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Anzieu-Premmereur, C. (2007). Figuration of the Real as an Intersubjective Process: Discussion of Lewis Kirshner's Paper. Am. J. Psychoanal., 67(4):312-316.

(2007). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 67(4):312-316

Figuration of the Real as an Intersubjective Process: Discussion of Lewis Kirshner's Paper

Christine Anzieu-Premmereur, M.D., Ph.D.

One of the hardest things to think clearly about in psychoanalysis, and which analysts constantly confront, is the question of experience that “will not go into words.” Freud wrote about this in terms of thing representation and word representation, emphasizing the importance of the latter for adequate mental functioning. The concept of representation is central to analytic thinking. The capacity for symbolization depends on forming internal representations. It is when representations arouse intrapsychic conflict that repression or other defense mechanisms come into action. The analyst's free floating attention tries to detect traces of representations that the patient needed to remove from consciousness. The analyst tries, by interpretation, to put these back into words. The regular mode of analytic understanding leaves out what is not representable: experiences that will not “go into words” because they will not “go into thought” in the first place.

Lewis Kirshner showed us how important it is to take full account of the unthinkable. He proposed us the word “figurability.” It is very courageous to embark on a French analytic thinking!

In Chapter VI of The Interpretations of Dreams, Sigmund Freud used the word Darstellarbeit translated in English by representability (Freud, 1900). Figurability comes from the French word Figurabilité, a neologism that appeared in the 1970s in order to emphasize the work that the psyche has to do in order to apprehend what is irrepresentable. The analyst “work of figurability” is the achievement of allowing his or her mind to undergo a retrogressive movement in order to follow and support the patient's mind.

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