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Markman, H. (2018). The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Dead: A Hypothesis Regarding A Typology of Analytic Fields. Fort Da, 24(2):56-69.

(2018). Fort Da, 24(2):56-69

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Dead: A Hypothesis Regarding A Typology of Analytic Fields

Henry Markman, M.D.


The theory of the analytic field has received considerable attention in recent years. The clinical usefulness of this theory is important, offering the analyst a way of thinking about his or her position in the analytic dialogue that is not determined, either by her subjectivity or by an empathic, intuitive bond with the patient. Rather, a third perspective that decenters the analyst opens up. It allows for a rethinking in fresh ways about the analyst's actual participation in an unconscious relationship.

In this paper, I offer a way of thinking about “fields within fields” — that is, various types of fields with coherent properties and boundaries. My focus in developing these ideas uses the first writings of Bion (1961) on the analytic field, then called the “emotional field.” This strategy will not allow me to consider other important work on this topic, particularly from the Italians, despite the title of the paper.

For my purposes regarding typology, Bion's work on groups is foundational. In Experience in Groups (1961), he first describes emotional fields that are unconscious and that powerfully determine the thoughts, feelings, and actions of members of the group. Bion pictures various types of fields determined by specific unconscious fantasies (i.e., dependent, fight-flight, and pairing). He called these groups “basic assumptions” to emphasize their primary — as in prime mover — aspect and to indicate, by “assumption,” it is taken for granted and not interrogated.

From Bion's notion of basic assumptions in groups, I will consider four types of analytic fields, determined by four specific unconscious fantasies: the “good,” the “bad,” the “ugly,” and the “dead.” These names are a bit dramatic but are meant to emphasize their distinguishing features. The analytic dyad is a group, certainly, in Bion's sense, and would form organized experience around a similar process of shared unconscious fantasy. These fields are organized and coherent and have particular properties that the analyst can eventually recognize.

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