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Williams, M.H. (1985). The Tiger and ‘O’. Free Associations, 1B(1):33-56.

(1985). Free Associations, 1B(1):33-56

The Tiger and ‘O’

Meg Harris Williams

Probably Wilfred Bion's major contributions to psychoanalytic theory have been in the area of thinking about thinking. He describes the operation of a mysterious process which he terms ‘alpha-function’ upon primitive emotions, to create a foundation for ‘dream-thoughts’ eventually resulting in creative communication. At every stage this process is itself dependent upon the emotional linkages of love, hate and the desire for knowledge; and it co-exists with a parallel but antithetical, destructive process — propaganda, lies and basic assumptions, masquerading as thought but in fact propagating ‘—K’ or false knowledge. Bion's theoretical works on this subject, his major preoccupation, have been found confusing by many; but his last main work, A Memoir of The Future, has probably been found confusing for different reasons, and it may be harder to see its contribution to the essence of his life's work. In this paper, I would like to approach the Memoir in conjunction with his other, more straightforward and accessible biography, The Long Week-End, in a way which might make its material more graspable and its contribution easier to think about. I shall not attempt to provide a comprehensive or consecutive view of the books; but rather to point out a pattern of metaphor which, I think dramatizes the interaction between aspects of K and —K, showing Bion evoking an image of his own thought-process in relation to ‘O’, the mysterious noumenal point of knowledge.

The Long Week-End is a straight first-person narrative; the Memoir is written in the form of a dialogue between an eccentric assortment of voices, each contributing some aspect of Bion himself.

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