John Steiner is one of the most influential figures in contemporary Kleinian literature. His book Psychic Retreats: Pathological Organizations in Psychotic, Neurotic and Borderline Patients (1993) adopts a Kleinian approach to psychotic, borderline and neurotic patients’ patients who are “stuck” in pathological organizations.
Steiner’s new book Illusion, Disillusion, and Irony in Psychoanalysis (2013) investigates and broadens the role of illusion and daydreaming in everyday life and in psychoanalysis. Steiner shows that the need to withdraw into a world of illusions so as to create our personal Garden of Eden is “precisely what many of our patients do and the same is true of course for all of us since we are all patients and all have serious problems with reality”. In his use of clinical examples and the literary works of Sophocles, Milton, Ibsen, Keates, Cervantes Shakespeare and many others Steiner is exploring in depth the influence that encountering reality has on idealized illusions and unavoidable disillusions follow that encounter.
Idealized phantasies which involve a timeless universe inevitably lead to the pain of disillusion in the face of reality which introduces an awareness of time ageing, and eventually death. If the illusions are recognized as phantasies rather than fact the ideal can be internalized as a symbol and serve as a measure of excellence.
Steiner shows why it is important to recognize the cruelty of truth as well as the deceptive nature of illusion and that relinquishing omnipotence is a critical and difficult developmental task that is relived in the analysis. Understanding a patient’s withdrawal into a phantasy world and the struggle to allow the impact of reality is one of the main objectives of psychoanalytic therapy.
Steiner also presents a clear stance of therapeutic relations. He calls for "a balanced view which requires the therapist to identify, then to withdraw to observe, and then with a modified hypothesis to identify once more in repetitive cycles that hopefully inch towards a greater understanding. Both ways of relating to the patient are essential and complementary and the problem is to find ways to move flexibly and repeatedly between the two.
In our conversation with John Steiner we will discuss the ideas in his latest book as well as contemporary Kleinian psychanalysis and Steiner’s own view of psychoanalytic therapy.
John Steiner is a training analyst of the British Psychoanalytical Society, and the author of Psychic Retreats (1993) and Seeing and Being Seen (2011). He has also edited and written introductions to The Oedipus Complex Today (1989), Papers by Hanna Segal (1997), Essays on Herbert Rosenfeld (2008), and Melanie Klein’s Lectures on Technique (2017).
The book is available for purchase at a special price in the following link
Participation is free of charge but requires registration in advance.