"When to the Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought"[1]

Dawn Lattuca

How do analysands use repetition in the service of change? This essay discusses the painting of Paul Cézanne to explore the clinical relevance of an interdisciplinary lens in addressing this question.


How do analysands use repetition in the service of change? This essay discusses the painting of Paul Cézanne to explore the clinical relevance of an interdisciplinary lens in addressing this question. The essay considers how analysands move between 'repeating from childhood' and 'learning from childhood' as they change in analysis.  The essay proposes that both the 'repeating' and 'learning', and especially the interplay between them, are constitutive of the process of analytic change.

When patients feel threatened by separateness and loss they may act to install a static "atmosphere" (Hoffman, 1983: 411) in their analysis. For example, Mr. W would speak increasingly equivocally, or he would immediately retract any statements he made and experience as intolerable any reformulations of the retractions. Feldman (2000) describes this process as having a "primary aim ... not totally to destroy life, but to take the life out" (p. 55) ... [by attacking] meaning, clarity, movement, exploration, and any form of creative interchange ..." (p. 56). Equally pertinent are Carvalho's (2002) observations, from a differing theoretical stance, that for some patients these seemingly destructive impulses may be "more driven by the need to cohere and survive in relation to the lack of secure attachment in the past" (p. 153). Mr W’s desperate efforts to "take the life out" of the analytic work and relationship felt related to his need both to hold onto negative internal objects, out of fears that were he to relinquish them, no other objects would be found, and his need to control his negative internal objects' ability to inflict damage as well as the degree of damage they could wreak. In the failure of these operations, he experienced what he called a "loneliness" that overwhelmed him and threatened him with dissolution of self. He took refuge from this threat in a posture of "psychic retreat" (Steiner, 1993). While a detailed discussion of these developments is beyond the scope of this essay, the orientations of Steiner (1994) and Joseph (1985) were both helpful in considering the likelihood that Mr W's need to retreat developed from his experience of the relentless appropriation of his reality by his primary objects in childhood. Of particular relevance were Steiner's (1994) observations that patients may experience a correct interpretation not only as useless but also as unbearable when analysts overlook the differing and nuanced emphases between patient-centered and analyst-centered interpretations, and Joseph's (1985) considerations that analysts may avoid the crucial awareness of patients' experience of their world as "incomprehensible" when analysts rely on interpretation that aligns with patients' defenses (p.158). Mr W felt the intactness of his primary objects was contingent on his compliance with their appropriation of his reality, leaving him with no choice but to become the agent of his own destruction; this unendurable position necessitated his retreat. He felt only his experience of omnipotence kept him alive, and his emergence from his posture of retreat was unimaginable.

Steiner (2000) describes the analyst's dilemma when these dynamics emerge in the transference: "Should I try to find links and make meaning or should I stay with the experience of fragmentation and discord, which gave the impression of a destroyed and meaningless internal world?" (p. 249). This essay reframes the dilemma as a tension. Greenberg (2017) notes: "There is always a tension, not often explicitly expressed, between receptivity and interpretation; both are central to the particular kind of understanding that analysts offer our patients" (p. 197).  However, he continues, each may require the analyst to act in ways that are "at odds with each other" (p. 197).  This essay explores the tension as an irresolvable one that is also mutable.
For the artist Paul Cézanne, the artist's receptivity to an impression that will find its way into his painting, and his interpretation of the impression, are co-occurring processes; this is what the artist attempts to paint, although it may not be possible to do so. For example, Cézanne experienced the relationship among color, light, and form as a perplexing one that was both unresolved and irresolvable (Danchev, 2012, 2013), and it may be this irresolvability that he engaged in his painting when he left areas of the canvas blank or edges of forms blurred, or when he repeated forms whose familiarity supported his experimental techniques with color. Cézanne's use of unfinished (incompletely painted) elements to represent an irresolvable aspect of his artistic vision is suggested in one of the last portraits he painted before his death in 1906 of his gardener, Vallier. This essay proposes a dual role in this lyrical painting for the unfinished elements, such as the gardener's face and hands: they may not only convey those aspects of Cézanne's vision he felt eluded more direct representation, but they may also create a context within which he could experiment with color and form. Under consideration here is the question of whether the unfinished elements made possible Cézanne's creative experimentation.

In similar fashion, Cézanne's repetition of a familiar form to create a context for artistic experimentation is suggested in a series of portraits he painted in the late 1800s, over the course of more than twenty years, of his partner, Hortense Fiquet (later Madame Cézanne)[2].  While Fiquet is the subject of each portrait, or this appears to be so, each of the paintings is different in often startling ways.  By contrast, from portrait to portrait Fiquet's gaze appears static, as well as unfinished, that is, incompletely painted. The static aspect in the paintings is not evident in Cézanne's drawings of Fiquet or his drawings of their son. This essay proposes that Fiquet's unchanging gaze and the repetition of this form from portrait to portrait may establish a context within which the compelling creativity of the other elements of the paintings becomes visible and vivid.  As with the unfinished elements in the Vallier painting, here also this essay considers whether through his repetition of Fiquet's static, unfinished gaze, Cézanne created a context for his innovative experimentation with form and color. In other words, the subject of this series of portraits may be less Fiquet herself and more the interplay of negative and positive space upon the canvas within which Cézanne delineated his artistic experimentation. There is a parallel here with analysis as a form that makes visible and vivid the transference and countertransference, where the subject of the patient's transference is less the analyst and more so figures from the patient's past, or the subject of the analyst's countertransference less the patient and more so figures from the analyst's past.
In thinking about these aspects of Cézanne's work, this essay suggests two observations relevant to the opening question about how analysands may use repetition in the service of change: the artist used both the unresolvability of certain aspects of his artistic vision (conveyed by means of unfinished elements in the painting) and the stasis inherent in repetition (illustrated by Fiquet's static, unfinished gaze) to create a context for artistic experimentation.  In considering whether 'the unfinished' and 'the repeated' (stasis) in Cézanne's painting made his creative experimentation possible, this essay is also exploring whether the patient's retreat (stasis, repetition) may make change (creativity) possible. These observations would be more in line with Carvalho's (2002) emphasis than with Feldman's (2000), that is, the emphasis is more with the creative elements of the patient's retreat than with its destructive elements[3].
One of the ways Cézanne experiments is by means of the interplay between negative and positive space.  Negative space in art occurs between, around, and within objects, as distinct from the positive space of the object itself. Both negative and positive spaces are conceptualized as forms; they share boundaries with each other and in some cases with the edges of the canvas. These negative and positive spaces, and the interplay between them, are essential to the coherence of a painting, and to each other; the presence of one implies the presence of the other, and neither can exist without the other. In commenting on Melgar's impressions of Cézanne's painting, Rizzuto (2002) notes that Cézanne engaged negative space "to shift the gaze" toward the interplay "between the represented and the invisible in the viewer's experience" (p. 678). Similarly, Costello (2004) observes that in Cezanne’s final paintings of La Montagne Sainte-Victoire: "The familiar mass of the mountain was not painted in, but the light and atmosphere were. The dabs of paint, the unpainted patches, the colours, all combine beyond the need to grasp the literal and tangible description" (p. 385).
In proposing that Cézanne in his painting established a context for creative experimentation by his repetition of static and unfinished forms, and by means of the interplay between positive and negative space, this essay is suggesting a parallel with patients. Patients may move between the 'repeating from childhood' and 'learning from childhood', a passage associated with change, also by repetition of static, unfinished forms, such as "taking the life out" of analytic moments, by the stasis of psychic retreat, and by means of their ability to use the tension between the analyst's receptivity and interpretation (Greenberg, 2017). While elaboration of this latter idea is reserved for a future essay due to space limitations, that discussion will consider whether through the analytic process, the tension identified by Greenberg becomes more of an interplay that patients can use creatively in the service of change. This development would be akin to Cézanne's view, noted earlier, that the artist's receptivity (to an impression that will find its way into his painting) and his interpretation (of the impression) are co-occurring processes.  The musician Craig Taborn may have in mind a similar process when he remarks that improvisation entails "observing and creating at the same time" (Shatz, 2017: p. 59). In other words, for Cézanne's artist and Taborn's improvising musician, there is an interplay between the receptivity and the interpretation, and for Greenberg's analyst, there is a tension - which this essay suggests becomes more of an interplay through the course of the analysis. This essay is considering the following parallel:  the artist's use of the interplay between negative and positive space in the service of creativity, on the one hand, and on the other, the patient's use, in the service of change, of the tension-becoming-interplay between the analyst's receptivity and interpretation. The clinical usefulness of the interdisciplinary lens may be the flexibility to place within the same thought the disparate phenomena of tension and interplay, as representational of irresolvable yet mutable aspects of analytic process.  A future essay will explore how the tension becomes available to patients as more of an interplay and what becomes possible when analytic change is conceptualized in this way.
                                        "Teach me to dance. We have no music here."
                                                        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .                                                          
                                        "I will teach you. Music is all we have." [4]

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Costello, M. (2004). Aesthetic Experience in Visual Art.  Free Associations, 11(3): 353-399.
Danchev, A. (2012). Cézanne: A Life.  New York:  Pantheon Books.
Danchev, A., (Ed. & Transl.), (2013). The Letters of Paul Cézanne.  London:  Thames and Hudson. 
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Feldman, M. (2000).  Some Views on the Manifestation of the Death Instinct in Clinical Work. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 81(1): 53-65. 
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Hoffman, I. Z. (1983). The Patient As Interpreter of the Analyst's Experience. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 19: 389-422. 
Joseph, B. (1985).  Transference:  The Total Situation.  International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 66: 447-454.
Rizzuto, A-M. (2002).  A Psychoanalytic View of the Life and Work of Cézanne. Ana-Maria Rizzuto, reporter and Saul K. Pẽna, moderator. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 83(3): 678-681.
Shatz, A.  (2017, June 25). The Ethereal Genius of Craig Taborn. The New York Times, Magazine: 54-63. 
Steiner, J. (1993). Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organizations in Psychotic, Neurotic, and Borderline Patients.  London & New York: Routledge. 
Steiner, J. (1994). Patient-Centered and Analyst-Centered Interpretations: Some Implications of Containment and Countertransference.  Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 14:406-422. 
Steiner, J. (2000).  Containment, Enactment and Communication.  International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 81(2): 245-255.

[1]   Duncan-Jones, 2010: 171.
[2]   "Madame Cézanne" exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014.
[3]    See page 1.
[4]    Espada 2004: lines 47, 49.

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