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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Psychoanalysis, Discourse and Strange Lists: These are a Few of My Favourite Things

Order and Discourse, Raindrops on roses, Whiskers on kittens Bright copper kettles Warm woollen mittens Brown paper packages tied up with strings. What sort of list is this? What is the order of reality or of experience inherent? 'These are a few of my favourite things', sings Julie Andrews, inviting us to understand the basis of this collection of seemingly disparate objects. Presumably, the meaning of each is associated with some important and pleasant experience of the character who sings the song. From our modern psychologically minded position, we might say that each is an internal object. We might even call them internal part-objects: 'whiskers on kittens', and each has something of the sense of a transistional object (Winnicott, 1971) with its own sensual quality, and, on hearing the rest of the song we realise that they are internal objects with a purpose. They are brought to mind in situations of some anxiety: 'when the dog bites; when the bee stings.' They form a category of comforters. All told, the song enunciates the Sound of Music theory of 'thinking of favourite things as a defence against anxiety', and this theory is promulgated to the children in the stage show and advocated as a practice or exemplar, perhaps to us all.This list of associated internal transistional objects is then, not only a way of ordering knowledge about experience, but also the organised basis of a theory and set of practices. It is a discourse on the use of the bringing to mind of favourite things when in anxiety provoking situations to bring personal relief. Or, more humbly, it is perhaps part of a wider discourse of homilies informed by twentieth centry popular psychology. We can understand the order, because we too take part in that discourse.In the preface to his book 'The Order of Things', Foucault writes:This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought .....This passage quotes a 'certain Chinese encyclopaedia' in which is written that 'animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (I) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies'. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great stark impossibility of thinking that.His book examines the emergence of modern ways of ordering knowledge which are radically different from the ways of the past. Central to what he terms the modern episteme, or that which enables a variety of related discourses to arise, is the idea of 'man' as an object of epistemological enquiry. The human 'sciences' are discourses emergent from this possibility. Foucault's argument is that human subjectivity has emerged in the last two centuries, at least in western civilization, as an epistemological object. Psychoanalysis is central here. Its focus is on human subjectivityThis is a working paper or paper in progress. I am trying to examine issues that have preoccupied me over many years and that centre on what I think psychoanalysis is and how I apply its ideas, methods and practices to my work with groups and organisations. You could say that I want to examine the ordering of experience that is psychoanalysis: something that I can do only in a modest way here. I want to move from some of the ideas that I have worked with to where my thinking is now, talking about how I conceptualised psychoanalysis along the way. I don't really want to centre on an autobiography of my own thinking, although in some sense this is inevitable. What I do want to trace are the various orders of thought that I have come across and how I arrived at my current perspective.