Do any of the long-time members here recall whether we ever discussed Donnel Stern's book, Unformulated Experience?   A friend of mine wrote me and indicated he remembered one, but I don't have anything in my archive of old threads. 


Even if we didn't discuss his work, it looks like this is a worthwhile book to check out.  Here's the book summary from Amazon:


In this powerful and wonderfully accessible meditation on psychoanalysis, hermeneutics, and social constructivism, Donnel Stern explores the relationship between two fundamental kinds of experience: explicit verbal reflection and "unformulated experience," or experience we have not yet reflected on and put into words. Stern is especially concerned with the process by which we come to formulate the unformulated. It is not an instrumental task, he holds, but one that requires openness and curiosity; the result of the process is not accuracy alone, but experience that is deeply felt and fully imagined.

Stern's sense of explicit verbal experience as continuously constructed and emergent leads to a central dialectic at the heart of his work: that between curiosity and imagination, on one hand, and dissociation and unthinking acceptance of the familiar on the other. The goal of psychoanalytic work, he holds, is the freedom to be curious, whereas defense signifies the denial of this freedom. We defend against our fear of what we would think, that is, if we allowed ourselves the freedom to think it.

Stern also shows how the unconscious itself can be reconceptualized hermeneutically, and he goes on to explore the implications of this viewpoint on interpretation and countertransference. He is especially persuasive in showing how the interpersonal field, which is continuously in flux, limits the experience that it is possible for participants to reflect on. Thus it is that analyst and patient are together "caught in the grip of the field," often unable to see the kind of relatedness in which they are mutually involved.

A brilliant demonstration of the clinical consequentiality of hermeneutic thinking, Unformulated Experience bears out Stern's belief that psychoanalysis is as much about the revelation of the new in experience as it is about the discovery of the old.


"Unformulated Experience is a book of complexity, courage, and verve.  Donnel Stern combines Gadamer's hermeneutics and Sullivan's interpersonal psychoanalysis in a move that separates him from the crowd of theorists who claim to integrate postmodern theory with psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.  By doing so, he is able to guide us in confronting, understanding, and treating some of the most puzzling phenomena in the field today, such as trauma, dissociation, and multiplicity.  Our ideas about memory, language, and the self will never be the same after this book - neither will our therapeutic practices nor our individual lives.  At long last, our profession has produced a book worthy of being linked with the best of modern hermeneutic thought.  Savor it." - Philip Cushman, Ph.D., author, Constructing the Self, Constructing America

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This seems to be an entirely different take on the relationship between reflection and unformed experience than what I'm seeing in the James book.

Have not read the James book, but here's a quote from Stern's book:

"Focal attention which helps separate the wheat from the chaff in everyday experiencing, can also be used to keep something out of awareness.  If one's focal attention is never trained on this 'something', one is never aware of it; and if one is never aware of it, it remains…unformulated… One simply does not notice what one does not wish to know."

"Selectively inattended experience, along with all the implications this experience might have had, were it articulated, are never elaborated, never transformed into an experience in syntaxic mode.  In turn, this fact means one can never reflect on the material.  Anxiety is prevented, of course, but the strategy is equally effective in the prevention of learning." p.59

"The refusal to formulate – to think – is a different solution to the problem of defense than repression, which is a matter of keeping unconscious thoughts that already exist.  Instead of positing the intentional removal and continual exclusion of content from awareness, as the repression analyses does, lack of formulation as defense means never allowing ourselves to interpret our experience in the first place…one's freedom of thought , and 'offending' experience is never created. p.63
So how might this relate to my contention in the James thread that while he focuses on the "something" via mystical methods he refuses to articulate or interpret it? This seems a variation on the above. He is not ignoring something and hence thereby cannot interpret it. He is just refusing to interpret it as if that would somehow negate, mitigate or taint it, a common misconception in transpersonal circles. Or at the very least that it just cannot be put into words, again not so.
I'm still reading Stern's book in conjunction with a TSK class I'm taking, which encourages inquiry and opening of experience.  So it's a great question, and a big open place holder for further investigation.  I'll be back!

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