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Walking HeadsReview - Walking Heads
On the Secret Fantasy of Being an Exception
by Antonie Ladan
Other Press, 2005
Review by Petar Jevremovic
Sep 5th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 36)

It could be very hard to work with such patients that are radically alienated from their basic bodily feelings. These patients are not autistic, or psychotic.  You can understand their discourse, but (almost always) you cannot avoid feeling that you are always missing something important in their discourse. You can offer them various kinds of interpretations, but (again) you will always have feeling that you cannot really reach them.

This book is about walking heads, a term that refers to the manner in which some people keep on going through life. They (metaphorically speaking) consist primarily of a head and, to a great extend, they have done away with their body. For them the body is first and foremost a machine to be led so that it can properly fulfill its function as head carrier. Sometimes they indicate what seems to be a kind of separation at the level of their neck, as if a large collar were making it impossible for them to see what is actually taking place below. Thus, they are especially entrenched inside their head, without any instinctive contact with the rest of their body. On the outside such people look the same as everyone else, but often they feel alien even though they try to fit in with other people as much as possible.

It is plausible to suppose that such people have spent their childhood in a situation that they found hard to endure and from which there was no escape. Their only possible solution was alienation in their ability to fantasize. It is precisely the fantasy of being an exception that, under such conditions, exerts a great attraction. In this fantasy the child becomes the adult it thinks it will be in the future. In effect, he will go inside his own head in order to enter a fantasy world that seems to be more tolerable than the real world in which he is living at the moment in time. The price he pays for the huge leap forward consists of sacrificing his existence as a child in favor of a pseudo-adulthood. In this kind of pseudo-adulthood he takes on the appearance of a proficient grown up who needs no one and who has no painful feelings and yearnings because he is exceptionally well loved and it is self-evident that his every yearning is fulfilled. Thus, this pseudo-grown up is living in a situation in which the question of helplessness, dependency, and feeling ridiculous no longer exists. This also means that the body as a source of uncontrollable and shameful desire no longer plays any important role. Because there is no (real bodily) desire everything seems under control and absolute autonomy appears to have been achieved. However, this (virtual) autonomy stands or falls on the ability to maintain a situation in which the long-ago childhood world of the grown up remains inaccessible. The door to the nursery must remain closed at all costs.

Speaking about walking heads Antonie Ladan is actually speaking about one peculiar type of narcissistic pathological organization. His understanding of the false self rests on his ideas about human memory. After LeDoux and Schacter, memory can broadly be subdivided into explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is concerned with the storage of events and facts that makes our autobiography possible. Implicit memory is more primitive, it works outside our consciousness, its function is to store information that have to do with specific skills, habits, and basic emotional states.

The knowledge that is stored in explicit memory uses symbolic concepts and is represented in language or internal images, such as thoughts, convictions, and fantasies. In principle, from the age of three or four on, because of the brains maturing, and depending on the applied defenses, the explicit knowledge can be stored in a such way that it can become available in the form of (imaginable and thinkable) memories later on. The knowledge in implicit memory  is not remembered. It is enacted. This knowledge is not affected by the infantile amnesia, but remains present as a constant factor in somebody’s functioning for the rest of his life.

Etiologically speaking, in the cases of narcissistic patients (as we can see, Ladan metaphorically calls them waling heads), there is deep structural splitting between explicit and implicit in the realm of their self.

This book will be of great interest for beginners and for mature and highly experienced analyst. Its value is (or it could be) practical and theoretical. The main importance of this book, I believe, lays in its author's courage to see things from rather different perspectives. It is not necessary to agree with him in all of his ideas and to accept all of his theses. On the contrary, priority is on questions not on answers. And the questions that Ladan poses make this such a rich book.

 

 

© 2006 Petar Jevremovic

 

Petar Jevremovic: Clinical psychologist and practicing psychotherapist, author of two books (Psychoanalysis and Ontology, Lacan and Psychoanalysis), translator of Aristotle and Maximus the Confessor, editor of the Serbian editions of selected works of Heintz Kohut, Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein, author of various texts that are concerned with psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and theology. He lives in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


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