The Inter-Presentation of Dreams: Peter Goldberg’s “The Body’s Way of Dreaming” (PDF)
In resonance the inexhaustible return of eternity is played—and listened to.
Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening
This is our planet / You’re one of us
Michael Jackson, Bad
In his book, Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, And The Deep Origins Of Consciousness, the philosopher and occasional snorkeler Peter Godfrey-Smith explains that from an evolutionary perspective humans and octopi are almost perfectly matched in their progress, cohabitants of the same latitude on the Darwinian tree; they are our evolutionary cousins, though almost all of our physical and physiological properties have evolved in different directions since we parted developmental ways some 600 million years ago. But our brains are just as large, our behavior just as complex, which makes cuttlefish understandable as what the author calls an “independent experiment” in evolution, how the same processes of adaptation and survival from which we humans have progressed might have otherwise gone. “If we make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over” (9). When Godfrey-Smith makes underwater contact in a section of the book he titles “Symphony,” his description provides a rich vision of sensory contact at the level of the body:
I set myself up next to him, just outside his den. As he faced out past me toward the sea, I watched as his colors changed. The series was mesmerizing…As I watched, I realized that these colors were changing in a concerted way, and changing in more ways than I could track. It reminded me of music, of chords changing amid and over each other. He would shift several colors in sequence or together...He seemed to be maintaining as little physical activity as possible, except for the ceaseless turnover of colors and patterns on his skin.
Then things started to change. He seemed to stiffen or pull together, and began going through a long series of displays. It was the strangest series I have seen, especially as it seemed to have no target or object. During almost all of the sequence he faced well away from me out to sea…I kept glancing out to see if he was looking at someone—another cuttlefish or some other intruder. There was never anyone there…Then he pulled himself into the most extraordinarily contorted shape, his skin suddenly white, with arms pulled back both above and below his head…And then, instantly, he seized into a wild aggressive pose, with arms straight out, sharp like thin swords, and his whole body a bright yellow-orange. It was as if the orchestra suddenly hit a wild clashing chord…He then began roaming a little, sometimes facing me and sometimes facing out to sea. I wondered again if this was all directed at me, but if it was a display, it seemed to be aimed in directions all around…Still facing away, he began to ease back from this fortissimo…And then he was still—his arms hanging down, his skin a quietly shifting mixture of the reds, rusts, and greens that he had been producing when I arrived. Turning, he looked at me.
I was now cold and the water was getting steadily darker. I had been there beside him for perhaps forty minutes. Now he was calm, and with the symphony or dream over, I swam in.
When this visual-musical body-dream is over, the reader, like the author, is swimming, immersed in a kind of affectedness, heading home. I am not interested in neuroscience. I mean that in the most basic way; it does not hold my interest. Growing up, my dad, who is a surgeon, would occasionally retreat to his office after dinner to dictate charts, and once in a while I would elect to lay on the carpeted floor of that room and listen to the stream of medical terminology flowing from his memory of the day’s events into the phone receiver, punctuated by the rhythmic “period” with which he indicated the end of each sentence. I have wondered if my disinterest and even aversion to a biological understanding of the workings of the body is in some sense a preservation of the meaningless pleasure of listening to what I would now recognize as an essentially musical experience marked by the fascination of my dad’s mysterious communion with the parts of his life that were unknown to me. So I was perplexed when the title and opening pages of this book about the octopus and consciousness gripped me. I realized, no more than a few pages in, that we have two brains; one more octopus, the other more human. This is not news to anyone in our field; we have all had many occasions to learn about the hemispheres of the brain and their associated properties. But irrespective of these previous exposures, the information struck me anew. There is, I realized this time, no particular reason for these brains to be intelligible in terms of one another, though they do seem to share a mutual interest. The left brain, for example, samples the world for the right brain, like a parent for a child, to find out what is useful for the latter’s purposes, for the elaboration of itself. But when these sensory data are not presented for this right brain function -- or, in Peter’s (after Freud’s) model, when they are treated only in terms of their usefulness (for the left brain) to re-present -- our octopus-brain becomes atrophied, and the soul suffers. Many patients arrive in this state -- their left brain, perhaps, presenting the patient to what it hopes is a functioning right brain in the analyst for treatment. (One patient used to describe a vague sense of being dropped off at his sessions while in some other sense he goes down the street to grab a burger.)
Of the many thought-provoking comments that Peter has made here I’d like to begin by using my left brain to sample two, the first of which I believe are representative of a kind of invitation he has been extending to our community in one way or another for a number of years now:
“…we lack adequate language to describe the elaborate and evolved ways in which the psychology of the body is organized in terms of the semiotics of movement and the organization of sensation and perception, giving them psychical shape and communicability.”
And one that he makes for the first time here:
“The transformative function of music is easier to see in action in those instances where we really attend to it – i.e. through concentrated listening, or participating in music-making by means of voice or instrument.”
I can think of two ways I can attempt to do justice to the opportunity to respond to Peter’s extraordinary paper. The Austrian musicologist Hans Keller, who wrote extensively about psychoanalysis, once suggested that the best way to write about a piece of music would be to write music about it. I don’t write very good music, but I spend a lot of time playing other people’s. To the extent that Peter has written a paper, I am responding by writing these remarks. But I could not help but notice, as the reader may have, that the experience of reading Peter’s paper engenders many of the qualities which he assigns in it to the experience of listening to music; the way it opens me up, like great music and great writing (and great music-writing) can, to the feeling of being alive. So in this sense I consider Peter’s paper to be essentially a piece of music, and so I want to respond by playing two songs for us to listen to together -- as a way to squiggle back, as it were, and attend to music in the way that Peter invites us to. As we listen I hope to offer some musical descriptions that might begin to fill some of the gaps in language to which Peter has been calling our attention in the hope that it will simply add some additional dimension to what he is already saying, while exploring some of the tension between the need for words and the need for wordlessness at this level of experience. The second selection will provide an opportunity to listen to some of the effects with respect to harmony that are at play, for example, in the chromatic expression in the cuttlefish’s underwater symphony. But first thing’s first.
Starting Something: Rhythm
What can we say? One of the strongest impressions made by Peter’s paper is the sense in which listening to music with others engenders a specific blend of public and private experience. When we accept Peter’s assertion that music does not mean anything, we cannot rely upon any premise that what any given musical event does to me is the same as what it does to you, at least at the level of meaning; at the same time, the shared experience of listening to music with one another (either simultaneously in the same space or at some temporal remove) is undeniably different than its more private listening correlate, the music no one else hears, those many dreams we don't or can't recall in another’s company. I think Peter’s use of the word “idiom” is instructive here; it locates the psychical purposing of music somewhere on a spectrum between universal language and insular idiosyncrasy. Perhaps when we listen together we are casting a kind of aural net, potentiating the discovery of essentially unison bodily experiences with one another, what Bion called “at-onement,” amidst a sea of otherwise non-shared (let alone non-felt) elements; we listen together to find out which sensory impressions become most concentrated with respect to mutual apprehension, even as we retain the more unique nuances of the experience within our own private, psychical spheres.
I suspect there is no element of music that is more prone to unite us in the sensory commune than rhythm; and for purposes of putting something of this experience into words, which is itself a contentious activity, I thought we might begin with this curious example of the opening track of Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982), “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”, for at least two reasons. One is that the groove generated by the rhythmic pattern of this song is, to my knowledge, completely unique in the history of pop music. The other is that within a year of its release Thriller had become (and currently remains) the best-selling album of all time. No album, in other words, is more shared among consumers of pop music, which itself is defined, of course, by its pop-ularity, its shareability. Compare the rhythmic pattern of this song to what is commonly known as a straight beat, “four on the floor,” 1--2--3--4, an unsyncopated quarter note feel that is the signature of nearly every genre of dance music, practically definitional with respect to disco, house, trance, techno, reggaeton and virtually every other kind of music that dominates dance clubs and parties, not to mention Thriller's most recognizable single, indeed the most recognizable song in Michael Jackson’s catalog:
This is obviously quite a compelling groove in its own right, and the choreography that accompanied the song in its first live performance, which revealed Michael’s iconic “moonwalk” to a rapt world audience, is among the most mesmerizing visual phenomena in the history of popular culture. (Thriller also occasioned the crystallizing of what we now know as the music video.) But the beat that begins the album is markedly different from the “Billie Jean” beat. Following three deceptively robotic hits, “ttt-ttt-ttt,” a kind of dancefloor call to attention, we find ourselves seemingly already in the midst of an ambiguously organized, metric...continuousness. Instead of landing declaratively on the downbeat (the “one”), the drum pattern of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” if one were to diagram it according to a Western system of music theory, begins with a pair of weak sixteenth notes which repeat a fraction of a beat later, and again, and again, creating an arresting three-against-four, pick-up feel: “ONE-EE-and-UH-TWO-ee-AND-UH-three-EE-AND-uh-four-ee-and-uh…” (as opposed to the straight “ONE -- and -- TWO -- and -- THREE -- and -- FOUR -- and…” in “Billie Jean”). This near-stutter in the kick drum creates tension against the totally unsyncopated, metronomic quarter-note backbeat in the snare (“one--TWO--three--FOUR”) -- identical to the backbeat in “Billie Jean” -- and a similarly straight-sixteenth feel in the high hats. (Volume dynamics in this upper register create a cyclical, crackling eruption of trebly percussion.) And there would be no point in describing the rhythm of these opening bars without including the bass part, whose singular funkiness both feeds and is fed by the animating drum pattern. (Footage of a concert rehearsal in the last days of Michael’s life portray a rare moment in which he lambasts his bass player for not capturing every nuance of this riff: “It’s funki-er,” he insists, reproducing his desired effect a capella for didactic purposes.) All of this quickly melts into a kind of perfect fusion of musical elements as each layer is added; the picked guitar pattern and accents in the horns build and expand the power of this righteous synergy, drawing fluidly upon African high-life, funkadelic R&B, and 80’s synth-pop in a seamless and scintillating blend of hits, swoops and gentle pads. And all that before the vocals start:
But I want to focus on that “downbeat” of the pattern, which is both unmistakable and essentially unarticulated, creating a sense of potential feeling for the body to fill in on its own; or, continuing in a Winnicott mode, the question of where the proper downbeat falls need not be asked because it is found-created in the body. The artful, enigmatic underdetermination of the downbeat beckons the body into its fascinating rhythm, inducing a musical experience, starting something. So here’s a basically unfounded proposition that nevertheless seems intuitively -- indeed, musically (and psychoanalytically) -- correct to me: When good enough conditions have been provided for entering into shared rhythmic experience, four-on-the-floor is probably all you need to get your groove on. But there are some of us, and some patients -- I think Peter would say more and more of our patients -- for whom the simple application of this rhythm, the beating of the baton, is not enough. Perhaps at least part of the unprecedented success of Thriller — and possibly this qualifies it as a suitable case study for something like a universal musical phenomenon — can be attributed to the way in which it not only provides a rhythm in its opening track but in fact invites the body into a rhythmic experience, recalling what Peter refers to in his earlier paper, “Active Perception and the Search for Sensory Symbiosis” (2012), as “the inductive dimension of clinical technique.” In that paper, Peter explores aspects of the analyst’s activities -- posture, habits, grain of the voice -- which may be oriented in such a way as to invite the patient into a shared sensory commune which the psychosensory disorders of our time otherwise impede. In the current paper, I believe Peter expands this notion to incorporate the whole of the analytic method, which, he states, ”itself depends on a comparable setup – a specialized framework for the shifting of attention from everyday consciousness to something closer to dream consciousness.” Peter mentions one way he believes this happens -- through the setting-aside of time that constitutes the analytic hour, a kind of negation (Freud) of the Big Clock in favor, as Michael Parsons has described, of psychic reality. I agree that we are doing this in our clinical situations, and I think Peter’s work potentiates an expansion of this function, this active search for how to enter into this realm of psychosensory commune, how to start something at this level of experience. I think the substratum of this induction is rhythm, which I consider to be something like a musical definition of the frame. The tempo of analytic work -- usually between one and five 50 minute beats per week -- provides the structuring element (non-process, dream screen, etc.) from which all other psychical activity (dreaming, process, unbinding) emerges. Which is doing quite a lot. But the work of finding of that rhythm, especially in cases where such a ritual may seem utterly bizarre, impossibly quaint, etc., requires an active technique on the part of the analyst to bring about these most precious conditions for psyche-somatic dream-work, particularly when those conditions are not available or have collapsed due to dissociation. The frame is available for both purposes -- as a conductor of pre-existing rhythmic capacity or, especially in Peter’s (1989) mode of active searching, experiencing it for the first time.
As opposed to the term “frame” in its original incarnations (Milner, Bleger), rhythm is a non-metaphorical description of these requisite conditions; whereas the periodicity and length of sessions in conjunction with the physical properties of the session (the walls, doors, couch, etc.) certainly operate like a frame, or function as a framing device for psychical material, psychoanalytic praxis literally is a rhythm, played at what we perceive as quite a slow tempo, a meter of hours per week. But the near imperceptibility of this glacial beat does not preclude it from having a profound effect. (A patient recently attributed a newly satisfying sexual experience to its having been “slow and even.”) In this sense the frame can be thought of as a genuinely organizing rhythm, as opposed to, for example, an arrhythmic pattern, which at best produces an uneven and disjointed semblance of bodily and psychical survival; or the over-regimentation which, as Peter hauntingly captures his seminal paper, “Fabricated Bodies” (2004), hijacks cycles of eating, sleeping, physical activity and sexuality itself in order to preclude otherwise terrifying experiences of presumably uncontainable aliveness, the very experience that the frame, by contrast, is designed to protect and cultivate. The non-process of the frame, felt at the level of the body, begets the process of analytic dream-work. In contrast to tyrannical, thanatic repetitions resulting from unmediated intrusions and disruptions in self-continuity, the psychoanalytic frame is jointly selected by its participants for its structuring potential; rather than traumatically compelled, it provides a benign pulse to relieve destructive com-pulsion. The steady repetition of our psychoanalytic schedules in turn creates symmetry (Matte-Blanco) among the weeks of the year (and often the years themselves), allowing the cumulative experience of analysis to approach a quality of timelessness, optimal for apprehending experience at the level of the unconscious; once in place, the disruptions to this symmetry (vacations, missed appointments) are felt not as injuries to the structure but as syncopations, textural imperfections that lend the felt quality of a groove to the lived relationship with an other.
In this sense the frame can be thought of as, borrowing a term from the French psychoanalyst Nicholas Abraham rhythmizing experience. “How is it that I come to possess the rhythmic object?” Abraham queries. “By making myself a rhythmic object” (75). The first and by far foremost way in which we do this is by maintaining the frame of our treatment, which creates a literal rhythm in the patient's life, perhaps for the first time. (On more than one occasion I have contemplated with adult patients the potential value of a bedtime, which no one before me had ever bothered to do.) It is truly worthwhile to make these patterns available for meaning-making, but that is only one used to be made of them. For many patients, I find, the simple reification of rhythm as rhythm has a structuring and salutary effect on his or her sense of continuity, what Winnicott called going-on-being. Introducing the last case presented in his Therapeutic Consultations In Child Psychiatry, a collection of demonstrations of almost supernatural clinical efficacy using his famous squiggle technique, Winnicott writes, soberly, "I wish to describe a case of potential delinquency which can not be dealt with adequately by the kind of work that I'm describing in this book" (380). He reports a 12 year old boy “who looked nice and was nicely dressed and who had good manners and yet he seemed to be in some strange way absent; not absent in the schizoid way so much as absent in a sense of his being uninvolved except politely” (384). The boy exhibits many disturbing symptoms including what appears to his family to be repeated attempts to set fire to their piano.
George acquired a perfect technique for forgetting everything when anyone else would be feeling remorse or guilt. This relates especially to the use of noise. The best of this has been that he has liked being read to by his grandmother. But it was the pianos at school that he dismantled with the gang. At other times he used the alarm clock or his record player, and singing and drumming, all of which seem to be a residue of the incessant screaming of his infancy and early childhood. In the noise lay hidden the last vestiges of hope. (393)
Winnicott’s squiggle-based consultations -- perhaps the most remarkable technical invention in psychoanalysis since the instruction to lie on the couch -- produced remarkable therapeutic benefits in the patients he saw in his clinic-based work, but they did not provide a frame, at least not the rhythmic component of it. (The modal number of sessions in these vignettes is of course 1.) But when all else fails -- no dreams in the squiggles -- Winnicott orients himself toward finding “vestiges of hope” amidst noise, listening for the grandmother’s voice among the screams; an opportunity for shared experience in an alarm clock or a record player, singing and drumming; some useful impression -- a bodily reminiscence more than a memory (Freud), perhaps what Peter refers to as a “record” -- to experience, amidst too much to remember (let alone forget), something musical, in live company (Alvarez). I believe these are the types of patients whose help is further potentiated by Peter's work, those for whom the rhythms of fellow beings have been impossibly elusive or hidden, and whose introduction into the shared domain of experience begins with the beating pulse of the frame. Through the structuring power of the inherently musical-rhythmic analytic setup, the frame operates as music; it “reconfigures the psychology of the body in a way that is analogous to the way dreams tap into and reconfigure the representational domain of the mind,” initiating and restoring the body’s capacity to dream itself.
Reaching Out: Harmony
A cuttlefish’s display of colors might bring to mind a symphony because the senses are no different in their shared ancestry than the species themselves; what we call “synesthesia” is a kind of echo of an era when our senses were (like the unconscious) undifferentiated, before their evolutionary split. There may be music (or images or poetry) for all of us which evoke a quality of total sensory immersion, a melded visual-aural effect that seems to predate the distinctness of more typical perceptual experiences that register not only at a non-verbal level but erode the boundaries of our habitual arrangement of sense impressions, a correlate of Freud’s notion of condensation in dream-work in the musical work of the body-dream:
Of this music’s almost innumerable virtues -- the shimmering crispness of the production, the dreamy poeticism of the lyrics, the spaciousness created by innovative echoes in the background vocals, the whale song of Michael’s soaring falsetto -- I want to focus briefly on the song’s harmonic form, the way the chords organize the musical experience of the song. The verse/chorus sequencing in this particular song is beautiful if somewhat typical at this level of form; what is unusual, on the other hand, is the musical material which begins the song, as a kind of introduction; recurs midway, as a kind of bridge; and reappears at the end (with a kind of “coda” appended). One is hard-pressed to think of another piece of music that takes this particular form. And the chord progression of this repeated section, relative to the rest of the song, has one chord that does not go with the others. A sophisticated understanding of Western harmony is not required to appreciate the slight strangeness of this chord, a strangeness that is prepared and effected by the harmonic context of the song itself. It presents its otherness in the context of the harmony in which it is immersed; it has no otherness outside of its own musical surround.
The harmony of the song is comprised almost entirely of the 7 pitches that form the key of D major:
which is to say that the song plays strictly and conservatively by the rules of Western tonality. These rules capitalize on physical qualities of tension and resolution to create a sense of motion; the more tonal, the more tension, the more of a sense of moving through time diachronically from tension to resolution, one place to another, beginning to end. These are the only notes that appear in the harmony of the verse:
and the chorus:
Conversely, when other pitches are incorporated, the harmony becomes less tonal and more modal, engendering more of a sense of harmonic holding, of stillness, of each moment in its own right, of synchronic time. In Peter’s (1995) model of dissociation, the unbearability of otherness is “successfully” solved for by a retreat from sensory experience into the mind, which then sets out to operate the body as if it were not disconnected from this most basic form of aliveness. As we know from Winnicott, what makes otherness bearable is the way it is titrated by the functioning parent for the infant to the point at which it no longer feels too much like otherness, the point at which the question of origin (inside or outside), requires no attention. This titration infuses external reality, which might otherwise feel like a dead end, with the quality of transitionality, of potential. Harmony is a kind of game predicated upon this play of sameness and difference; a piece of music can feel especially whole or good when it feels as though it exists to solve the question of its own harmonic relationships, a question raised in “Human Nature” by the F natural that occurs in this repeated section. Isolated, the note is jarring:
But woven into the harmonic structure, it becomes a revelation; not only of the beauty of its own otherness, but of the curiosity about otherness itself. Compare what the same section would look like using only the notes in the rest of the song:
with the way the song is actually written, with an F major chord:
The F natural turns the ear toward a new harmonic possibility suggested by the introduction, recalled in the bridge, and finally launched in the final moment of the track, which lands the harmony on an-other otherness (Bb) as the song ends. From the perspective of the main tonality of the song, this final chord root has a shadowy dissonance, a hair short of bluesy; at the same time it is in fact a major (seventh) chord and, from the vantage point of F major, a return home. This modulation transports the song to another harmonic dimension prepared by the otherness it spends the entire song developing, structuring its own desire, and then leaves us there, as if forever:
The infusion of otherness has become the vehicle by which the harmony of the song -- a correlate, perhaps, of the vitality of psychical life -- is made richer by the broadening of the harmonic, chromatic spectrum, what Bion (1977) once described as the “constantly changing pattern of emotional experience...a sensuous kaleidoscopic change” (11). As in clinical work, the subtle, optimal introduction of dissonance is not only deeply moving in its own right; it prepares the possibility of other otherness, the frontier of as-yet-unused usability; new places to find oneself at home, only to leave again, only to return. Harmony functions to incorporate otherness at the level of the body; not the otherness of other bodies, but the experience shared among bodies of the emotional, unconscious otherness within the self which vibrates in response to the world.
Human Nature: Rhythmic Harmony
Where do we find ourselves when the music stops? What has happened to us? If, as Peter asserts, “Each piece of music offers the possibility of re-configuration of psychical experience – to re-arrange psychic life in terms of the psychology of the body,” how do we describe and account for this effect in psychoanalytic terms? Our theory often looks to models of illness in order to infer a vision of health, and Peter is right to call our attention to the dangers of becoming isolated from this level of experience. And music can be part of the problem. Gone are the days when we could operate on the assumption that people can more or less hear what’s going on around them. The ubiquity of headphones has thrown the most basic experience of the rhythms and dynamics of inhabiting a body among other bodies in public spaces completely into disarray, requiring an increasing amount of our collective, corrective attention to what would otherwise be unconsciously negotiated. And of course headphones are not required to tune out the world; dissociation seems to do the trick. So if this is the illness of our time, what is the treatment? Peter’s work is singular among psychoanalytic thinking in its exploration of this question. What results from this type of dissociation is a kind of evolutionary split; a person who could’ve otherwise been a participant in the sensory commune, a member of the human race, becomes a kind of independent experiment in humanity. And while it’s hard (though tempting daily) to lay the blame for our current state of affairs on any particular culprit, a natural consequence of this radical dissociation -- and nowhere is the increasingly dismissed Kleinian theory so contemporary and vital -- is insatiable greed. Deprivation of vital sensory nourishment breeds a bottomless need that is never met and festers exponentially. One’s basic capacity to connect empathically to the living world is a quick casualty of this devastating scarcity. If this is the pathological conundrum of our time, what is the cure? And why does music seem to lend itself to the cause? How do the inductive, broadening, life-giving benefits of music operate? And why does the psyche-soma like it?
Another way of putting Peter’s claim that music “broadens the sources of perception” would be to say that it enables the psyche-soma to apprehend more sensory material from which to select in the formation of its own idiomatic way of being. “Like dreaming,” Peter writes, “music is essential to psychical life. The individual striving to discover a personal musical idiom is engaged in nothing less than a struggle for a viable way of being embodied in the world.” While dreams appropriate day residue and other beta-turned-alpha-elements for its associative work, the body appears capable of using musical experience to absorb and ultimately incorporate more otherness into its own emergent idiom. And there is a difference between music we are hearing for the first time and the music we have incorporated over time as part of our own identity. In the latter case, this otherness has become especially useful to the psyche insofar as it has located itself as a kind of otherness within, the pulses and pitches of music having been more thoroughly used once they have been woven into the rhythmizing of experience and harmonic response of the body. One finds a corollary of this phenomenon in Winnicott’s assertion that “nothing happens outside the infant’s omnipotence”; only a “subjective object” is available for idiomatic elaboration. But perhaps our best descriptions of the otherness within the self are to be found in the work of Jean Laplanche, where this otherness is regarded precisely as what remains of the infantile encounter with the sexual unconscious of the other. (I believe this impression is what Peter refers to as a “record.” cf Laplanche F/S Ch. 5)
Reading Peter Goldberg’s work, one may notice in the current paper -- as opposed to, for example, in his earlier paper, “Fabricated Bodies” (2004) in which he refers to the “desiring body,” “libidinal vitality,” “vital sources of eros,” a “flexible, wishful body” (823-5) -- a total lack of reference to the body as sexual. Perhaps this change can be attributed to the discourse itself having been subjected to the very delibidinizing fabrication that Peter addresses in that earlier paper; or perhaps I am noticing a shift in emphasis and not in substance, a distinction without a difference. Or perhaps the nature of the dissociative illness to which Peter attends in his reflections on the music of the body is configured differently with respect to erotic life than the somatic illness of his previous focus. Or perhaps libido itself has become too colonized and commodified -- as in the case of what Peter refers to as the pseudovitality of “successful dissociation” (1995) -- to be of any psychical use, even in theory. Or, from a certain developmental perspective, the psychosensory level of experience may be considered to be primary or prior relative to the sexual. But for Laplanche, following Freud, this is not the case. The psychosensory is identical to the sexual -- at least initially, prior to their differentiation. Or to put it another way: What we call ‘sexual’ is none other than the drive to “translate” (Laplanche) the impression, the “message” (even if nonverbal), left by psychosensory contact with an other. “Children, in such circumstances,” Freud writes in the Dora case -- the circumstances of hearing one’s parents in the bedroom next door -- “divine something sexual in the uncanny sounds that reach their ears” (Freud, VII, 80). They know it’s sexual before they know what sex is, and its sounds are uncanny, unheimlich, un-home-like, the feeling of return to somewhere one has never been. Music, in other words, like eros itself, provides an exemplary recapitulation of the apprehension of the sexual, the confusion of tongues between the nascent sensory capacities of the infant and the fully developed capacity for erotic stimulation in the caregiver; music reproduces this encounter not only in its genetic or symbolic registers, its “love songs” -- every song on Thriller is a love song, though the erotics of “Beat It” might require further explanation in this regard -- but in its vibrational, rhythmic, tensile impact (cf Laplanche LD 21), an awakening at the level of what Anzieu referred to as the “bodily ego” (Anzieu p. 92-4); the libidinizing potential of what Peter has termed “beta-function.” This encounter is virtually identical to the clinical situation Peter once described with respect to “the actual incongruity existing between patient's and therapist's frameworks” (1989) -- not only, as Peter would have it, as a transference of a holding environment failure, but also, as Laplanche calls it, the fundamental anthropological situation, the encounter between the wordless infant (“infans”) and the sexual unconscious of the adult other. Music, as Peter compellingly argues, never means anything, which is why it so suitably recalls the time when other people didn’t mean anything, which meant they could mean anything. “Music,” Jean-Luc Nancy writes, “is the art of making the outside of time return to every time, making return to every moment the beginning that listens to itself beginning and beginning again” (67).
In this sense I believe there may be a role for the infantile sexual in Peter’s metapsychological model alongside the concepts to which he already makes specific reference—the psyche-soma, the skin ego, the Actual, confusion of tongues—in that it infuses the model of sensory contact with its natural consequence: a sense of mystery, a wanting-to-know.. This wanting, in turn, procures libidinal contact with all future objects, nowhere more than in the analytic situation. What we offer our patients is our interest, and the conditions which optimize it. The biggest threat to that interest is trauma; in this model, analysis is a showdown between traumatic dissociation and attentive interest. And when we are losing the battle, the musical dimension of experience, if intact within ourselves, is available to sustain us, while simultaneously lowering the threshold for engagement by other participants. [Bion (1963) locates music in the B column of his Grid, as “alpha-elements,” operating at a lower level of dimensionality than dreams or even images.] And if there is no music to be heard then we may have to start something. If music is the way the body dreams itself, then seduction constitutes the inception of the dreaming process; like a drummer or a conductor, the sexual summons the body to the dancefloor, to engage at the bodily level with other bodies. The sexual starts the record, presses ▶️, clicks the link. And if there is no music to be heard, one may have to attend to difficulties in what Searles called Oedipal love in the countertransference, what Madonna is demanding when she sings: “Get into the groove.” (“Now I know you’re mine,” she follows gratefully.)
It may also be instructive to compare Peter’s use of the term psychosensory to Matte-Blanco’s notion of undifferentiation, which he offers essentially as a functional definition of the unconscious. In this sense, the presentational, beta-functional level of experience is pre-representational not in the sense of being on its way to representation, as in certain models of psychoanalysis, but because it lives at the pole of experience where representation has not yet arrived on the psychosensory scene — or, to state it differently, was always already there. This synchronic presentation of experience is, after all, the means by which we have access to psychoanalysis in the first place; it appears to have simply presented itself. Freud may have been nothing so much as the available genius at the moment at which human evolution crystallized what Christopher Bollas calls a “deep ontological need” — to have one’s experience be the object of interest for a devoted other. (Freud’s fundamental rule — evenly suspended attention to free association — originated as what Anna O simply felt like doing.) That which competes with that devotion becomes in turn the object of undying curiosity; its pursuit becomes our sexuality, the music of our life. (The catastrophic prospect of incest is its potential collapse of the world.) And if there is anything to gain by imagining an erotic aspect to this musical-bodily dimension of experience, I suspect it would have to do with the libidinal, energizing quality that characterizes our most treasured encounters with music, the sense it which music not only engenders the capacity for aliveness but in fact gives us life in and of itself through vibrational bodily impact and resonance.
There is no model of psychoanalysis that does not rest upon the types of non-verbal communication that Godfrey-Smith observes the cuttlefish’s symphonic display of color; Freud’s original formulation for projection, after all, far from a magical fantasy of mutual deposits of invisible contents, derives from the way that blushing transmits by induction one’s emotional experience to an other, an inadvertent communication: “Self-betrayal oozes from all our pores.” But if psychoanalysis is in some sense the restoration of meaning to the insufficiently meaningful, the putting of words to the excessively unarticulated, perhaps through developments like Peter’s (following Winnicott, Alvarez, and others) it can become a restoration of non-communicative aliveness of the body, being in the presence of another without getting too riled up about what to say about it. (Recall that Godfrey-Smith repeatedly emphasizes that the cuttlefish is not directing his display at him, until he does.) What we stand to gain from cultivating experience at this sensory level is not only a greater apprehension thereof for the purposes of language, as music theory might offer the music student or listener, but a rejuvenation and enlivening of the sensory apparatus for its own sake, irrespective of its being bridged to the symbolic domain. Peter emphasizes the profound implications of this attention for a shift for clinical technique: What if cure, in other words, is not reconciliation of the worded with the non-worded but the replenishment and nourishment of separate capacities which are to remain separate yet supported in their respective domains? Not for an octopus brain to be brought under the auspices of the human brain, but to promote what Freud called the "double consciousness" of what Winnicott called the psyche-soma? Perhaps this is why Winnicott was so often content to end his brief consultations once he felt the patient's troubles had been not interpreted nor explained but satisfactorily communicated through squiggles; why Ferro regards work in the derivative as sufficient in its own right without the psychoanalytic calculus which renders the material integrally. Knowing the meaning of the words, after all, does not confirm our knowledge of the meaning of the lyric, let alone the meaning of the song. Great songs like great interpretations are meant not only to mean something but to evoke feeling. When we cultivate our sensibility for the rhythms of beginning and ending sessions, the tones and colors of material, the choreography of movement, and the frame’s induction of its subjects into a unison experience, we broaden our perception to apprehend what may be the first or most important forms of contact with one another; conversely, when we attend exclusively to the erotic or aggressive dimension of the patient’s reports or transferential gestures, we risk missing an opportunity to recognize a bid for sharing sensory experience (an experience both frustrated and potentiated by the prohibition against physical contact), an attempt to feel the same thing at the same time.
One encounters in efforts to make contact at this level of experience an additional clinical difficulty -- not only how to make contact, but how to sustain it. Whatever one believes we are working against -- resistances, dissociations, prohibitions -- the experience of attempting contact is invariably an experience of ebb and flow, what Marion Milner once referred to as an “inner rhythm” (Milner, 1960); or what Laplanche refers to as the “temporal rhythm” of apres-coup, (Laplanche, 1970 p. 30), the “rhythm through which sexuality is established” (44); or what Civitarese refers to as the “rhythm in the transindividual constitution of the subject” -- to which we might add, a harmonic rhythm, a sense of moving back and forth between the identity of the self and the alterity of the other in a self-perpetuating pattern of negotiating fundamental needs. And where there is rhythm, there is a sense of time. “My idea here,” Peter writes, “is that music is the great mixer of body time with the other kinds of time we live in,” engendering what Peter calls “experiential time that allows for certain psycho-physical transformations to possibly take place.” The body mixes time by mixing rhythms. The frame may be the most readily identifiable of the rhythms formed by the analytic process, but we are inducing rhythms all the time, and never more so than when we are simply describing the natural patterns and oscillations of psychical life. “The analyst,” Theodor Reik writes in his classic, Listening With The Third Ear (1948), “must oscillate in the same rhythm with his patient within the realm between fantasy and reality, sometimes approaching one, sometimes the other” (116). Within the psychical space of the frame, words accumulate into psychosensory data clouds of moods and ideas which gather over time like key areas, returned to and moved through by the logic of a symphony. As these territories become more familiar, like favorite albums, one becomes locatable to oneself in a rhythmic, patterned continuity, which can be deeply reassuring; if one expects living to be rhythmic, then the inevitable pivots from the synthesis of cohering a self to the “countercurrent” (Laplanche, 2001) of coming apart (analysis) are relatively less catastrophic. The analytic participants modulate awareness of these rhythms constantly -- looking or not looking at the clock during one's session, commenting or not commenting on shifts in topic and tone. We have a need to know and to not know what’s going on at this level, all the time. And the same goes for music. If we are to gain anything from an atomic zoom on the molecular level of musical phenomena, which can do little more than suggest the muchness (Sekoff, 2012) of what we may actually be registering at this level of experience, we need to bear in mind the magnitude, the awesomeness, of the Freudian unconscious, its ultimate unintelligibility. Laplanche did not believe, for example, that the origins of psychical phenomena were perceptible via infant-parent observation, and I am not convinced that the kind of phenomena that Peter is attending to are to be found in the quasi-musical exchanges that can be observed with respect to rhythmic or melodic attunement in that context. But not being able to observe something directly is not the same as not being able to locate it within ourselves; we are in the domain of the unrepressed unconscious, which is not hidden from awareness, and is thus easier to verify than the repressed contents posited by other theorists as the substratum of sexuality. I am not aware, for example, of wanting to sleep with my parents -- though I do seem to have a type -- but I am aware of wanting to know what’s on their minds, and especially what music they like. In addition to being the number one bestselling album of all time, Thriller has always been my own number one album. It was released in November 1982, seven months before I was born, and when I dropped, it was playing everywhere. My mother attests that it was the favorite soundtrack to her pregnant aerobic workouts. Like my father‘s medicalese, this music was introduced to me as the object of my mother’s fascination, translated into the moving rhythms of our shared body. The effects of trauma and dissociation, which Peter has been writing about more or less since Thriller's release, belong properly to the horror genre, the zombie apocalypse. In the immortal music video for “Thriller,” Michael diffuses the deathly stalk of the undead the only way he knows how: He becomes one of them, and they dance. If we are to counteract these catastrophic forces, perhaps we need to offer an alternate thriller, the spark of aliveness available only at the frontier of the spontaneous gesture; or, as Michael would have it:
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