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 unfavorable 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” (p. 1081). I would include the concept of O in that category, despite the fact that he did first discuss it in Transformations, written in1965. There he describes O as ”the absolute facts of the session.... [which] cannot ever be known” ( p. 17). 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.
Author of Bion and Being: Passion and the Creative Mind, (London: Karnac Books, 2012).
Bion, W.R. (1965). Transformations. In (1977). Seven Servants, NY: Jason Aronson, Inc.
Blass, R. (2011). “Introduction to ‘On the value of ‘late Bion’ to analytic theory and practice’ ”, International Journal of Psychoanalysis (2011) 92: 1081-1088.