A D R I A N  S T O K E S


Symposium Paper 1994

by Eric Rhode

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SUMMARY. Both Bion and Stokes, as patients of Mrs Klein, evolved fascinating theories out of Mrs Klein’s seminal discovery of the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions and the transition that can occur between the two positions.

Mrs Klein’s description of the two ways in which the neonate can respond to the world, specifically to its mother, is a theory about the role love plays in the evolution of mind. Her theory of the depressive position is a theory about the perception acquired through love for someone to perceive the beloved as other than itself and to regret damage it thinks to have done to the beloved while in paranoid schizoid disarray; it is a theory about the relationship between love and mental development; and it proposes that disinterested love is the mainspring of mental development.

Bion’s theory of the selected fact is described in Learning from Experience, which was published in 1962. His more recently published Cogitations shows the extent to which he had worked out this theory. Stokes’s parallel theory of the image in form was only touched on briefly in one of his final publications.

I wish to explore the scope of Stokes’s theory in this lecture.

The shape of certain women’s hats to begin with, hats of the 1920s, whose shape fascinated the painter Bonnard. They did more than fascinate him; they reflected some integrating function in his being which enlivened the recognition of unconscious links.

Adrian Stokes writes of the hat shape that it - “approximated to the shape of the head and indeed of the breast.” He goes on to say that, ”<Bonnard> seems to co-ordinate experience largely through an unenvious and loving attitude to this form” (p.48).[1] The relationship of unenvious and loving states of mind to an ability to co-ordinate experience is important to Stokes’s definition of the image part of his definition of the image in form.

The Bonnard quotation comes from a lecture, The Image in Form, one of Stokes’s last writings, which Stokes added to the short text of Reflections on the Nude to give it some length as a book. In fact, the idea of the image in form amply rounds out a theme which had interested him for a long time.

Stokes wants to deflect his readers from the conception of form either as a structure which holds together content, or as an idealised diagram for which content is merely a pretext - this would be the Significant Form of the Bloomsbury group, which he rejected. He thought Significant Form was a patterning imposed on content, like a line around a shape.

In certain definitions (though not his) image and form mean the same thing: the pattern, perhaps some primordial pattern or generative syntax, without which the elements of meaning would be unable to generate meaning.

I believe that Stokes intends something quite other. He does not spell out this other meaning; in fact he does not give it. Rather - and this is my inference - he implies it by putting unusual weight on the word image.

Image implies the existence of the imagos : the imagos in ancient Rome being the semi-divinized ancestors who carried the family virtue, prototypes perhaps of the psychoanalytic good objects.

I want to move far away from Stokes at this point by defining good objects in terms familiar to any reader of Money-Kyrle and Meltzer as the secluded primal couple, redefined as innate benevolences in mind, within the self and yet other to the self, who gently invite the incoherent or lost infantile parts of mind into the integrating condition of light, not unlike the good as defined by Plotinus. Hopefully our actual nurturers increase our capacity to intuit the appeal of the good objects.

I think that Stokes’s definition of image also  alludes to a certain type of optical phenomena - I quote from one of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of image - “an optical appearance produced by rays of light refracted through a lens.”

This optical metaphor is suggestive of the refractions of light in the bottles of Stokes’s own paintings.

The image in form, in other words, differs from form in itself in being the element in form that induces the mysterious good-object process of integration, comparable to the power of a lens to refract rays of light. The hints, congruities, dimensions and intimacies that modify the artist’s thought in daily life are refracted into a coherence which is only in part visual, the image in form, something that is intuited rather than seen.

Genuine form, for Stokes, haunts the mind of the observer of a work of art as an abiding image because it is evident of the artist’s probity in being open to experience, open to qualities in experience which bring about the augmentation of meaning.

The image accretes experiences which are fleeting and elusive. Retrospectively it unfolds in the mind of the observer the history in intuition by which the artist came to his form.  Almost in a journey backward through time, the observer is able to intuit the means by which the artist has reached the form, by way of an image which the artist probably is not consciously aware of. Nor is it seen by the spectator: it is intuited and felt.

This is not a process of recollection. Neither artist nor the observer of the work of art are involved in acts of memory.

Someone does not reach the view that people are honest or beautiful by looking into the faces of other people and checking their faces against other faces in memory: the act of recognition involves quite different factors.

It is not an act by which the self displays to itself its mastery in recollection; this is a knowledge given to the mind by the good objects, perhaps as a token of love. When someone intuits the image in form, he does so because of mind’s probity in transaction with its unconscious good objects and not because he has checked the impression the image makes on him against other images of integrity.

Art, says Stokes, “when truly seen, is never ghostly” (p.40); it is always body-centred; and yet the image in form is a kind of haunting, or as Stokes insists, an “icon of co-ordination” (p.49): it represents an integration as well as impels it, and like an icon it is bound up with a desire for the unconscious good: a belief that the good can be embodied, and that those who intuit it can communicate with each other. 

It invites two kinds of response: attention, or part-object focus, and contemplation, which entails an ungrasping openess to the object. Stokes asserts that, “A face records more experience than its attention at the moment we look at it” (p.48). An attentive face is a face in focus; in its attending to something, it has acquired a form, almost like a strait-jacket, and anyone catching its attentive look will find their attention also sharpened.

At the same time, the face records a history which is other than this moment of attention; the face conveys the resonances of a lived-through life.

Attention appears related to needs, holdings-on, questings; contemplation with sensing a free-standing world beyond the immediate concerns of the self. To this extent, mind differs from lens that refract. In attention mind narrows and evaluates. In contemplation it takes in a panoramic view, in which aspects of the configuration assume (in Stokes’s words) a brotherly relationship to each other.

Stokes’s conception of the arrival at depressive understanding is gentler than Bion’s theory of the selected fact. Bion deals with a clinical situation. The therapist is bombarded by incoherence; she or he is unable to understand what is going on in the therapeutic situation; and then, almost as an act of grace, a certain fact becomes evident which uncovers an unconscious coherence in the disarray. Bion is vivid about the paranoid schizoid aspect of the therapist’s journey towards understanding.

Contemplating a picture is a different experience from immersing yourself in the experiences of a patient who is bombarding you with unthinkable beta elements. If the picture has beta elements in its constitution, they are unlikely to be projected into the spectator: for the most part, they will be contained. If there are bombardments in the act of appreciating a work of art, they are liable to come from within the spectator, as the spectator attacks his or her own capacity for wonder.

As I said earlier, Mrs Klein’s description of the transition possible between the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions is a theory about the capacity of love to perceive the beloved as other than itself and to regret the damage it might do; it is a theory about the relationship between love and mental development; disinterested love is the mainspring of mental development.

This understanding is implicit from the first page of Reflections on the Nude, in which Stokes considers the contrasted types of Kleinian inner-world discourse related to the two positions - that is, part-object and whole-object thinking - and the emerging of a relationship between the two types of discourse, by way of the situation that the infant enters into with its mother, both as a presence in the world and as a presence in its mind.

Stokes’s devotes the opening of Reflections on the Nude to the fact that part-object thinking can continue creatively to be contained within a capacity to experience the distinctiveness of the other. The compulsion and narrowness of interest of Bonnard’s part-object fascination with the shape of certain hats, for instance, is related to a generosity of sentiment in the painter that  draws into it a wide range of sensations and intuitions. Depressive thinking is able to contain within it paranoid schizoid preoccupations.

Stokes sees an attack in Romantic and post Romantic art against the notion of art as a means to psychic integration. It inclines towards the paranoid schizoid; in other words, it idealises incoherence, hallucinatory effects and regressions into sadism, which Stokes sees as supported by the “staccato environment” of modern cities (p.25).

Modernist art either goes along with this urban trend towards self-destruction; or it fends off against it, often heroically, with inadequate and primitive means.

The type of modernist art Stokes admires is constructivist in impulse. It puts together bits of the abandoned and wasted world with a respect for the beauty of surfaces, especially the beauty that can be arrived at by the juxtaposition of surfaces. Stokes recognizes this inclination in Cézanne, and he believes that the Cézannesque impulse to think as a constructivist prepared the sensibility of other artists for the impact of the African tribal mask, and in this way began to modify the sensibility of Western man.

When displayed in a European museum, the African tribal mask is the obverse in its hollowness to the look on a face that invites the tight focus of attention or the panoramic openness of contemplation.

Clearly the impact of the African tribal mask (on Picasso and others) plays a crucial role in motivating the constructivist impulse in Cubism and post Cubism. The paranoid schizoid grammar of this art, which is other than paranoid schizoid in effect, pushes Stokes’s towards articulating the theory of the image in form. How can something so remote from the resonances of figuration as a cubist collage in fact increase the integrations in phantasy that in origin derive from an actual experience, the feeding of the infant at the breast? I mean, how can you see a cubist collage as evidence of loving and caring feelings towards another person?

Because Stokes sees ways of handing the subject and the means by which the subject is revived as indicative of loving or unloving relationships to other people as figures in the mind. His distinction concerning the carvinga and modelling distinction is only secondarily one of technique: he is concerned with an approach. In the case of the carving distinction of an approach which releases the intrinsic good in the other as opposed to modelling distinction which would mould the other to one’s own will. By the time that he came to write about Michelangelo - as Professor Richard Wolheim has pointed out - Stokes had come to realise that the carving approach nearly always contains a modelling component and that depressive or whole-object thinking bears within it paranoid schizoid or part-object preoccupations. Like Bion he takes a less linear conception of psychic evolution than perhaps Mrs Klein does. Or rather he sees the shift back and forth between paranoid schizoid and the depressive positions as occurring within the broader thrust of mental development.

In Reflections on the Nude he compares past and present and finds them less different than they might at first seem. He thinks of that aspect of Michelangelo, and the statues in the Medici chapel, in which the sculptor releases the aesthetic potentiality in certain stone by the carving aptitude and then discovers the carving aptitude in constructivism. In the following sense.

A sculptor like Michelangelo releases an intrinsic quality in the stone itself. He makes the spectator aware of the stone as a presence untrammelled by greed.

But at the same time he releases two other types of phantasy. One is an experience of the nude, not the naked, the nude, which is a category in art, and which for Stokes is an ideal to be glimpsed in the body of others, though not in one’s own body. (He believes that we always see our own bodies in part-object terms.)

The other is an experience of architecture. The Michelangelo nude, the body of the other, implicitly the body of the nurturer who feeds the infant, has the power to allude to culture, specifically the architecture by which mankind creates for itself a wholesome environment, as well as to nature - the fact to which carving draws attention to, that the stone has a  mineral existence which is beautiful in itself. This is like the piece of newspaper in a Braque collage which draws attention to the beauty of its preserved ephemerality because it has not been digested by the moulding or metabolizing desires of the artist.

In marking out this connection between the meaning of the nude as an other and as a structural reflection of a man-made environment, and the artist’s visible respect for the material he works with, Stokes is able to relate Michelangelo’s humanism to constructivism as a manner of architecture that compensates for the environmental damage man has done to himself by his greed.

The key example that he turns to - the painting most central to his understanding of the image in form - is one made up of nude figures,  as different as could be imagined from the reclining nude sculptures of the Medici chapel.

This is the version of Cézanne’s The Bathers which had recently arrived at the National Gallery at the time when Stokes wrote about it. Of this difficult picture Stokes is accredited with having said, “If I don’t collar it, I shall be done for.”

His description of it attempts to do justice to the pressures in form that strain against its many incongruities of content; and he weaves into it references to a painting he had written about years before, Georgione’s La Tempesta.

He concludes his description of it by describing the faces of the bathers as a series of ledges or blocks, wooden, primitive and strong. He sees the faces as anticipating Picasso’s discovery of African art and his handling of certain aspects of Les démoiselles d’Avignon; and he goes so far as to say that in the Cézanne he sees the possible evolution of a multi-racial society, adding in passing that such ”would indeed be to specify a very pregnant image implicit in form” (p.56).

CONCLUSION. Stokes’s conviction that everyone should live the life of an artist has bearing on his theory of the image in form. Image and form at first sight would appear to be different words for the same notion of patterning.

In my understanding of Stokes’s distinction, they are different. Form is something already given to the newborn. It is an innate ground to mind; in my view, for instance, proportionality, such as one finds in music and mathematics, is already known by the foetus - but that is another story!

Form is a given: but image is a depressive discovery, a form of recognition through the emotionality aroused in making the transition from paranoid schizoid to depressive position. Image is the depressive discovery of a configuration that accrues meaning; in Bion’s language, it allows the links to occur. Form is pre-historical and unconcerned with issues of personal integrity. Image is historical, something lived through: it describes the function in probity which integrates experience.

The concept of image emerges out of an experience of living in time; the stress of emotionality integrates it in the unconscious. It is analogous in its power of invocation to the uses of memory, while being wholly unlike acts of recollection. It makes no claim to intellectual mastery. The presence of the image is a gift from the unconscious good objects: it is an object of inspiration and a token of endurance.

[1] All references are to the first edition of Reflections on the Nude, London: Tavistock Publications, 1967.

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