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Goldman, D.L. (2011). Theatre and Anti-Theatre of the Mouth, Part One: Autistic Echolalia. Canadian J. Psychoanal., 19(2):252-278.

(2011). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 19(2):252-278

Theatre and Anti-Theatre of the Mouth, Part One: Autistic Echolalia

David L. Goldman

Translated by:
Yolande Amzallag

Clifford Scott's blathering, an early prototype of three-dimensional mouth functioning, serves as a logical jumping-off point for the investigation of a unique perspective on the pre-verbal period that begins prenatally and culminates in the “theatre of the mouth,” an imaginative field within which experimentation with sounds acts in concert with structures of the oral cavity to set symbolization in motion. Different from Freud's linear psychosexual stages, the “theatre of the mouth” concentrates, within the confines of the primal oral cavity, dispersed aspects of embryonic sensuous states creating optimal conditions for the unfolding of this post-Kleinian developmental phase. Meltzer believed that the deep processes leading from primordial poly-sensory apprehension to infantile babbling onward to the development of verbal and motor skills have their source, not in a drive for mastery, but in the joining of primitive song-and-dance with the individual baby's inherent appreciation of the beauty of the world, starting with that of mother.

The transition from rhythmically based prenatal experiences of oneness to corresponding postnatal equivalents, on the other side of the caesura of birth, may be disrupted and lead to an incomplete psychic birth, setting the stage for “autistic echolalia”: repetitive and sensation-dominated features referable to the mouth, given its primacy in the early pre-verbal period. Through vignettes, this presentation will identify and group these unusual mouth-generated stereotyped actions into themes to facilitate comprehension of this underappreciated clinical domain and the often difficult recognition of autistic features in adult patients. A section on fundamental symptom presentations in child cases precedes a parallel discussion of more subtle clusters of features in a spectrum of disturbed adults, a veritable anti-theatre of the mouth.

Space does not permit an expanded investigation of the many applications of the “theatre” metaphor to psychoanalysis, but a rapid survey of autistic characteristics demonstrated in Beckett's Waiting for Godot, an example of the Theatre of the Absurd, gives psychoanalysts a feeling for the insights provided by drama and the fine arts, in general. The use of esthetically based approaches in post-Kleinian psychoanalysis has changed the psychoanalytic landscape, consistent with Meltzer's belief that Kleinian analysis is an “art form” in its pursuit of truth in beauty. Separating out “autistic echolalia” from “psychotic glossolalia” to be presented in part two and, here, briefly, at the end, in a Meltzerian context, is consistent with (1) their distinct mouth-generated manifestations, (2) primacy of different bodily spaces: oral versus anal, (3) Peter Brook's divisions within the Anti-Theatre movement: the solemnity of Godot versus the Rough Theatre of Albee's Virginia Woolf, and (4) distinctions within the psychoanalytical classification of primitive mental states, such as autistic transformations versus transformations in hallucinosis.

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