Bion describes himself as a curious child. He certainly seems to have asked some curious questions. Take this for example from his autobiography The Long Weekend:
“Is golden syrup really gold?” – with my mother, and later with my father, but without being satisfied by either. I concluded that my mother didn’t
really know; though she tried very hard she seemed as puzzled
as I was. It was more complicated with my father; he would start
but seemed to tire when I did not understand the explanation…. The climax came when I asked my question about golden syrup for the‘hundredth time’. He was very angry. “Wow!” said my sister appreciatively.”
One can hear oedipal material in Bion’s questioning relation to his parents and perhaps an even earlier omnipotent competitive quality (“Wow!” says his sister - you finally managed to make father the childish one, Bravo!). That said, what is it that cannot be understood? Far from asking for an explanation, might Bion be picking up that there is something actually puzzling in the thinking he is questioning - syrup/gold - a category mistake? Something about the relation between the concrete and the symbolic? Many years later Bion comments about Galileo that he was unusually aware of a lack of coherence in the ‘facts’ accounting for the accelaration of falling bodies. Whilst for most of his contemporaries the ‘facts’ presented no problem. Reading Bion’s account of his childhood one begins to sense that he was possibly unusually aware of ‘conceptual problems’ for want of a better term. Perhaps in a somewhat analogous way to that of children who have a musical sensitivity.
Clinical Seminars Brasilia 1975
In the 70’s Bion conducted two series of clinical seminars: 24 in Brasilia in 1975, and 28 in Sao Paulo in 1978. In by far the majority of them the first thing Bion says, after the presenter’s opening remarks, involves a question. Here are two examples:
The presenter reports that the patient said ““Why did I come here if I am sleepy? I should stay at home to sleep. I don’t come here to sleep”. Between each phrase she was silent. I said nothing. After a longer silence she asked, “Why do I come here?””…
Bion: … If you ask her, “Why did you come
here?”, then she can say that is what she is asking you. So I think I
should simply leave it and say to her, “You have posed the question;
perhaps later on you will be able to say what the answer is!”, or simply
say, “You have posed the question”. I would rather leave her the
chance of saying what the answer is when she has found it.
(Clinical Seminars 1975, p.14)
Presenter: The patient, who had been absent for a few sessions before
this one, came into the consulting room and sat in the chair. She
remained silent and appeared to be suffering some sort of anxiety.
I told her that I sensed her anxiety and that she was consequently
experiencing some difficulty.
Bion: Why did you say that to her?
P: I sensed an atmosphere of tension and anxiety, almost physically.
B: I was wondering why you felt it was necessary to mention it
to the patient. I am not suggesting that you should or should not; I
am merely wondering why you did.
P: It came to my mind, and I felt it was interesting to show it
B: But why? I am not suggesting for a single moment that I am
asking you some simple question.
P: I don’t know how to answer it.
B: I think you are quite right, but it is a matter of some consequence
because otherwise one gets into a habit of thinking that the
important thing is to say something to the patient. But you were there
and you saw her. I am therefore interested to know why you thought
it important to tell her what you did. However, let’s leave it aside and
see what happened.
It’s tough stuff being supervised by Bion! We hear him working to open up the questions raised by the patient, by the patient’s very presence, and in relation to ‘habits’ the analyst might have. The questions ‘what is analysis’ and ‘why is the patient in it’ are fundamental. We see Bion’s determination to not allow himself (or the presenter) be put in the position of being the ‘answer’. Bion wants to support the patient’s questions - not answer them.
Author of Bion 365 Quotes 2019