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Modell, A.H. (1973). Affects and Psychoanalytic Knowledge. Ann. Psychoanal., 1:117-124.

(1973). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 1:117-124

Affects and Psychoanalytic Knowledge

Arnold H. Modell, M.D.

If one asks, what is it in psychoanalysis that corresponds to the raw data of other sciences, one discovers that there is not a simple or direct answer. Although science no longer accepts the Baconian notion that there are “facts” in nature isolated completely from the influence of the selective process of theory, nevertheless there is the unassailable belief that at bottom science rests upon a perceptual base. Whether that fact is a fossil bone, or a species of bird, or the swing of a needle in a scientific instrument, facts are sensuous. In archaeology and paleontology, historical sciences analogous to psychoanalysis, the data can be literally tangible; the bits of broken pottery and broken bones can be touched. As is true of psychoanalysis, and in contrast to the more advanced sciences, there are no instruments interposed between the perceiver and that which is perceived. But what does the psychoanalyst perceive? Is there something that corresponds to the tangible artifacts of the archaeologist? Or does the mind, in Sherrington's words, move ghostlier than a ghost? Are the fundamental data of psychoanalysis elusive and ineffable?

Hartmann has said that the data gathered in the psychoanalytic situation are primarily behavioral data—verbal behavior, silence, bodily movements, etc. (Hartmann, 1959). These data are then interpreted with reference to internal, that is, mental, and not behavioristic processes. But is this strictly so? Not all such verbal behavior constitutes psychoanalytic data. One has only to think of the attempts to “objectify” psychoanalysis by means of tape recordings. Without intending to depreciate the value of such studies, these procedures soon demonstrate that all of the patient's words are not data and that if all the recorded words were considered to be of equal significance one would soon become engulfed by this verbal flood. Words by themselves do not necessarily constitute the primary data of psychoanalysis. Consider those people who use words to communicate nothing, who use speech to create distance, to bore, and to distract.

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