Thursday, July 16, 2015

Muteness Envy

Threading through psychoanalytic writing on aggression in the 50s, 60s, 70s, lines worn where entrenched divisions formed around the existence of the death drive, the primacy of destructiveness, the attribution of envy to infantile experience, the existence of a primary non-integrated state. In particular, I've begun reading the work of Paula Heimann (her essays collected in the volume About Children and Children-No-Longer: Collected Papers 1942-1980, edited by Margret Tonnesmann; The New Library of Psychoanalysis, vol. 10 (London (Tavistock): Routledge, 1989) who is often associated with Melanie Klein, becoming one of Klein's biggest supporters during the 1942-1944 "Controversial Discussions," which split the British Psycho-Analytic Society. Heimann (1899-1980) studied psychiatry in Germany and entered psychoanalytic training in Berlin in the late 1920s; she moved from Berlin to London in 1933 after Hitler came to power, where she encountered Klein and began her own work as an analyst and as a theoretician. Heimann was loyal to Klein and her theories up until Klein's presentation of her essay, "Envy and Gratitude" in Geneva in 1955, but as Pearl King notes in her introductory memoir to Heimann's collected papers, Heimann herself acknowledged a rift that preceded this by several years. Winnicott, too, critiqued what he saw as Klein's over-valuation of envy, in particular her identification of the primacy of this emotional state.

Though I've encountered Winnicott's critique, and even recently returned to it as I continue to think about aggression, Heimann's departure from this notion is accompanied by an idea about the relationship between sublimation and the death drive that illuminates the significance of this theoretical difference. In her separate discussions of sublimation and the death drive throughout the course of her early work, when support of Klein's defense of the death drive was at stake, Heimann asserted its conceptual significance as providing a context for the complex relationship that individuals hold in relation to internal objects. Because of her interest in sublimation, which is about the ego's creative activity, Heimann pursues the idea that the state of primary indeterminacy theorized by Balint as "primary love" and by Winnicott as the "unintegrated state," is not restricted to "object-relatedness" ("Some Notes on Sublimation" (1957; 132). Heimann is thus insistent that the internal objects that we experience as damaging or persecutory or destructive are not primarily objects, but also the self. In her essay "A contribution to the problem of sublimation," from 1939, she writes:
But since these defences consist of attacking the persecutors inside the self, they are of no avail as a solution, for they involve the subject at the same time as her objects. The battlefield is in the home country, not on enemy territory. A vicious circle is thus set up and a perpetual warfare ensues which his played out in the subject's internal world--always affecting her external life and often expressed in terms of physical symptoms. (33)
The "perpetual warfare" that sets itself up here does so to the extent that the internal objects are not recognized as subject to a double aggression: first, the attribution of destructiveness to objects represents a defensive externalization of one's feelings of destructiveness and aggression, as is characteristic of splitting and about which Melanie Klein spoke of especially through recourse to "projective identification"; and second, that the ambivalence; but second, that in addition to this destructiveness that achieves externalization in the internal object, there is something of the death drive that is also not realized in this externalization, and this quotient is the difference between the death instinct and the destructive instinct.

Heimann illustrates this in her example of a patient who breaks off into reciting a poem during analysis. Heimann regards this as a moment of "withdrawal" (130) that is motivated "not by hostility or fear" but by "an urge to engage in creative ego activity," in other words, a sublimation. Here, sublimation is linked with aggression because it represents an interpretive choice not to read this moment as a deflected or destructive impulse. In "The theory of the life and death instincts," which is the essay that she wrote in defense of Klein's work and presented in 1942, she describes the muteness of the death instinct in a manner consistent with this reading of withdrawal as sublimation. Because of the difficulty, often noted in psychoanalytic literature, of locating aggression in a "pure" or "unalloyed" state, it's possible to grant that "reading" it may indeed involve scenarios when the other side--object-relatedness, the reparation of lost or destroyed objects, destructiveness displaced onto/into other objects--can also be read. What compels this reading, then? Perhaps the thesis about perpetual warfare, a statement that gathers significance in the present day, requires thinking more profoundly about the damage that is done by reparative work as well. Here, it's not just that destructiveness accompanies reparative work--the narrow dialectic of civilization and barbarism, the exceedingly harsh strictures of the super-ego suggesting that civilization's destructiveness is greater than not--but that missing the destructive aspect of reparative work means that the capacity for sublimation, in the form of creative activity--figured by Heimann as a reprieve, "short-lived," or as "dwelling on certain instances" (126)--becomes impoverished, constrained, inoperable as well.

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