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Zimmer, R.B. (2013). Arrogance and Surprise in Psychoanalytic Process. Psychoanal Q., 82(2):393-412.

(2013). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 82(2):393-412

Arrogance and Surprise in Psychoanalytic Process

Richard B. Zimmer

When something new, not yet understood by either patient or analyst, begins to emerge in the course of psychoanalytic treatment, a particular set of tensions arises in the analytic couple. At times, this may manifest in a growing, subtle—or not so subtle—mutual contempt between patient and analyst. Moments of surprise may be the point of entry to the newly emerging material. I will illustrate this observation with detailed clinical material, place it in relation to Bion's paper “On Arrogance(1958), and discuss some of its technical implications.

In the situation I am describing, each member of the analytic pair retreats into a state of arrogant self-satisfaction, ensconcing him- or herself in an internal relation with what is known, excluding and condescending to the other member of the pair, as a way of retreating from the anxiety and frustration of being in contact with the other, and from the unknown contents that threaten to erupt within that contact; and the familiar Bionian triad of arrogance, stupidity, and curiosity (Bion 1958) comes to the fore. Each element is embodied in, projected onto, and provoked in each member of the psychoanalytic couple in a fluid, rapidly shifting way, as both members simultaneously try to come to understand the newly emerging contents and to evade their manifestations in the transference-countertransference matrix.

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