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Fisher, J.V. (2008). The Role of Imagination in the Apprehension of Difference. Fort Da, 14(1):17-35.

(2008). Fort Da, 14(1):17-35

The Role of Imagination in the Apprehension of Difference

James V. Fisher, Ph.D.


In this paper I will talk about an evolution in my own clinical thinking and practice that focuses on the difficulty of apprehending, articulating, and communicating one's own emotional experience, as well as the complementary difficulty of apprehending the emotional experience of the other. It could be described as the emotional experience of difference — one might say the apprehension of difference.

I choose the term “apprehension” for its ambiguity, something Meltzer played on in the title of his most innovative book, The Apprehension of Beauty (1988). The contrast in the meaning of the term, on the one hand, “understanding or grasping through the senses or the intellect” and, on the other, “uneasiness, fear or dread,” has an almost comic counterpart in the third meaning, “arrest, capture, seize” (as in “apprehending a criminal”). It is almost as if the linguistic development that has led to one word having these disparate meanings reflects an unconscious uneasiness, even a dread of understanding. It is certainly true in my experience that any possible apprehension of the emotional experience of the other does seem to imply both understanding and uneasiness, fear or dread. Moreover, some couples in therapy with me have complained that the partner seemed to think that “understanding” was something akin to that third sense, “apprehending a criminal.”

This ambiguity captures the dilemma of difference in feelings, perceptions, and beliefs in the intimate couple relationship. Such differences can lead to difficulties in any relationship — even, as we all know, in relationships between professional colleagues. Differences can perhaps be accommodated intellectually, but often it can feel emotionally impossible to apprehend, to comprehend, to understand genuinely how the others can say, or think, or feel what they do in reference to something about which we think and feel so differently. Consequently, such differences can lead to apprehension in that second sense.

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