Potential Space

by Suzanne Stambaugh, Psy.D.


The ability to exist in, and communicate from, intersubjective space can be seen as one measure of psychic integrity and thus is often either the focus, or the result, of psychotherapeutic intervention. The groundwork for the experience of subjectivity is, according to some relational theorists, first constructed between mother and child, when the mother verbalizes her best guesses of the child's experience. The child first becomes a subject in the mind of the mother, one step towards recognizing the subjectivity of others and being able to dwell in a space of mutually constructed constellations of meaning and identity.

Even in the beginning, however, our subjectivity is never perfectly represented in the mind of the other. The gap between the child's experience of itself and the mother's representation of the child's experience creates the foundation for symbolic thought. We must symbolize that which is not represented so that we can communicate those parts of ourselves that were lost in translation. As we grow, we become more and more adept at describing our subjectivity through the symbolic medium of language. Yet there is always some part of the self that eludes representation, always a gap between our mind and the mind of another. It is one of Zeno's paradoxes applied to the psyche; the infinite divisibility of intersubjective space that must be traversed by the banal miracle of symbolic communication.

And still there is always a remainder in this equation of communication, the parts of the self that get lost in the infinitely divisible distance between subjectivities. This remainder can be seen as the wellspring of creative drive and even the source of artistic inspiration. Rather than lose those unrepresented parts of the self, we find new ways to communicate them, new ways to use the languages and symbols that have been laboriously shaped by generations of human culture. Artistic expressions are our answer to thekoan of intersubjective space. They are paper airplanes; they are messages in bottles; they are intrepid ships sailing uncharted waters; they are barbaric yawps sounded over the rooftops of the world.