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Malin, B.D. (1999). Before We Were Young: An Exploration of Primordial States of Mind: Michael Ian Paul. Binghamton, NY: ESF, 1997, 224 pp., $35.95. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(3):935-938.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(3):935-938

Before We Were Young: An Exploration of Primordial States of Mind: Michael Ian Paul. Binghamton, NY: ESF, 1997, 224 pp., $35.95

Review by:
Barnet D. Malin

Michael Paul's book reads like a psychoanalytic jam session played in the key of Bion with Klein, Meltzer, Tustin, and Freud sitting in. Paul, himself a jazz and classical pianist, acknowledges his indebtedness to Bion, with whom he worked on a videotaped clinical study (described in the book) before entering analysis with him. Before We Were Young: An Exploration of Primordial States of Mind is a collection of papers, three written in collaboration with Ira Carson. Paul creates the jazz effect by exploring several core theoretical propositions simultaneously, each chapter putting one at center stage, with backup by the others in ever new variations, along with richly presented examples of his clinical technique. The Coltrane-like profusion of ideas, continuously reworked from chapter to chapter, makes for reading that is challenging, often difficult, but just as often exciting.

Paul's overarching subject is the processes of transformation back and forth between primordial, encapsulated, autistic, or deeply narcissistic states of mind, and the more developed object relations of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. Paul crafts a unique perspective on this familiar subject by studying transformations in sensory and perceptual experience that lead toward and away from verbally organized thought. In doing so, he expands on Freud's and Bion's work on the relationship between hallucination and thought by examining how primitive sensory and perceptual qualities—e.g., changes in the rhythms and intensity of physical and mental pressure, the visual qualities of language, and the prosodic elements of speech such as repetitive rhythms, intonation, and tone of voice—are transformed into elements of thought and fantasy.

Paul offers many clinical vignettes to ground his ideas and to frame several larger, more abstract propositions. These include (but are not limited to) the ubiquitous role of unconscious fantasy in these transformations; the ways in which language use itself may reveal underlying fantasies of extreme states of projective identification; the value of identifying the shifting “mental coordinates” of an imagined cartographic system in order to track the patient's fantasies of mental location and movement (inside vs. outside, toward and away from fantasied objects, etc.);

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