Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Communicating, Not


It’s July 1 as I write this, the date in the dream in the my last post, but not as hot as the dream July 1.

The Winnicott essay that used to be most important to me is “The Use of an Object,” the one that explains that a relational object is discovered to be independent when it survives its “destruction” (the omnipotent imagination’s assumption that the object will not live alone, and its consignment of it to this expected fate). Lately the one that’s most important is “Communicating and Not Communicating Leading to a Study of Certain Opposites” [1963] (The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development [Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1965). Here Winnicott "stak[es] a claim, to his surprise, to the right not to communicate" (179). For split egos, he writes, but also in "the healthy individual" in a parallel way, the self comes to gain the "feeling of real" to the very degree that it withdraws from contact. Non-communication becomes a figure of the self's realness because through intrusive parents and other social experiences "communication so easily becomes linked with some degree of false or compliant" behavior (184). In this way, Winnicott understands non-communication in the session as progress toward trust, a variety of the deep aloneness that he argues can be experienced paradoxically only with others in the room ("The Capacity to Be Alone," also in Maturational Processes, 29-36). Winnicott also believes that cultural phenomena mediate between communication and the "subjective objects" which we convene within ourselves only when we are not communicating. He gives the examples of diaries and lyric poems. For Winnicott these instances of language overheard assume a social contract with the audience receiving items placed in the ambiguous transitional space—an understanding that, as in play, there will be no serious demand.

But of course some of us never get the balance, and in addition to just not communicating, with and without others, we use non-communication to negate discourse, and so communicate by means of non-communication, which, if you ask me, is the worst of both worlds—although it may very well be what there is to say (see Ann Smock, What is There to Say? [U of Nebraska P, 1993]). I've thought about starting over anonymously (and a circle of known readers sounds even more inhibiting), but I think this might be naive or circumlocutionary. I might soon find myself back in the same place, not because of things that would or wouldn't feel different but because a complaint about communicating is after all one of the things I most want to utter. The beauty of published writing is its taking care of the delicate social/asocial contract by its very form, as I mention below (January 4, 2008). But real-time writing plays the game for desperate stakes, like Winnicott's nine-year-old patient with her "stolen school book in which she collected poems and sayings . . . . On the front page she wrote: 'What a man thinketh in his heart, so is he'" (186; Winnicott leaves tactfully unresolved the question of whether she invents or finds this citation). What does it mean for the nine-year-old girl to keep this book in her own house, when "rape, and being eaten by cannibals . . . are mere bagatelles as compared with the violation of the self's core, the alteration of the self's central elements by communication seeping through the defences" (187)?

Image: Stephen Cannon, Camouflaged Moth

2 comments:

Jordan said...

"If for Isabel [Mme. Merle] had a fault it was that she was not natural; by which the girl meant, not that she was either affected or pretentious, since from these vulgar vices no woman could have been more exempt, but that her nature had been too much overlaid by custom and her angles too much rubbed away. She had become too flexible, too useful, was too ripe and too final. She was in a word too perfectly the social animal that man and woman are supposed to have been intended to be; and she had rid herself of every remnant of that tonic wildness which we may assume to have belonged even to the most amiable persons in the ages before country-house life was the fashion. Isabel found it difficult to think of her in any detachment or privacy, she existed only in her relations, direct or indirect, with her fellow mortals. One might wonder what commerce she could possibly hold with her own spirit. One always ended, however, by feeling that a charming surface doesn't necessarily prove one superficial; this was an illusion in which, in one's youth, one had but just escaped being nourished."-- Henry James, Portrait of a Lady, vol. 1, ch. XIX

RT said...

Perfect. Or perfectly imperfect...