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Thoughts on the Skin in Psychoanalysis-a lecture by Leon Brenner

Leon Brenner is an energetic and creative Philosopher and Lacanian Psychoanalyst who lives and works in Berlin. Last week he gave a Zoom talk on the subject of The Dermic Drive in Autism in which he followed this, his schema:-

Counter to the ways it is conceived through both cognitive and identitarian approaches, autism might be productively thought of as a unique subjective structure that sits alongside the classical Freudian structures of psychosis, neurosis, and perversion. Earlier psychoanalytic thinkers have linked autism and the onset of autism to the supposed experience of early disturbances in ‘skin function’. In this talk Dr Leon Brenner will expand this notion of ‘skin function’, exploring its relation to and confection in language. Conceiving the skin as a potential modality of the Freudian drive (Trieb) – the dermic drive – Dr Leon Brenner will seek to unpack how the different relations to and with the Other such a drive would instantiate allow fresh insights into our understandings of autism.

Dr Brenner’s blog may be found at https://leonbrenner.com/

Here are some points of clarification-

  1. Here is what R,D.Hinshelwood has to say in clarification in his book, A Dictonary of Kleinian Thought-Among the previous psychoanalysts studying this subject three in particular drew my attention. Esther Bick whose work included infant observation, the relation between skin sensations and feeling contained, the creation of the experience of the body as an internal space. Bick worked with Donald Meltzer and together they arrived at the concept of Adhesive identification: The possible failure to develop such an integrating primary object (space) appears to be confirmed in work with autistic children (Meltzer et al., 1975) [see AUTISM]. Bick and Meltzer (Meltzer, 1975, 1986) collaborated in describing the ways in which autistic children develop without a sense of internal or external space. Their relationship with objects appears to be a ‘sticking on to’ the object, a mechanism called adhesive identification.

2 Hinshelwood also explains the manner in which mimicry replaces the normal development of internal psychic space-

projective identification cannot be properly employed because of an absent sense of internal space (see INTERNAL REALITY). Meltzer (Meltzer et al., 1975) took up these ideas and found them important in research into a child-analytic technique with autistic children. Meltzer described a child who

tended to draw pictures of houses, in which there was a house on this side of the paper, and there was a house on the other side of the paper and when you held it up to the light, you saw that the doors were superimposed, you know, a kind of house where you open the front door and step out the back door at the same time. (Meltzer, 1975, p. 300)

In the course of this collaboration, Bick and Meltzer began to recognize a pattern in these ‘second-skin’ formations (see SKIN]. Bick typically called it an act of mimicry. However, what they began to realize was that the mimicry represented the experience, and phantasy, of sticking to an object as opposed to projecting into it [see 13. PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION]. A lapse in developing a sense of internal spaces leads to a tendency to relate to objects in a two dimensional way, without depth [see AUTISM]:

The following are some thoughts in no particular order which I had during this engaging seminar:-

  1. This evocative song has been in the background since contemplating this whole issue with it’s phrase “wake up to reality”. Sung here by Frank Sinatra https://youtu.be/C1AHec7sfZ8
  2. There is a body of work which talks about the use of makeup which can become of huge importance in certain stages of life applied so as to display a perfect impression. Frequently referred to interestingly as “warpaint” and acting as a mask or perhaps a second skin. See for instance this https://discover.hubpages.com/education/The-Gallery-of-the-Fool and the work of Joan Riviere https://psychoanalysis.org.uk/our-authors-and-theorists/joan-riviere
  3. There is a particularly interesting chapter in Betty Joseph’s collection “Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change” on the analysis of a patient with a rubber fetish in which she discusses the use of projective identification of excitement, oral sadism and how she was able to contain, explain and resolve these issues within the analytic sessions.
  4. It would seem that the elastic and adhesive properties of relationships can be expressed vividly by means of cartoon characters. In particular it is possible to think of matters like “bouncing back” being “caught on the rebound” as well as “sticking together through thick and thin” as well as someone “sticking to another like glue” somewhat unpleasantly or uncomfortably.
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