The Bollasian Concept of Fascism and Other Commentaries

I’ve posted on my Facebook page, a short quotation of Christopher Bollas on the Fascist Mind.
Such quotation raised a nice debate, a vivid discussion with various psychoanalysts.
For this reason, that post and its following debate opens this section Talking About Bollas.
Amnéris Maroni.

The Bollasian Concept of Fascism and Other Comments.

Fascism can exist in the mind of either an individual or a group. Under the pressure of intense need or anxiety, the self/group loses its democratic mode of functioning and begins to project. The mind ceases to be complex because it loses the polysemic character of the symbolic order and begins to operate in a tyrannical way, eliminating all opposition. Instead of doubt, uncertainty, and self-questioning, it employs the pathological function of certainty, and that creates a moral void. A victim is chosen to fill up this emptiness, and she must be obliterated. Thus, a state of mind turns into an act of violence and the process of annihilation is idealized. The process of intellectual genocide involves distortion of the opponent’s point of view, decontextualization, depreciation, caricature, and character assassination. There may also be intellectual genocide by omission: opponents are eliminated by an absence of reference to their work or culture. This is how Christopher Bollas thinks in a seminal article “The Fascist State of Mind,” which we read in his book Being a Character.

Daniel Omar Perez: Excellent reflection. Thanks for the reference. I’ll try to understand it better. Individual and collective identities are part of my research theme.

Diogo Mendonça: Very well said!

Carlos Alberto Araújo: Very pertinent in the analysis of our current conjuncture.

Maurício Santos: What a beauty of a passage!!!

Sílvio Lopes Peres: The “intellectual genocide” has been going on for quite some time. This author’s lucidity sheds some light on the murky situation we find ourselves in. Thank you Amnéris Maroni, for sharing with us.

Janaína Bliz: My soul is hungry for it!

Amnéris Maroni: Hungry for what, Janaína? Tell me, and I’ll feed you…

Janaína Bliz: These things Bollas’s language brings about. I feel as if a lot of windows and doors were opened in a closed house in my absence for a long time. When I get in touch with the snippets of thought that you put here, I feel as if I found an open space where I can breathe freely. This encounter has been surreal. I am hungry for this deconstruction that guarantees aeration, a kind of autonomy that seems to have been an individual construction of mine — almost hidden — but that finds in this new language an open, common space for sharing — with an impressive affective force. Leaving fascism has a call for its internal deconstruction — and the meeting of the polysemous character is of fundamental importance — but the sharing, the polysemic dialogue is what sustains this movement of life, this aeration. Leaving the genocides that have operated on us needs meaningful bridges, dialogues, and I feel Bollas is coming up with the load of this significance of the leaving of fascism and internal genocides (and, thus, as external new action/being). I’m hungry for that!

Tales Ab’Sáber: How important is the perception, first and foremost, of Freud and Klein, later of Bion, of the reductive and degrading sense of the self concerning the “projection” that Bollas uses to think here, isn’t it? Those genius authors who perceived the bond between hatred, destructiveness and projection, which allows us to “understand” and criticize fascism, by using psychoanalysis. In addition, there is still more, about the binding and regressed illusion of the group, and the group psychism against thought, that Freud intently worked in “Psychology of the masses and analysis of the self”…

Amnéris Maroni: I think the Bionian passage is very good: the two parts of the mind, the psychotic and the neurotic… as well as the “degrading sense of the self of the projection.” I believe that just by realizing that, Bollas might have “given up”, at some point in recent years and to a certain extent, the projective identification — and, then, the projection — and he has thought more of the perceptive identification: it does not shrink or degrade the self… I think that’s why, but to think about fascism you have to think about both the aegis of projection and this degradation…

Tales Ab’Sáber: I like his idea — the extractive identification — derived from knowing about the original dependent bonds, from Winnicott and Khan, and even from the incredible American psychoanalyst Searles. It emphasizes the real dynamics of the original dependency relations and draws attention to the human conditions, or not, of those responsible for the development and psychic formation of a baby. In this perspective, which is the Winnicottian in  Bollas, the environment and the adult, more developed, is responsible for the  policy of caring, which offers or not to the human. Environmental roots coming from psycho-politics.

Amnéris Maroni: Bollas calls it ‘extraction introjection’. I’ve read Primo Levi’ If this is a man, under the light of this last concept, the extractive introjection, and I was shivering because the most used defence by the Nazis, in the concentration camps, was precisely that. Robbing the other’s self, as they’ve stolen in the fields, is synonymous with stealing humanity and was exactly what they did… Bollas, before being a psychoanalyst, studied History — and also literature — but the echoes of this discipline, History, allows him to study the transitional objects of a whole generation! The cultural devices, and their links to the unfolding self, are facilitated, very facilitated, in the hands of Bollas. Maybe that’s why I feel so comfortable with him. It has a lot of historical and artistic sensitivity…

Tales Ab’Sáber: It takes a lot of energy and a lot of explicit power to steal the self from a constituted person. And the fascists, who worship power, seek to do this, to the limit with the extermination of difference. In the open origin and potential state of the human baby, an authoritarian mind and an excessive narcissism of the caregivers are enough to actually injure and rob aspects of the self. Ways of being the “bad mother”, the environment not good enough.

Amnéris Maroni: As Guimarães Rosa says: “living is dangerous”!

Vera Barbosa: I want to ask permission to make a comment on this conversation between Amnéris Maroni and Tales Ab’Sáber. First of all, I want to excuse myself, in advance, because it is not about the topic: fascism. Rather,  it is about a great annoyance, I want to say something as to how the things go around Christopher Bollas. Maybe it’s more a testimonial than a comment. Bollas is a peculiar psychoanalyst; he is clearly influenced by Sigmund Freud, Donald Winnicott, Wilfred Bion, Jacques Lacan and other psychoanalysts. As much as by the great masters of universal literature. Let us not forget that he is a graduate in history, a doctor of literature and a painter. This whole framework resulted in a theoretical pluralism and the creation of a metapsychology that operates concepts such as personal idiom, receptive and creative unconscious, psychic genera, unthought known, and aesthetic experience, which he deals with in a unique fashion. For example, Bollas says that the subject has a personal idiom that is not formed by contents of latent meaning, but is an aesthetic of the personality, which in the encounter with the objects enables the engendering of an experience full of meaning. Getting in touch with the Bollasian metapsychology was an aesthetic experience for me, which has captured me in a process of total and constant transformation.

Tales Ab’Sáber: Bollas expresses himself in a quite contemporary and accessible way. But there are so many masters, radical inventors of psychoanalysis in him, he talks so much about what others have left for him: Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Milner, Khan… The aesthetic idiom, for example, is an idea expressed by Masud Khan, his dear analyst, ten years before him, and that Khan himself received from the theory of the self and its creative dimension that articulates in a transitional moment of Winnicott… transformational object is a way of saying of the work of the maternal revision of Bion, and of the multiple ontological experiences provided by Winnicott’s good enough mother… in short, a psychoanalyst creating in tradition…

Amnéris Maroni: It is not uncommon to replace experience with a sort of conceptual fencing! I left University in desperation because over there conceptual fencing is a basic rule. This all affected Foucault so much that he wrote an essay on the “death of the author” in modernity; simply put, the author has to cite all and many to formulate a thought that Foucault saw this as a kind of death. The author has died. That the university enjoys and feeds on it, we understand, otherwise, if it were not for conceptual fencing, most of the doctors/authors would not have anything to do with their lives — not the FAPESP/CNPQ referees, etc. But, I thought, in psychoanalysis what counts is the experience! It’s not conceptual fencing! Very naively, I admit, I thought this because psychoanalysis(es) can also be and, I would dare to say, in general, is a great slaughterhouse of experience and of listening itself, especially when psychoanalysis is “applied” in clinics and all school’s advocates do exactly that. Well, all this to say, that when it comes to Christopher Bollas, it is simply a routine the attempt to devoid his ideas of potency, to try to empty them, and the way it is done is relentlessly referring to the psychoanalytic tradition: he is a good heir, has the importance of an heir… And so, as Foucault insisted, the author is dead. This also empties — not always — the power of an author, his creativity, his donation to the world… let’s look at it from another angle: has anyone ever approached a Freudian professor and psychoanalyst, a Freudian audience, and dared to say that the concept of the unconscious was the most usual and commonplace concept in the second half of the nineteenth century and waited to see what happens? Even with empirical research around the unconscious, as in the case of Carl Gustav Karus? I have already done that and it definitely was not a welcoming experience, because Freud is destined to be a radical ‘new beginning’. For Freudians this memory is not welcome. So, it is not good to remember that in almost all areas we have not created anything but only returned to what tradition has bequeathed us! Nor do I see conceptual fencing when it comes to Winnicott and Klein… When one speaks of the importance of these authors, of their fertility and power, insistence on tradition does not empty them. Only a few authors in psychoanalysis are emptied of meaning and power in the name of the psychoanalytic tradition, Bollas is one of them. This is one of my research themes and then I will return to it: why does Christopher Bollas ‘disturbs’ so much the other “schools” of psychoanalysis; why must he be emptied and made into a harmless heir?!

Vera Barbosa: Amnéris, I thank you deeply, from my heart, you put so well and clearly a topic that was worrying me so much. That is, I was disturbed by the insistence of this emptying and non-recognition of such an original, creative, potent author. I think the problem is that this author doesn’t follow so strictly the path of tradition, and he dares to invest on a new form. And this bothers a lot of people! But he keeps going, and he is still giving us great news!

Tales Ab’Sáber: Amnéris, you love Bollas very much, a master of psychoanalysis, who, as Winnicott had done, forty years earlier, does not understand psychoanalysis as a space of schools, estates and totems, for groups. Psychoanalysis is really wonderful, it gives us so much knowledge, and so many intellectual and human experiences of the highest quality. I do not see why, in the same way as Bollas, we throw away his rich conceptual and human history. This has nothing to do with conceptual fencing. Unless we want to fight, which can be fun as well.

Vera Barbosa: It should be really “fun” to try to empty an author, otherwise, for what any other reason would someone do that?

Tales Ab’Sáber: We have our authors of predilection in the rich theoretical and human life of psychoanalysis. They correspond to something special in ourselves. And there are those who love more this or that author than the history of the discipline itself. And there are those who love psychoanalysis more as science than the love bond with this or that psychoanalytic thinker. Bollas himself, a contemporary post-Winnicottian, loves psychoanalysis more than the bond with a great teacher who explains everything. This is the impulse that ends up creating types of territory around an incandescent center of meaning, a master, etc. I do not understand that to recognize the inscription and the use that a psychoanalyst makes of the theoretical history of psychoanalysis is to empty him or her. I find the presence of Freud and Klein’s psychoanalytic theory of the 1920s in the passage brought by Amnéris to think of fascism today. To recognize this is not to empty Bollas, but it is not to empty the history of psychoanalysis. Neither Freud nor Klein. Personally, I have a view of Bollas different from your, and here a confusion of languages ​​takes place — Ferenczi— typical of the internal resistances of psychoanalysis to itself. All the elements of the aesthetic face of the self — as Gilbert puts it — so well described by Bollas I learned, before reading him, with Winnicott and Khan, who preceded him historically in this fundamental dimension of human life. I cannot lie to myself about it because you love Bollas way too much to say this point of the Winnicottian camp. For me, unlike you, he is a great teacher, not a radical thinker, a root inventor, a psychoanalyst. All right, they are different positions in the multiple senses of the life of contemporary psychoanalysis. This conversation can be rich and fun, or a fencing, sporting or deadly. This depends more on our passions than on the demonstrated thoughts of a science, even if it is psychoanalysis, in which reason and desires have a link. What interests me most in Bollas is his attempt at a theory of the flow of the self, of the modulations between the inner world and external and cultural objects, where we exist in movement and surprise. In that mysterious phenomenology of the self, he touched something that seems very alive and new to me, in Being a Character. Anyway, as I said, a master. But, it cannot, nor does it have to be read in any way without Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott and Khan. This creative continuity rejoices me in psychoanalysis. You feel like emptying and denying a world-renowned author who does not need me in any way to be what he truly is. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify these points.

Vera Barbosa: I agree, we have our authors of predilection, and how great it is that we have them. But I disagree that the author loves more than his theory, or the history of discipline. To begin with the measure, I think that we love different authors differently, and I do not conceive of them separated from the theories about the disciplines they write about. And I do not see how to love something for its scientific value without passing through experience and affectation. I think that in order to apprehend a given work one must go through what affects us as readers, as students. Bollas is a contemporary thinker who advocates theoretical pluralism for believing that theories are forms of perception and not just ways of thinking, that we need all theoretical concepts, because each of them allows us to perceive the phenomena in a singular, distinct way. But, once we are familiar with a certain theory, we must keep it in the back of the mind and not let ourselves be controlled by preconceptions related to models. This may suffice to appreciate the influence he has received from so many authors, psychoanalysts and non-psychoanalysts (since, contrary to IPA rules, he does not follow the tradition, he comes from inconceivable areas to become a psychoanalyst, perhaps one of the reasons why he causes so much discomfort). But, also to recognize what is his own, Bollas has also made use of his vast clinical and personal experience, (here, it is worth remembering an account of an experience from his pre-adolescence life, which illustrates his concept of aesthetic experience. He tells that when he was 11, he was once swimming on a Californian beach, and a whale came close to him causing profound discomfort. Later, when writing his doctoral thesis on Moby Dick, he related to a previous experience, at age 9, when swimming he crashed into the swollen body of a dead woman. This incident led him to think of the choice of theme as being an intuitive choice for elaborating such an experience. According to Bollas’s account, Melville’s novel allowed him to elaborate, “to be dreamed” by him, to move elements of his personal idiom, he says: “I selected an object that I could use to engage myself in a deep unconscious work, an effort that would allow me to experience and articulate something of my self” (Being a Character) to make a creative course of retaking and appropriation of psychoanalytic theory in his own idiom, and to create a metapsychology that offers a distinct model, which expands and enriches the theoretical and technical framework of psychoanalysis.

Tales Ab’Sáber: Yes. It is very good and beautiful the work of this great psychoanalyst. What does not make “being dreamed by an object” something different from the constitutive dimension of a “transitional phenomenon”, where it lies next to the dream. And, Bollas knows perfectly of his inscription, reinvention of the tradition. Let us be dreamed, according to what we may conceive of, and be conceived of, in psychoanalysis.

Vera Barbosa: To be dreamed by an object can be many things according to the point of view and approach of each author, and for Winnicott it is certainly the constitutive dimension of a transitional phenomenon. For Bollas, the encounter with the objects invites to a metamorphosis of the structure of the objects and allows to move elements of the personal language, that are transformed by the structure of the experience. For Bollas, the experience with the object is a new birth, which modifies the history and its structure.

Amnéris Maroni: This discussion is really good! I want to make it clear that this is not Tales’s case, but I have met some Greenian, and Winnicottian analysts who surely don’t have a clue about Bollas. They talk nonsense about him to try to better disqualify him, incidentally. That’s pretty weird. I am already well trained in psychoanalysis with that. After all, I studied Carl Gustav Jung, the great name and great antagonist in psychoanalysis, and I alone know the treatment I received, the hostility I suffered, when I showed an affective bond, which I maintain, with an antagonist of the great psychoanalysis. Its members are and have been cruel with Jung and with whoever demonstrates any thought close to the Jungian standpoint. It is high times, Tales, for the major currents of psychoanalytic thought to exercise more self-criticism. It is time to stop bragging, and pick up the dead bodies and mourn. It is time for the great currents of psychoanalysis to open up to the twenty-first century, to produce some critical thinking about the planetary catastrophe, which psychoanalysis itself has helped to create, insofar as it has always insisted on universalizing the white, European, and the bourgeois family — all in the name of science… European, of course! It’s time to self-criticism, Tales, and to spend time on what really matters… However, I have no hope for the “great chain of psychoanalytic thinking.” However, I have hopes for you, dear Tales… It’s time to for us to roll up our sleeves and do something different, different from the defence of psychoanalysis, because it is not in danger, it has put itself in danger because it is arrogant and does not let itself be AFFECTED by the other lines of knowledge…

For me, there is a very great difference between Bollas and all the great names of psychoanalysis: he AFFECTS me and lets himself be affected. I am not silly or anything and Tales knows that well, I read the great names of psychoanalysis and learned a lot from them all. None of them AFFECTED me. None of them, and I need to be AFFECTED. This is the great merit that Bollas has for me: he has AFFECTED me and moved my personal idiom like no other great and radical inventor of psychoanalysis has done — not even Jung if I may be allowed to put him in that stream for a moment. This power of AFFECTION is what distinguishes Bollas from other psychoanalysts for me… And, therefore, ‘dissecting’ him to see where his concepts come from, right from the beginning… Bollas says something and then there comes a ‘mister-know-it-all’ and try to show that his concepts are mere inheritance. That is to empty him. It might be fun, but it does not interest me because what matters is the power of AFFECTION. Bollas, who might have never read Espinosa, is a Spinozean author of psychoanalysis. That’s no small thing! This for me is a radical difference… because it opens psychoanalysis and its members to other knowledge, for instance. This is what we are desperately in need: to be AFFECTED!

Tales Ab’Sáber: Well, Amnéris, I say that Freud, Ferenczi, DWW, Khan, and Bion affect me more, each in their own way, than Bollas. There is nothing that can affect me more than a one-hour session of DWW, with a child playing around and drawing, when she talks about her own dreams, about the Beatles and about the risks of the magic we bring in us, a  magic that saves the life of a sick child, all that said in a beautiful and simple way — I see it as an event in life itself. It is fortunate that Bollas and others have pursued this living knowledge, to life knowledge, which was invented, created or discovered by Winnicott from his readings of Freud — “to whom we owe everything”, according to him — and of Melanie Klein — “the greatest of psychoanalysts” in his words. And it’s equally fortunate that the affectation of the experience of psychoanalysis does not stagnate, here or there.

Amnéris Maroni: Tales, long life to theoretical pluralism! Down with the “schools” of psychoanalysis! Long life to the freedom to think what the “schools” refuse to. Long life to the joy of affecting and putting down the conceptual fencing!

Vera Barbosa: Wow! Amnéris, how delightful it is to read you, to be pleasantly affected not only by what you say, but also by the masterful way of putting words and making myself represented. Soon in the morning, opening the day, it is a true aesthetic encounter! Borrowing a phrase often used by a wonderful person who as much as Bollas knows how to affect and be affected, I say, “I get on my knees”! I really like what he writes in general, says Tales, I follow him around and admire him deeply because of his political position and his social interventions. However, particularly here, when he speaks about Bollas, I think that he makes some mistakes, and rescues an often arrogant attitude, yes, from the psychoanalytic school tradition, which by excessive indoctrination kills its own authors. Bollas defends theoretical pluralism and this is already a great differential. But I am touched by form, reading it, studying it is a bodily experience. And this is what it is about, encounters with transformational objects are aesthetic experiences that touch language and metamorphosis.

Bernardo Lewgoy: I loved your text Amnéris Maroni. I would like to read this author.

Amnéris Maroni: Read, Bernardo! Being a Character has been translated into Portuguese. It is easy to read and has extraordinary articles, among them, one about generational awareness and generational objects. Bollas studied literature and history before graduating in psychoanalysis and that makes all the difference…

Milson Santos: How beautiful! Today I learned, with immense pain, another friend who confesses his intention to vote in Bolsonaro. It is scary! To justify his intention he say: “You have to screw the bad guys anyway.” These people are going to get Bolsonaro elected!

Amnéris Maroni: Let’s make sure that this does not happen, because it would be a huge collective catastrophe…

Milson Santos: No doubt! I think we will need, next to the elections, to join efforts for concrete actions in São Paulo.

Amnéris Maroni: Milson, we need to organize a left front of the psi area! Create a page on Facebook and show up at the demonstrations. There are a lot of psychologists, psi area, who do not feel represented by the Psychoanalysts for Democracy, but who would be part of another Wide Left Front, ours. I need someone who helps me, I talked to some people who thought the idea was barbaric, but I do not have time for everything and that right now is very important…

Milson Santos: I agree with concrete actions. Performances. Graffiti. Banners. Hands on. Paulista Avenue on Sundays: full of little rightists and ‘exempt folks’… We need to occupy that place.

Tales Ab’Sáber: These people make a transfiguration and a deep pact with evil. It’s a matter of magic, and one’s own right to be evil. You know, when it is asked in the macumba that an Exu exterminates of an enemy, and becomes evil itself? Alternatively, very young children, who believe in simple and Manichean way in the Batman, the Police or the Firemen, to kill the bad people? From the perspective of magical conversion to evil, or infantile Manichean justice, the point is that conditions of the contemporary deep crisis — a world crisis of capitalism — produce these spectacular regressions as an attempt at defence and salvation. It also shows that the psychism is multiple and has multiple faces open to history.

Daniel Omar Perez: Amnéris, excellent reflection! Thanks for the reference. I’ll try to understand it better. Individual and collective identities are part of my own research theme.

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