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Tip: To see Abram’s analysis of Winnicott’s theories…

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In-depth analysis of Winnicott’s psychoanalytic theorization was conducted by Jan Abrams in her work The Language of Winnicott. You can access it directly by clicking here.

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Rendon, M. (1993). Language and the Distortion of Meaning, by Patrick de Gramont, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990, 292 p.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 53(1):95-96.

(1993). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53(1):95-96

Book Reviews

Language and the Distortion of Meaning, by Patrick de Gramont, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990, 292 p.

Review by:
Mario Rendon, M.D.

This is a fascinating book, although somewhat disappointing at the end. It is about distortion, a fundamental concept to psychoanalysis and psychology. It starts from the premise that reality is nothing invariable that we reflect as a mirror, but something that we constantly construct. It capitalizes on Daniel Stern's work, particularly with the finding that infants are equipped from birth with a biological system to represent reality and thus to find meaning. Meaning is therefore a biologically determined given in human beings. The author utilizes a metaphor of language as a filing system, to separate levels from contents. If language operates as a system of files, the contents of the files must come from preverbal meaning. At first, when the child starts to use language, he literalizes meaning by confusing the word with the object signified by it. This literalization of meaning is a significant object of the analytic treatment that tends to deliteralize as a main objective. Literalization distorts as in the way parents capture behaviors and hypostatize them through words or labels that become fixed and determinant. Preverbal meaning, which is essentially contextual and dynamic, cannot be distorted.

The author states that Freud, the ego psychologists, and Piaget all made the mistake of largely ignoring language in their explanations of distortion. He goes into detail to prove his point with the two latter ones, but Freud is not really dealt with satisfactorily. Cathecting and decathecting would not be energetic moves but the result of assimilation of language. Language is essentially intentional and objectifying and provides a means to transform basic categories of nonverbal thought into hierarchical structures. Psychoanalysis is not about perception and drive satisfaction as much as it is about meaning and language. Deliteralizing words brings about new meanings and this is what allows for the traditional cure. At some point the author asks whether it is not possible that the “structure” alluded to by Freud is not in fact the structure of language, a question that brings him dangerously close to Lacan.

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