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Gentile, J. (2001). Close but No Cigar: The Perversion of Agency and the Absence of Thirdness. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(4):623-654.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(4):623-654

Close but No Cigar: The Perversion of Agency and the Absence of Thirdness

Jill Gentile, Ph.D.

My Patient was a fifteen-year-old, pretty, coy, often sullen girl. I also consulted with her parents: her mother sexy, brash, fun; her father earnest and humorless. One day, I said to my young patient, You and your mother are so close. But you also seem like strangers. “Yes,” she replied matter-of-factly and with an unusual directness, “Close but no cigar.”

I had the sense that my patient had communicated in a pithy, brilliant way (the significance of which eluded her) the essence of the problem with which so many patients wrestle and with which contemporary psychoanalytic theory also wrestles: the problem of a closed dyadic process that precludes an entry into the terrain of intersubjectivity (Benjamin, 1995, 1998; Ogden, 1994) and dialectical experience (Bromberg, 1996; Ghent, 1989; Hoffman, 1998; Pizer, 1998). There is increasing consensus that to be known as a subject and to experience oneself as an agent requires a space beyond a dyadic “twoness” (see Benjamin, 2001; Ogden, 1994; Muller, 1996). This space is often conceived as intersubjective space or the space of thirdness.

Agency, conceived herein as a wellspring of spontaneous gesture and personal impact, guides therapeutic action toward—and simultaneously requires—the space of thirdness for its developmental realization. Yet, when a closed dyadic process prevails, instead of impelling therapeutic action toward thirdness and intcrsubjectivity, agency gets mired in

* Excerpted versions of this article were presented at Multiple Perspectives on Subjectivity, Rome, Italy, March 1999, and the Spring Meeting, APA Division of Psychoanalysis (39), New York, April 1999.

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