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White Society Colloquium: From Enactment to Play: Metacommunication, Acknowledgment and the Third of Paradox

Date: Oct 25, 2017 8:30 pm
Jessica Benjamin, PhD
From Enactment to Play: Metacommunication, Acknowledgment and the Third of Paradox
Discussant: Ruth Imber, PhD
Wednesday, October 25, 8:30-10pm


This paper discusses the difference and movement between play and enactment as dramatic interactive forms. Play allows meta-communication and the performance of recognition while sustaining paradox between opposing propositions (real and not real; repetition and repair) in the position of the Third. The paradoxical aims for repetition while repairing sustained during play become opposed and dissociated in enactment. Nonetheless, in this dissociated form, the parts that need to be understood appear. But they are difficult to “work,” that is play with because there is a breakdown of the Third, the paradoxical tension that allows what is painful or frightening to be experienced rather than dissociated. In using the terminology of the Third I am suggesting that the co-created movement between “Us”  needs to be experienced as such, as a joint venture, involving both rhythmic and differentiating aspects of recognition between self and other. A basic part of therapeutic action is to recouple  rhythmic and differentiating elements of thirdness, in this way moving from dissociation to shared feeling and connection. In clinical work, the idea of meta-communication serves to describe a form of reflecting or creating difference without disrupting rhythmicity, performing recognition in action. The relational emphasis on resolving enactments through meta-communication of acknowledgment will be discussed.

Learning Objectives:

1. Understanding the function of enactment in psychoanalytic therapy, with particular reference to the dynamic tension between repetition and repair.
2. Using the conception of co-created thirdness as both differentiating and rhythmic connection to understand how we move from dissociation to connection with self and other.


Jessica Benjamin is a practicing psychoanalyst in New York City, where she is a supervising faculty member at the New York University Postdoctoral Psychology program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis and at the Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies.   She is known as a contributor to the development of relational psychoanalysis and its interrelation with feminism as well as the theory of intersubjectivity. She is the author of three books : The Bonds of Love (1988); Like Subjects, Love Objects (1995); and Shadow of the Other (1998).  After completing her doctoral work she spent several years in the field of infancy research. This background as well as her work as a psychoanalyst gave rise to her conceptualization of self, intersubjectivity and mutual recognition in child development and clinical work.  She has been part of the relational psychoanalytic movement from its inception, helped to found the relational track at NYU Postdoctoral Psychology Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, and the Mitchell Center for Relational Studies where she currently serves on the board.  Her work has been translated into many languages and she has lectured all over the world. She has recently published Beyond Doer and Done To—Recognition Theory, Intersubjectivity and the Third, (Routledge, 2018) considering the need for acknowledgment with reference to clinical practice with individual trauma as well as psychosocial work with collective trauma.