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Unthought Known

At its most compelling, the unthought known stands for those early schemata for interpreting the object world that preconsciously determine our subsequent life expectations.[1] In this sense, the unthought known refers to preverbal, unschematised early experience/trauma that may determine one's behaviour unconsciously, barred to conscious thought.[2]

Unthought Known

During our formative years, we are continually "impressed" by the object world. Most of this experience will never be consciously thought, and but it resides within us as assumed knowledge. Bollas has termed this "the unthought known", a phrase that has ramified through many realms of human exploration, including the worlds of letters, psychology and the arts.

Aspects of the unthought known --the primary repressed unconscious --will emerge during a psychoanalysis, as a mood, the aesthetic of a dream, or in our relation to the self as other. Within the unique analytic relationship, it becomes possible, at least in part, to think the unthought -- an experience that has enormous transformative potential.

Sometimes, by fortune or good judgement, the arrangement of works in a gallery and the connections between those works take on a particular potency. The attention of the onlooker is heightened but evenly distributed between every detail and every chance for cross-comparison; works by varied artists come to each other's aid. So it was with 'The Unthought Known'. Not mentioned in Daniel Birnbaum's catalogue essay is the fact that the exhibition takes its title from the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, whose books include The Shadow of the Object (1987) and Being a Character (1992). Bollas' writings are among the best the tradition has produced, being thoroughly informed by aesthetic knowledge, imaginative of forms of traffic between case study and society, and in other ways deserving of attention. 'The unthought known' refers to the ways in which individuals may organize their lives around an event or a traumatic pattern of experiencing that, although at some deep level known, can only with difficulty be claimed for conscious thought. It was the complex modes of disclosure in some of the sculptural works that really made their juxtaposition with Bollas' phrase productive.

In this paper we consider states of grace in analysis. These encompass a range of phenomena which share an experience of something being received or revealed rather than produced by the ego. It feels that they are events that happen rather than events that are made to occur. They are marked by a profound sense of transformation of feeling tone. The quality of relatedness in the analytic dyad is also heightened. Some of these phenomena have been referred to as experiences of the self, synchronicities, moments of meeting, the unthought known and Eureka moments. The latter are experiences of sudden realization where a meaningful thought or image emerges which results in a dramatic shift in direction of the analysis and a transcendence of impasse. Although many authors describe these phenomena, we find that a Jungian approach provides a loom on which these threads can be woven together. Jung's concept of the transcendent function and his understanding of the gift of grace are particularly illuminating here. We also consider the conditions which allow grace to be experienced and how these inform our analytic practice.

White Cube Hoxton Square presented The Unthought Known White Cube,a group show that brought together the work of internationally acclaimed artists Miroslaw Balka (Poland), Robert Gober (USA), Clay Ketter (USA/Sweden), Doris Salcedo (Colombia) and Luc Tuymans (Belgium). The title for the show derived from a term coined by the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas in his book, The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known, which describes how an individual's life or, by extension, a culture can be organised around a past event or experience that is so enigmatic or traumatic that it is repressed, denied and relegated to the depths of the unconscious. It is therefore 'unthought' - unacknowledged on a conscious level - yet is still in a deep way 'known' and formative.

Bollas has introduced many other new psychoanalytic concepts, including: the aesthetic moment, the unthought known, psychic focus and psychic dissemination, intersubjectivity and interformality, self presentation and self representation. At times he coins new terminology, for example: processional knowledge, the ghostline personality, normotic illness.

Since so much of the psychic life in the clinical setting is within the analyst, one of our emerging technical difficulties is how either to give back to the patient what he has lost or bring his attention to those parts of himself that he may never have known. 041b061a72


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