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Chess & Schizophrenia: Murphy v Mr Endon, Beckett v Bion

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This paper reconvenes Samuel Beckett's psychotherapy with Wilfred Bion during 1934-1936 during which time Beckett's conceived and began writing this second novel, Murphy. Based on Beckett's visits to the Bethlem & Maudsley Hospital and his observation of the male nurses, the climax of Murphy is a chess match between Mr Endon (a male schizophrenic patient) and Murphy (a male psychiatric nurse). The precise notation of the Endon v Murphy chess match tells us that the Beckett intended it to be an exemplar of an anti-match, perhaps a metaphor for the tragedy of being locked into madness. It is also argued that the match offers us insight into Beckett's experience of the process of psychotherapy with Bion. Based on new information from Beckett's nephew and Bion's widow, hypotheses about the long term impact of the Bion-Beckett analysis are advanced as a mutual experience which shaped the lives and later literary output of both men, producing conjoined career writings which continue to offer us stark and sublime condensations of depression, psychosis, and the challenges of therapy and recovery.
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A triptych of clinical cases binds together a new frame for understanding the relationship vacuum that lies at the heart addiction to drugs. Beginning with a case anecdote about an amphetamine user who was troubled with an underlying psychotic condition, and much taken with David Bowie’s song Space Oddity, the case draws attention to the emptiness in which the client's social relations were conducted. Bion's thoughts on the challenge of linking drug addiction and psychosis are refracted in his personal copy of Rosenfeld’s (1965) book Psychotic States, where Bion made copious notes in the margins and coined the term ‘concentration for annihilation’. Some of these notes throw new light on Bion's approach to working with psychotic fixation which he derived from working with clients using drugs as well as those who were suffering psychotic states. Particular attention is given to one of Bion’s clients whose repetition-compulsion appeared to create what we might think of as a ‘psychotic vacuum’. In the final case study the life and death of Lucy Cameron is cause for reflection. Lucy’s poem ‘The Space’ draws attention to the devastating psychotic vacuum created by substance misuse.
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I propose to summarize some of the conclusions presented in this paper. One of my main points was the suggestion that in the first few months of life anxiety is predominantly experienced as fear of persecution and that this contributes to certain mechanisms and defenses which characterize the paranoid and schizoid positions. Outstanding among these defenses is the mechanism of splitting internal and external objects, emotions, and the ego. These mechanisms and defenses are part of normal development and at the same time form the basis for later schizophrenic illness. I described the processes underlying identification by projection as a combination of splitting off parts of the self and projecting them on to another person, and some of the effects this identification has on normal and schizoid object relations. The onset of the depressive position is the juncture at which by regression schizoid mechanisms may be reinforced. I also suggested a close connection between the manic-depressive and schizoid disorders, based on the interaction between the infantile schizoid and depressive positions.
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