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Williams, M.H. (1983). 'Underlying Pattern' in Bion's Memoir of the Future. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 10:75-86.

(1983). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 10:75-86

'Underlying Pattern' in Bion's Memoir of the Future

Meg Harris Williams

Wilfred Bion's fascinating experimental novel, the three-volume Memoir of the Future, is a self-analysis or self-exploration on the lines of, for example, Shakespeare's The Tempest, or Milton's Samson Agonistes —from which the title of the second volume ('The Past Presented') derives:

restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm Of hornets armed, no sooner found alone, But rush upon me thronging, and present Times past, what once I was, and what am now.

The 'memory' of his past life, or mind, is re-viewed in the present, by a group of internal voices or characters, who are simultaneously previewing the significance of his 'self' for the future. Bion seems to have chosen a fictional form—or rather, a 'science fiction' as he suggests—because its greater flexibility than theoretical writing allows a more daring response to truth:

His Satanic Jargonieur took offence; on some pretence that psycho-analytic jargon was being eroded by eruptions of clarity. I was compelled to seek asylum in fiction. Disguised as fiction the truth occasionally slipped through (2: 76).

The Memoir sets in action the 'purifying effect of austere criticism' which Bion felt was often smothered by the 'mental rubbish' of 'fantastic admiration' or 'complacent hostility' (2: 81)--his own self-criticism. Following in the tradition of pioneering writers before him, he makes the investigation of his past-and-future self equivalent to, and inseparable from, a search for an appropriate artistic form: given that 'the thing itself is altered by being observed' (1: 229).

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