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Levenson, E.A. (1988). The Pursuit of the Particular—On the Psychoanalytic Inquiry. Contemp. Psychoanal., 24:1-16.

(1988). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 24:1-16

The Pursuit of the Particular—On the Psychoanalytic Inquiry

Edgar A. Levenson, M.D.

IT STARTS SIMPLY ENOUGH. The patient, a divorced man in his forties, is conflicted about taking his pre-teen daughter on a white-water rafting trip. The conflict, as he sees it, is not of his making, but caused by the oppositional pulls of his daughter and his live-in woman-friend. He has been with her for almost two years, and she is—understandably—increasingly upset with his apparent inability to make up his mind, to marry her or to end the relationship.

Daughter and housemate both, are very jealous of his attentions and very competitive; barely tolerating each other on those occasions when he has tried to take them together on vacation. He feels that his daughter's childishness is, at least, age-appropriate; and he resents his woman-friend's importuning and sulking. Although he has already researched possible trips (fairly difficult ones, by the way), he is quite reluctant to raise the issue with Penelope (as I shall call her). Why? Because he wants her to understand and "not mind". How about not persuading her, allowing her to be angry and doing it anyhow? That seemed like a novel idea, his having grown up in a milieu of dreadful reasonableness. His mother was always able to "appeal to his common-sense and good judgement". He was that exemplar of parental coercion, "a reasonable child". And, he has become a reasonable adult. It seemed to him, then, uncontestable that a decision be discussed in an atmosphere of good will and arrived at by concensus. That there could be a genuine, unreconcilable difference of viewpoint and that life might proceed in the face of the other person's disagreement, and even ill-will, seemed to him a novel enterprise. One might reasonably deduce that under his facade of amiability, there would be considerable anger and obstructionism.

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