Dialogue between Gordon Lawrence and Claudio Neri (28.06.03)

C.N.: I think it will be appropriate to our conversation to start with a dream I had this night, I don’t think I remember it very well but in any case there were a number of paintings, maybe there were five or six paintings something like that. Around this number, they were let’s say contemporary paintings most probably they were what we call abstract paintings but not in the style of lets say Pollock or other Italian artists like Afro but more with the… I don’t know the English word for it but – campite of colour.
G.L.: Oh yes.

C.N.:  There were like strips of colours, different layers of colour.

G.L.:  Were they defined strips, like an American painter. You know, that fuse together?

C.N.: No, it was a very large brush, I think with colours in a horizontal line, like a landscape in someway, and the part was if a frame would be appropriate for this painting, so I thought not, that the style of the painting was such that it was better without the frame. I remember that one of these paintings was a rectangular painting quite a large one, with a wide rectangular one with a horizontal base, rather large, and maybe there was another painting at the second floor. For that one maybe a frame would be adequate.

G.L.:  The second floor, meaning the second floor of the house?

C.N.: The second floor of the house, yes. I came back to one part of our conversation of yesterday, maybe it was the main part for me of all our conversation, because at a certain point we were speaking about Social Dreaming and we were saying, you were saying that in your mind, you thought that it would be a good context, you would like to put Social Dreaming not in the context of California style words western coast or soul movement or flowers movement, or things like that but more in the context of your tradition of thinking.

G.L.:  Reality.

C.N.: Reality. I was very impressed by two parts. Two of many parts that you were saying. First of all the fact that your idea was very well connected with operative tools or settings, in the sense that I was asking you about the things which I better understood yesterday, is not a way of a further understanding of what was happening or had happened in the previous Social Dreaming session, but a way of continuing the work. They are not one over the other but they are in continuity, you continue the work through, so I was impressed by the fact through this very simple matter that you introduce a form of discussion that is very traditional, let’s say the introduction of a theme and a free discussion about this theme. So, that was the first part, and then the second which seems rather contradictory with my dream in someway, because I think we have a shared concern, so I will now explain what in short terms the concern is. From one hand a problem with Social Dreaming is the fact that Social Dreaming as a movement, as a cultural movement is that if there are not definitions, or if the field is not in some way delimitated everybody can call any experience a Social Dreaming experience and call himself a Social Dreaming conductor let’s say. It is not a problem of copyright but the problem is that in this case the specifity of the matter will be lost, and will convey a misleading idea because it will propose an idea that the Social Dreaming conductor is a simple and easy task that everyone can easily perform and so you just sit there with other people and tell dreams, and that’s all. That is from one hand, even the problem to clarify is not very easy to delimitate it, the solutions are not very easy because I think that we both agree on the fact to build up a school or an institution will complicate everything and perhaps it is not in the spirit of Social Dreaming itself. So I remember, that maybe some training will be necessary at a certain point. So I think that for example myself, I should not like to be too much involved in it because I have too much training and too much work as a trainer in my life.  When we met last time in Rome, one of our assumptions was that maybe a good idea would be to make some strong points from a theoretical and technical point of view, which could be a reference and in someway have some function as a school or an institution.  And now, I’m sorry to make such a long speech, but I think it’s useful to clarify my dream, and a point that we made was that yesterday when you were speaking about the context, the framework of Social Dreaming I better understood that in general it would be a good idea to speak about all what is around the Social Dreaming and not so much about Social Dreaming in itself, because the central point, the core of Social Dreaming is in someway the fact that it has no aim, it is unsaturated in someway, and so it is better to define what is around more than what is inside the context. In someway this dream seems to contradict the fact.

G.L.:  Well, I think your dream in a way describes the abstract painting, the surreal painting.  Dream is dreaming as it is right? Dreams go on all the time, and it seems to me that we have one frame for looking at dreams, which is the psychoanalytic frame, which is perfectly viable, I believe in it. I think that what I did was to look for another frame on the second floor, which was the frame of Social Dreaming. So to make the distinctions clear, the psychoanalytic dream is interested in the content dream, whereas Social Dreaming is interested in the form of the dream.  The other distinction is that the psychoanalytic dream tends, note that I’m saying tends to be narcissistic; it’s about the individual, whereas Social Dreaming tends to use the socialistic. In other words whereas the first dreaming is about the individual the second dreaming, Social Dreaming is about people working together.
So I think that’s one point, and of course the thing is setting the frame for Social Dreaming, I had to struggle with the frame for psychoanalytic dreaming. In a sense I found myself constructing what Faraday called a Faraday’s cage. In other words that I had to construct in my mind a boundary so that I could look at what was going on in Social Dreaming. In this way I kept the “interference” of any other form of dreaming, particularly psychoanalytic, I kept it at bay, I kept it, I held it so to speak, I held it constant. So that Social Dreaming by having this Faraday’s cage, which is a metaphor around it, was able to explore what Social Dreaming might be. The idea of might be is terribly important, because I think that Social Dreaming twenty years ago is not very different, but is different from what it is now. Because one begins to see the depth in Social Dreaming, which I didn’t see before, it’s a process of education, right? I think this idea of the Faraday cage is important, now I think it is part of the construction of a Faraday cage I said it’s a matrix, now this was a guess, an intuition to put it friendlier. It was a guess made that it had not to be a group, because psychoanalysis has led to group… to group therapy and so forth, and I wanted another ground base for the dreaming. So I chose matrix, because matrix is the web of unconscious feelings, which connects everybody. While this matrix is operating we learn to conduct ourselves using special, no not special, using selected bits of the matrix.  In other words in a group we know there’s always a matrix, but in fact the group has got its task, its got its work etc…And so people focus on that aspect in order to relate in a group. I just want to hold on to the idea, which I very stubbornly, obdurately held on to, that it’s a matrix it’s not a group, because I think that if it had been a Social Dreaming group it would have taken quite a different direction. But by keeping it a matrix it had to find its own direction.

C.N.:  I understand, I’m listening to you.

G.L.:  So I think that was the first thinking that I did fifteen – twenty years ago.  I think also that as you rightly say I didn’t want Social Dreaming to become a cult movement, I didn’t want that at all, for it to become like the west coast of America to use your analogy, and I wanted Social Dreaming to be grounded in the reality of work and the reality of ones intellect. Now the reason I chose work was probably because of my background in that I have never worked face to face with individuals in a therapeutic or analytic situation it’s not been my mètier. My mètier has been to work with companies and organizations and so forth. So therefore the idea that Social Dreaming could illuminate the life in the company was one hypothesis I had.
Which has been substantial.

C.N.: Yes but maybe before going to that, I think that I would like you to explain a little more about what you mean by group, because yesterday you were talking to me about your experience at Tavistock with Pierre Tourquet and the fact that at a certain point you realized that the term group could be used as a terrorist act, I would like to understand more about that, as you know I am mainly a group psychotherapist and so I can’t follow you so easily on your way of differentiating matrix from the group, and giving the best place to matrix.

G.L.:  Well the best place, the matrix in Social Dreaming.

C.N.: In Social Dreaming, but I think that in any case, I think it is a little bit behind your lines.  I think it is better to go step by step, and as you took the group as a term of reference to discuss this part.

G.L.:  I think the reason for the rejection of a Social Dreaming group because there are such things, you know the journey idea. People run groups on the life journey, and they run dreaming groups on the life journey and so that becomes the focus of the group, but part of that is the face to face relationship in the here and now of the group. I think it’s perfectly valid to do that, but my point was something along the lines of, I didn’t want to look at relationships I wanted to look at the dream, and how the dream would connect people as opposed to a relationship connecting us plus the dream. It was the other way round; it was the dream as it were holding the relationships in mind. I think that the guess was right, because I think that in a Social Dreaming matrix the focus is always on the dream and on the form of the dream, and not on the content of the dream. I think that the dream becomes more important than anything else in that particular matrix. In other words it doesn’t matter it seems to me what the relationship is between me as the taker, because that’s a fairly neutral term and the members of the matrix, I don’t think that’s relevant, now you may argue what about the transference?

C.N.: No, I don’t want to argue about the transference, I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in another part. I think that if we want to work on it we have to try to have a better understanding of the first part, because I think I understand pretty well when you say that you are interested in dreams and not in the dreamer. Still, I am interested in groups and let’s take this first part. Social Dreaming and group therapy are two different fields, but we can discuss both taking them in different fields.

G.L.: And one is not better than another.

C.N.: One is not better than another, they are just different.

G.L.: They’re different

C.N.: Yes, but in any case I think that we can discuss both. I got the feeling that, let’s put it in this way, can a group kill someone? A small group, apparently in England, let’s take an example, there was a group of people from Oxford, very intelligent people from Oxford – Cambridge who made the work for the communists, and they were very connected to each other and then they killed each other, I had a very nice book about that. I don’t remember the name of the book but it was very well written. I can find out, I have it in my home. So, let’s say that there is a black part not only of the mass, the large group, the mass, like we know from war and from fascism and nazism, but also a black part of small groups, of people very connected to each other and with strong relationships, friendly relationships, sometimes homosexual or heterosexual, which can lead one or sometimes all the members of the group to die or to commit suicide. Another example was a group of painters, which I met in Rome during the sixties and they were very talented, but most of them died either through suicide or through drug addiction or so on or so forth… just a few have survived. So, I think that in the small groups, it can happen that at a certain point the black part of the group becomes prominent. I am very interested to discuss this point, because as a group therapist I don’t see it very often, maybe it’s my fourth, I don’t see it very often because in fact I think that they are too powerful forces to be faced in group psychotherapy. My function as a conductor is to promote a friendly milieu and not to evoke such terrible forces. I’m fully aware that they may exist. I would like you to comment on this.

G.L.: I think you’re right in that there is a black side of groups, and perhaps in training groups, in therapeutic groups one only glimpses the black face, but if you go outside and work with artists etc… You can see it, and you can see it at work. Now I assume that it is some kind of basic assumption behaviour right?  Which is, as it were overpowers the work group, overpowers what could be done. I think if we take the training group and the therapeutic group, I’d think that they can be benign in the way that you’re describing, all about good relationships, presenting the best side of each individual to each other, but they can as it were switch and become quite tyrannous, and I think the tyranny of groups can be seen in, for example a top management team in a company where the leader or the chairman or the top manager is made into somebody who is quite totalitarian. Notice how I’m saying  “made into” he may not be, he may have a propensity for that, but the others are calling it out in him, why are they calling it out in him? Because they want certainty. So he has to decide everything, and he decides everything in quite a ruthless way, sacks people etc… But then after a while they sort of say, “wait a minute what’s going on”? And they withdraw the authority and this has happened in company after company. So I think the totalitarian state of mind, which one can have in some managers, is a phenomenon certainly since the eighties, with Mrs Thatcher in Britain, I mean that became a recognized way of doing it. Now we’re having the social factor in America and in Britain; that top people in for example public companies get an enormous sum of money and enormous pensions, but meanwhile the workers that produce the profit get less and less. They get less than they deserve. So there is a factor of separation between the top and the bottom, I think it’s becoming wider. So while the top individual will get a pension for himself and even for his wife, who has nothing to do with the company, the worker is very often losing his pension contribution, and gets no pension. So, I think that this idea of groups being tyrannous is one that I certainly want to hold on to. Of course it will be basic assumption behaviour, I have no problem with that, but equally they can be benign, which again is basic assumption behaviour because in a way it’s ospurious loving. The reality of course is somewhere in-between the benign and the tyrannous, and that’s when in fact everybody is in touch with reality, external reality, which isn’t being distorted. Whereas in the tyrannous group the external reality is distorted and in the benign group the external reality is distorted. When you’re in the middle so to speak, I think the complexity of the environment is taken into account, it’s not split, I think that’s the way I would see it at the moment.

C.N.: I would like to tell you something about my ideas and how I behave in group psychotherapy. I think that in someway, in these regards I follow the ideas of Hobbes, that in the group psychotherapy the analyst should have a sort of monopoly of violence, in the sense of not acting it, but in the sense that he is the only person that can in someway for his position represent the violence and propose the existing violence, and in someway taking in regards to himself. So, pretty often I try to deal with this black part of the group, because before I said that my aim is to provide a benign environment, but I think you can’t provide a benign environment denying the black part. You have to deal with it. Let’s say in two ways at least.  First of all it’s a sort of rather continuous representation of the violence a sort of thèatre macabre, which provides for groups the images, which can connect them with the effects of a violence and connect it back to bodies.  The second point is the use of what I call the hiperbolies, I think that you can’t contrast the violence you can just let it grow and grow and grow representing it, till it changes in its opposite.  There was quite an interesting man who was trapped in that in Russia, who said “peccando” which is when you do something wrong in a religious sense, sins till the salvation. So, I think that in someway there is a part for this black part, there is a part of this black part in the small group, and it’s what we call the destructive part of a group. I don’t think as much as you that it is a basic assumption behaviour only. Because of course I think there is a basic assumption but I think at the point when the basic assumption has taken place you can’t do anything, you have to act before to take your steps before in order to not let it prevail. Now I want to quote a very important Italian anthropologist: De Martino, and enter in another part about this violence. For De Martino the real problem of our present society is not so much that there is violence, which is a part of human nature but the fact that there aren’t rituals, which can in someway give a context to the violence, a ritual context to deal, to process the violence. I think that it’s rather important.  But maybe now we can go back to Social Dreaming. Can we say that sometimes a group can be more than a group, a gang?

G.L.: Yes, it can be a gang there’s no doubt about it. I want to hold on to something you said which was that if the group is benign then the taker or the conductor has to will himself or herself into recognizing the opposite. I mean just to hold on to it, silently of course, so that the total is in fact more realistic or worth like that, and I take it that it’s about holding on to the opposite, but not putting it forward, you’re waiting for it to develop.

C.N.: Now I come to another point that you made before to which I fully agree. I think that there is a very strong link between the fear of chaos and violence. Violence comes about everytime that the fear of chaos is prominent, at the same time if you don’t go through chaotic phases you don’t progress and there is no creativity.

G.L.:  Well, I think that the matrix celebrates chaos, why? Because of the free association. I mean free association is terribly chaotic, but also terribly liberating, you know it’s always the opposites. I mean if you’re free associating you’re living in a world that whatever passes through your mind gets voiced. Now that means that you’re not monitoring it, you’re not controlling it, you’re just letting it happen, and that is totally against western industrial culture.

C.N.: Yes. I agree with you, and I would like to say something more about this point. When Christopher Bollat was in Rome, he said something very interesting in these regards.  He said that there are two fields, or you can see two fields in the psychoanalytical work, one which is the relationship between conscious and unconscious and preconscious and the basic tool is free associations, and how to obtain free association or how the process of free associating is, the other one being the transference, counter-transference relationship. I think with Bollat, that in psychoanalysis too much attention has been given to the relationship transference, counter- transference, instead the main point or maybe we just have to return to that, is how a patient can connect to his rapport of himself which is creative, not yet developed, and that is true of free associations.
I fully agree with this point, but now I would like you to say something more about the concept of free association in itself, what is your opinion about it. Otherwise you can get the idea that free-associating is something that happens, and it keeps happening without your Faraday cage for example, or without the connection between different minds. I don’t think it would be possible because if there is not someone or a situation that allows you to free associate, after a while you stop.

G.L.:  I mean, free association, and I think Bollat has written a quite brilliant little book on free association, is essential for Social Dreaming, of course it’s essential for dreaming, I accept that. But, you notice, the group that we did in Rome, you know in the nunnery where the acoustics were terrible, and I was in despair because all these people, first of all I couldn’t arrange the chairs as I wanted them, because people moved the chairs, I can never understand why people move chairs before they sit down, anyway I really was in despair because nobody, and it’s an exaggeration, few people were able to associate. Why? And my hypothesis was that they were frightened to associate, even though they knew that was the work, because their fantasy was that other people would be saying “well that’s not a very good association” etc… In other words they were imposing a constraint on themselves, which was the other people in the room.  Now, I don’t think that it’s a wild hypothesis but it was the hypothesis I had. As I say, I felt very much in despair because people would talk about the dreams but I couldn’t get them to associate to the dream. So therefore the taker or the host or whatever we want to call them, certainly not the consultant because that implies authority, the taker should ideally help to lead into association, to say “association is fine, don’t worry about what you associate about,” which is in fact a destruction of free association.  So, and the matrix, by choosing this term matrix, I was wanting to meilleur the very processes of dreaming in a daily setting as opposed to a nightly setting, in a daily setting where it would further enhance dreaming. So as you know that the free association can lead into a dream, lead into other dreams, in other words the free association can spark off memories of dreams. That seems to me to be perfectly valid, and the memories of dreams, maybe the memory of a dream that I had as a child that I’ve remembered all these years, that dream will spark off other dreams, spark off other dream associations, that will spark off other dream associations, that makes it seem very mechanical but that’s the way it seems to me it happens. But to go back to what you were talking about, the group conductor, holding onto, or not actually talking about it, holding onto or being aware of the opposite of what the salient culture of the group is, I think that in a matrix the taker has to hold onto the opposite. The taker recognizes that the matrix has moved into another phase, which is really a collective defence against the idea of dreaming and the idea of free association. In other words I’m talking about a very intellectual discussion, which happens very rarely, that would seem to me to be destructive of the knowledge that is embedded in dreaming and free association. Knowledge, which will be unknown, in other words it keeps it in the realms of the known. I’ll tell you about this, or I know about that, as opposed to I don’t know about this, let’s explore it.  It’s a different posture, mental posture. Does that make sense?

C.N.: Yes, it makes sense because it came to me, it’s very nice association let’s say. Once I saw a mise en scène of King Lear, and the scene of King Lear opened with a large white tissue over the stall,(?) which closed the stall, and then someone broke the tissue(?) in three pieces, and as you well know that is the main hypothesis of the hybris(?) of Lear, the hybris of Lear being to out turn in pieces his kingdom making three different pieces. The point that comes back to me is then the position of Cordelia. Lear asks Cordelia to say thank you to him, to be grateful, to say to him how much she loves him, Cordelia remains silent. Again Lear takes it as an outrage and is offended, triggered. I had a very nice book about need, from a sociologist, an English sociologist, I can’t remember now, he says that the main point is that you can’t ask something that is supposed to be coming from spontaneity, by force. So Cordelia could only say hypocritical words in this situation, and she couldn’t really say what she had in her heart, because the situation proposed by Lear was a very large kingly situation, in which you have to say very appropriate things.

G.L.: A quick association is that Lear and Cordelia and the other daughter and the son in law and so on, were acting in a group formation, it was all about what they did as a family group. And, when he asked the question and gets the hypocritical answer.

C.N.: From the other two sisters.

G.L.: Yes, I mean, they were responding in group terms as opposed to what they really felt which would be a matrix.

C.N.: Yes, now I come to myself. Sometimes dreams come to me, sometimes not, I think that you can’t force them, you have to accept that they are in relationship with your life in general, and that sometimes they are more in the daylight and sometimes more during the dreams, sometimes dreams are hidden, and you have to accept that they are hidden and sometimes there is just a dialogue between you and your dream. In this sense I think that dreaming is an important part of mental life, which is connected to all the other parts, it’s not a part that can be separated from the others. I think that free associations are in some way the same, they can appear or not, you cannot ask people to free associate, ok you can propose it, that’s the general frame, but then the only thing you can do is promote the condition.

G.L.: Yes, provide the condition.

C.N.: Provide the condition, I think that in the situation in which I participated in the matrix, you were too concerned. Perhaps because most of the people taking part were psychotherapists, the feeling as a participant, I was a particular participant because I was in relationship with René Kaes and I was translating for him in French, so I was not so free to participate in myself because I had to take this relationship with him, but the feeling is that nothing would be good for you.

G.L.:  I see.

C.N.: So that, whenever the people were starting to feel more at ease you would say “no, it’s not good enough” or “it’s not..”

G.L.: I never said that.

C.N.: No you never said it. But you don’ t have to say that in order for people to understand that. So I think in fact there was some resistance to free associate as you say, but in someway I think that if an association has to be free you have to accept that, if it comes it comes freely, you will welcome everything that comes. I think that sometimes everything goes fine but sometimes the Faraday cage does not work so well, and other feelings can come into the stage. I got the feeling that you came because you had a relationship with me and other people, but you wouldn’t like to work so much with group psychotherapists. All the situation was not a happy one as the other, when we were in such a difficult situation with the students, in a very small room, you were perfectly at ease. I can’t say anything more about that but my feeling is that free association, I would like to point out, if there are factors, which allow to trigger the free association process. Sometimes, at certain points, it starts and maybe during the interaction, a certain factor comes into the field like an enzyme and then the process goes on.

G.L.: Yes, I’m sure you’re right, and I suppose my silence is about wondering what the factors could be, or are. And because of my particular stance, in that I say, I provide the conditions so let them do what they will. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but these are relative terms, it’s not absolute “it works” “it doesn’t work”; I mean it’s just a gradation.

C.N.: That brings us back to what we can call “role”, and I would like to say som