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Bollas, C. (1996). Figures And Their Functions: On The Oedipal Structure Of A Psychoanalysis.. Psychoanal Q., 65:1-20.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 65:1-20

Figures And Their Functions: On The Oedipal Structure Of A Psychoanalysis.

Christopher Bollas

In the very heart of psychoanalytic practice resides a stunning opposition of aims. The patient presumably comes for treatment because of psychic ailments—which invite concentrated attention and interpretative hard work on the part of each participant —and yet both are meant to abandon intentions that logically arise from the assumed task and instead give themselves over to the free association of ideas. Will is immediately defeated. Both participants must not allow their wish for knowledge to interfere with a method that defers heightened consciousness in favor of a dreamier frame of mind in order to encourage the free movement of images, ideas, pregnant words, slips of the tongue, emotional states, and developing relational positions.

Freud never had an easy time with this. For although he clearly advocated the patient's right of free association— knowing full well that it was only through such unpremeditated speaking that a certain truth asserted itself—he simultaneously believed he was in possession of universal truths, such as the oedipus complex and other ubiquitous organizing structures, that bound the network of associations. So he wanted to find his truths in the material. Yet he never won the day against his own method. It is still possible to see where the analysand's introduction of unexpected ideas and unconscious complexes took him by surprise and dislodged one of his theories about to take hold.

The record of his treatment of the Rat Man (1909), for example, illustrates how he collaborated with patients. Telling the patient that his omnipotence dated to the first death in his family,

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