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Spence, D.P. (2001). Response to Dr. Rosenbaum's Commentary. J. Clin. Psychoanal., 10(2):304-305.

(2001). Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis, 10(2):304-305

Response to Dr. Rosenbaum's Commentary Related Papers

Donald P. Spence, Ph.D.

Dr. Rosenbaum is right—a freely written final case report can be persuasive and evocative and as such, carries significant weight as a special kind of data base (see also Burland, 1997). We should start to build up a public archive of such reports and begin to study them in greater detail. Having never seen such accounts, I probably overstated the problem of the solitary witness. The complete description of a case “from the inside” can be far more persuasive than a transcribed recording because the former gives us access to the analyst's (and sometimes the patient's) contexts of consciousness and allows us to understand what was said against a backdrop of what was experienced. We are beginning to recognize (along with historians and other social scientists) that the words alone are almost never convincing; context makes all the difference and we need to find ways to recover the surrounding thoughts wherever possible. Perhaps a fully backgrounded (and therefore persuasive) vignette can overcome the lack of witnesses, as Dr. Rosenbaum suggests; in other words, by building enough internal coherence into the report, we may be able to overcome the drawbacks of solitary reporting.

How can this be done? Some possible solutions can be found by studying the art of fiction which has long wrestled with similar problems (see Cohn, 1978, for a general overview and Spence, 2001) and is gradually finding ways of going beyond the conventional narrator and making public the thoughts of the principal characters (see, for example, Virginia Wolff and James Joyce). In the final pages of his short story “The Dead,” Joyce jumps inside the heads of his protagonists, Gabriel and Gretta, and lets us see why the former felt humiliated, unloved and forgotten. This dimension would have gone unreported if Joyce had stayed with the conventional narrator's voice in the early part of the story (see Cohn, 1978, p. 25).

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