The World of Creativity— Scabbiolo Interviews Franco #3

Seth: The previous interviews in this series between Franco and Scabbiolo have been a World of Confusion for me, so I’m happy to have the chance to enter into this world of confusion and ask you both some questions. First of all, why is confusion important?

Franco: Well, it’s terribly important to overcome the fear of confusion because we have the tendency to look for certainties, to look for knowledge, to look for elements to immediately make things crystal clear—what Descartes was calling, “clear and distinct ideas,” as it were. And that of course is an illusion, because in experience, we have to deal with life as it is at the beginning: William James describes the baby’s first experience of the world as a “blooming, buzzing confusion.”

And clinically, confusion has tremendous importance… You can see, for example, in very obsessive patients, the moment when they cannot tolerate any confusion: everything has to be precise and perfect and able to be controlled. And when they start to be a little bit confused, it is a tremendously important sign of progress. And of course! Because it shows that they’ve started to feel something. It’s the beginning of the feelings that raises this confusion.

And the artist embraces it; he is not scared because the artist is looking for inspiration, that there are some potentials, some creative possibilities that he is keen to discover and create. For some reason, he’s very keen not to get discouraged by confusion.

Seth: So out of your wrangling with confusion in the world of psychoanalysis came the creation of this concept, “feeling the feelings of the feelings.”

Franco: Yes.

Seth: And you’ve suggested that it could be an alternative description of those phenomena Freud has called transference, right? How did this idea develop from the concept of transference?

Franco: Well, I don’t know if it’s Franco or which… I think it’s Franco pushing for that, rather than Scabbiolo, who is much more conservative about the past. And yes, it is something that has always preoccupied me since I started this work.

One of the first papers that I wrote in England that was published by the Oxford Psychotherapy Society was about transference. I was looking at Freud’s Dora case from the dialectical point of view, as it were, a little bit based on some branches of French psychoanalysis. (I didn’t have a sense of Schelling’s dialectic. I was trapped in Hegel, not able to get out.) Meltzer read it (laughs), and he didn’t say anything about the paper, but he encouraged me to publish it. I think that paper was the beginning of the journey.

I have always struggled with the mechanistic explanation of transference- countertransference. It’s a coinage and concept that, little by little, because of the repetition, is losing its power—its importance. For me this required trying to investigate the nature of this phenomena, or experience, which is the central issue in the process of therapy. Without that, the process can be very intellectual, or very rational—very explanatory, and not touching the sense and the feelings.

Franco: The second step was inspired by Meltzer talking about the “preformed transference.” I wrote a paper about this and presented it in Florence. Meltzer was still alive, and he encouraged me to present that paper also. The title of the paper was very grandiose, looking back. It was: “The preformed counter- transference of the analyst and the adventure of the psychoanalytic process.” The basic idea was that we all have preformed ideas—preformed transference—that interfere with the feelings.

And then I noticed another part of the transference problem: Meltzer’s idea that there are some patients that don’t develop transference. It was a surprising statement for a lot of therapists. But in investigating that, and working with autistic children, I began to pay attention not only to the transference— that is, feelings coming from the past— but also the combination with the feelings in the present as a consequence of the encounter with the therapist.

And then the next step was, Well, what about the process? Because essentially, when we’re talking about feelings, it’s all about processes. There are no static moments. Never is there a static moment, even when we try to give a feeling a name, or are trying to slow down the process with dreams or images.

At the moment, I link that with emotional symbolism, which allows the formation of the symbolic feelings— allows “the feelings of the feelings”—in terms of not getting trapped in one particular feeling. So this step was a realization that the problem of the transference (and also the counter- transference) is the problem of getting trapped. Because as you know, for Freud there was an early view that the transference was an obstacle for the process. And then at the same time, it was the motor of the process.

And I thought that that description is very mechanistic. It’s very separate from the feeling (dimension): that of allowing the (physical) feelings to get together and allowing the symbolic feelings to flourish. In order to do what? To generate more feelings, on the one hand – to open the possibilities. And then also to avoid the trap of getting stuck in one particular feeling.

And I would add here the final, following step: finding William Blake’s poem Eternity which is talking about precisely that: He who binds to himself a joy/Does the winged life destroy;/But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sun rise. We get trapped either in the joy, as Blake says, or we can get trapped in the suffering, and we don’t let it go, and we ruin our life.

So, with the realization that we can get trapped in the past, in the transference, my question was: how to help people? Essentially, how do we help them to get out of that trap? That is connected with Meltzer’s idea of the Claustrum, but I was trying to put this together from a different point of view and in a different way: a way of working with patients that are not able to feel the (symbolic) feelings.

Because we all suffer from that. Even the analyst suffers from that. So, I thought that would be interesting to explore. These questions were very interesting to me, were helping me in my work, et cetera. I don’t know if I answered your question, but this is the origin of “feeling the feelings of feelings.”

Seth: Yeah, that covers the background thoroughly. I’d like to hear more about the structure of the concept. I know you don’t like to be systematic, but it was very helpful for me when I first heard you talk about “feeling in three different temporal dimensions.” I don’t know if you would use a different term now, but could you say a bit about these three different dimensions, or registers, of feeling?

Franco: Yes. Well, the way I see it… It’s really a vision—and one coming from experience—because it has so many manifestations. There are so many ways of showing, in the experience, these kinds of processes. I began to have a glimpse of how (working with autistic children, sometime with Asperger’s, but also with every one of my patients—and in particular, working with and being able to penetrate into dreams, where you can see that process much more clearly) the patient comes to be trapped in one sensation, one particular feeling. That is the first dimension.

The manifestation, or the coloring, of being trapped is that you have the sensation that that is the only feeling that you have, that there is no variation. You can see very clearly in some patients that they see only in black and white. Their reality is separated into black and white. And they don’t see that there is a rainbow. I realized how difficult it is to generate another feeling in this person. Even in ourselves, when we get trapped—either in depression, or paranoia, or other enthralling feelings— you find how difficult it is to let it go, that feeling. And it takes time. And people are losing their vitality in that process, and getting more and more enthralled with controlling, because this is the purpose—the essential purpose is to control.

You see that with autistic children, how they have an enormous capacity to separate off the feelings and focus on

one particular sensation. And they repeat that sensation. You can see that also with the baby. The development of the baby goes through the moment that it’s exploring the world with one sense or one feeling—the oral feelings, for example—and they don’t seem to hear or to see anything, they’re only touching. But then they do move to another feeling, and they create, fantastically, these symbolic processes and symbolic feelings that allow them to put the physical feelings together.

And I was curious about how this happens, the emergence of these original (symbolic) feelings, which is really the emergence of a new subject, as it were: the subject of that feeling. It’s very difficult to fish out in the session when this is happening. But this is the second dimension.

Franco: And again, with this one dimensional or the one, trapping feeling, I found they’re trapped in one particular subject—blocking the subject which is trying to emerge—that they’re not allowing themselves to feel that feeling with another feeling. This probably illuminates why the process of talking to someone else, like Dante with Virgil for example, is very important—because the other person is making you feel a different perspective. They are giving us the possibility of doing that, until we internalize that way of feeling the feelings.

And feeling the feelings of the feelings opens up a new world. It’s still limited, but this is because one of the major problems is that we have the tendency (as part of the neurotic mentality) to separate the feelings again and not to follow how the feelings are coming together. And William Blake (and Schelling too) is clearly illustrating that without these opposed feelings, without contradictions, there is no progress.

Franco: And it takes time, and dreams. “Dream feelings,” as I call them, allow this to get worked through. And when the patient starts to be interested in dreams, they begin to see that there is another dimension. And I have several experiences, several patients, that I hope to illustrate in this publication (i.e. a forthcoming book exploring the idea of Feeling the Feelings of the Feelings), who initiate the “marvelous process,” as Meltzer mysteriously called it, in his book Dream Life. I’ll be talking more about this at the upcoming COR webinar Coming Alive which starts January 15.

Seth: Yes, I’ll be there.

Franco: Life is about feelings. He didn’t write about dream feelings. He talks about unconscious thinking. That is important, but he focuses more on the thinking rather than the feelings. I think we tend to forget this; I’m trying to illuminate, as far as I can, these two (physical) feelings. When the third (symbolic) feelings start to emerge, there is this peculiar consequence of dreams. After that point, when the patient starts to bring dreams, there is a sense that you begin to realize that they’re not feeling the dreams. The dreams seem to be someone else dreams, and it takes time. And at this moment when they start to grasp the feelings of the feelings in the dream, something changes.

And recently I have several experiences like this; it was an incredible change that I wouldn’t predict or imagine at all. Anyhow, I don’t know for certain, but I sense this process is very much embedded with the symbolic feelings, generated by the dream feelings. You can sense it with the patient, that he is becoming more alive. Where we are living inside only one feeling, we are going through life dead, but pretending to be alive. Why? Because the other feelings are obliterated, and nobody is able to feel them. We are not able to feel them.

Yeah, we can talk sometimes, we can think, we can understand, but that is very different from feeling the feelings.

Seth: So, moving to the dimension of language—what’s the difference between language which is conventional versus language that’s being used creatively, or in a way that’s at least in fidelity to the (symbolic) feelings?

Franco: Yes, this is a crucial point because Meltzer was investigating that at the end of his life, realizing how verbal language is totally inadequate to address the feelings—except in the hands of the poet, probably. Proust wrote that the great books seem to be written in a foreign language. And this foreign language essentially has to do with feelings, in my view. The feelings of the feelings are like a foreign language. And constantly we are trying to translate them into different languages, but it is a translation. And the poet has the extraordinary ability to subvert the conventional language, in order to allow certain feelings to emerge from the poem. And it’s touching you; this is the mystery.

This sub-version of language, this through-the-gaps… I’m working in four different verbal languages, and I can feel the gaps in the language people use. That also illuminates the question of why certain people don’t want to talk, for example, about feelings, because they realize that it’s quite impossible to find the language for it. And I started to differentiate between sincere feelings and social feelings – that is, a kind of misfeeling the feelings that is acceptable, a certain kind of insincerity. It’s curious to me that Meltzer didn’t finish his book on sincerity. He was struggling himself, I think, with this problem, very sincerely.

My experience with him was incredible. His capacity for sincerity was related to dreams, whether the dream is telling you that you are a liar or not… The dream is always sincere. Of course, there are patients that fabricate the dream, but that is a very different story. You immediately realize that they’re fabricating the dream. But yes, this issue, I started to realize, is called, “denial of psychic reality.” But for me, it’s misfeeling the feelings: that you misfeel these private, very personal, interior feelings that emerge every morning when you wake up.

Franco: I don’t know, again, if that answers the question because we can do thousands of interviews and we never, it seems to be impossible, to solve the problem of which language can approximate (the symbolic feelings). Surprisingly, in children’s exploration, practicing, and inventing language, sometimes they’re trying to reflect, or to make you feel something. And of course when that happens, we are talking about unconscious processes, but I’m talking about it in terms of these feelings.

These feelings of the feelings that, for example, appear in jokes—in how the language used suddenly releases the feelings—this reveals that the best way of using verbal language is when it’s playful and trying to release this feeling and not explain, not close down, and not to give the impression that you know. The most difficult problem is not ignorance, but the ignorance of our ignorance, against feeling the feelings.

There is a book in Italian – in translation, it’s “the beautiful immense world of the unknown”… Because we want to know – in psychoanalysis this is epitomized by the epistemophilic feelings that Melanie Klein tried to adumbrate – but then you get trapped in

wanting to possess. Wanting to know is an impulse; it’s a creative impulse, but then it gets trapped when we want to possess through knowledge, giving this idea of power and control of the object. And you are lost there, trapped in one particular feeling.

The problem of a panic attack and anxiety is this desperation of wanting to control the feelings, wanting to know, or wanting to separate the feelings in order to control it. And this is something that a lot of people coming are into therapy for, because they’re getting frightened or getting completely out of control… But anyhow, I took another road.

Seth: Well, maybe it’s appropriate if we begin and end with confusion, or not- knowing. And hopefully somewhere along the way, there were flashes, illuminations, which can help us to see this work that we do in a new light.

Franco: Yeah. I think, Seth, this is very important, because if we don’t allow this… It’s the problem of certain institutions, and certain ways of organizing our work, that they put a lid on the process—permanent process—of throwing new light. And there are people doing work that. For me, it’s essentially this process. And I’m determined to keep up with my atelier, learning from the artist, because the artist is the brother and sister that are working for our illumination, constantly. They’re throwing new light—in music, in every theater, in painting, in writing, in poetry, et cetera. Even in prose, they’re trying to set a new light. And possibly, this is also the case for “feeling the feelings of the feelings.” The idea of “symbolic feelings” is trying to throw a new light. I hope, but who knows?

Seth: I hope so too.


Franco Scabbiolo is an Italian born psychotherapist who lives and works in Oxford, England. For many years he worked closely with his mentor Donald Meltzer. He has been a supervisor and mentor to many psychotherapists in the Seattle community who value his sensibility and humanistic concern for a living psychoanalytic process that continues to evolve. (See pages 9 and 10 for Franco Scabbiolo’s full bio.)

Franco Scabbiolo is an Italian born psychotherapist who lives and works in Oxford, England. For many years he worked closely with his mentor Donald Meltzer. His presentations focused for several years on Meltzer’s work and later evolved into presentations of his own evolving model, which he calls “an aesthetic compass for emotional experience.” He has been a supervisor and mentor to many psychotherapists in the Seattle community who value his sensibility and humanistic concern for a living psychoanalytic process that continues to evolve.

Categories: Feature InterviewPublished On: January 1st, 2022Tags: