The word encounter designates the coming together of two elements, fortuitous or not, that are going to have an impact on each other. This notion is central to the theories of Piera Aulagnier, as it correlates to potentiality (psychotic potentiality). "To live is to experience in a continuous way what results from the situation of encounter," she wrote in 1975 (p. 2).
The notion of encounter in the wider sense of the word for psychoanalysis concerns everything that has the character of an event, when it seems as if it is not predetermined. Nevertheless, Freud had demonstrated that an event has no sense and meaning, except as a part of a preexisting structure. Therefore the event never has a purely objective meaning, even if it results from an encounter that comes from the outside. Such an event has, in fact, already been shaped by the psyche according to mnemonic traces anterior to the encounter. Piera Aulagnier, however, accorded the notion of encounter a more fundamental meaning, that of a permanent rapport established between the body and the psyche, or between the subject's psyche and that of the mother. The relation between the psyche and the world is born at the time of the primordial event of the encounter.
Aulagnier opted to situate the inaugural encounter at the beginnings of the rapport between the mouth and the breast, a prototype of what she called the "complementary object-zone" (1975/2001, p. 19). "At the moment when the mouth meets the breast it meets and swallows a first mouthful of the world" (p. 15). The representation that the psyche has of itself will be a function of further encounters, either the encounter of the psyche with the body, on the one hand, or with the productions of the maternal psyche on the other. Nevertheless, every encounter confronts psychic activity with an overload of information, up to the point where whatever was unrecognized returns to refute the representation (for example, the frustration of the real breast being missing, when a presence of the breast has been hallucinated).
This shows why the notion of encounter has been a useful one: It is opposed, in fact, to representations of the mother/infant relation in terms of fusion or dyad. Piera Auglagnier, on the contrary, affirmed that in the two psychic spaces, that of the mother and of the child, "the same object, the same experience of encounter will be inscribed by using two forms of writing and two heterogeneous relational schemata" (1975/2001, p. 15).
The notion of the "encounter" is also a necessary complement of "potentiality", since it is precisely on the occasion of the encounter that potentiality can be actualized. In this context it is close to the notion of the event, when the latter is thought of as a triggering cause. However, in the context of psychosis, Aulagnier proposed a more specific definition of encounter: "The passage from a potential state of identificatory conflict to one that is manifest can result from an encounter that takes place long after childhood is past; an encounter between the subject and another, to whom is imputed the same power, which in childhood was exerted by actors in a reality scene of such a nature that it was not internalized at the time" (1984).
It is evident that the notion of encounter allows Aulagnier to avoid any overly strict determinism, one that would isolate a particular moment, in the subject or family environment, to account for its later psychic destiny.
In one of her last writings, dating from 1990, and so liable to serve as a conclusion, she remarked: "The essence of the relation of cause and effect in the psyche . . . is that it is the effect alone that can make a cause of the event. Now this effect is not fixed once and for all; it is itself the effect of an encounter, to be recalled, renegotiated, reinterpreted by future experiences. Only over the course of a long and arduous work of reinterpretation of lived experiences and past traces can a current experience reactualize things, or the I transform its past—to make of it the source and cause of its present" (1992 ).
Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor
See also: Alienation; L'Apprenti-historien et le Maître-sorcier. Du discours identifiant au discours délirant [Apprentice historian and the master sorcerer, the]; Ideational representation; Pictogram; Primal, the; Psychotic potential.
Aulagnier, Piera. (1984). L'Apprenti-historien et le Maîtresorcier. Du discours identifiant au discours délirant. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
——. (1992 ). Voies d'entrée dans la psychose. Topique, 49. 7-29.
——. (2001). Violence of Interpretation: From Pictogram to Statement. (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). East Sussex Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge. (Original work published 1975).
Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1998). Penser la psychose. Une lecture de l'oeuvre de Piera Aulagnier. Paris: Dunod.
en·coun·ter / enˈkoun(t)ər/ • v. [tr.] unexpectedly experience or be faced with (something difficult or hostile): we have encountered one small problem. ∎ meet unexpectedly and confront (an adversary): the soldiers encountered a crowd of demonstrators. ∎ meet (someone) unexpectedly. • n. an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something. ∎ a confrontation or unpleasant struggle: his close encounter with death.