Out of The Shadows
Yesterday Wood s Lot posted a link to a March 2004 *fait accompli* posting about the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas' fascinating book *The Shadow of The Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known" as follows: Bollas. Although *fait accompli* has always focused on "time travel" as a central theme, no blog has shown a more consistent perseverence in finding the roots of the present in the past than *wood s lot*. In honor of that effort on the part of Mark Woods, we are posting here another few brief quotations from Bollas' invaluable book.
The aspect of Bollas' book we focused on back then was Bollas' concept of the normatic. Bollas pursues the theme further:
"The fundamental identifying feature of this individual is a disinclination to entertain the subjective element in life, whether it exists inside himself ot in the other. The introspective capacity has rarely been used. Such a person appears genuinely naive if asked to comment on issues that require either looking into oneself or the other in any depth. Instead, if the evolution towards becoming a normotic personality is successful, he lives contentedly among material objects and phenomena.
By the subjective element I mean the internal play of affects and ideas that generates and authorizes our private imaginations, creatively informs our work and gives continuing resource to interpersonal relations. The subjective ability amounts to a particular kind of internal space (Stewart, 1985) that facilitates the reception of unconscious affects, memories and perceptions.
The normotic person seems unable to experience evolving subjective states within himself. Without moods he may appear unusually steady or sound. If he is forced by circumstances into a complex situation in which the subjective element is called into play (such as being part of a family quarrel, or discussing a film, or hearing of tragic events) he betrays the absence of a subjective world. He may speak of a phenomenon as an object in its own right, laden with known laws, and thus undertandable. A quarrel might lead him to say 'you people are just being unreasonable', or *Hamlet* might inspire him to say 'an unhappy young fellah', or more often than not, he lapses into repectful silence." (p. 137)
"If psychotic illness is characterized by a break in reality orientation and a loss of contact with the real world, then normotic illness is typified by a radical break with subjectivity and by a profound absence of the subjective element in everyday life. As psychotic illness is marked by a turning inward into the world of fantasy and hallucination, normotic illness is distinctive as a turning outward into concrete objects and towards conventional behavior. The normotic flees from dream life, subjective states of mind, imaginative living and aggressive play with the other. Discharges of mental life is favoured over articulated elaborations that require symbolic processes and real communication. We could say that if the psychotic has
gone off at the deep end", the normotic has "gone off at the shallow end."
A normotic family may be successful for some time, depending on material comfort and the availability of personal wealth. As they need a supply of material objects to enrich their personal happiness, they are far more dependent than other sorts of people on the flux of economic life. For example, if one of the parents becomes unemployed, this amounts to more than a redundancy: it threatens the breakdown of a mentality. It does not lead to reflection or to affective states that deepen the family members' understanding of themselves and of their life. A father may become absent, either literally, by going off and staying away from home, or he may sit before the TV for long periods of time. We would say that there is a depression there, but from inside the family; it is the experience of 'leave your father alone' whose mental equivalent is 'leave that part of your mind concerned with your father alone'....
What is the nature of normotic communication? I do not think that it follows the laws of Bion's theory of beta functioning- specifically, objects are not manipulated via projective identification. Almost the opposite happens. It is as if language 'transformers' are used that launder a communication of all meaning, thus enabling the person to vaporize conflict and appear perfectly normal. This takes place by incorporating phrases that are in themselves meaningful, but that are used so repetitively that they eventually lose their originating subjectivity. I am referring to the use of familiar phrases by a person, indeed to the constriction of vocabulary, a foreclosure of language that would be observeable only over time in the knowing of any one individual. So, for example, a person who has a normotic personality disorder would be found to use a vocabulary of phrases that laundered the self of all meaning: phrases such as 'that's tragic' or 'uh huh' or 'yeah' or 'wow' that nullify meaning whilst appearing to recognize significance. Or a person might have more complex phrases such as "gosh, that's really amazing' or 'it's extraordinary what the world is coming to' which deflect meaning away from subjective exchange....
As has been suggested, the outcome of such a situation is a person who apears really quite extroverted and able. He seems to be without conflict, even in a troubled world. He manages distress through the use of 'language transformers' that alter significance into insignificance by virtue of the use of a vocabulary of phrases that function as evacuators of meaning."
(quoted from pages 146-155) *The Shadow of The Object* by Christopher Bollas, New York, Columbia Universtiy Press, 1987
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