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Between Emotion and CognitionReview - Between Emotion and Cognition
The Generative Unconscious
by Joseph Newirth
Other Press, 2003
Review by Dina Mendonça, Ph.D.
Mar 4th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 10)

Joseph Newirth's book puts forward a creative image of the mind where psychoanalysis does not succumb to conscious and rational thought processes, but instead, shows how rationality is creatively kept alive through the unconscious. This book reconstructs the notions of subjectivity, and the relation between reality and fantasy, by presenting a formalized neo-Kleinian approach that focuses on the generative unconscious, and integrates both concepts derived from relational psychoanalysis and the work of Klein, Winnicott, Matte Blanco, and Lacan.

Joseph Newirth's book can be divided into three parts. The first part (Chapters 1 to 3) sets the theoretical stage for a change of focus of psychoanalysis from that of conflict to the creation of meaning. The second part (Chapters 4 to 7) develops Newirth's clinical approach expanding the Kleinian concept of paranoid position and the implications of a neo-Kleinian theory of mind for clinical technique. The third and final part (Chapters 8 to 10) shows how subjectivity is a function of the development of the generative unconscious and how failures in the development of subjectivity are a function of pathology of consciousness and inability to use symbolic processes.

The first chapters of the book begin by explaining how the epistemological shift undergone in psychoanalysis allowed showing that creating meaning and the subject's developing capacity to create meaning is the most significant aspect of therapeutic experience. Chapter 1 shows how the Kleinian approach allows the development of a neo-Kleinian psychoanalytic practice where the task of the analyst is to facilitate the transformation of the concrete experiences of the paranoid-schizoid mode into the symbolic experience of the depressive mode where unconscious fantasy enlivens experience and relationships. Then, Chapter 2 shows how the need to understand and treat contemporary patients, the "hollow men," with their experience of meaningless, demands a revision of the notion of personhood to one that focuses on the structures of subjectivity, on how experience and meaning are generated rather than on the structure of ego or the self. Finally, Chapter 3, deals with the paradox of personal responsibility and concludes that it is important for the analysis to facilitate the development of the three dimensions of psychic reality: those of agency and personal responsibility; the capacity to use multiple modes of organizing and generating experience; and the development of omnipotence and the capacity for merger.

The second part, where the clinical approach is presented, points out what issues need expanding and reformulation in order to facilitate the development of the three dimension of psychic reality identified earlier. Accordingly this part covers a wide range of concepts from psychoanalysis starting with projection, identification and enactment (Chapter 4), the role of Power in psychoanalysis (Chapter 5), the capacity to think symbolically and to create meaning (Chapter 6), and Winnicott's concept of transitional experience and Bion's concept of reverie (Chapter 7).

In the last part of this book, Newirth argues against the analytic injunction of making the unconscious conscious and presents an argument for making consciousness unconscious. First, Newirth shows how the neo-Kleinian model he proposes views the unconscious as an expanding structure of mind, a set of functions that generate the powerful forces and modes of thought traditionally associated with the unconscious and that act both as the center of psychopathology and as a source of energy, hope and creativity. Then, Newirth illustrates (Chapter 9) the way in which many patients are imposed in the asymmetrical world of external reality and have not developed the symmetrical symbolic capacities necessary for the integration of unconscious experience; they are unable to make believe, to play, to have pleasure and joy, and to have a creative and passionate commitment to life. Finally, Newirth is able to conclude that from a neo-Kleinian perspective, the concepts of subject, subjectivity, and intersubjectivity are not located in the external world of science, but reside in the generative unconscious, where meanings are created through symmetrical logic and the symbolic processes of the depressive position.

Newirth not only gives a short version of the history of psychoanalysis pointing out how his neo-Kleinian approach differs from previous psychoanalytic approaches but, in addition, all his theoretical reflections are given with clinical illustrations that appear at the end of each chapter, testifying that this book is the result of years of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis practice.

When one starts to read the book, its material seems dense, and the flow requires paying careful attention to the many references of the history of psychoanalysis. However, at the end of the book one feels a comfortable familiarity with many of the names of psychoanalysis, and one also feels more comfortable with one's own unconscious, discovering the bit of therapist and the bit of patient in each one of us. Thus, Newirth's book makes us capable of dealing with the little bit of hollowness that touches all of us.


© 2004 Dina Mendonça


Dina Mendonça is a Postdoctoral Fellow of Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal, at the Instituto de Filosofia da Linguagem in the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Working in a research program on "Pragmatic Analysis of Emotion." This research, of Deweyan inspiration, aims at elaborating a critical interpretation of the philosophy of emotions clarifying: on the one hand, (1) the different methodological approaches to emotions; on the other hand, (2) the topics that surround reflection upon emotion. Among other things, the project aims at the production of a commented bibliography and a research database on philosophy of emotion.


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