Arid Mental Landscapes and Avid Cravings for Human Contact -Beckettian and analytic narratives

as pure creation, whose function stops with its genesis, is consecrated to the void" Quote of Beckett in: Pilling,J.(1976). Samuel Beckett. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976._

The very function of writing can be, as Sylvia Plath expressed in her diary (1991), a way of structuring and restructuring the chaos of experience, as an "ordering, reforming, relearning and reloving of people as they are and as they might be". Thus, the creative self transubstantiates itself into the place / shape / body of the artistic creation which absorbs, changes and presents the self, living now in a different form in the creation (Bollas,1999). In this context, a recurrent aspect that has fascinated me both in clinical work and in the creations of various artists (Schellekes, 2005, 2006, 2008), especially in Beckett's texts, is the discrepancy between the emotional, structural and verbal precision of various aspects of one's life, or of the texts one writes, as if they were mathematically organized, and the emotional void underlying these structures, whose main characteristics are a deep sense of futility, meaninglessness, formlessness and emptiness, that many of the writers and heroes of the text experience, albeit in an unformulated and unrepresented way. Thus, it seems that many times the text does not mirror these deep layers of the internal world, but rather, by means of a very precise and geometrical use of verbal images and structures, creates a protective shell (Tustin, 1990), that keeps the writer away from experiencing extreme fragmentation and loss of identity. These structures organize and impart a sense of form and contour, that would otherwise lack in one's experience. In this lecture I intend to focus on the experience of void, while moving back and forth between the various survival strategies and protective shells employed in the attempt to "a-void" this experience (Emanuel, 2001). At one pole I will focus on excitation envelopes and rebirth phantasies, at the other pole on overly rhythmic, controlled, devoid of aliveness maneuvers. In both cases, one can notice the oscillation between the defense employed and the still pulsating need for human contact, scarce as it may be.

I would first start with a short account of my encounter with David, whose numerous modes of escape from and survival against his internal void had not any precise mathematical features, but were rather flooding his existence. David, a successful business man in his thirties, came to analysis because he had long standing extreme hypochondriac anxieties. Soon it became clear that all his life was a never ending attempt to overcome the nothingness of his existence, his inability to be alone and a deep sense of lacking any form, direction or meaning in his life. Apparently he lived a standard life, succeeded in his business, was married and had children, but in reality he had no meaningful contact with his family members, he alternated between intoxicating himself with anesthetic pills, stimulating drugs and large quantities of alcohol, and accumulating vast medical in-formation and knowledge to enable him to create an illusion that he could control what was a formless existence, felt on the verge of physical (and psychical) collapse at any moment. As part of this attempt to regulate his body, he would undergo dozens of medical tests and initiate all sorts of dramatic experimental medical treatments in various medical centers in the world, each such time organizing an extensive social entourage to accompany him. In addition, he adhered to whatever could give him an illusory sense of vitality: in spite of his religious orthodox background and practices, he had extensive sex with dozens of women, he paid "friends" to accompany him every moment of the day in what seemed to him as alive activities, he would occupy himself with numerous seemingly exciting activities, that could fill his time, and when none of these was available, he would simply collapse into a state of unbearable nothingness, not knowing what to do with himself and how to stay sane.

In the therapy sessions gradually a very sharp and peculiar feeling started to become clear for me: in spite of his strongly felt presence and good intellectual abilities I felt him as if he had no inside, as if he had no contact with whatever inhabited his soul, reminding me of Meltzer's description of the autistic child who drew the two sides of a house on the same plane as if the front and back of the house were one, with no sense of space or three dimensionality (Meltzer, 1975). David would talk about various things that had happened to him between the sessions, with no real contact with me, giving me the feeling that each session was just one additional short stopover to be forgotten the moment the session ended. Whatever he related was done in an extremely nave way, lacking any awareness to the dumping of facts as if they had no emotional meaning for him, rather than momentary sensual or narcissistic excitement. He would many times describe how extensively successful he was with women, easily conquering the most beautiful ones he met, how much his company was sought by many in his surroundings, even if he was simultaneously aware that all these contacts were actively maintained by him through financial supports of various kinds. Though all these maneuvers had clear narcissistic and manic features, I came to regard them more as excitation and sensorial envelopes, that functioned as corks to bottle up a deep emotional void whose main feature was an ineffable and terrifying sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. Gradually, David started to express a sense of chaos and futility in his life, followed immediately by renewed attempts to create or adhere to an illusory vitalizing object. Soon these attempts lost their soothing ability and he came to see most of his relations in a strong suspicious way, declaring every other session his intention to make a new and drastic decision regarding his life: one session he would declare that he stopped drinking and using drugs, in another session he declared that he would change everything in his life, he would leave his wife and children and start a new life, he would stop seeing any women, he would stop all his social relations and create new and better ones, would go to another country and start everything from the beginning in a completely different way. Each session he would describe how everything had already changed for a long time, though hardly a few days had passed, as if all his time sense was completely distorted. None of these dramatic changes really happened, but it became quite clear how much all these drastic plans of transmutation were imbued with phantasies of re-birth and renewal, that promised to give him hope for a new life, devoid of the internal void in which he lived. Transferentially, he seemed to have become a little more relaxed and less suspicious in my presence and for the first time, some months after the beginning of analysis, I had the feeling that he had some contact with himself and that I could, for seconds, reach him. At that time an unusual occurrence happened: he found an orphan kitten, became extremely moved by its fragility, and did almost nothing else but take care of it, as if a sort of blissful and never felt before fusion took place. (One can think of this fusion also as an attempt to negate and compensate for the spaces of separation inherent in the analytic pace). He seemed now to be able to listen to me for a short span of time and was touched when I spoke of his softness towards the abandoned kitten, who needed so much his care, as he had so badly needed it when he was a child. He became less embarrassed and less suspicious in exposing his vulnerable kitten-self to me, while I was careful not to touch him emotionally more than he could bear at that moment. Pretty fast the kitten grew big and less dependent and soon enough David felt deceived and lost interest in it. The vulnerable kitten-David self, that had just dared to express itself, could not stand the flooding sense of unbearable meaninglessness and abandonment that was reactivated by the kitten's decreasing dependency on him and by losing the too shortly lived 'at-onement' with it. In parallel, the fragile intimacy that had just started between the two of us was soon refilled with suspiciousness, and all his quasi sexual-quasi social secondary-skin activities and omnipotent transmutation phantasies were back again. He looked puzzled and moved to see me trying to understand what went on in him, as he never seemed to have experienced being present in one's thoughts. He even seemed to be curious to hear the way I interwove the kitten's growing and his own deep and old feelings of abandonment. However, these moments of emotional exposure and intimate contact between us might have flooded him, or intensified the anxiety that the emerging feeling of togetherness might quickly vanish as soon as his kitten-self will develop in analysis, as I soon received a message that he would not come to our next session, since he was on his way to the airport planning to stay in another country for at least a month "to check how things are there". He said he will contact me immediately after coming back. Unfortunately, that has been the last contact, so far, he had with me and his psychiatrist, not responding to any of my attempts to connect with him. And so, though apparently he left to a different country so as to fulfill one of his rebirth phantasies, actually abandonment and premature separation occurred again, albeit with some role reversal, leaving me to experience much of what, I believe, had never been thought, understood or represented in his psyche.

Paraphrasing Beckett's saying (quoted in the motto of this lecture): "the work, considered as pure creation, whose function stops with its genesis, is consecrated to the void", I perceive that putting into words this short and recent experience with David has not only a cathartic effect, but is also a limited attempt to consecrate this writing to the elucidation of the concept of mental void, and of some defenses frequently used to alleviate it, while aiming that the function of this writing will not stop with its genesis. The concept of mental void usually refers to a psychic empty area lacking content, form, structure, meaning and symbolic representations, all expressed through images such as abyss, chaos, black hole, emptiness, nothingness, stillness. The evocative power of these images reflects the very nature of the underlying unbearable anxieties, namely of falling forever, of dissolution into a formless state, of being emptied/nullified of one's own psychic existence and thinking abilities, of losing contact with self and other (Winnicott,1962; Bion,1959,1962; Tustin,1986; Grotstein,1991; Mitrani,1995; Eshel, 1998; Schellekes,2008,2010). In all these states what is common is the attempt to describe a mental lacuna devoid of representations, conflicts and self reflection ability. However, when taking a closer look at these states some significant differences emerge, that are relevant for the present discussion.

First, experiences of emptiness and boredom are experienced by relatively well organized personalities, including affective disorders and schizoid structures. In this case, one rather speaks of Bion's 'nothingness' (Bion, 1970), a passive void/an empty mental space, albeit with a potential to be contemplated and filled with feelings and thoughts. In other words, we metaphorically speak here of the existence of an internal container, empty though it may be, which has a definite contour and ability to absorb experiences in a three dimensional space. In contrast, in more regressed cases in the psychotic and autistic spectrum, in which no sense of container exists, one's experience can be of a tumultuous 'nothingness' (Bion, 1970), that is, to quote Grotstein, an "awesome force of powerlessness, of defect, of nothingness expressed not as a static emptiness, but felt as an implosive, centripetal pull into the void" (Grotstein, 1990,a). This is a state of having no floor, no boundaries, and thus no internalization of a mental space in which emotional experiences can be retained and processed. Devoid of reflective abilities and internal representations, such a state is typical of the 'black hole' phenomenon (Tustin, 1981, 1986; Grotstein, 1990, a,b), wherein the experience of chaos and meaninglessness is accompanied by the terror of being vacuumed into an abyss of non existence. Following this differentiation (which, of course, clinically is not always as clear as it sounds), I choose to focus on the more regressive states that are filled with the acute terror of dissolution that mobilizes intensive defensive maneuvers, to be further detailed. Second, let's have a short look at the origins of the lack of representations that is typical of this terrorizing state. Tustin (1986) described the catastrophic anxieties that fill a child's psyche when he prematurely experiences a sense of separation from the object, so that the self is torn apart from what was formerly experienced as part of the self. In primary states of non differentiation, where self and object are symbolically equated, the absence of the object is felt as if part of the self is lacking, thus being experienced as a black hole unto which the psyche is in danger of being absorbed and annihilated. The autistic object, that so often functions as a palliative soother, becomes equated with the human object, and its potential disappearance creates the same terror as that of the (human) object's. Thus, Tustin describes how sensorial maneuvers become a substitute for human contact, leaving one emptied of human representations.(1) Grotstein (1990,c) takes this view a significant step further when he claims that instinctual drives comprise semiotic signs that both herald the existence of an internal catastrophic state and attempt to regulate that state. Thus, intense sexual fantasies and behavior, as one can see in David's case, foretell the existence of the terror of falling apart and, at the same time, try to regulate the terror by creating a sensorial and narcissistic exciting envelope, whose aim is to fill one's experience with 'no-things' (Bion, 1970) that blur the experience of nothingness and meaninglessness, which is felt unbearable, when containing functions of thinking and emotional processing are lacking.

From a different theoretical vertex, Winnicott (1971) viewed the lack of internal object representations as a result of traumatic experiences, such as too prolonged absences of the object, at critical phases of development, or too strong inconsistencies in parents' behavior. These traumatic experiences bring about a decathexis of the object, that finally results in a fading away of the object representation, making the 'negative' the only reality. Following Winnicott's ideas, but with a different theoretical twist, Green (1999, 2005) connects between the traumatic aspects of the 'dead mother' complex (Green,1986) - the experience that "mother is elsewhere"- and the work of the negative, that is, the active involvement of the death drive. He assumes that the death drive is based on the assumption of a negative narcissism that aspires to extinction and that is an expression of what he calls the disobjectalizing function, that is destruction through disinvestment. The disinvestment can ultimately be directed not only towards objects and connections, but also towards the ego itself and all its previous accomplishments, so that the ego becomes "impoverished, disintegrating to the point of losing its consistency, homogeneity, identity and organization" (Green, 2005, p.222). To put it in different words, when the psyche is flooded with extreme unthinkable anxieties that are not connected to and contained by a represented object, then the disinvestment becomes, and I quote Green, "the ultimate defense against unleashing of instinctual chaos" (Green, 2005). In such extreme cases, the psyche is actively emptied of its representations, so that the internal state becomes a barren and empty one, that not incidentally was named "blank psychosis" (Donnet&Green, 1973). In a similar way, Grotstein (1990,c) coined the term 'actual psychosis', to designate a flooding state of anxiety resulting from the inability to experience nameless dread without ego disintegration (2). The actual psychosis, according to Grotstein, designates an extreme state of psychotic anxiety before the onset of "blank psychosis", which in turn may be followed by a delusional paranoid restitution, functioning as the regulator and structuring factor in an otherwise terrifying void of meaninglessness. In these extreme states, the loss of object representations becomes the basis for what Green called the "negative hallucination", making one unable to perceive the object even when it is present. Botella&Botella's (2005) fascinating conceptualization of the relation between perception and representation is highly relevant here. They describe how something can be perceived only if it is accompanied and reduplicated at a hallucinatory level, that is, only if the perceiver can find the object through his internal search after the lost/absent object. According to Bottela&Botella, it is this hallucinatory sensory quality of the perceiver that makes the reality of what is perceived evident. Thus, to quote the Botellas, "the perception of the world emerges out of the unpleasure related to absence, just as the representation of the real object emerges from the pain of its absence" (Botella&Botella, 2005). In this line of thinking, when psychic pain exceeds one's ability to understand and process, the psyche is flooded by an excess of excitation that fails to be represented. In this state what becomes traumatic is neither the intensity of a perception or the content of a representation, nor the loss of the real object, but the psyche's loss of the ability to envisage (hallucinate) the object, ultimately losing its representation. When representation is lost one is also lost in the realm of negative hallucination, unable to perceive and be in contact with the reality and qualities of the external object. After this theoretical intermezzo, I would like to shortly return to David. What gradually became clear for me was that from a very early age David's objects oscillated between a flooding, controlling and intrusive presence, at one pole, and erratic absences, at the other pole. His early life had no sense of coherence and continuity, he was moved from one location to another, many times in the absence of any significant other. Facing this tantalizing and chaotic discontinuity David was left not only physically alone, but psychically in the realm of a black hole devoid of representations. He gave the impression, as I mentioned, of a person with no internal space, having neither any ability to comfort himself through a connection with internal representations, nor any ability to perceive objects, including myself, as having any real and meaningful presence. Rather, he was flooded by 'unmentalized experiences' (Mitrani,1995), which continuously attacked him through hypochondriacal anxieties, that became a signifier of an ever threatening emotional and physical death. Thus, instead of internalizing a "rhythm of safety" (Tustin, 1986),(3) David lived in a rhythm of breakdown recovery breakdown, where all the pseudo-medical interventions, he submitted himself to, fueled his rebirth phantasies of becoming a new person, physically and mentally cured/reborn. These recovery practices created repeated painful situations, as if enabling David to re-experience the initial traumas, albeit in a lesser form and under surveillance. The interventions did provide him with a sense of recovery and holding, but this sense rapidly faded away, as the care could not be profoundly perceived and inscripted in his psyche, since it met the negative hallucination. The lack of representation, either through a fading away or through an active disinvestment, ultimately left David again and again feeling practically alone and flooded with anxiety. In this context it is interesting to note that the very notion of rebirth refers to a rhythm involving disruption and continuity, as is also described by Bion (Bion, 1992) when he talks about cycles of being murdered - being all right- being murdered. For Bion, when coming alive is simultaneously associated with re-traumatization, it is as if one is murdered every time one tries to come alive. As one comes alive, the object that murders life is intensely activated. As one puts oneself together, one also puts together the annihilating object (Eigen, 2002). So it seems that I and the analytic encounter became both activators of rebirth phantasies and of the potential for retraumatization. The small kitten itself too carried the connotation of rebirth and aliveness, but soon became the murderer of that very phantasy. The huge number of sexual relations and 'adhesive pseudo object relations' (Mitrani, 1994), that David was involved in, seem to serve as survival defenses against his structural lack of representations. In this context it is worth mentioning Lutenberg's differentiation (Lutenberg, 2009) between emotional mental void and structural mental void. The emotional void relates to a feeling of inner hollowness or emptiness, that is experienced emotionally and expressed as such, and is represented as an empty container waiting to be filled. This conception echoes my earlier discussion on the ability to bear nothingness/meaninglessness, if and when reflective/containing abilities exist, as opposed to the state in which, in the absence of reflective and processing abilities, any nothingness/meaninglessness is experienced as devastating and eventually filled with no-things, with anything that gives a sense of fullness, even if momentary or illusive. This inability to bear meaningless states of mind is called the structural mental void, according to Lutenberg, and it refers to one split off portion of the mind, which has not undergone the structural evolution of the rest of the mind and thus became a blank empty space stripped of representations. This structural void, similar to Tustin's black hole concept, is understood as a result of very intense traumatic circumstances that interrupt the normal symbiotic continuity between mother and baby.(4) In such circumstances a psychic abortion occurs, accompanied by terror, and a split in the ego is created, so that the evolution of this split off part of the psyche is frozen. No psychic transformations occur within it and the lacking object is substituted by pseudo object relations, rather than mourned and represented. This type of void is usually not expressed verbally, but is rather detected as lying under compensatory defenses employed against the nameless terror which accompanies such a void. Most commonly, these compensatory defenses are what Lutenberg names "secondary symbiotic defenses" (Lutenberg, 2009). These are symbiotic links that one adhesively maintains with persons, institutions, drugs or sexual objects, that function as a sort of partial compensatory containers which contain this terrorizing void, keeping the person together. Any break in these symbiotic-adhesive links is not felt as a static emptiness, but rather floods one's psyche with unbearable terror, immediately enrolling again whatever defenses become available (such as neosexual practices, psychosis, autistic withdrawal). Coming back again to David, my understanding is that most of his emotional life is governed by these dynamics: he desperately tries to rescue himself from the terror of his void existence, sticking to whatever incessant superficial relations and excitations he can find that temporarily calm his thirst for contact, erecting rescue and recovery practices, and, when none of these is efficient enough, he would simply collapse into a state of terrible terror and confusion.

I would like to make now a shift and contrast David's rich and varied defenses, against the terror of dissolution into the nothingness of his emptying mind, with a different type of defensive existence. I am referring to the autistic use of rhythm as a main organizing and structuring defense. If we take the mythos of Genesis as a metaphor for the state of the newborn infant (Farhi,2008), then the first rows of Genesis become especially relevant: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters". Thus, in the unintegrated state into which the infant is born, the infant will seize on anything that creates order and pattern so that the formless state will not be experienced as a terrifying and chaotic infinite abyss, but can soon acquire some predictable, structuring and soothing qualities. Developmentally, the rhythm of safety that Tustin so richly writes about (Tustin, 1986), includes oscillations between separateness and fusion, between tension and release, between binding and freeing, between stability and motility, between recurrence and change. These rhythmic oscillations, that enable separation and differentiation not to be experienced as existential threats, have a structure building function (Kestenberg&Weinstein, 1978). Even while in uterus, the fetus experiences the rhythm of mother's heartbeat and of her speech, alternations between engagement and rest, all creating first experiences of constancy and rhythmicity (Charles, 2002). The memory traces of these rhythms are absorbed in the nucleus of the prenatal psyche and constitute one of the first representations of the maternal object (Maiello, 1995, 2001; Mancia, 1981). After birth too, sensations and experiences of rhythm continue to take root and expand, to now include the rhythms of breastfeeding, of stretching and relaxation, of breathing, of sleep and waking, of hunger and fullness, of presence and absence, of being with and away from the object (Arlow, 1986; Birksted-Breen, 2009). The rhythm of presence and absence thus becomes a structuring element and a prerequisite for internalization of reliable temporal shapes. Moreover, this rhythm has a function of bridging between the primary state of unstructured experience and the "dawning awareness of difference and separateness, without which symbol mental activity cannot be set in train" (Maiello, 2001). And, needless to say, without symbolic activity, the representation processes that I spoke about earlier, cannot be accomplished. In various regressive states that are characterized by the structural void or by the black hole phenomenon described above, language and elaborate patterns, structures and rhythms, instead of being internalized as stable representations, are sometimes used as autistic objects to ward off threatening nothingness. Thus one can see that where under-structuralization of the ego core is predominant, an over-structuralization of its periphery develops, so that an outer rigid shell is formed against one's dread of dissolution (Kumin, 1978). In the remaining time I would like to focus on some of the linguistic and aesthetic ways through which Beckett portrays both the internal void and the human attempts to survive it, such as through the use of rigid rhythmicity and over-structuralization. For Beckett, whose long standing ambivalence towards his mother, mother tongue and homeland was well known, writing became a place to live (Adorno qouoted in Ross, 2011). Thus the normal absence of the object, which in Tustin's, Winnicott's, Bion's and Green's writings is a prerequisite for the development of thinking abilities, imagination, play and vitality, is different from the devastating absence portrayed in Beckett's writings. He makes experiments with out-of-body voices, stripping place and body of any familiar coordinates, as his characters dream of other roads, other lands, other homes. There is rarely anyone at home, even if there is such a thing/place (Ross, 2011). He describes decrepitated bodies and minds, enclosed in jars, dustbins, urns, thus using visual metaphors that stand for a deep sense of stasis, fragmentation and immobility. The human landscape that Beckett creates is populated by creatures that have lost their memory, their ability to think, their time perception and whose linking and relating abilities are drastically ruptured. Thus, the disinvestment function working both intra- and inter-personally, that Green has extensively described, is vividly expressed by Beckett's 'dulling of the self': "What mattered to me in my dispeopled kingdomwas supineness in the mind, the dulling of the self and of that residue of execrable fripper known as the non-self and even the world, for short" (Beckett, 1970). In other words, many of Beckett's characters become suffocated in a black hole type of existence, wherein no internal presences can soothe the dissolution anxiety. This internal dread leaves Beckett's characters oscillating between flooded existential states, a sort of 'thoughts without a thinker', and emptied out, blank existences. The former (similar to David's self experience) can be met, for example, in his short monologue play "Not I" (Beckett,1973) where a female huge, red, made-up mouth screams an unstoppable stream of broken phrases that act as a mirror of a chaotic and fragmented self experience. The latter (emptied self) can be seen in Beckett's short play "Rockaby" (Beckett, 1982). The static and lifeless existence that is presented in Rockaby, as in most of his writings, seems to be alleviated by the use Beckett makes of structuring and rhythm producing techniques. Beckett is a magician in his ability to sculpt the words he uses, the verbal rhythms he creates, the sounds he produces and the precise syntactic structures he shapes, all put together in the effort to give controlled expression to the experience of the negative. The name of the play reminds of the lullaby in which a baby's cradle falls from a tree, thus bringing together in one song both the image of a nurturing and lullaby-singing mother and that of aging decline and death in a rocking chair (Hale, 1988; Keller, 2002). The play is a disembodied monologue of a voice recorded on a tape, separated from the lonely woman, all dressed in black, that listens to the recorded rhythmic and repetitive monologue of her thoughts, while ritually being mechanically rocked back and forth, up and down (5). The normative soothing effect of rocking, that is frequent when infants rock themselves so as to achieve balance (as before being able to stand steadily or walk) or when they are rocked by parents as a comforting means, becomes a repetitive and stereotypical type of movement in Rockaby. Lonely and deserted, the woman is left in her rocking chair, craving for human contact with "one other, a little like herself". Though searching for "another living soul" one can easily notice the blocked, terrified and fixed "famished eyes", that are unable to perceive any other human presence, in spite of the craving for contact. Here we see again how the negative hallucination is of such intensity that perception becomes impossible and the empty window panes become a reflection of the woman's pains and inability to make any contact (Doll, 1988), while the "blinds" of the windows become a mirror image of the emotional blindness and aridity of the rocking woman. The woman is dressed, so it seems, in what used to be her mother's black dress, when mother rocked herself to madness and death. Thus, the images of mother and daughter are condensed and superimposed (Simone, 1988), annulling any possibility to escape mother's fate and hinting to a same static and withdrawn existence. Moreover, the woman's rocking can be viewed as a primitive body imitation of the type Gaddini spoke about (Gaddini, 1969), through which the woman performs a ritualistic autoplastic effort to reestablish contact with a moving and soothing mother. The only words the rocking woman expresses in a repetitive but precise rhythm are, at one pole, "More" and "living soul", as if asking to continue the rocking ritual, the only movement that enables her to keep the illusion of living and the hope to find contact and be psychically reborn; and, at the other pole, the words "time she stopped" and "rock her off", that express the woman's resignation from her attempt to feel she has an I/eye that can see and be seen (6). The failure to encounter and perceive another (and in Beckett's words: "rock her off/stop her eyes/fuck life/stop her eyes/rock her off") ultimately brings the woman into fatal psychic retreat, thus drowning into the very absent/dead mother (who "in the end/came off her head"), from whom she desperately tried to escape, and, at last, into her own deadening existence. I find this play fascinating both in terms of the void existence it strives to capture and in terms of the precise and exact structure of the play, whose rhythm of construction, repetition and, no less, of sarcastic irony is built with mathematic precision (7). As I mentioned earlier, the exactitude of this structure in Rockaby, as in many of Beckett's plays, does not reflect the balanced interplay between absence and presence or the reciprocal and rhythmical activity between mother and infant, that is necessary to transform bodily sensations into psychological experience, as Tustin so clearly states (Tustin, 1981), but rather portrays mechanical and stereotypical features that function as an outer protective shell which creates an ordering pattern, in an otherwise formless, disintegrating and alienated existence, lacking any internally holding structures. In retrospect, it becomes clear to me that the process of writing this lecture was catalyzed by my experience with David and by my (his?) need to keep him in my mind, in his absence, through writing and thus re-thinking and re-shaping our experience. In a similar way, it is my view that Beckett's deep personal experiences of primary object absence function as intense catalysts for his rich body of writing, while his seemingly uniform and static texts become active containers not only for the extreme negativity and disintegration of his characters, but also for the anxieties that Beckett himself struggled with and for expressing, so creatively, the unthinkable and unnamable that each of us experiences. One can think of Beckett's writing and re-writing on certain themes not only as a repetitive act, but as a derivative of a rebirth phantasy (8), each new text, though sometimes thematically similar, creating a new and rich self and affective experience. Moreover, it is worth remembering that Beckett's self imposed exile from his homeland (to France) and from his mother tongue was followed, much later in his life, by his 'coming home', by translating his writings, almost all by himself, back into his mother tongue, into English, thus re-naming, re-shaping and re-creating his texts/himself. Personally, I feel a great emotional debt to a man who enabled me not only to name much of what at times feels unbearable, but also to do it so from a bearable aesthetic distance and with a smile.


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1. Tustin, in a letter to Grotstein written in 1989 (Grotstein, 1990, b) uses the term void to refer to those children who never had any attachment to a human figure, similar to Spitz's institutionalized children who suffered an anaclitic depression from the beginning of life. Thus she differentiates this primary void from the black hole phenomenon where one lost something which had formerly been there: the (illusion of being one with) mother.

2 According to Grotstein," in actual psychosis the "nameless dread" constitutes (a)maternal failure to hold, contain and transform primary meaninglessness (chaos), (b) maternal failure that results in the decathexis (withdrawal of meaning) of internal and external objects, and (c) the spontaneous or spuriously evoked irruptions of peremptory neurobiological disruptions, due principally to neurotransmitter disregualtion and manifesting themselves as exaggerated mental states" (Grotstein, 1990,c).

3 "a regulated and shared rhythm that provides the possibility for contrasts to be experienced safely together so that they can modify and transform each other" (Tustin, 1986, p.273).

  1. In Green's view, (Green, 2001) such a void is a result of a defense against object intrusion: the ego makes itself disappear before the intrusion of that which is too full of a noise that must be reduced to silence. Relevant here are such concepts as "the invasive object", (Williams, 2004) ; "the undead", (Sekoff, 1999); Bollas's (1999) "intraject" or Gonzalez's (2010) "failed births, dead babies".

5. It is interesting to note again the contrast Beckett makes between stasis and movement: while his directions are that the women's eyes do not blink, her eyes are incessantly moving "all sides" and the body is put into motion through an automatically operated rocking chair that goes high and low all throughout the play.

6It is worth mentioning that not only once does the personal pronoun I appear in the play.

7See Hale (1988) for a thorough analysis of the structural elements of the play.

8See also Oppenheim (2008).

Alina Schellekes 18 Landau street Qiryat Ono 55559 Israel [email protected]