Christopher Bollas— Trauma and GENERA[1]


Amnéris Maroni


  1. Introduction

I’ll deal with three important books by Christopher Bollas in this text. Nowadays, Bollas is one of the most outstanding and creative psychoanalysts in the world. He is an American, but has a formation in the British Psychoanalytical Society. He has written many books, and among them the following have already been published in Brazil: The Shadow of the Object. Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known (1987), Forces of Destiny. Psychoanalysis and human idiom (1992), The Infinite Question (2012), The Freudian Moment (2013). I’m going to use particularly the first part of the book Being a Character (BOLLAS, 1998). Now, they have become classical books in the field of psychoanalysis, and Being a Character is extraordinary! Moreover, my Jungian friends might appreciate these readings, in a quite pleasurable way, for Bollas is more radical than Jung, though they share many intuitions.

In this Introduction, I’m going to show five good reasons for the future readers of Christopher Bollas, mainly for the reading of Being a Character.

First reason: Christopher Bollas doesn’t hesitate, throughout his entire work, in referring to meaningful passages in his own life, lived and forgotten memories, which were eventually retrieved as the writing process goes on. He also doesn’t hide himself when describing his way of being in order to vindicate his opinion and look into a certain theme; he puts himself in his writing! Here’s one passage: “…I believe that it happens because, at certain moments, I need to conjure up my own self experience so that I can write about the topic—in order to be “informed from inside”, so to speak, instead of analyzing a particular stage in the speech with a patient…”[2].

How relieved I felt by reading Bollas! It is unbearable for me the whole modern scientific discourse, which pretends to be neutral, that is, a discourse without body, without affection, without an author’s presence, despite the fact that there are many ways of doing science, of getting to know the reality. What we are still living—smell of positivism in the air! —it is something rather outdated. What can be done, then? The epistemological naïveté is much more generalized than we can imagine!

Bollas behaves as Freud, Jung, and other major authors in the “psy field” did in the past; and that’s something absolutely appealing to me, for, nowadays, we tend to read the psychoanalysts’ works in the same way we read the works of sociologists, doctors, or mathematicians. The scientific atmosphere—including the psychoanalytical one—underlines the fact that the analyst is, so to speak, the grounding of his/her findings, whether by analyzing, or by being analyst, or by practicing auto analysis.

The grounding of his/her findings is the analyst and, if anything, psychoanalysis is a field of knowledge that doesn’t get along with neutrality; however, that is not so common. Thus, Bollas gives us back that essential freedom of being our own source of discoveries and experiences. That’s not little! Let me cite José Outeiral, who prefaced the Brazilian translation of Being a Character: “…the author, in a quite unusual way when it comes to psychoanalytic texts, allows himself to disclose his own intimacy—whenever necessary, as an invitation to reader do the same—in order to speak of experiences, not of patients, but of the man”[3].

Andre Green, when presenting Being a Character, also praised this aspect in the book: “Here, we have a psychoanalyst who doesn’t write as a psychoanalyst, rather, we’ve got one who miraculously manages to avoid boredom, dogmatism, pedantry…” Definitely, if we take into account the psychoanalysis field, this is quite a unique happening!

Second reason: Bollas, explicitly, summons us up not to put emphasis on the pathological aspect in the analysand’s personality, instead, he invites us to take into account the creative aspect, and he does so radically. By emphasizing the pathological aspect, in a certain way we are preventing the analysand from his/her own resources. It is surprisingly interesting the manner in which Bollas lead us to understand that, from pathos, from trauma, from suffering, it springs up, quite often, the ability to create new realities, new worlds. The work around the trauma might eventually change itself into genera, into generative and creative structures, leading to new conceptions of reality. Obviously, the genera cannot be found on the outer world, and it has, by all means, a non-material reality, “though paintings, poems, musical composition, and other forms of art might express such inner processes…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.68).

Let me cite a passage in Bollas’s work, which seems pivotal to me: “…a child who’s raised by intrusive parents may, in part, become defensive and, defiantly, keeps a part of herself, being able to take in useful details from her parents, or from their substitutes. She would have, then, her own sense to seek such factors and, on the other hand, to empower intrapsychic areas for the working of the genera. In contrast, a child with facilitating parents might, as the result of sibling’s birth, engage on a lasting situation of unconscious hatred, which might turn the effort made by these facilitating parents into mnemonic vestiges of parental procreativity that, by its turn, will be envied and will become an ongoing source of trauma.” (BOLLAS, 1998: 54).

There are plenty of exceptions to the rules, and Bollas’s attention, as an analyst, is always focused on the many ways the generative and creative structures might come up, and in a pressing manner, how they might pick up the objects from which a personal idiom may be articulated and formulated. In Bollas’s words: “…genera may—and actually spring up—from the playful act dedicated to the transformation of the psychic suffering and traumatic perspectives…” (BOLLAS, 1998: 59).

Third reason: Bollas is unique in his ability to work with the world’s materiality. On his way of thinking, the world of objects gain soul, significance, and that allows us to read the psyche, or else, a person’s mind can be read based on the objects she picks up, on her choices concerning the world’s materiality. Beyond that, Bollas straightforwardly criticizes the “theory of objectal relations” because “it doesn’t consider the specific structure of the object, which generally is seen as a container or a mere depository of the individual’s projections”[4].

Bollas puts special emphasis on the projective identification, on her most positive side: “…the subject needs to have a simplified conscience and still lose touch with herself just for a while, so that she can invest the world of objects with psychic potentiality…” (BOLLAS, 1998:12). Material things are transmuted into psychic objects, providing, in this way, an unconscious matrix for the dreams, fantasies, and deeper reflexive knowledge. When one picks up a book to read, or listens to a certain kind of music, one is making choices of different types of objects, with different “processing potentialities”, which implies and involve distinct subjective transformations.

The different objects change us and store different experiences of the self. Each experience with a new object opens the possibility for a new birth, once the subjectivity is reconfigured with the new encounter (BOLLAS, 1998: 44). The work involving “real objects” in order to yield more experiences of the self and, later on, to elicit them, is the basis “for an understanding of how the human subject turns herself into the dreamlike work of her own life…” (BOLLAS, 1998: 4).

According to Bollas, the world’s materiality only enters the psychanalyst’s office in a residual fashion; containers obliged to carry around our projections; conversely, under the guide of an idiomatic psychoanalyst, the world’s materiality gains an honor seat. I cite him: “…in the peculiar situation of an analysis, two people—analyst and analysand—choose narrative and mental objects, lifting mutually their inner states, and with time, both of them are transformed, for psychoanalysis will become a collaborative creation”. Although the focus is on the analysand’s transformation, the analyst will also transform herself because the patient evokes on the analyst, and vice-versa, different experiences of the unconscious selves, once the conscience only have partial access to that experience.

If the patient says that she has had lunch with her mother, the analyst is led to the experience of eating, if the patient says that she has seen a film, the analyst is transported into that experience: a myriad of unconscious communications processes itself during an analysis session. Even if neither the analyst nor the analysand fully understand them, those communications are decisive for the use the analysand makes of psychoanalysis. As a result, new psychic structures build up in both of them.

Despite the fact that he doesn’t claim it, Bollas does have an anthropological feeling: he performs an excellent anthropology of the person by taking into account the world’s materiality and the specificity of the objects. Here and there, such feeling will show up in different perspectives.

Fourth reason: This anthropological feeling is also present when Bollas look into the psychoanalysis field itself. On an interview published on Percurso Magazine[5], he tells his intellectual trajectory: before becoming a psychoanalyst, he went through literature and history, and precisely as an outcome of those previous studies, he may cast a “foreign glance” at psychoanalysis, and he manages, then, to read it and practice it in a rather peculiar fashion. Whoever has always felt “at home”—I refer to the psychoanalysis home—could hardly imagine that glance. It is exactly that trajectory what indicates how problematic might become the restriction of psychoanalysis to the psychiatric doctors and to psychologists.

Psychoanalysis would only have gains with a most intense engagement of other professionals from the humanities, especially from literature. It is also that “foreign glance” what makes possible statements such as the following: “I chose to express myself against the official movements inside psychoanalysis. I’m against any kind of Kleinianism, Lacanianism, Winnicottianism, in exception of Freudianism. I’m against the dismantlement of Freud’s theory of body and spirit and the creation of all these churches with their bishops and popes: I think it is a destructive phenomenon. On the other hand, I’m in favour of the concentration of thinking around texts, such as the texts by Melanie Klein, by Bion, by Lacan, by Kohut”…

This attitude of taking a position, concerning the fundamental texts of each psychoanalytic author, and of their commentators, as well as the appreciation of the personal analysis, it is very different of choosing a certain school, any certain life of psychoanalytical thought and, after such adherence, starting to attack and denigrate the thought of another school, with the intention of obliterating it. Again, I cite Bollas: “…this war among the schools is destroying psychoanalysis, and it is also destroying our belief in the effect of a personal analysis, for, if you belong to a certain movement—that I’m afraid of being a fascist movement, after all—if you take part in it, in the name of Melanie Klein, Lacan, Winnicott, etc., how could you justify your analysis, once such behavior indicates an actual repudiation to the road you’ve chosen to take for your life, as an analysand and analyst”?

Then we should ask: what road could we take when we do analysis? To be oneself must be a likely good answer. However, if that is so, how to explain the unbounded adherence to one of the totems of psychoanalysis? In his book Being a Character, in the chapter “The state of the fascist mind”, Bollas resumes and denounces as fascist those minds that avoid contamination and preach a “pure theory” and a “pure analysis” (BOLLAS, 1998: 163).

Fifth reason: Experiences of spirituality and of wisdom have been absent in the classical psychoanalysis. Even though some authors profess them, those experiences were denied to classical psychoanalysis, a discipline whose scientific truth has disallowed those experiences. Luckily, as we are about to see, they come up in the Bollasian work.

A human being’s destiny, for Bollas, isn’t a progressive adaptation to reality, what is inherent in the psychology of the Ego! Bollas reads the human being as a walking paradox: as we grow we acquire sophisticated mental structures, and with them we become more complex, more mysterious: the self, by becoming itself a personal idiom, it also becomes more mysterious for itself, and then we gain increasingly less adaptation to the reality! (BOLLAS, 1998: 36).

To mature is to gain uncertainties about the meanings of our self, or the meanings of our life, and that is how Bollas defines wisdom. In his book Being a Character, once again Bollas assigns dignity to the mystery of existence, to spirituality, and to wisdom: possible experiences, which can be reached through analysis itself! That is the way in which the author describes the “living spirits”—the inner presences—and the relations such spirits perform in the intersubjective world, all that worth reading the book.

Occasionally, we transfer these inner presences/living spirits to the receptive space of a certain other, and vice-versa; we also provide shelter for the other people’s inner presences/living spirits. It is exactly what Bollas calls spiritual communication.

Some people, for instance, have a special hearing ability in order to perceive the living spirits, the other people’s inner presences, and they do not hesitate in welcoming them—by doing so, they behave comparably to those who have a special hearing for music!

There are people, however, who are spiritually impoverished and they do not have an inner intelligent space to harbor the other’s living spirit. It is not so rare to meet “spiritual imperialists” who may greedily invade us. Now, we are capable of being “inhabited” by the other and we are also able to recognize limits of the people we spiritually “host”. This “spiritual sense”, this revalued “spiritual communication”… “It is the comfort in the human journey towards wisdom, punctuated, as always, with a signal of questioning…” (BOLLAS, 1998:48).

  1. Pre-Conception of the True Self and Personal Idiom

Before starting this discussion, it is necessary to distinguish three Bollasian concepts we find in The Shadow of the Object: psychoanalysis of the unthought known, that is, he redefines the concepts of self, subject, and ego [6]. The author redraws these concepts and it is essential for us to be aware of the redefinitions in order to better follow his arguing. However, because of the necessary space, I’m going to put those redefinitions on a note in the end of this text[7].

On the other books following The Shadow of the Object, those concepts-experiences will undergo more dislocations and redefinitions, mainly the concept-experience of Self; in general lines, though, the above lines remain valid.

The true self and the personal idioms are virtually synonyms. In the glossary of Forces of Destiny, Bollas writes: “The person’s idiom refers to each individual’s single nucleus, a figuration of the being, something similar to a seed that can, under certain favorable conditions, evolve and articulate itself—the human idiom is each individual’s defined essence and, even though we might have some subtle sense of the other’s idiom, such knowledge is virtually unthinkable” [8].

In Being a Character, Bollas writes: “…from birth each of us is equipped with a singular personal idiom of psychic organization that constitutes the core of our self…” BOLLAS, 1998, p.36). The self does not develop itself in an unconscious manner; on the contrary, the self is the unconscious, a very particular inner presence, “…something that is proper, which is in our core, something that guides our conscience: a figuration of the personality that conjures up specific objects to undo its code through such objectifications. Above all, our itness or our personal idiom is our mystery…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.37)[9].

We think, we dream, we pick up objects without knowing why; the choices children make—and we continue to make when we grow up—are unconsciously determined. The “id” rejoices itself in choosing very specific objects so that we have peculiar experiences, so we go on releasing our true self to the point it reaches its being and, then, experiencing a kind of pleasure Bollas calls jouissance—later on we will come back to this concept that Bollas borrowed from Lacan. It is a genuine joy to come across those objects conducive of a kind of experience that is transformational [10]: “as it produces a metamorphosis of a deep and dormant structure to a superficial expression…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.39). It is by means of such release that the jouissance comes about. The idiom is, then, an “it” with which we are born, and its pleasure is to make itself up through the choosing of the objects.

Even if we are not aware of it, we “consecrate the world of our own subjectivity, endowing people, places, thing, and happenings with a sort of “idiomatic” meaning. As far as we inhabit this own world of ours, we access a field of fertile objects, which contribute to the dense psychic texture responsible for the experiences of the self” (BOLLAS, 1998). I want draw my readers’ attention to the fact that Bollas also has more affinity with the idea of highly condensed psychic textures, inner presences, to speak about experiences of the self, than with the idea of objects; more precisely, even when he talks about inner objects, he is referring to those inner presences!

Bollas, echoing Michel Proust, give many examples of what he calls experiences of the self. They come about when, in the everyday life, we smell an aroma, we listen to some music, and we are transported to a remote little town from our childhood, or to a certain period of our life; to Bollas, here we do not have a simple memory, but an “inner psychic constellation of images, feelings, and perceptions of our body”. These are intensely evocative moments.

In the same fashion, to Bollas the objects do not possess us because they contain our projections! For that reason, the way a person chooses the objects is very important to help us understand the experiences of self which are stored in those same objects.

In Forces of Destiny, Bollas brings up the concept of jouissance: “…the normal joy we feel when we associate a pre-conception of the true self to the objectal world is a very special form of pleasure. I think of this factor as being quite suitable to the word jouissance, that is an important part of Lacan’s formulation (1960)” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.32). Bollas thinks that some objects work as psychic keys that open doors to a richer and more intense unconscious experience, in which we articulate what we are through the making up of the sort of our response (BOLLAS, 1998, p.7).

I think that it is extraordinary this formulation made by Bollas, for someone who lives such experiences can re-enchant the everyday reality. He says that the objects that surround us, thousands of them, may belong to the “intermediary space”: a place where the subject finds the thing to give meaning, in the exact moment in which the being is transformed by the object. As we already know, these experiences with the objects are the ones that lead us to the experiences of the true self, and that has all to do with the personal idiom.

Bollas declares that life is a cycle of reciprocal transformations. He writes: “…this selection makes up a jouissance of the true self, a “blessing” that stems from the encounter of specific objects which frees the idiom so that it can articulates itself” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.7). It is what the author calls an eroticism of the personal idiom—the choice of the object and its exact use. Nonetheless, it’s very important to make clear for the reader that it has absolutely nothing to do with choosing an object just because we like it, rather than that, we pick it up because it strangely waves to us and we cannot be indifferent to it, because it somehow “calls” us. That is precisely what allows us to read the quality of experience of someone’s self—the expression of her personal idiom through the evocative and nourishing objects. They are, in Bollas’s definition, epiphanies (BOLLAS, 1998, p.7). Most likely, when preceded by an intense inner work, those evocative objects are very inspiring, and, once they’re introjected, they provide for new and substantive perspectives.

I see a film on which everybody is commenting on, or I read a difficult book that strangely “calls me”, maybe it is not so much pleasurable, however, by finishing the reading I might say: “somehow, my world just changed”. What do I choose? Who, inside me, chooses? Sure all of it is intuitive. Let me provide as an example my volume of Bollas’s Being a Character: it had dwelt in my shelf for more than a decade, and I had never made up my mind to read it. Then, one day, I had a dream that disorganized me very much, it caused a deep emotional turbulence in me, and that dream—a spark of my true self—started to pick up new objects.

It was in such context that I started to read Bollas’s book, and I started to “be dreamed of” by the book, and it, as an effective transformational object, didn’t stop changing me until now. I’ve made countless elaborations through my experiences of self by reading that book. By getting involved with the book, by unconscious and deeply losing myself in it, I was able to articulate something of my own self.

I’ve read, debated, and written about this extraordinary book, consequently, it’s bound to remain as a vital experience of my self. Yet, when the book “was chosen”, and I started reading it, “cutting the line” of many other titles which were waiting for me, I didn’t have the slightest idea of the reason why it had become imperious for me to read it! I took a risk and I surrendered myself to “be dreamt and processed” by the transformational object Being a Character.

There’s no doubt that these “callings” are far from being rosy phenomena. They, so to speak, romantically initiatory. I may also pick up an object in an attempt to cut short or resolve a state of anxiety, or choose an object—what’s very recurring—because I recover in and through it a severed part of myself. Here, Bollas remarks that the pathology of the mind might guide the subject in the choosing of objects which are consistent with the unconscious illness (BOLLAS, 1998, p.7). That’s why there is analysis!

Once we cannot foresee the outcome, it requires a certain risk in order to free one’s own idiom in the lived experience. Getting free to be—a character—implies hazard and uncertainty. These very qualities, embedded in this kind of experience, are the ones which prevent us from surrendering ourselves to the objects, from losing ourselves in the objects which “call us” and, however, they don’t show us their meaning straightaway. I quote Bollas: “…even at these moments of expression of the self, the individual won’t recognize her own meaning, her reflections will always lag behind, they will, more often than not, be unfocused due to its psychic structure (itness), though the individual might feel relieved by the jouissance of her choices” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.39).

  1. Trauma, Genera, and the Theory of Reception.

The chapter 4, “Psychic Genera”, is the most important in the book Being a Character, by Christopher Bollas. In that chapter, the author juxtapose—by opposition—trauma and genesis, which he prefers to translate as genera, whose Latin root “gignere” means “engender”, “give birth to”. Also the Arian root “gen” means “engender”. Genera is, as we’ll see, a sort of “special intelligence” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.69). We know that genera is the outcome of a serious environmental intrusion—many intrusions—when the person starts to be inhabited by the trauma that springs from the psycho-soma: “…a shock that’s originally brought about by something external, then changes itself into something psychically and incessantly organized, renewing itself…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.49). Usually, traumas aren’t narrated, whether it’s due to the denial, as warns us S. Ferenczi, whether it is due to the child not finding anybody to tell the story. When it happens, the memory generator is lost, and only the trauma remains. Did it really happen or not? Would it be just an illusion? The mental confusion is followed by loneliness, what’s already the traumatic experience! Now, for Bollas, the trauma has a counterpart, genesis/genera. Hence, these two principles, “trauma” and “genera”, begin as “fundamental dispositions of the ego in relation to reality, derived from the baby’s/child’s experiences in relation with her parents” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.51).

At this point, I want request my reader’s attention to this point: the genera—germinal structures—crop up as “fruits” of the objectal world, and the same analogy applies to trauma. I quote Bollas: “…if genera unfold through successive elaboration of personal idiom, “trauma” makes someone’s self to bend itself, what brings about a sort of psychic pain, and directs a very different kind of unconscious work…” [11]. From that point on, even if it’s only for didactic purposes, the infantile world is bound to become rather unfair: the children, whose parents are very much intrusive and traumatize them, keep the trauma in an inner psychic area, and this area only grows as time goes by, expanding itself in a bigger complex, at the same time the other correlated “traumas” start to show up.

That is to say, the “work” of the trauma is to gather disturbing experiences within the network of traumatic experiences[12]—the trauma is the inner principle inherent to death drive.

No doubt, there is in the traumatized child an emerging self, but it comes about on a very peculiar way “…as those conceptualized by Fairbairn, in the theory of introjections of bad objects by the child, when the goal is to control the negative effect of the parents’ ill treatment as they seize the negative objects for themselves…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.53).

If the trauma can be symbolically worked out later on—in discourse, in painting, in fiction—the goal is to drain off the disturbing effect of it through the work of repetition and dislocation. When a child, or an adult, makes choices as they connect the trauma to a set of ideas, she wishes to cut short the contact with the outer world. The trauma is bound to reappear in the acting out, in the creative work, in the human relations, and, however, the effect of the trauma is to foster a symbolic repetition, not a symbolic elaboration.

Conversely, a child, whose parents [“generative”] stimulate experiences for the elaboration of her personal idiom, will be linked to life instinct and will develop an opening to thought and creation of new reality conceptions, and she will also be able to develop symbolic elaborations. This child will pursue new experiences, which will lead her to renewing contacts with her ideational and affective states, frequently going on in an enriching interpersonal environment. She will have a life punctuated by inspiring moments of actualization of the self—derived from the instinct of actualization of the self that Bollas has labelled “destiny drive”.

Some intensely traumatized people, if they are very productive, will be able to reverse the traumatic process. However, Bollas warns us that in such cases “the incubation of the genera can be—and usually is—a work of great personal struggle, since any change in someone’s status quo implies emotional turbulence” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.52). Traumatized people are also capable of incubating and cultivating genera! Nevertheless, they achieve that at an extremely high emotional cost, due to the emotional turbulence and deviations or detours deriving from the parents’ environmental provisions. Bollas doesn’t emphasize this point sufficiently, but I’m totally persuaded that one can learn in reverse! The detours in the parents’ environmental provision may become a solution![13]

Now, let us focus on a fundamental issue so that we can better understand the difference, and the proximity, between Freud and Bollas. I’m thinking about the difference between the theory of repression—fatherly metaphor—and the theory of genera—motherly metaphor: “…the theory of repression points only to the banishment of the unwanted, and I’m convinced that other kinds of ideas are led to the unconscious”.

To complement the theory of repression, we need a theory of reception, in which some ideas, instead of being repressed, they are “received” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.55) “…surely both of them are safeguarded by the defensive and pre-conscious barrier. And with it, with the theory of reception, we have the opportunity to think the “unconscious development without the intrusive effect of conscience” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.55). The process we’re going discuss below takes place on the unconscious level, unconscious work, unconscious thinking that is essential to develop one part of personality—without the intrusive effect of conscience!

I’m going to provide a phenomenological description of how the “evolution of an emerging emotional experience” comes about: words, ideas, feelings, images, affections, all of them are displayed in constellations within mental areas, and they start to probe the world of the experience in search of phenomena related to that inner work. I quote Bollas: “…the contents of what is received are, then, the nuclei of the genera; and, in a way similar to the repressed ones, they’ll come back to conscience, but, in the case of the genera, they result in enriching actions of the self, instead of word fragments of the incarcerated…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.56).

Be it among scientists, artists, poets, psychoanalysts—culture men—the new conceptions, fruits of the generating structure, change the subject’s perspective of life, create new realities, generate new inquiries and new works, and they contribute to the formation of new genera. I want to remark that all of it happens on an unconscious level. From the emergence of a new emotional pre-conception—which is marked by emotional turbulence and internal tension linked to the selection of objects and to the elaboration of a “product”, poetry, symphony, thoughts—all of that reaches a semi-autonomous status, and once the “work” is finished, no matter what it is, it’s bound to transform the subject! I quote Bollas: “…the genera that remain in incubation, create, in my opinion, this state of ‘inner tension’ that might be felt and that guides the subject’s captures of the objects, while it intuitively shapes the spirit through the receptive intelligence…” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.59). In this fashion, a new way of understanding the world, the people, the very self, takes place. The genera involve elaborations, which goes on through the whole life. They’ll always be there to be used, “the genera, as Proteus’s metamorphic visions, will remain on the mind for re-utilizations” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.66).

For a moment, I want to stick to the selection—unconscious—of the objects so that there’s the elaboration of the personal idiom. Sometimes, people select “painful experiences” for the formation and development of the genera (BOLLAS, 1998, p.60). Whether it is through “painful experiences”, whether it is through people and experiences with positive qualities—though “positive” here doesn’t mean good or conflict-free, what one seeks is “something that connects and possibly elaborate the psychic material, which is latent, until it leads to a new vision… (BOLLAS, 1998, p.60).

There are several reasons for the emergence of a new psychic numen, or else, in order to use another Bollasian expression, “a sense of self as a psychic deity” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.62). We’ve already seen, this process is fully unconscious, we’ve also discussed its relative autonomy; we could, now, add the condensation that is built around a convergence of life happenings, and also add up the “experiences of the signs and images”—words or phrases which work as signals, although, as such, they don’t play any role! (BOLLAS, 1998, p.63). From the first to the last moment, uncertainty and risk, however, if we trust on the impossible, on uncertain objects that present themselves to us, in the force of destiny that indicate us the way, in the listening, and in the intuition, there’s no way of avoiding the experience of the sacred![14]

I also bet on the idea that a “unthought known”—an intrinsic part of each one’s destiny—might mysteriously obey a temporal standard. Bollas himself hints on that in his Being a Character, and he cites for that matter Wordsworth, juxtaposing the “renovating virtues” of the latter to the genera: There are in our existence spots of time, /That with distinct pre-eminence retain/ A renovating virtue” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.64)—a destiny drive derived from a very particular moment of someone’s ontology. It is so true because we’re blind in the observation of time, blind in the apprehension of the temporal quality that springs up form ourselves. I enjoy the thinking that “we’re just a tiny slice of time”[15] and that the time that we are generates being, flourishes “renovating virtues”, as proposes Wordsworth, flourishes “unthought knowns”, as suggests Bion!

As Bollas himself recognizes, this way of thinking, by taking as a starting point pre-conceptions of the true self, is radically against modernity, even contrary to the western civilizational process (BOLLAS, 1998, p.48). I would say, as well, that it is very unusual for someone to indulge in paying attention to the pre-conceptions of the true self, to the emerging emotions—come they from wherever they might come! —because that demands time, effort of reception, emotional turbulence, sagacity to go after the objects, in order to articulate the pre-conception in the world materiality, and then bring up the personal idiom. Above all, it demands surrender and engagement with objects, that is, surrender and involvement in the risk, in the uncertainty, because we don’t have a clue where all this is leading us to. Geniuses from all the cultural areas—Bollas’s book is rife with examples—they bet on such direction, but they’re genial! I’m not a genius, much on the contrary, however, that process only deepens in me as time goes by; and, as to me, to many others who read me, common people, they also do, I’m sure, these experiences.

In common people, it’s more recurring to block the traumatic process when it begins than to cultivate the genera, but someone who allows the process, more than that, someone who cultivate the personal idiom, that person feels the pleasure and a personal joy that Bollas—retaking Lacan’s term—defines as jouissance. Anyone who experiences the jouissance once will never stop doing that! She experiences an intense religiosity, as well, due to the relative and mysterious autonomy of the process as a whole.

Anyone who reads my posts must feel that I’m building up my own personal idiom, and that it’s impossible nowadays to do so in any institution, whether it’s a university, or any formational institution in the psy area. At Unicamp, it’s forbidden to think in this way. If I tried, I would most likely be fired, my triennial report would be considered insufficient. That’s the scientific method: where is it? The Fapesp and CNPQ evaluators would promptly ask me.

Does any institution in the psy area withstand this Bollasian way of thinking? In the risk and in the uncertainty that our subjectivity endures in the encounters with the objects—what Bollas calls ‘new births’—we can come to think against the very institution and/or its icons! Which institution, in the psy area, would put up with such a risk?




BOLLAS. Christopher. Being a Character. R.J., Revinter, 1998.



[1] I want to dedicate this post to Camila Jabur, because she has helped me, she has given me support so that I manage to do the emotional experiences that I describe phenomenologically in many of my texts, especially in this one.

[2] Idem. Ibidem. “Introduction”—the page where this item appears is not numbered in the book.

[3] The technical revision and the Preface of the Portuguese translation of Being a Character were made by José Outeiral—The Preface is not paged either.

[4] BOLLAS. C. “Introduction”. In: Being a Character. op. cit. — my emphasis.

[5] Revista Percurso, number 20/First semester, 1998. A semiannual magazine of psychoanalysis, edited in São Paulo, by the Sedes Sapientiae Institute

[6] BOLLAS. C. The Shadow of the Object. op. cit. pages 20-23 and 343 in the Brazilian edition.

[7] In that book, Bollas takes the ego as an inherited disposition, present since birth, and that distinguishes and differentiates a newborn’s “personalities”. There is a dialectics between that deeper essence and the environment. That is to say, the ego is a mental structure, “product” of the inherited and acquired dialectics, and that structure makes up the history of the person’s development. I cite Bollas on a pivotal passage that helps us understand that the analysis focuses precisely on that mental structure; in this sense, the ego, once it is already the “product” of the system of parental cares as well as of the objectal relations: “…all the attitudes, feelings, and egoic operations indicate, even if we do not take notice, the trace of a objectal relation” (p.21). He continues: “…the infant’s ego develops and establishes an extremely complex organizational system, all of it preceding the subject’s ‘birth’ or the presence of the Self” (p. 21). So, in order that we can better understand this book’s title, let’s bear in mind that the ego “is the constitutive factor of the unthought known” … “that the psychoanalysis will be able to bring to the thinking process through experience and interpretation of the transference and countertransference” (p. 22). Still: “…the ego is ‘part of the true self’, which, in its entirety, must also include the id” (p.22) … “The ego precedes for a long time the arrival of the subject” (p. 343). For Bollas, the self refers to a “set of intrapsychic relations that are recurring during a person’s life and provides her, as time goes by, with a sensation of presence” (p.343). The person’s self is the history of many inner relations, too. The Self is unlimited, and through each life’s cycle, we experience parts of this limitless self, parts that are articulated by means of an interaction between the inner and the outer reality. From the moment any of the parts is objectified (in the thinking or in the feeling), this part comes into existence. He writes: “there’s no mental unified phenomenon, though I might start to use it as if it was a unit” (p.23). The subject shows up very late on the stage! Bollas writes: “The use I make of the concept of ‘subject’ does not have the same meaning as the Lacanian subject. By “subject” I express the appearance of the reflexive conscience, a process that presents many antecedents, but that formally starts when the child uses the pronoun in the first person. The concept of subject is, in some aspects, similar to the Lacanian theory of the ego” (p.343).

[8] BOLLAS. C. Forces of Destiny—Psychoanalysis and human idiom. op. cit. p. 236.

[9] BOLLAS. C. Being a Character. op. cit. p. 37—my italics.

[10] As much in The Shadow of the Object as in Forces of Destiny, Bollas discusses this concept—the transformational object, which is very fruitful. I cite Forces of Destiny: “…it refers to the mother’s function as a baby processor. Less known as the real other, or a formable internal object, the mother is, nonetheless, an object known for its continuous actuation, which alters the baby’s psychosomatic being” (p. 237).

[11] P. 51. I cite Bollas: “…to tell genera from trauma, on must only ask if the subject is free to organize pieces of information of his life within views that change the meaning of his existence, as a continuous process of discovery, or, as in the case of trauma, if someone is organizing the material of his life in a repetitive mode, whose goal is to bereave the ego of a creative game on the content of existence…” idem, ibidem, p.60.

[12] Bollas, on a very enlightening passage concerning trauma, writes: “…someone who, unconsciously, develops an intrusion of the first stage to the complete trauma, she will collect negative qualities for a condensation in permanent nucleation that may intensify itself to the point of emerging in conscience, when the individual is deeply disturbed by the surge of accumulated contents. The complete trauma may be released to the experience by a dream, by a real happening, or by someone…” idem, ibidem, p. 60.

[13] To my thinking, the possibility of someone incubating and cultivating the genera—the germinal structures—depends on the innate personal idiom [40] and on the pulse force of destiny [40]. Let’s not forget that someone who’s very traumatized doesn’t have where to go! She’ll remain, for a long time, on the threshold of the psychotic and nonpsychotic registers of the mind—to make use here of Bion’s expression. Contact with reality, symbolic elaboration, creation of new realities, thought—all these factors aren’t accessible for someone living on the threshold announced by Bion. Quite often, and with much suffering, someone who is very traumatized relies—in the best scenarios—on the preserved parts of the self, and that’s with such remains that the person tries to insert herself in the world. Quite often, that person also pays attention to the threshold where she’s in, and that attention allows her to incubate and cultivate genera. Bollas defines that skill as intuition [40]; the skill of us have to look at a certain spot, at a certain object, and in a certain way. However, it is an unconscious skill. Coming from Latin, intuitus—the past participle of intuitor, whose root suggests that intuition is an act of seeing, or the contemplation of a phenomenon. It’s the immediate apprehension of something, without the use of reason. Surely, we need to keep in mind that, whatever we focus on, whatever we listen to, whatever we intuit comes from “inside”, but can also come from “outside”. Is there an “inside” and an “outside”, after all? It simply doesn’t matter! Something that “wasnt there”, just “showed up there”, and now it demands some engagement. From my standpoint, that’s all that really matters. In the traumatized mind, once the incubation and the cultivation of genera is triggered, those germinal structures change themselves into value, a conscious and supreme value! This isn’t always like that for those who have had their world navigation facilitated, I mean, for those who have counted on an environmental and parental provision to elaborate her personal idiom. The value of the genera for the traumatized person is, most likely, the most precious good in her life. Exactly because of that, when the person elaborates the genera, she potentiates it to the maximum!

[14] Christopher Bollas also thinks about and mentions the numen psychic, the religiosity implicit in that process. However, he makes clear that, no matter how revealing that special experience might be, it “isn’t the proper occasion for a new theory of the sacred” (Being a Character, page 68). I also think that’s not the case of talking about a “new theory of the sacred”! Yet, it seems to me quite interesting the very recognition that it is a “sacred experience”. So, I agree with Bollas, the theory is totally dispensable.

[15] I’ve drawn up this concept on a text titled Vinicius de Moraes: rethinking the astrology in the 21st. century, in April, 2014.

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