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Psychoanalytic Investigation, Observation of Babies and Freudian Metapsychology

Dr. Raquel Zak de Goldstein

“Psychoanalytic investigation, reaching back into childhood from a later time, and contemporary observation of children combine to indicate to us still other regularly active sources of sexual excitation. The direct observation of children has the disadvantage of working upon data which are easily misunderstandable; psycho-analysis is made difficult by the fact that it can only reach its data, as well as its conclusions, after long détours. But by co-operation the two methods can attain a satisfactory degree of certainty in their findings.”

“Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” Freud, 1905, S.E.

Today, when we hear about new pathologies and fresh technical approaches to these pathologies, the importance of investigation in psychoanalysis emerges forcefully.
Although I will not discuss the validity of these “new pathologies and approaches”, I shall try to underscore the transcendence of one type of investigation - the direct observation of babies - practiced by pscyhoanalysts with their metapsychological interpretation - for the understanding and in-depth analysis of psychopathological manifestations and of technique.
Taking up the quote from Freud (1905, p. 201) in the epigraph, the symbolic value of observation in the Little Hans case and in the game with the spool of thread, I will point out how the interweave between investigation-cure-discovery and direct observation of babies provides powerful means for advancing along the complex inroads toward comprehension of the structuring of the subject.
Psychoanalysts have always been fascinated by the archaic, and have tried to “observe” psychoanalytically the preverbal period, the “continent” that is sometimes defined as being black and sometimes as an unsolvable enigma!
For Melanie Klein, as well as for many analysts from the outset, direct observation was an aid for psychoanalytic intuition and theorization. The wish to evidence the content involved in traits of behavior, as if it were the decodification of a symbol, stems from the previous idea assigning symbolic value to behavior...
However, for example, in Melanie Klein’s thinking, which is based on the fact that the object relation antecedes its perceptibility, there is a conflict with the supposition of a purely objective observation that would seem to be aimed at starting from zero, in regard to the evolution of ego functions. This is a complex problem for the different lines of psychoanalytic thought.
The Observation of Babies, conceived as Psychoanalytic investigation processed metapsychologically, is a correlated activity commonly practiced by psychoanalysts, whose princeps example is Freud’s observation of his grandson’s game with a spool of thread, later immortalized as the spool game. Thus, it introduces a model to propitiate the broadening of our understanding of certain normal and pathological phenomena in psychic structuring, a model marked by some of the questions I have formulated, which we intend to continue to develop in the international psychoanalytic community. This is the approach that I will argue for in this presentation.
The discovery of the unconscious, infantile sexuality, the Oedipus Complex and related concepts constitute the theoretical corpus supporting the main edifice of psychoanalysis. They were derived from that special type of “observation” that enabled Freud to discover the unconscious and to develop a clinical technique that correlates investigation and treatment. At this point, it seems appropriate to remind us all of a particular question...
“What do they do?, they have a dialogue.”
“What do they do?” asked an assumedly spontaneous interlocutor, referring to what goes on in a treatment, to which Freud answers: “They have a dialogue.” In 1980, we said, with W. Baranger and N. Goldstein, filling out Freud’s answer with some comments that are pertinent here and now, that, “Of course, between the two dialoguers, many phenomena take place which go beyond spoken dialogue: emotions, feelings, physical reactions, unspoken thoughts, etc., many of which can be included in the dialogue and aspire to be shared,” and observation intends to “listen” and to find the specific meaning of the phenomena that populate those initial “dialogues”. We also know that...”Dialogue means intersubjectivity, however divided the subjects who are speaking to each other may be (and Freud says that after the first scream there is maternal decodification)”. “Of course, it is possible to make the dialogue itself an object of study. One can record and analyze the variations in phonation, elocution, styles of the dialoguers, and draw interesting conclusions. These are applied studies, totally legitimate as such, concerning the psychoanalytic process” ( “This forces us to define the reciprocal situation of psychoanalysis and of psychology”, we also said.).
We stressed that...”When Freud, pushed by the avalanche of malicious criticism that has accompanied psychoanalysis since its birth, he questioned the forms of validation of analytic knowledge; however, his answers are extraordinarily clear. We have only to re-read “Constructions in Analysis” (1937) to realize that Freud is searching for the validation of analytic knowledge within the analytic dialogue itself and in the process that this dialogue guides. Analytic knowledge can receive indirect validation: multiple methods have been created to do so, and many more that we don’t yet know can be invented, but they will never attain the value of direct validation: the “insight” that the subject gains through the interpretations, the workings of the process promoted by “insight”.
I would now add, as an endorsement of this paper’s proposal, Freud’s position as it is described in our epigraph.
Observation, resignification and interpretation.
We must not forget the transcendence of the mechanism of resignification, much less the importance of the observer’s subjectivity. For this reason, when we speak of “the investigation of the investigation” as a method, we are not losing sight of the fact that the interpretation that the analytically trained observer makes of the material in the dynamic field of the Observation of Babies, as part of his or her work of investigation of the investigation, presupposes a particular accumulation of concepts, theories and experiences of that analyst’s own, called the referential scheme.
Also, this clinical field of phenomena, later susceptible to dialogue in the process of working through and interpretation of “the observed”, is a field shared with a singular parental language, which cannot fail to exert its own ideological influence. Further, the observer is “neither amnesic nor apathetic.”
The analyst, like the parents, is moved by his or her desire and memory, and this is why we know that in interpreting, the observer will work - basically - with his or her own referential scheme, which includes Freudian metapsychology as a “common language”, plus the psychoanalytic theories to which s/he subscribes personally and also puts into practice, as we have said, during the observation and its subsequent conceptualization.
For all these reasons, when we speak in terms of Investigation in Psychoanalysis today, we are well advised to differentiate properly at least three fields:
- The field of psychoanalytic investigation proper: the one that defines psychoanalyzing, as Freud expresses it in our epigraph;
- The field of empirical investigation;
- The field of Observation of babies, done by psychoanalysts.
These three fields, once differentiated, help us to define what the psychoanalytic observation of babies can focus on, in the search for results to enrich the development of the metapsychology of the challenging dialectics that constitute the intrapsychic, which is halfway between the creation of the fantasy, as Freud describes it in Draft M, and the effects of the intersubjective, in which case we must bear in mind the complex psychoanalytic status of reality.
With this approach, we can go back, for instance, to the notion of trauma and the theory of the inaugural seduction for “investigation based on the direct observation that is practiced in a psychoanalytic project”, and place ourselves in the perspective of what is most specific to psychoanalysis, appealing to the notion of application of the psychoanalytic method, just as Freud did in relation to the arts, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, etc.
Thus, we return to the thought in our subtitle: “Psychoanalytic investigation, the observation of babies and Metapsychology”, which compose a dimension or bow, tensed by the cord of the unconscious. A dimension that seems to provide reciprocal feedback - explicitly and implicitly - in the works of post-Freudian authors in various regions of the psychoanalytic community.
Examples abound, results are varied, and their fate differs, depending on the metapsychological contact they maintain with the Freudian corpus, our shibboleth, our common “idiom”. This is true, even though we are concerned about the issues touching on our common ground. ( )
When we speak of the dialectics of the “intrapsychic-intersubjective”, we evidence a new dimension, a dynamic field, something like a nearly ineffable topic, the topic of these dialectics “to observe” and to investigate...
Then, we recognize observational methods like E. Bick’s, with concern for the following great questions, such as: How to observe these dialectics...barely observable, only evidenced in the dimension of the subjective affects and effects that accompany the interaction, discourse and objective changes that occur between the protagonists, and which always pass through a personal filter during recording? How to define the parameters that enable us to differentiate - if we try to - the objective from the subjective, in that ineffable interhuman field, if not by means of the dimension that we accept and call countertransference? Do we think that it is this type of field that is re-edited in the “observer”?
During the elaboration, certain questions are addressed, such as: What are the phenomena, actions and interactions and effects, objectifiable and selected for observation? How and why are the effects that are going to be “observed” previously established?
And how to interpret them, and therefore subjectivize them as a dimension of “the human”, if not in function of our greatest asset: meaning...the notion of meaning?
From what is “observable” or “objective”, how to discern the participation of the unobservable, the meaning and the maternal and parental subjectivity involved in states of rêverie? And on the infant’s part, how to explain the flow of what Freud calls “representational thinking”, which founds psychic reality with the construction of fantasy. This is what D.W. Winnicott calls “imaginative working through”, a combination whose unpredictable and particular effects mark the personalized production of fantasy and the internal world of each individual and its characteristics.
Is this whole discernible as a direct product of the observation, or is it a product of our particular code of interpretation, be it psychoanalytic or any other?
We are not naive, we know that there is no such thing as a naive observer, uncontaminated by any theoretical “a priori” or ideology.
We can extract ourselves from this quagmire with Freud’s help: we consider the times of psychic constitution an effect of a particular form of intersubjectivity, in which identification is the first type of ?????, and this places the effect of parental desire before the human offspring as a power that slowly forms the specific “dynamic field” in which identification and transference gradually compose multiple lines, which include the mind of the observer, which “processes”, just as the analyst’s mind does (M. Baranger, Amsterdam, 1993).
Therefore, countertransference is evidenced as the “instrument” par excellence for deciphering the meanings involved in the phenomena presented for observation, and for experiencing, in “this very special initial dynamic field, asymmetric, regressive and structuring”, which we consider a “foundational context” where we can discern - among “observables” and “hypotheses” - decisive variables for our metapsychological corpus, such as those that illuminate the relations between the notion of “new psychic act” - a core concept among concepts, which Freud included in “On Narcissism: An Introduction” (19 ) - and the contributions introduced by J. Lacan in his psychoanalytic study on the mirror stage in 1949 which, derived from etological observation, evidences significant correlations with the contents that D.W. Winnicott (1967) develops in his article entitled “Role of the mirror of the mother and the family in the development of the child”.
It is precisely in the field of observation, using this approach, that the double validity of an observation is affirmed for psychoanalysts: because of its possible contributions to the understanding of the dialectic psychogenesis of the so-called early or deficiency pathologies, already referred to - in my opinion - by Freud when he describes the early alterations of the ego in “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (1937), and because today, these perspectives are scrutinized ever more closely, in an effort to improve clinical precision and heighten theoretical concern.
This is where the search by diverse authors who explore “that region beyond pleasure”, as we could define it with Freud, is going on. A dimension or region that Green defines as “the archaic, a posteriori”, and which Frances Tustin approaches by looking into neurotic autism, with significant theoretical and technical progress. A. Green is one of these explorers, especially in connection with his contributions on the dynamics of the death drive, in The Work of the Negative (1993); also, J. McDougall, with her metapsychological work on the pathology of archaic times in the somatoses, in Theatres of the Body (19 ). These authors evidence, together with other pioneering authors in these psychoanalytic explorations, the fertility of the study and consideration of this field of the drives of originary times, through transference-countertransference, a consideration that includes the reality of the behavior of the object that provides “external aid”, in its essential character as an anti-traumatic factor.
This is also the character that, through repetition, the field of psychoanalytic clinical work, which Freud broached in 1920 with “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, takes on when experiencing, in the action of the drives and repetitions in the transference, the characteristics of these first “relations”, which are determinant and are shaped - as we view it today with authors like Piera Aulagnier - by the specific and singular qualities, both objective and subjective, of the three participants in the “field of the foundational context”.
Concepts such as attachment, dyad, idiom, good enough mother, facilitating environment, “the other nurturing adult”, are already implicit in the great Freudian lines of thought in “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” (1915) where, for example, he establishes the need of real parental assistance for the effectivization of the dialectic real primitive ego- pure pleasure ego-definitive real ego. In “Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego” (1921), Freud situates the other in four positions, one of which he signals as an assistant or auxiliary. And even more determinant is the action of the other as object of the first love, the mother, who centers the phenomena presiding over the times of “Falling in Love and Hypnosis”. Constitutional times that - in my opinion - connect the early Freudian contributions on the Complex of the Fellow Human, in the “Project...” (1895), with the dynamics of the mirror, the other and the gaze.
These are keys found in Lacan’s paper on the mirror stage, mentioned above, unavoidable keys with vast implications for the understanding of the constitution and the characteristics of the ego in psychopathology and in everyday life. Psychic structuring begins, as we know, “at the mercy of” and bordering on a “state of helplessness”, Freud’s Hilflösigkeit. That is, depending nearly absolutely on the psychic characteristics and the skill of the assistant who carries out the actions of the “external auxiliary”, the “other”of nurturing in the position of auxiliary, the good enough mother Winnicott has in mind, who - if her own early experience has already prepared her for it - will, with her ‘reverie and her “community”, enable a brief foundational experience of “illusion” in Winnicott’s sense. It is a condition or phenomenon that - in my opinion - permits and sustains the passage from “hallucinatory gratification” and its corresponding activity, omnipotence of thought, to the unfolding of transitional phenomena, and to the use and manipulation of the objects that thus acquire their character and value as transitional objects, with which this first mode of “relation”begins.
The sequences that precede and accompany these structuring events are mostly observable.
It is the assistant or “auxiliary” of “external assistance” who is also the source of the gaze of recognition and of identificatory discourse. It is also responsible for psychic survival, receiving the scream of discomfort and somatic tension that is demanding relief and the “unforgettable prehistoric other”. The mother, then, is the one who, assisting survival in the lapse of absolute dependence, also transforms these painful states - interpreting them, that is, giving them form - into a message for culture, just as Freud affirms in his early “Letter 52” (18 ).
As long as this drive disequilibrium that is part of life is kept in a motor and tolerable dimension, thanks to the skill of the participants in the foundational field, the cathectization and hallucination of wishing/desiring will be reaffirmed, as well as the correlative and essential capacity for dreaming...both while sleeping and awake.
This is also part of “what we observe” with our “psychoanalyst’s minds”, participating in this complex and asymmetrical field.
After participating and recording, we interpret.
A fondly remembered example of this exercise in the application of psychoanalysis centers on the group elaboration of material of the observation of newborns, which was later presented as a “Multiple psychoanalytic observation of babies”, an investigation coordinated by myself, in which a distinguished group of colleagues of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association participated. This investigation was selected, read and discussed in the International Congress on Violence (R.Z. de Goldstein, IPAC Vienna, 1971).
P. Aulagnier, with her text, “The Violence of the Interpretation” (1975) has become a paradigmatic author for those who are interested in observation and metapsychological work, because of her exemplary way of justifying the relations between the theorization of psychoanalysis and findings in the observation of the conditions of what she calls the “state of encounter”. This author refers to the special reality of this encounter, to the characteristics of a foundational context, whose salient traits, even in psychosis, participate in a certain order of “singularly identifiable observables” for the investigating psychoanalyst.

How can we use these theorized observations?

D.W. Winnicott - a great observer, and perhaps one of the pioneers in the exercise of connecting pediatrics, the observation of babies in a certain situation, psychoanalytic thought and the treatment of severely disturbed patients - has taught us to recommend that pediatricians observe and help to detect, precisely those factors that may contribute to the “possible” prevention of the psychoses. We turn our thoughts again to P. Aulagnier...
Also, in deepening our psychoanalytic understanding of the family, many of us have recognized evidence of specific pathogenic action, which - like an idealized and ensnaring “double bind”- sustains a seemingly indestructible alienation, and challenges therapeutic approaches. This type of relationship acts by actively and sonctantly eliminating representational thinking, a property of the baby’s psychic activity, and in its place induces a pathological and pathogenic, alienating identification, incarnated in identity. Thus, tormented by “unthinkable”anxieties, a movement begins that twists the direction of the drives, and closes and seals a centripetal circuit, where negativity operates. Severe frustration by reality, just as Freud described it in “On Narcissism: An Introduction” (1914), for example, leads, at that foundational time, to trauma and its consequences; we know that in clinical work, the trauma can be dated; all this is mostly observable.
This vision broadens our indispensable perspective for understanding and participating clinically in the encounter and battle with the phenomena of the resistances which - in the varieties of what is called negative therapeutic reaction, an expression of this work of the negative - challenge us always.
We find it in the systematic review that we are working on at this time in these clinical fields, searching for new keys in the face of the impasses, failures and “stagnated, interminable analyses”; here, we see the power assigned to the other by the state of need characteristic of the helplessness into which the human child enters when it is born, according to Bolk, premature. This other, the lord of suggestion, is heir to the “unforgettable prehistoric other”, who is none other than the mold or footprint of the Fellow Human.
Need of caregiving and of loving recognition that marks the presence of the eternalness of a “knot of imaginary servitude” to which J. Lacan refers.
This structuring effect, deriving from the dynamics of the mirror stage, becomes an eternally effective dimension, in normalcy as well, and leads to the absolute power of this “other”: an inaugurating power, whether for a sufficiently independent life or not...
The observation of babies, through the countertransference, enables us to recognize the singular vicissitudes that influence the primitive modes of action of that identificatory power, where discourse and gaze can confer identity and desire, or imprison by un-knowing.
D.W. Winnicott and A. Miller insist on unmasking the unmeasurable efficacy of certain situations of terror and power of coertion, which act on the incipient ego and the initial somatopsychic consciousness. This atmosphere can act and disturb, as we have seen, the work of the positive. Eros, which normally incites the mixture of drives, leads to partial unmixtures when faced with a need to construct other mechanisms and models of survival.
The analytic situation gives us, by way of the transference, that power through which we can carry out our investigation/cure, drawing on ever broader contributions, products of the theorizations that result from these multiple approaches in the territory of “the archaic”.
Historizing the “deformations of the ego” introduced as pathological effects of that traumatic terror, a product of certain distorsions in the characteristics of the foundational context, we will try to unknot - by disidentifying - as far as possible, this dimension of pathogenic alienation, originating in the times when identity arose in correlation with constitutional alienation.]
In these times, certain “misunderstandings” seem to predominate in psychoanalysis, obliging us to re-think the notion of reality for psychoanalysis, as well as the hope that the observation of nurturing may facilitate mental prophylaxis. Some of these misunderstandings lead to counselling psychotherapy, in search of solutions in external reality. Others lead to extremes of theorizing Kleinism or Lacanism, in which the adventures or misadventures of the Oedipus Complex and the drive - in their intrapsychic dimension - constitute the only dimension for the understanding of people’s suffering.
In this situation, which is not new, however, it is a good idea to evidence, once again, the foundational and regulatory relations between psychoanalysis and clinical observation, which considers subjectivity and intersubjectivity. This approach renews these relations that have always nourished Freudian developments.