The Taming of Solitude (1993) by Jean-Michel Quinodoz is a rich and poetic contribution to the development of psychoanalytic discourse concerning anxieties related to separation and object-loss, and the transformation of the experience of solitude through the analytic process.
I can't recall where I first heard of The Taming of Solitude, but I do know that for a long time I only got as far as the title. It captured my imagination, I used it as a turn of phrase and I misappropriated it. When I did think about what it might in fact mean, I disapproved of the proposition--of taming anything, taking the wildness out of the wild. One day I found a copy and read the frontispiece, a translated extract from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's (1946) The Little Prince:
'What does "tame" mean?'
'It is something that is too often forgotten,' said the fox.
'It means to forge links ...'
I went on reading, and re-reading, and was relieved to find that my engagement with the poetic title could legitimately develop into a more substantial one with the content. Consistently I have found the book a wonderful combination of simplicity and intellectual aliveness, reflecting the author's deeply integrated knowledge of theory and clinical experience. He makes extensive use of the works of Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Fairbairn, and Bion, amongst many; however as Thomas Ogden (1994) comments in a review of the book, Quinodoz treats each group of ideas as a partial truth that successfully organises a portion of the phenomenology of the experience of solitude. 'The partial truths are allowed to stand in the full, unresolved complexity of their interrelationship with one another' (Ogden, 1994, p. 163).
Whether engaging with theory or clinical material, Quinodoz's presence weaves its way throughout the book as a unique and imaginative thread.
Separation anxiety, as Quinodoz discusses at the beginning of the book, is a universal phenomenon. 'Indeed, it is such an intimate and familiar emotion that we almost have to make a special effort to realize that it is a concert which accompanies every instant of our everyday lives' (p. 4). Separation anxiety accompanies the perception of the transience of human relations, of the existence of others and of our own existence. Yet it is at the same time, says Quinodoz, a structuring emotion for the ego, because the perception of the pain of our solitude makes us aware, firstly, that we exist as a single unique being with respect to others, and secondly, that those others are different from ourselves. So in this way separation anxiety could be said to constitute the foundation of our sense of identity, as well as of our knowledge of the other--the object in order to distinguish it from ourselves.
It is, however, a section in the last chapter of The Taming of Solitude that for me has been particularly seminal and that I have, to quote the directive for this contribution, 'truly learnt from'. The chapter is entitled 'The capacity to be alone, buoyancy and...