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Zinkin, L. (1989). The Grail Quest and the analytic setting. Free Associations, 1R(17):39-57.

(1989). Free Associations, 1R(17):39-57

The Grail Quest and the analytic setting

Louis Zinkin

The clinical discipline of psychoanalysis has given rise to a theory which can be applied to other fields of study, such as a piece of literature, and this usually takes the form of psychoanalytic interpretation. The stories, myths and legends of the Grail can be interpreted in this way, but it is also illuminating to reverse this procedure. Analogies work both ways, and the stories can be ‘applied’ and used as a way of understanding what can be called ‘the analytic situation’. Now the psychoanalytic situation, which is usually thought of as the clinical situation in which analyst and analysand are placed, is not easily defined, and it is the very difficulty of defining it with any clarity which leads me to turn to literature, using a very different language, one which knows nothing of psychoanalysis but can nevertheless illuminate it.

In the Grail stories we shall see that questioning is more important than answering. The Grail hero, to succeed in his quest, does not have to answer a question — as, for example, Oedipus has to answer the riddle of the Sphinx — but has instead to ask one. The difficulty in defining the analytic situation does not appear until we start asking questions about it.


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