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Bell, D. (2006). Existence in Time: Development or Catastrophe. Psychoanal Q., 75(3):783-805.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 75(3):783-805

Existence in Time: Development or Catastrophe

David Bell

The experience of existing in time is closely bound up with the phenomenology of the depressive position and, as such, represents a major developmental achievement. However, for some patients, awareness of time and their place in it is felt not as offering the possibility of development, but instead is dreaded as an imminent catastrophe that has to be evaded. This is achieved through the creation of an illusory timeless world, which, although offering some relief, compounds the feeling of threat.

The author draws on material from Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and on clinical material from a psychoanalysis to illustrate the attractions and dangers of life in this illusory world, where the “picture in the attic” represents the threat that can never be fully faced nor fully erased. The link between the awareness of time passing and the capacity to mourn is discussed in relation to Freud's paper “On Transience” (1916), which in the author's view anticipates certain features of the depressive position as described by Klein (1935, 1940). The author makes further observations on the relation between instantiation in time, which brings a world of causes and consequences, as well as the capacity for bearing guilt.

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