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Zelnick, L. (2014). Narrative Surprise: Relational Psychoanalytic Process and Biblical Text. DIVISION/Rev., 9:33-35.

(2014). DIVISION/Review, 9:33-35

Narrative Surprise: Relational Psychoanalytic Process and Biblical Text

Lawrence Zelnick

The thing is, sometimes you just can't know what to expect, and to be taken by surprise can either be an exhilarating or a profoundly unnerving experience. More than any other kind of surprise, to discover an unexpected part of oneself can be personally transformative or painfully shaming-the sweet pleasure of peekaboo or the fright of public exposure. When it comes to listening analytically and relationally to our patients, we have been alerted by exquisitely attuned listeners like Bromberg (2006) and Stern (2004) to the crucial importance of noticing the unanticipated and even generating environments in which both patient and analyst can feel safe, but not too safe, and be ready, but not too ready, to experience the unexpected. From time to time, the analyst can even find himself in a “relational double take,” where there is a dramatic surprise at what is noticed in the other and in oneself.

But is it possible to extend such alertness to other arenas of interpersonal experience? I would like to suggest that this same phenomenon of relational surprise, in both its exhilarating and unnerving forms, can also be found in reading texts, and that an examination of this perspective across both arenas can yield important reciprocal insights. In particular, I suggest that the experience of reading, and “listening,” to biblical texts is an interpersonal one, and that a reader of written biblical texts reads and listens as if the text can “speak” and be responsive in different ways at different times.

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