The relationship of “psychoanalysis and language” was in the center of many theoretical and clinical discussions ever since Sigmund Freud (1917) had declared the following:
Nothing takes place in a psycho-analytic treatment but an interchange of words between the patient and the analyst. The patient talks, tells of his past experiences and presents impressions, complains, confesses his wishes and his emotional impulses. The doctor listens, tries to direct the patient’s processes of thought, exhorts, forces his attention in certain directions, gives him explanations and observes the reaction of understanding or rejection which he in this way provokes in him. (p. 17)
In contrast to the clear recognition of psychoanalysis as discursive activityas Lacan (1953) espouses it succinctly-for quite a time the main stream activity on the relation of psychoanalysis and language was focused on Freud’s theory of symbols. Language and the development of the ego was a favorite topic in the New York study group on linguistics (Edelheit, 1968). As Freud had developed his own rather idiosyncratic way of understanding symbols, some conceptual work with the different usage of the term symbol had to be done. Victor Rosen (1969) in his paper on “Sign Phenomena and Their Relationship to Unconscious Meaning” demonstrates that the work of the psychoanalyst can be conceptualized as a process of differentiating conventional symbols from sign phenomena. Understanding meaning by common sense has to be completed by understanding the additional unconscious meaning any concrete piece of verbal material may carry. The technical rule for the analyst of evenly hovering attention is directed to just this process. Listening to his patient’s associations the analyst receives the
conventional meaning of what he listens to. Suspending his reaction to this level of meaning he then tries to understand potential meanings beyond the everyday meaning. By interpreting the analyst usually uses a perspective that is not immediate in his patient’s view.