Tobias Max Pollard Jenkins
W.R. Bion and Literary Modernism
My research is a medical humanities project, focused on the late, literary writing of the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion. Highly regarded for his work into the psychoanalytic understanding of psychosis, my research argues that an appreciation of Bion’s late, literary output is essential for a full and comprehensive understanding of the psychoanalyst’s work.
Bion consistently sought new ways to better communicate the unfolding emotional reality of a psychoanalytic session; he broke decisively with accepted conventions of clinical writing, such as the extended case history, to produce a series of increasingly formally experimental texts more capable of conveying his mature theories. Accordingly, my project recentres Bion’s critically neglected psychoanalytic ‘science fiction’ novel “A Memoir of the Future” as the culmination of his career-long investigation into psychotic states of mind and their psychotherapeutic treatment. Moreover, by examining the ways in which he employs his own experiences in the Memoir—notably those as a tank commander on the Western Front—my project addresses important questions about the complex interrelationship between personal memoir, clinical theory and experimental style within Bion’s writing.
In addition to examining how it can illuminate Bion’s clinical thought, my research also interrogates the Memoir’s status as a piece of late modernist literature in its own right. The Memoir has historically been eschewed by both psychoanalysts—protesting its obscurity as a clinically irrelevant text—and literary historians—for whom Bion’s relevance lies only in his peripheral relation to Samuel Beckett as the playwright’s one-time psychotherapist. Taking its impetus from the New Modernist Studies’ ongoing expansion of the field beyond its traditional temporal and spatial boundaries, my work addresses this deficit in the literature—identifying Bion’s interest as a globally mobile writer/theoretician, deeply engaged with the legacies of high modernism.