19 September 2005

"The Telescoping of Generations. Listening to the Narcissistic Links between Generations" by Haydée Faimberg

By Stefano Bolognini

Book Reviews

The Telescoping of Generations. Listening to the Narcissistic Links between Generations by Haydée Faimberg. London & New York: Rougledge, 2005. 156 pp.

Stefano Bolognini (Italian Society)

Can the reading of a scientific text exercise a direct influence on a psychoanalyst’s everyday work? I believe it can. This book by Haydée Faimberg offers a telling example, belonging as it does to a select category of works that, through the perspectives they open, provide new tools for understanding both the patient’s history and the vicissitudes of the analytical relationship.

Trained in Argentina before settling in France, and constantly attentive to developments in British, Italian and North American psychoanalysis, Haydée Faimberg offers an original viewpoint that is underpinned by her rich multicultural background. It is not by chance that she has promoted important events devoted to the intercultural dimension of scientific exchanges in psychoanalysis, and the present contribution is fully in keeping with this approach.

Clearly set out in the first chapter (from which the book takes its title), the author’s theoretico-clinical viewpoint, centred on the vicissitudes of “alienated identifications”, inspires a fascinating reflection on patients’ histories that are in many cases “someone else’s stories” In all the key cases presented in this book, and by virtue of transference-analysis and an understanding of après-coup mechanisms, the analytical couple gradually discovers figures and situations which, while now existing only in the patient’s inner world, exact over the bridge of generations payment of a secret tribute in the form of a demand for reparations and restorations that the family has unconsciously transmitted.

This happened to the very sick patient (who now, in fact, has become a paradigmatic case in contemporary psychoanalysis) who could not perceive the present value of his own country’s currency because he was secretly held captive in the family’s tragedy at some time around 1940. The discovery in analysis of these identifications paves the way for surprising transformations.

Already in this first chapter we find, interwoven with the basic theme, many general concepts that sustain the author’s theoretical thinking: the ‘not-me’ that precedes the object (where ‘me’ is associated with pleasure, and ‘not-me’ with unpleasure); the split or alienated parts of the ego that are identified with the narcissistic logic of the parents (“You the child, will be my not-me”) that provoke estrangement in the ego; the functions of appropriation and intrusion exercised by the narcissistic parents; the need to include two or three generations in a reconstruction and ‘historicization’ through disidentification.

In successive chapters the author develops other specific themes of her research: the function of ‘listening to (the patient’s) listening’ in order to discover the reinterpretations the patient operates on the interpretations under the strength of his narcissistic resistances and the narcissistic discourse of his inner parents; the nature, not only retroactive but also surprisingly anticipatory, of analytic constructions; the concept of the ‘countertransference position’ understood as “the meeting point of intrasubjectivity, intersubjectivity and metapsychology”; the narcissistic dimension of the oedipal configuration, which occurs when parents unconsciously transmit to their children the narcissistic functioning they applied to solving their own intrapsychic conflicts, including the oedipal ones.

In fact, every patient carries in his inner world a certain version of the way in which the parents did (or did not) recognize his/her otherness and sexual specificity. The Oedipus myth is revisited in a perspective of deception and self-deception; the secret regarding his origins places Oedipus in the paradoxical situation of “not knowing that he does not know” who his parents are.

Other concepts revisited by the author from a personal and original angle include narcissistic transference as a resistance, as a demand by the patient that the analyst recognize that the patient does not need him; and the concept of intersubjectivity seen (quite differently from how it is understood by some North American authors) as a constant awareness of the meeting of two subjectivities in a clinical context that remains rigorously classical and does not resort to active clinical devices as with the interpersonalists.

According to Haydée Faimberg’s experience, the analysis should involve reconstructing the psychic conflicts of two or three generations, and not only those of the patient in his present individuality. In this sense, in a complex process of historicization, the subject should traverse a path of disidentification that may also concern the grandparents, as possible narcissistic internal objects of the internal parents.

In fact, the importance of the grandparents is linked not only, and not so much, to their factual or anecdotal dimension, as to their presence in the shared inner world of the family, from one generation to the other, in their links, in their feeling of guilt, and above all in their narcissistic attributes that are only brought to light in a long process of analysis.

Among the fascinating clinical cases presented, we may quote Jacques, the writer “made of fragments” – fragments that in a dream are interpreted as “different pieces originating from different places and times”. In his analysis, like the rabbit from the magician’s hat, there emerges after many years the narcissistic object secretly admired by the mother, the writer uncle never mentioned before than, a figure in comparison with whom the father always appeared as “just a worker – nothing more” (p. 35).


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