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Psychoanalysis and Cyberspace

Shifting Frames and Floating Bodies

Reconsidering the Moveable Frame in Psychoanalysis: Its Function and Structure in Contemporary Psychoanalytic theory, edited by Isaac Tylim and Adrienne Harris, explores, and troubles, the idea of “the frame” at a time when the concept is undergoing both a systematic recrudescence and widespread transformation within psychoanalytic theory. It has always been tempting to see the frame as a relatively static, finite and definable feature of psychoanalytic work. At its most basic, it establishes agreed upon conditions for undertaking psychoanalysis. But as this book shows, the frame has accrued a protean quality in practice, complicating its theorization. It is sometimes a source of stability and sometimes a site of ethical regulation or discipline. It can be a place of imaginative mobility, and in certain analytic hands, a device for psychic work on projections and disavowals. This book reconsiders the state and status of the frame, searching for its limits and scouring its unexpected contents whilst expanding upon its meaning and purview. The passage that follows is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Reconsidering the Moveable Frame in Psychoanalysis entitled “Psychoanalysis and Cyberspace: Shifting Frames and Floating Bodies” by Luca Caldironi.

Chapter 12: Psychoanalysis and Cyberspace: Shifting Frames and Floating Bodies

Psychoanalysis has undergone continuous changes both in theory and practice since the very beginning. This is true for what concerns its founder’s methods and procedures, but also for the following contributions given by his most influential successors.

We feel it’s important to underline this characteristic in order to stress how ‘shifting frames’ and ‘floating bodies’ were always a part of psychoanalytical clinic and research. In fact, we could say they are true trademarks of this profession which can only be understood by approaching our work according to Freud’s own teachings, that is by having the courage to look at things, including our failures, and to ‘blind ourselves’ in order to be able to see deep inside the darkest corners (Freud, 1992). To do this, even within the confines of this brief contribution of ours, we ourselves need to recover some theoretical references to guide us along the way we’re undertaking. Let’s start by giving a closer look at the distinction made by the analysts of the Association Psychoanalitique de France regarding the two terms of psychoanalytic ‘doctrine’ and ‘theory’.

For ‘doctrine’ we mean the whole set of radical experiences, and elaborations thereof, that we all need to go through to become and to be called psychoanalysts… This includes, therefore, the unconscious experience… the possibility of treading along ancient paths again, but also the experience of the limits opposing this. Not just our own resistances, but also those limitations that can typically be perceived with matters such as those tied to bisexuality; to the adventures we encounter from the moment object relationships are born, to the feeling of seduction (active and passive) and of trauma, up to their culmination into the Oedipal issue and into its resolution… Theory instead, is at the opposite end, it is the field where the discussion takes place and includes all possible theoretical constructs. As much as doctrine – after the initial radical separation between who has the ‘knowledge’ and who doesn’t – unites those who share the experience, so does theory divide, separate, complicate, ultimately identify. (Semi, 1988, pp. 476–477, author’s translation)

These clarifications allow us to better evaluate without prejudice what is happening in the current psychoanalytical reality. Much has already been said and written on how certain rules characterizing the patient–analyst encounter have changed during the years, but we feel that there is more. We believe another important distinction must be addressed and that is what it means to stay true to a certain cultural legacy. As in the Parable of the Talents, one may think that burying the Talents is the right thing to do to faithfully preserve what was consigned to him, and another will instead believe that using the Talents is the right way, with all the related risks that may come with either hypothesis. As for us, we believe, and in this we are comforted by the parable’s moral, that the right way to be faithful lies within the variable of ‘creativity’ and that this variable should be investigated and pursued. What we mean by this is trying to be true to a kind of implicit intentionality present in Freud, the intentionality to explore and study, with every available tool, the comprehension of the deepest aspects of human nature. This applies to the psychoanalytic frame as well with all the new variations brought upon it by today’s cultural changes especially in the communications field. You can think that being ‘faithful’ to the frame means freezing it, or you can believe that these variations are the expression of an initial creative urge and that, save for that share of experiences that we defined as ‘doctrine’, we can embrace them with the same open mind and dialogue that any theory deserves. We find this to be useful in considering other variables of the analytic relationship as well. For example it gives us a way to observe what has been called since the beginning of the history of psychoanalysis the ‘setting’. As Di Chiara (1971, p. 49) observes, “the setting is what allows the patient to actualize a range of experiences related to his/her unconscious, childhood, personal conflicts, and where actualizing certain experiences means experiencing transference”.

This definition helps us understand that the setting is not defined (only) by other, just as important, moments of the therapeutic relationship such as: preliminary meetings, the analytic contract (in all its possible variations), schedule and frequency of sessions and puts the setting much closer to the psychoanalytic process itself; the setting thus becomes a valid environment in which this process can take place. Following this way of thinking, the above-mentioned concept can also be compared to what Bion defines as ‘Container-Contained Interaction’ (Bion, 1959). Now the setting becomes the ‘container’ in which, through the analytic relationship, the process can evolve. Looking at Bion’s concept side by side with that of setting, according to Di Chiara’s (1971) definition of the latter, the actual architectural location where it takes place is not very relevant anymore. This opens to the possibility that even methods apparently very distant from the relationship of patient–therapist, like those that make use of technological means of communication such as smartphones, texting, chat and video chat, become more acceptable or at least are perceived as representative of a reality within the context of the analytic relationship. This applies not only to the new communications techniques, but also to the possibility of using clinical material deriving from these as an integral part of the analytic work. Today, in fact, it is not uncommon for patients to show us things like images or text messages during a session. Clearly we realize the differences and the risk of falling into some form of dangerous eclecticism, but we also know that in our profession, something Freud taught us from the very start, the object of the research is one and the same with the tool used for such research. Therefore, if on one hand we believe in the importance of being faithful to a certain method of analytic work, on the other we must consider how our ‘container’ must necessarily adapt to the profound cultural changes that are taking place today.

The fact is, we’re going through a moment of transition that I would describe as a real anthropologic mutation, in which not only our thoughts or our way of thinking are apparently being transformed, perhaps even our ‘neuronal’ system is being rewired. I believe that the subject of how ‘inner’ and ‘external’ scenarios in psychoanalysis are changing cannot be approached without first examining in which way or ways we actually access knowledge and information.

We are in a period of changes so radical that it reminds us of another moment of profound transformation of the ancient past, described by Plato in his Phaedrus when he speaks about the passage from oral communication to writing. In Plato’s Phaedrus (274d–275c) we find the Egyptian King Thamus worried about the change that is being presented to him and it’s easy to draw a parallel with our current concerns about the use of new and different media. When the inventor of writing claims to the king that this will soon become a great aid for individuals and society alike, the sovereign expresses words of caution on the matter, as recalled here in an interesting interview by Stefano Moriggi:

when writing will be spread among the population, our way of remembering will not be the same as before: instead of recalling/ retrieving memories from the inside, we will do it from the outside … for Moriggi this observation is not as simple as it appears, especially considering how important memory dynamics are in the processing of concepts, and not only in the realm of Platonic Gnoseology. Externalizing knowledge, therefore, means changing our way of thinking forever, and our way of living and interacting with others in space and time.(Moriggi, 2014, p. 184)

But isn’t this externalization process exactly what characterizes, on a massive scale, today’s methods of acquiring and sharing knowledge through the so-called new technologies? We believe that our considerations may contribute to the debate on the problem of ‘cyberspace’. We also feel that this kind of procedure/approach will help us avoid simplistic enthusiasm and/or hasty judgments and condemnations. For us the subject of memory and the different ways of using it are very fascinating, particularly from a psychoanalytical viewpoint. Regarding this aspect, we find it useful to mention a basic method used in analysis, commonly known as the ‘rule’ of free association. This is an actual technique that uses memory in a specific way. In this case we are talking about the associative memory, which, as opposed to the ‘written’ trace/code follows a fabric of links/threads that are an inherent part of the analysand’s psychic apparatus and that intertwine with those of the analyst in the here and now of the analytic session. It is a form of knowledge that derives from within and is brought out through the association technique. But things aren’t always as simple as they appear, that’s why Plato, in his reflections on the ‘new technology’ of his time, introduces the suggestive term ‘pharmakon’. We know how this term paradoxically contains the two opposite and contrasting meanings of ‘remedy/cure’ and at the same time ‘poison’. Ambiguous meanings that bring us back to our days in which it is difficult to live this intense moment of transition without feeling the need to remain kind of suspended above the complexity of what we try to embrace. The question now is: can psychoanalysis with its theoretical-experiential ‘corpus’/body be of help with this (transition)?

Marzi writes:

Virtuality, in all its different meanings, revamps and complicates certain controversial themes of the psychoanalytic world of these last decades. The fact that it’s not an actual space in a physical and material sense, which cannot be seen or concretely perceived in any way and is therefore impossible for humans to detect with any of their physiological senses, makes the virtual space strikingly similar to the Kant-Bion concept for which it is impossible to know the thing in itself, meaning that it is something that can be conceived but not perceived. (Marzi, 2013, p. 164)

Can the analytic instrument, which inevitably also inhabits our ‘changing world’, become a critical observer of the changes it is part of itself? We believe this challenge can be accepted. With this, we don’t mean to over simplify the possibility, but rather, we wish to maintain ourselves within that margin of paradox, ambiguity and indefiniteness that always characterizes the work with the unconscious.

What’s certain is that we’re going through an irreversible process and, as with the passage from speech to writing in the past, today, our means of learning and communicating will have to necessarily deal with the new tools that come with it. As Moriggi says quoting Heidegger:

the way we ‘inhabit the world’, that is, how we relate to others and how we perceive our own body in space and time, as well as our ‘body’ of knowledge and learning, is necessarily dependent on the equipment with which we inter-act and connect every day. (Moriggi, 2014, p. 197)

In these last observations, we are indirectly introduced to the concept of ‘corpus’, or body, in its broader meaning. A body can be ‘theoretical’, ‘technological’, ‘experiential’, of ‘text’ and the body finds itself at center stage in all its possible diverse expressions. As psychoanalysts, we’re well aware of the importance of this concept from the very beginning of psychoanalysis. But what (exactly) is this body that we’re dealing with? We’re not talking about the anatomical-biological body, but rather a body clad with pulsions, a ‘driving body’ where the word ‘Trieb’ is used to describe that leap from the ‘body’ to ‘mind-body’. The leap that made Freud (1937) describe that irreducible aspect he calls ‘biological bedrock’, ‘Gewachsener Fels’. Where, in between the paradox of these two terms, one belonging to the organic world and the other to the inorganic, we find once again, something set on the border between a dialectical proposal and a state of impossibility. Is all this somehow related to the analytic request? Is this, in a way, the actual limit of analysis and even more so in today’s context? Obviously, these questions cannot but remain open-ended and, precisely because they are undetermined, they become an integral part of that thought apparatus that can help us better comprehend what is happening around us in general and in our analytic work in particular.

By this process, I mean the establishment of a differentiated psychic space. Indeed I underline that a sort of ‘caesura’ or ‘limit’ comes to be between what we could call the intra-psychic and the inter-subjective. Such a limit becomes a privileged place for processing, thus, a limit that has its own ‘thickness’ within the boundary of the analytic work. It becomes a limit and a container at the same time, because it has a space inside that is established in the patient — analyst dyad and it finds in the setting, in particular meant as the analyst’s internal setting, the champion of the process itself. The concept of internal setting becomes particularly important when talking about virtual reality and new technologies. With this, I don’t mean to diminish the value of the acquired set of rules that constitutes the physical framework of the setting as we know it now, but only to underline how we have to confront ourselves with a changing reality and with a process of progressive ‘dematerialization’ of relationships. But exactly how is all this evolving? And how can we identify the limits/boundaries of it all? We know that knowledge has become more and more fragmentized, both in regard to the information and to the means to retrieve it. Through cyberspace we can access an incredible variety of information, on any subject, and we can interrupt the flow rapidly shifting at any moment, from web pages to videos and all sorts of social networks. So the question now is, is this procedure changing our analytic scenario as well and if so, in which way or ways? The world that we are getting a glimpse of and seeing in our analysis rooms today is spinning fast. Everything is accelerated and, as we will further examine, the ‘objects’ that have become part of our session are becoming more and more tangible.

We already mentioned, for instance, the intrusion of technological objects (patients may occasionally take out their phone to show us a text or something or they’ll have background sounds of ringtones and beeps and blinking lights coming from their devices) creates a constant overstimulation of the senses that doesn’t necessarily help symbolization, in fact, it often inhibits it. This should definitely make us reflect on how ‘connection’ is not the same thing as ‘contact’, and of how, as analysts, it is fundamental to maintain our listening ability integrated within the space and time of the session.

This excerpt from Reconsidering the Moveable Frame in Psychoanalysis: its function and structure in contemporary psychoanalytic theory is published with permission from, and thanks to, Taylor & Francis Group. To read the complete chapter, click here. Get your copy on the Routledge site here, or on Amazon here.

Luca Caldironi is a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Modena, Italy. He is a member of the Italian Psychoanalytic Association (S.P.I), the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) and is a teacher at the Martha Harris School of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

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