Dream-Like Memory

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Psychic reality is the subject of psychoanalysis. It is important to distinguish psychic from external reality, which we perceive through our senses. Wilfred R. Bion refers to psychic reality as O. In his 1970 work Attention and Interpretation he focused attention on the necessity for analysts to actively disengage from anything that might saturate their minds with sense data or elements rooted in sensorial data, in order to free the mind for psychic reality as much as possible. However, this psychic reality has no sensorial qualities as such, even though it must use sensorial forms to represent itself: anxiety has no color, no taste, no smell. He therefore suggested that analysts be "without memory or desire" because memory and desire are linked to sensorial elements and if analyst's minds remain attached to these elements they are no longer available to receive the unknown, the mystery, that is, to be in contact with O.

Bion distinguished, however, between two forms of memory: "recalled memory" which corresponds to the usual conception of memory, what we know in advance, what we can remember consciously about an event or a person, about the patient who comes for the session, for example; and the "dreamlike memory" that springs into the analyst's mind in the course of the session, without any conscious effort at recollection. This second type of memory is the form that psychic reality takes in order to be representable in the here and now of the session. It has nothing to do with remembering events from the past: "Recalled memory saturates the psychoanalyst's preconceptions and obscures the goals to the single point where clarity of judgment coincides with the field where it is exercised: the ongoing session [. . .]. Dream-like memory is the memory of psychic reality and is the stuff of analysis" (Bion, Wilfred R., 1970, p. 70).

Wilfred R. Bion went a step further when he declared that the aim of analysis is not only a knowledge of O but "becoming O," insofar as psychic reality cannot be known but only "be been." He therefore asks analysts not only to be without desire, without memory, but also without knowledge, in order to promote in so far as possible this "becoming O" that he calls "evolution."

Didier Houzel

See also: Attention; Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht; Transformations.


Bion, Wilfred R. (1970). Attention and interpretation. London: Tavistock Publications.

Grinberg, León, Sor, Dario, and Tabak de Bianchedi, Elizabeth. (1991). New introduction to the work of Bion. North-vale, NJ-London: Jason Aronson, 1993.

Symington, Joan, and Symington, Neville. (1996). The clinical thinking of Wilfred Bion. London: Routledge.