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Mahon, E. (1999). Yesterday's Silence: An Irreverent Invocation of Beckett's Analysis with Bion. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1381-1390.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1381-1390

Yesterday's Silence: An Irreverent Invocation of Beckett's Analysis with Bion

Eugene Mahon

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) and Wilfred Bion (1897-1979) crossed paths in 1933. It was a brief encounter, but who knows what impact it may have had on the history of literary and psychoanalytic ideas? Bion went on to become a psychoanalyst of great distinction. His seminal and controversial ideas had a worldwide impact on psychoanalytic thinking, particularly in the area of schizoid and psychotic states. Beckett emerged as one of the great literary voices of the twentieth century. A Nobel Laureate who wrote novels and poems as well as plays, his influence on modern drama was perhaps his greatest contribution to literary development in this century.

Beckett's line “I can't go on, I'll go on” is a cri de coeur that reflects not only modern man's disgust at the atrocities of our century (world wars, holocausts) but also his heroic insistence that despite the odds he must proceed to the end of his doomed journey. Beckett's artistic credo was similarly constructed of defiance in the face of despair: he believed that an artist had an obligation to express even when he believed that there was nothing to express.

Actually, the brief encounter mentioned earlier was not so brief. Bion was Beckett's analyst for almost two years. When Beckett met Bion in 1933, he was suffering from “severe anxiety symptoms, which he described in his opening session: a bursting, apparently arrhythmic heart, night sweats, shudders, panic, breathlessness, and when his condition was at its most severe, total paralysis” (Knowlson 1996, p. 169.)

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