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Naiburg, S. (2020). Prologue: “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”: Our Analytic Self Emerges. Psychoanal. Inq., 40(2):87-89.

(2020). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 40(2):87-89


Prologue: “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”: Our Analytic Self Emerges

Suzi Naiburg, Ph.D., LICSW

I have been captivated by Nina Coltart’s (1992) “Slouching Towards Bethlehem … Or Thinking the Unthinkable in Psychoanalysis” since my first encounter. Intrigued by her use of the slouching beast metaphor from Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” which I love, I found myself pulled in and comforted by her voice. Coltart’s presence on the page is authentic, engaging, conversational. Her voice reflects humility, humor, and respect for what she does not know. And yet Yeats’s images are ominous. Given the late Coltart’s stature as a psychoanalyst and consultant, imagine my relief as a newly minted clinician in midlife when I read, “It is of the essence of our impossible profession that in a very singular way we do not know what we are doing” (Coltart, 1992, p. 2), because I often felt that way.

Luckily, my not knowing would never come close to the sense of catastrophe Yeats (1983) evokes in his famous poem, which Coltart quotes in full.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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