may be the model to go on thinking about it!
The conflict always exists, but it is not always the same one, nor the same suffering.
The early context of the founding conflict varies, as well as the concept of psychical harm in that first habitat, which our author investigates so beautifully: the dialogue and exchange of looks, adaptation and psychical processes set in the present ideas contained in Winnicott's paper: “Mirror role of mother and family in child development” (Winnicott, 1967).
The destiny of the infant's creative potentiality is sealed in that virtual and hyper-powerful habitat where the decisive effects in defining its structure endowed with a symbolic matrix are produced.
Afterwards, the process of creative production -according to our author's accurate and renewing developments- will go through vicissitudes related to the varieties of the initial loss, which in time, influenced on the origins and the happy or troubled constitution of the transitional phenomena.
The process of artistic production always and constantly goes through, beyond the characteristics of such founding context, some moments of suffering and pleasure, always oscillating between conflict and suffering, as if “something” had to be gone through.
There are alternating moments of tension and great dissatisfaction, perhaps related to what drives “that desire to” which Ken Wright describes in the paper presented to us today.
Anyway, the artist goes from the trauma in history as human conflict to the conflict of the creative process.
Freud drew our attention emphatically on “that enigmatic quality the artist has to give shape”. Nobody can still explain why some possess the gift to shape certain materials. It seems that, in this aspect, the key is somewhere else.
Perhaps exacerbated and cared for constitutive sensitivities, or not, due to a mother who knew how to help or not, in creating an environment where the infant could allow himself to fulfil, or not, that pleasure for what is beautiful and/or horrible; that letting himself go by his senses as long he is adequately sustained.

The new in this paper

The great force, behind the situations described by K. W., is the need to modify the experiences undergone - during early bond - as a painful feeling of impotence and devaluation by the infans, which emerge after the repeated impossibility of self-reflecting and self-living in the mother's face (and interior, if I may say).
The author's developments are imbued with strength and new ideas within this perspective.
He reaches very interesting conclusions on this specific issue.
He draws our attention on the presence of a strong desire in the baby and later to experiment with some "medium" to be able to shape mother's mood. And thus managing to feel capable of leading her emotionally to get to express herself in relation with the baby. And the sorrow that overcomes him when he cannot be the sufficient cause of her pleasure and well-being.
Having such a childish or depressed mother, unable to react, sometimes sheer character structure, or even embodying her own frustrating and hostile internal object, it is almost impossible for the infant to activate in her a trace, some reciprocity, some sign of well-being response during that dialogue of primitive and absolute dependence .
It seems to be impossible to find in her any trace leading to her own experience of creative interaction of pleasure and illusion.
She cannot be moved..., the baby feels.
We think that, at a certain point, she took cover behind the wall of her own damages and defences. At the beginning she must have had a wish for a baby and took pleasure in this. However, she can only repeat what she has experienced, and thus tends to block out the richness and uncertainty typical of any creative dialogue in progress. So she only was good enough or less than that...
She does not register the baby's loving pain, who, facing these states, for some time still, "dies for a smile", which will show him that if he is essential in her life, it will enable him to be so for somebody else later in life.
I think of Bacon and of Winnicott's comments on this artist and his work. Comments so relevant regarding the dialogical context we are studying, a context that includes the scopic vision, the distance, the scene and the spectator.
Our author accounts for this dynamics in another text I have just read.
It is another perspective that arises from reading the rich clinical material illustrating the life and work of artist Natkin, introduced in the paper we have listened to. We would say that - by the activities produced in the primitive bond-, the absolute aspect of the issue of the gaze related to the scopic drive also becomes greatly important, and in the field of fascination of image and beauty. With the implications of pleasure and sensuality here involved.
In my opinion, the evolution called focal distance in optical science, is also highly significant. The appreciation of what is visible undergoes gradual transformations.
Issues of neurological evolution are included here, which affect the optical functioning itself. This is another interesting field I would like to talk about with Dr. Wright in order to go on with research.
All this leads us to think of the intimate relationship between vision, aesthetics, and modalities of the holding, within the ideas stated, which show us the bond look-face-exchange of affection and anguish.
I think of the way and distance in which the mother holds the baby as they interact, on the various levels where this interaction takes place.
One more example of interaction, which can be propitiatory or traumatic and anti-structuring, is "looking into each other's eyes" and "looking at each other's expressions in the facial exchange of gestures", and its coherence or discordance with what is being done or said, as well as trying to make feel during that dialogue.
And what is to be said about Freud's statement, that "each man has within his unconscious mental activity an apparatus which allows him to interpret other men's reactions, that is to say, straighten the disfigurements that the other has undertaken in the expression of his feeling motions”. (Freud, “Totem and Taboo, 1913).
Will those babies who were fed "in the crib" ... without being looked at, become distonic regarding the artistic skill in general?
Or, on the contrary, will overstimulated babies be hyperactive in creative development and playing production?
In any case, we know that in sufficiently normal conditions what counts is the “fit” between the modalities of both participants in the dialogue, and the mother's psychical and sexual state.
I deeply agree on this orientation for the study of art and creativity.
Much earlier than the appearance of ability for concern -which would provide elements to a Kleinian approach- the infant creates, led by the potentiality of psychical phenomena which give shape to what Freud called "care for figurability", when referring to the production of dreams. As an example, let us point out the appearance of the thing representation , which fortunately matches the word representation in such a fast and magical way.
We live there, in that dimension of primary and secondary processes anticipated by the originary and pictogrammatic production (according to Piera Aulagnier) through the construction and continual structuring -within the conjunction of the transitional phenomena and paradoxical thinking which enables both the preservation of the fetish for sexual life and respect for reality principle- of the paradoxical category we call psychic reality.
Only thus, endowed with such resources, shall we take up again, in dreams, fantasies and in creative life in general, the early traces of pleasure, pains, frustrations and enjoyment, along which drive went during our early stages, on the decisive encounter with the object -encounter that the author studies thoroughly- creating, as possible.
It is by thinking so, along with K. W., I believe we can trace, in detail, the still challenging and mysterious processes of singular creation and the artist's life.
It seems that, based on what was universally experienced at the beginning by the human subject, who remains alive, who has become able to talk, makes "sounds" and produces modifications in the external world, there must have been some time when together mother and child were able to match the baby's desire and omnipotence, prevailing sufficiently although it might have only been in those very first encounters.
And that has been, in my opinion, the sufficient minimum, which as a basis, makes desire work so hard ... until achieving the need to “mould the mother's face” as K.W. thinks, and one's own and the other's gaze over the world: the impulse richly studied and described by our author.
I'm wondering whether he has reflected on the sensuality involved in those dialogue states. For example, in the body-to-body, in the somatic and erogenous resonance of both "voices" in transit, in the sleepiness and pacifying effect that is involved in these early situations. Finally, and based on one of my most current interests, the effects of melodies and their repetition: music and singing.
I leave the issue of smelling -involved archaically, as it happens with voice in that experience- for another occasion.
I also leave the fascinating reconsideration -which I have been dealing with for some time now- of the place of the mirror and the mirroring gaze within the building of mental functioning, an approach that parallels Winnicott and Lacan's concepts, particularly essential for the enquiries regarding the role of art and the whole dimension of the intermediate space, a place of culture inhabited -in my opinion- by essential everlasting objects, which also guarantee -as I consider- a very important role in offering “contentment of civilisation”.
As we see, there are plenty stimulating surprises. The compliments and pleasure will go on, and the new has produced in me, as I hope also in you, familiar agreement within the fertile debates that arise from new ideas and rich experiences.
And there are further questions, bearing in mind, if necessary once again, the peculiar fertilising effect which comes from Winnicott as a pillar of psychoanalysis and his thinking reflected in his work and scholars.