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Book Forum: PSYCHOANALYSIS   |    
Conversations at the Frontier of Dreaming
Am J Psychiatry 2003;160:1898-1899. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.160.10.1898
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Evanston, Ill.

By Thomas H. Ogden. Northvale, N.J., Jason Aronson, 2001, 257 pp., $40.00.

This book is unusual, and I enjoyed reading it very much. It is interesting and has a great many ideas scattered in all directions. It consists mainly of previously printed papers (chapters 2 through 8). These are integrated by certain general themes, but occasional repetition creeps in, especially about Ogden’s concept of the "analytic third." Basically, the book contains many very close readings of poems, patient material, and Ogden’s own reveries. These are idiosyncratic and must be accepted on faith; for empirically oriented psychiatrists they will sometimes seem bordering on mysticism. On the other hand, professors of English literature will enjoy them very much. Ogden is clearly a very educated man and a sensitive, introspective psychoanalyst.

There are two central ideas that integrate the chapters and receive the maximum emphasis. The first of these centers on the analyst’s reverie as he or she listens to a patient and how, by paying attention to one’s own reverie, one can come up with a better understanding of what the patient is experiencing and trying to communicate. The second of these concentrates on the voice of the analyst as he or she presents interpretations or speaks to the patient and how scrutiny of this voice can give important evidence about countertransference and about what is going on intersubjectively between patient and analyst.

Chapter 1 deals at length with reverie. Ogden writes, "The unconscious conversation that in sleep we experience as dreaming, in the analytic setting we experience as reverie. The analyst’s reveries are his waking dreams" (p. 5). Ogden wants the analyst to gain access to what he calls the "continuous unconscious conversation with himself that takes the form of dreaming in sleep and of reverie in waking life" (p. 5). The title of the book comes from Ogden’s concept of the frontier between the unconscious and the preconscious, which he calls "the frontier of dreaming" and which he feels forms the "metaphorical place of that distinctively human conversation with ourselves" (pp. 7–8). It follows that psychoanalysis is a form of human relatedness that is "specifically designed to create conditions in which the conversations with one’s self that take place at the unconscious-preconscious frontier might be rendered increasingly audible, to analyst and analysand" (p. 11). Referring to his concept of the "analytic third," however, he says that the dreams and reveries generated by the analyst and the patient not only draw on the unconscious of the analyst and the patient as individuals but also have to do with "a set of unconscious experiences jointly, but asymmetrically, constructed by the analytic pair" (p. 11). This is the "analytic third" that Ogden has repeatedly written about, which he defines as an unconscious intersubjective construction.

The second chapter refers again to the "analytic third" and then goes on to discuss the analyst’s use of his or her reverie experiences, which Ogden considers "a central component of analytic technique" (p. 21). This leads him to the topic of the use of language, both the patient’s and the analyst’s. He says that the patient and the analyst communicate with each other through the voice and kind of language they use, and what they communicate in this fashion is "something of what they are feeling" (p. 25). To put it another way, "Reverie is a process in which metaphors are created that give shape to the analyst’s experience of the unconscious dimensions of the analytic relationship.…Reverie is a principal form of representation of the unconscious (largely intersubjective) experience of analyst and analysand" (p. 38). In addition to the transference and countertransference, Ogden attempts to achieve a "sense of what it feels like being with the patient at a given moment" (p. 42).

In chapters 3, 4, 5, and 7, Ogden explores in depth the voices in clinical material, his own reveries, and poems of his choice to see what they communicate. These chapters depend heavily on Ogden’s readings of this material. Although one may not agree with his readings, it seems clear that the voice with which the analyst presents interpretations or other communications to the patient also constitutes an important communication that is worth examining in the analytic process. I fear the average psychiatrist reader will have difficulty with these chapters unless he or she is willing to suspend an empirical approach and go along with what Ogden is trying to say by his readings of this material. As he says,

The unspoken and the unspeakable are present (sometimes in their absence) in the language that is spoken, in the manner in which it is spoken, in the sounds of the words and sentences, in the feelings elicited in the listener, and (in the analytic setting) in the behavior and bodily sensations that accompany what is being said. (p. 106)

In an earlier publication (1), I called attention to Ezra Pound’s concepts of logopoeia,phanopoeia, and melopoeia. For Pound (2), phanopoeia in language represents "throwing the object…onto the visual imagination" (p. 63), melopoeia is "inducing emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of the speech" (p. 63), and logopoeia stimulates the associations that have remained in the receiver’s consciousness in relation to the actual words employed. Only then, says Pound, can language be charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree! Ogden seems to be saying the same thing, and his book is interspersed with many suggestions about how to read and understand a poem. For example,

The sense of an essence that we glean from a poem, if the poem is a good one, is not already there ("inside" the reader or "inside" the poem) waiting to be illuminated; it is newly created each time, not only in the medium of words, but just as important in the medium of someone else’s words. (p. 177)

Ogden tries to draw a parallel to the analytic relationship in which the patient and analyst read and are read by the unconscious of each other, a process that he says leads to both participants knowing themselves better than before.

Probably the most remarkable chapter in the book is the last, "On Reading Winnicott." Ogden offers a close reading of Winnicott’s paper "Primitive Emotional Development," not possible to paraphrase in this brief book review. Ogden here demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to pay very close attention to a psychoanalytic paper. That he is a great admirer of Winnicott comes through in this chapter. Ogden reads Winnicott’s papers "aloud, line by line, as I would a poem, exploring what the language is doing in addition to what it is saying" (p. 206).

The concluding comments of the book probably would have served better as introductory comments because they make explicit Ogden’s position on the important inseparability of the language used to convey interpretations and other ideas to a patient from the ideas themselves, as far as the experience of the patient is concerned. And this experience always has to be taken into account in understanding our patients’ responses to our communications as well as in understanding our responses to the patients’ communications. On the whole, then, if one approaches this book with the right attitude, it is a very interesting and worthwhile contribution to the psychoanalytic literature.

Chessick R: Emotional Illness and Creativity. Madison, Conn, International Universities Press, 1999
Pound E: The ABC of Reading (1934). Norfolk, Conn, New Directions, 1960


Chessick R: Emotional Illness and Creativity. Madison, Conn, International Universities Press, 1999
Pound E: The ABC of Reading (1934). Norfolk, Conn, New Directions, 1960

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