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Szykierski, D. (2013). Deaths of Nobodies: Fantasmatic Fascination in Cultural Products and Intellectual Discourses. Am. Imago, 70(2):249-269.

(2013). American Imago, 70(2):249-269

Deaths of Nobodies: Fantasmatic Fascination in Cultural Products and Intellectual Discourses

Dorit Szykierski

W. R. Bion's theory of groups offers significant insights into our social nature as a species that have been mostly applied to furthering the exploration of organizational dynamics; its potential contribution to the understanding of culture is not fully realized as yet. Only a few papers have been published, rare exceptions that prove the rule (see for example, Waddell, 2011). Amongst them, Judith Levy's group relations analysis of Forster's A Passage to India (Levy, 2008) is especially interesting in its awareness of the intricacies entailed in creating an interface between literary criticism and group relations analysis. These sporadic papers use Bion's theory of groups in various ways, and it is obvious that a methodical application of this theory to interpreting cultural products awaits further development.

At the heart of Bion's theory as published in Experiences in Groups (1961) lies his conceptualization of a constant tension between reason, which guides work group functioning, and primitive defenses, which operate simultaneously against anxieties aroused in groups. The first lines of defense express themselves as three basic assumptions: dependency, fight-flight, and pairing. With dependency, “the group is met in order to be sustained by a leader on whom it depends for nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection” (p. 147). The group leader consists of a deity and the group culture resembles a miniature theocracy (p. 56). With fight-flight, the group preserves its existence using fight or flight (p. 63) and the leader of the group is that person who demands the group fight or flee (pp. 152-153). With pairing, the group creates “a Messiah, be it person, idea, or Utopia … it is necessary that those who concern themselves with such a task … should see to it that Messianic hopes do not materialize” (p. 152).

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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