Representation occurs where something (or somebody) stands for something which is not present. In democratic societies the elected representative stands for the electorate. When the interests of a group or faction are represented, we talk of its having a voice or a public face. One of the main causes of social problems is that the existence or needs of a subgroup are not recognised because they are not represented.

In the inner world of the individual, representation takes the form of symbolisation. Emotions and experiences which are unconscious  can be processed by means of symbolisation of which the main form is language. Whenever something is unrepresentable,  i.e. symbolisation cannot occur, there are only two possibilities: it becomes an event in the body (somatisation) or it gets evacuated in the form of projection or acting-out.

The unrepresentable – that which cannot be symbolised for whatever reason – is what Bion refers to as beta elements. Alpha function is the name he gives to the capacity for symbolic thinking, without which experience cannot be processed. Enabling this is the main function of the mother and of the psychoanalyst where this has originally failed.

Computer technology and the Internet, amongst other things, have contributed to a quasi-psychotic, organisational mentality which denies meaning and reduces everything to behaviour. As a result, health services, education systems and social services operate more and more like a military machine where the needs and welfare of the service-users are sacrificed to mindless targets of efficiency.

Not only does this result in increasing neglect and abuse of those most in need of care and protection, but it seeks to destroy and outlaw the therapeutic facilities and emotional responsiveness which is the only thing which can remedy the situation.

How is this vicious circle to be broken?

J.F. Miller: Biographical Notes

J.F. Miller has an M.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from Oxford. He originally trained as a Jungian analyst under people who were colleagues of C.G. Jung, but subsequently developed a post-Kleinian orientation under the tutelage of Dr Donald Meltzer. His earlier experience included teaching, educational psychology and consultancy work in residential institutions (including a year in Norway). He has been for over 25 years in private practice in Oxford, mainly in adult psychoanalysis but also in family and couple work. He is the author of The Triumphant Victim (Karnac Books 2013) which examines how analytical insight into sadomasochism in individuals provides understanding of perverse trends and mindlessness in Society at large. He is a Training Analyst and member of the International Association for Analytical Psychology.