I wrote a paper with Andy Patterson on “The Structuring Aspects of the Penis,” published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Melanie had discovered that an infant, if provided “average expectable” mothering, internalizes The Good Breast as a necessary first stage in the development of Mind. It splits off The Bad Breast, the inevitable result of the disappointment, rage and violence the infant experiences in a less than perfect world – a conceptual advance of Freud’s Unpleasure Principle. This gives rise to what Melanie called the Paranoid-Schizoid Position, paranoid linked to the persecutory feelings when it has to wait more than one jot for attendance on its needs, and schizoid, splitting off these feelings into the unconscious.
Melanie then discovered that an infant, in its later development, fantasizes The Good Penis in The Good Breast, a primitive notion about the relationship between father and mother. Odd as that sounds, it is not surprising. The infant assumes The Good Breast is the center of the universe, that followed in turn by the centrality of the father’s maleness. The Good Breast provides the vitalizing energies, The Good Penis the structuring. Keep in mind Freud’s dictum: The ego is first and foremost a body ego. Concepts such as vitalizing or structuring will have as referent some aspect of the body.
You may think these are remote, and, truth be told, even bizarre ideas. No wonder the Freudians manned the ramparts.”The crazy Kleinians are coming! The crazy Kleinians are coming! Wilfred Bion, their Generalissimo, is a zip code away from Beverly Hills!” In fact, these ideas are the bread and butter of a Scientific Conversation. Whenever I began a supervision, the first two questions I asked a supervisee: “Do you end every session within the alloted time?” and, “Is the fee paid in full?” Structuring and vitalizing.
My two simple questions did not make for happy campers. I got pink slips from my new customers like they had gone viral. Well, I’m sorry. Time and money structure human life. The sun is 800,000 miles in diameter, our big clock in the sky. Tick-tock, Tick-tock. Can we, like Joshua, tell it to stand still? Money is the conveyor of energy, a brilliant artifact invented by Homo sapiens sapiens. And dangerous. And seductive. “Candy, little girl?” Money invites violations of thermodynamics, laws “most strict in their arrest.” So, I’d asked my supervisee, how can you propose a conversation that, like a perpetual motion machine, runs without energy, and can stop the sun for 10 to 20 minutes, and call it scientific?
Wilfred’s Creation Day achievement was to bring structure to the vitalizing discoveries of Melanie. As observed in my supervisees, physicians, psychologists etc., folks who’d been around the block a few times, the Mind throughout life gets battred by thoughts which it is unable to think. Wilfred named these “Unthinkable Thoughts” or thought-things. He observed, as did Melanie, all infants experience the terror, “I am dying.” Thought-things are sense experiences, feelings fueled by instinctual energies and registering as extremely powerful. Frau Emmy warned Freud that if her thought-things came to life, it would be cause for terror.
The task Bion undertook was to make thought-things thinkable. He began by giving thought-things a name. He named them beta elements. He observed that naming something gives it a handle. By the act of naming, Adam had given the undifferentiated and clumped masses of animals a name. Those are sheep, those are tigers. Thousands and thousands of nature’s fauna got grouped into herds and flocks and so on. Wilfred called the naming process alpha-function, its activity producing alpha elements, such as creating a biologic nomenclature.
Alpha elements, like words which are used in the naming process, have hooks or handles, coupling devices that allow the mind to tie them together into endless shapes and patterns. The most common product of alpha-function is words, but so are musicians’ notes and painters’ pigments. Any alpha element can be used to make unthinkable thought-things thinkable. Once thinkable, they can be used to tell a story, create a song-cycle, weave a pattern.
This coupling apparatus Bion called Mind.