Annie Reiner explores Bion’s concept of “O”

Bion and Being: Passion and the Creative Mind

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The central focus of my new book, Bion And Being: Passion and the Creative Mind, is Wilfred Bion’s concept of O. It is the most mysterious and controversial of his ideas, although the controversy has often lived beneath the radar.

In a recent article on Bion’s later work, Blass (2011) writes of an often hidden unfavourable view of Bion’s later writings, inferred “from passing remarks in the relevant literature, as well as from the almost total neglect of Bion’s writings from 1966 onwards.” I would include the concept of O in that category, despite the fact that he did first discuss it in Transformations, written in 1965. There he describes O as ”the absolute facts of the session…. [which] cannot ever be known.” By the time they are addressed, a new reality is taking place and those original facts are transformed by the analyst’s mind. O is described here in terms of his theory of transformations, the brilliance and scholarly nature of which may inadvertently obscure its most controversial aspects of mysticism and the infinite, also included in the book.

O reflects a religious perspective almost taboo in psychoanalysis. This level of reality – unknown, unknowable, unthinkable and indescribable – makes the writing of my book something of a fool’s errand, for I am working toward a description of something that is essentially indescribable in linear verbal language. I forged ahead nonetheless because it seemed to me so central to Bion’s work, the hub around which all his theories cohere. By calling O the essential analytic perspective, Bion also gives it a position of centrality in clinical work.  Having something incomprehensible in logical terms central to one’s work is a recipe for controversy and confusion, but also for profound curiosity.

My early direct contact with Bion had an enormous impact on me, precisely because I could feel myself opening to that curiosity about the mind which Bion embodied in this concept of O. This kind of curiosity is the foundation of learning of any kind, and especially powerful in a realm as vast and mysterious as the mind.

In a way, I suppose I am trying to bring the controversy about O into focus because it is so central to his work. I can imagine that having read this blog, some people will ask, “Alright, so what is O?” And that unanswerable question is exactly the point of my book. One can point out that what Bion described as the psychoanalytic state of mind has similarities to the state of mind of the creative artist and to what we might call a mystical state, and it is through these areas of the Arts and religious philosophy that I explore that question.

Annie Reiner

Annie Reiner, Bion and Being: Passion and the Creative Mind, London: Karnac Books (2012), and The Quest for Conscience and the Birth of the Mind, London: Karnac Books (2009)

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Reviews and Endorsements

‘Fresh from the recent publication of her first book, The Quest for Conscience and the Birth of the Mind, a remarkable work in its own right, Dr Annie Reiner has written an outstanding follow-up work. Noting the paradox in the enormous popularity of Bion’s works existing side-by-side with great mystery and confusion about their meaning, she lucidly and astutely plunges into the centre of his most recondite discovery, transformations in and from “O”, relating them to others of his more complex ideas. Furthermore, she presents numerous clinical examples that aptly reflect many of these ideas. This is an incredibly credible work which, along with her first book, places her high among Bion scholars.’
– Dr James Grotstein, Los Angeles

‘The clinician and the poet come together in this lucid presentation of Bion’s central thinking about the nature of Being. With uncommon erudition and deep clinical experience, Reiner brings the abstract to life in a work filled with apt clinical vignettes and sensitively chosen poetry. Bion, properly, is not made easy, but he is made more accessible.’
– Dr Warren Poland, Bethesda, MD

‘In this remarkable book, Dr Annie Reiner helps us open our bodies, hearts, and souls to our own unique emotional discovery of Bion’s “O”. She does this by sharing her own personal odyssey with poetry, music, literature, philosophy, theology, science, in addition to her work as a psychoanalyst engaged with her analysands in the intimate discovery of their authentic selves. Dr Reiner’s writings are organic, practical, spiritual, and, as usual, very scholarly. She effectively explores the frontiers of Bion’s perspective of analysis in a creative way, and adds an important new voice of depth and understanding to psychoanalytic theory and practice, which should be useful to all theoretical and clinical points of view. This book is a “MUST” read.’
– Dr James Gooch, Los Angeles

‘Dr. Annie Reiner’s exceptional new book is that rare analytic work that combines thoughtful reflections on the nature of being, moving clinical vignettes, philosophical discussion, exploration of art and poetry, and explication of psychoanalytic theory into a wonderfully written meditation on the nature of O. Dr Reiner is perfectly suited to examine the essence of O: in addition to having studied with Bion in the 1970’s, she is a practicing psychoanalyst in Los Angeles as well as a painter, poet, playwright and author-illustrator of children’s books. I recommend this book for therapists and psychoanalysts at all levels of training for there is much richness here awaiting the reader.’
– Lawrence J. Brown, Int. J. Psychoanal, Vol 95, Number 5, Oct, 2014

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