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Stern, D.B. (1990). Courting Surprise—Unbidden Perceptions in Clinical Practice. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:452-478.

(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:452-478

Courting Surprise—Unbidden Perceptions in Clinical Practice

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.

… we must simply wait until what we desire appears, because that is all we can do. We have no means of getting exactly what we wish from ourselves. —Paul Valéry, The course in poetics: First lesson

The Arrival of Thought

KNOWING THAT WE AUTHOR even the most startling of our own thoughts does nothing to demystify that common experience of merely recording them. The unexpected thought or image or feeling seems to come to us; one feels like a conduit. The experience is ubiquitous enough to have spawned myriad descriptions. Most of this remarkably common and consistent testimony has come from artists, especially and not surprisingly from writers. Here is Joyce Carol Oates: "If I say that I write with the enormous hope of altering the world—and why write without that hope?—I should first say that I write to discover what it is I will have written " (1982p. 1). Gabriel García Márquez: "I'm very curious, as I'm writing this book, to see how the characters go on behaving. It's a true investigation. I could almost say that one writes the novel to see how it will turn out. And to be able to read it" (quoted by Simons, 1985p. 18). And here is Raymond Carver, convincing and a little touching in his surprise at discovering he is not alone in not knowing what he will write: "(Flannery) O'Connor says she most often did not know where she was going when she sat down


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Copyright © 1990 W. A. W. Institute

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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1990)

1 I am grateful for careful readings and criticism of the manuscript by Kathe Hift, Ph.D., Emmanuel Kaftal, Ph.D., and Barry Protter, Ph.D.

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