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The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young

Mental Space

by Robert M. Young



| Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Bibliography |


Published in Great Britain in 1994 by

Process Press Ltd.
26 Freegrove Road
London N7 9RQ

The right of Robert M. Young to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

This book was composed on an AppleMac iiSi, employing Microsoft Word and PageMaker software and was produced by Chase Production Services for Process Press.

The motto of Process Press is a quotation from Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (Cape, 1940; reprinted Penguin, 1947, etc.), Penguin ed., p. 207.

What enhances and constricts mental space — space for reflection, for feeling, for relating to others, for being open to experience? The author addresses this question in the light of two sets of issues: first, how we locate psychoanalysis in the history of thought about nature and human nature, with particular reference to Cartesian mind-body dualism; second, which psychoanalytic approaches are most useful and resonant with our experience, as contrasted with scientistic versions of psychology. He then turns to key concepts which bear on these issues: culture and cultural studies, transference and countertransference in the analytic space, psychotic anxieties and other primitive processes, projective identification and transitional phenomena. In each case he gives a careful exposition of the history of the concept and the debates about its scope and validity, in individual and social terms, including group relations, racism and virulent nationalism. Particular attention is paid to the kinds of accounts of human experience which are most enabling, as opposed to those which diminish the richness and depth of experience. This is, then, a book about the problematic idea of mental space and about the concepts which the author has found most helpful in understanding what enhances and threatens it.

Robert M. Young, Ph.D., is Visiting Professor at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Kent. He is a psychotherapist in private practice, teaches on various trainings in England and abroad and is a Member of the Lincoln Centre and Institute for Psychotherapy and the Institute for Psychotherapy and Social Studies. He studied philosophy at Yale and was for many years a don in the history of the biological and human sciences at Cambridge University and a Fellow and Graduate Tutor of King’s College. He subsequently worked in cultural politics and made a series of television documentaries — ‘Crucible: Science in Society’. He founded Free Association Books and was its Managing Director for ten years. He is the Editor of the quarterly journals Free Associations: Psychoanalysis, Groups, Politics, Culture and Science as Culture and the author of Mind, Brain and Adaptation (Oxford, 1970, 1990) and Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture (Cambridge, 1985).

for Lucy and Linda


My title is meant to be startling and intriguing. 'Mental space' is a contradiction in terms. The mental and the spatial were defined in modern thought so as to be mutually exclusive. The essence of the mental is thought; the essence of the spatial is shape or extension. How they relate is a profound and unresolved mystery at the heart of modern philosophy.

Yet 'mental space' has a pleasing ring to the psychoanalytic ear. It conjures up a congenial place for thinking, for reflecting, for rumination, for nourishment. It connects readily to comforting boundaries — containment, being held in mind. It also connotes capaciousness, relative freedom from feeling crowded, from mental claustrophobia.

Between the contradictory sense of 'mental space' and the appealing one lies a surprising set of interesting problems. One of the most interesting is the place of our most basic feelings in human nature, and the best way of representing them, in a world of minds and bodies. Where do stories about people find a place in the light of the conceptual scheme of philosophy and science? Put more broadly, how does culture relate to those frameworks? I wrote this book to explore these problems and in an attempt to make a contribution to a richer, more enabling sense of the proper, undefensive and non-omnipotent place of psychoanalysis in culture.

My philosophic and humanistic purposes intersect with the fact that I have found the ideas of Melanie Klein and others working in the tradition she founded to be the most resonant with my own experience of the psychoanalytic approaches I have encountered in my reading, my own analyses and in supervision and teaching. You could say, then, that this is a book about the problematic idea of mental space and about the concepts which I have found most helpful in understanding what enhances and threatens it.

I say again that I am exploring, while trying to achieve some clarity about certain key concepts, for example, countertransference, psychotic anxieties, projective identification, transitional phenomena, in order to work some things out for myself and to offer food for thought. My training in philosophy and the history of ideas has led me to approach these concepts historically and conceptually. I hope this perspective will complement the clinical one which is more usual.

Please don’t be put off by my lists. I am writing at the intersection of many disciplines and literatures and am seeking to make the sources more accessible. Allusions which will be commonplace to one group of readers will be new to others. Although it may irritate some readers, it has been my experience that many appreciate some guidance to unfamiliar debates.

I am told that the chapters have very different tonalities or moods. This is intentional.


September 1991 - March 1994

The Human Nature Review
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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