After I retired on the evening of Thursday December 12, 2013 I had the following dream about the German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven and I are alone in a room. We talk about music. I feel awe, enthrallment and narcissistic elation talking to Beethoven. I ask him what he plans to write after the series of string quartets he’s working on. I feel sadness because I know that in fact Beethoven died after he completed his late string quartets. I know that he will not write any more music. He tells me that he has not decided what he will write after he completes his series of quartets. He tells me that he will never write another symphony, piano sonata, or string quartet. I suggest that maybe he will write something in variation form. He says, “perhaps.” He then launches into a long technical discussion about the variation form. I don’t understand anything that he says but I listen with keen interest. I then said, “People say that every musical form you tackle, you seem to exhaust. Your compositions are such a comprehensive statement in every form you write in that you leave nothing for the composers who will follow you. You say everything there is to say.” Beethoven responds, “I have heard that. I don’t believe it. Composers who come after me will write symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets.” (Beethoven was deaf from about the age of 35 onward).
The dream featured feelings of reverence and awe. Might we understand these feelings better? Might we look for the antecedents for these feelings in my early relationship with my mother? And, quite intriguingly, might there be a relationship between my search in adulthood for a person who can serve as the object of my feelings of awe, on the one hand, and my seeming attacks on my therapist, on the other?
The following is an excerpt from a paper by Judith L, Mitrani, Ph.D.: “Unbearable Ecstasy, Reverence and Awe, and the Perpetuation of an ‘Aesthetic Conflict’.” Dr. Mitrani is Training and Supervising analyst of The Psychoanalytic Center of California in Los Angeles.
Bion descibes a patient whose attacks on him in analysis, in the form of disappointment and hostility, did not constitute an attack on the good breast or the analyst’s good interpretations. Neither did he seem to see the patient’s fragmented presentation as the result of an envious attack on thinking or on the links that might have rendered his communications meaningful and relevant. Instead, Bion appears to conclude that his patient was attempting to have an experience of an object who might be able to understand and transform the inchoate experiences of the as-yet-unintegrated-baby-he and was therefore seeking the realization of his preconception of an object who can contain these experiences as well as his innate capacity for love, reverence, and awe.
Did my Dream of Beethoven express my struggle to find the realization of my preconception of an object who could contain my experiences of ecstasy, reverence, and awe?
Dr. Mitrani writes:
Reverence and Awe versus Idealization
In a paper read at a scientific meeting of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society in 1967, Bion (1992) described an encounter with one patient who came to him after a previous analysis from which he had benefited, but with which he was nonetheless dissatisfied. At first Bion expected to find greed at the bottom of this patient’s distress, but it soon became clear to him that there was something else going on.
Bion described his patient’s outpourings, which were so fragmented “that they would have required an omniscient analyst to sort out and make sense of” (p.289). Bion’s interpretations were either labeled ‘brilliant’ or they were met with extreme disappointment and hostility to the point of depression. He finally concluded that:
There is a great difference between idealization of a parent because the child is in despair, and idealization because the child is in search of an outlet for feelings of reverence and awe. In the latter instance the problem centers on frustration and the inability to tolerate frustration of a fundamental part of a particular patient’s make-up. This is likely to happen if the patient is capable of love and admiration to an outstanding degree; in the former instance the patient may have no particular capacity for affection but a great greed to be its recipient. The answer to the question — which is it ? — will not be found in any textbook but only in the process of psycho-analysis itself (p.292).
In his customary style, Bion avoids saturating his concepts, leaving them somewhat ambiguous, and thus allowing us the freedom to use our own capacity for ‘imaginative conjecture’ to fill in the blanks, so to speak. I will yield to the temptation to do so with the understanding that the reader may draw his or her own conclusions, which may very well differ from my own.
I think Bion seems to be saying that, in this instance, he had met with a patient for whom Klein’s theory of envy did not apply. Indeed he seems to be making it clear that he did not see his patient’s disappointment and hostility as constituting an attack on the good breast or the analyst’s good interpretations. Neither did he seem to see the patient’s fragmented presentation as the result of an envious attack on thinking or on the links that might have rendered his communications meaningful and relevant (Bion 1959). Instead, Bion appears to conclude that his patient was attempting to have an experience of an object who might be able to understand and transform the inchoate experiences of the as-yet-unintegrated-baby-he and was therefore seeking the realization of his preconception of an object who can contain these experiences as well as his innate capacity for love, reverence, and awe.
I would put forward here that the containing capacity, initially found and felt to be located in this type of external object — when introjected — leads to the development of an internal object capable of sustaining and bearing feelings of ecstasy and love; an object that might form the basis of the patient’s own self-esteem. This aim certainly calls for an analyst who truly thinks well enough of himself and his own goodness that he is not dependent upon the goodness and cooperativeness of the patient in order for such a positive self-perception to be confirmed, and in order for him to continue to function analytically.