Transference occupies a foundational space within Freudian psychoanalysis and Jungian depth psychology. That tradition continues today, as transference is at the core of contemporary psychology training programs in the United States. The utilization of transference reveals the underlying ego orientation within each therapeutic approach. A blinding transference can produce tremendous psychic pain, as exemplified in Polanski’s film, Rosemary’s Baby. As Jung expanded the concept of Freudian transference with his notion of kinship libido, the current clinical usage of transference must be renewed of its complexity in order to relate to contemporary subjectivity. This is possible through the Guattarian concept of transversality.
Freud is applied to clinical practice, exercised in philosophical endeavors and perverted for consumerist pursuits. As Freud became a cultural object, the unconscious sprung up as an invisible presence in daily life, a silent puppeteer that subverts the possibility of a true autonomy. This renders the Freudian terrane rocky. Transference acts enacts plate tectonics. One territory is shifted onto another. In traditional terms, transference occurs on the side of the patient. As the patient interacts with the analyst, they unconsciously project extra-psychic material onto their analyst. Freudian transference was, of course, created within the trappings of oedipalization so that the patient transfers their emotions towards their mother and father, emotions from the past, onto the present through the therapist. A slippage of time.
Within that handoff of unconscious material, projecting onto an external object, the patient responds to the authority of the therapist rather than the therapeutic practice. It’s about the presence not the language. This makes transference a totalizing concept, speaking to the act of therapy itself rather than any particular orientation. The hypnotic origins of psychoanalysis glide through the concept of transference, posturing a universal aspect of suggestibility of the human mind. Countertransference, in turn, represents the unconscious material that erupts on the side of the therapist: the extra-psychic material within the unconscious stirred up by the patient.
Freudian transference is always in relation to authority. The patient is stuck in subjugation within the very context which is supposed to provide them with subjecthood. Every moment in therapy evokes a concurrent cyclical time in which the transference is trapped. The patient is always responding to triangularity, to mommy/daddy/me. The answer, for Freud, was to acknowledge the binarism of this circuit, furthering the task of bringing the unconscious into consciousness. Yet when Freud denied turning the analytical eye onto himself, claiming famously that a pipe is sometimes just a pipe, he denies analytical equity and solidifies a hierarchical structure within psychoanalysis.
Maybe countertransference required an unsettling acknowledgement of the unconsciousness within the analyst. Maybe it destabilized traditional Freudian theory too much or it threatened Freud’s own sense of creative authority. Whatever the reason, the transference/ countertransference phenomena is approached with reductionism within the clinical setting. It’s covered up like a pimple, a blemish on the purity of the transaction. Young therapists are encouraged to banish the content provided by transference or countertransference like it’s a threat to the therapeutic process.
Within classroom settings, these terms are used with a sense of initiation. Count-er-trans-fer-ence departs from the lips of a new clinical psych student, a twinkle of academic glory spurts from their eye. We are not mere mortals anymore, we do not simply have feelings or reactions. We are therapists and we recognize countertransference. It is named as an initiation, invoking the ivory tower.
The transference/countertransference phenomena is not some conceptual weedling to be picked out before the artistry of the therapy can begin. It is the toolbox containing all the psychic material for therapy to navigate. The way you treat transference is the way you deal with the unconscious. Is the vastness too great? Or do you allow it as a vessel to dive into the unknown? Transference subverts chronological time. We react to present stimuli, contexts, situations and people with an unconscious loyalty to the past. With it, you travel through time.
The blur of the drink. Transference as one flow between two states: consciousness as sobriety, the unconscious as being wedding drunk. You might not remember the best man’s speech or accidentally hitting on your cousin, but when sober up, when you become conscious, those unconscious acts have still been done. Your awareness of your own acts doesn’t alter the beingness of the acts themselves. When you are conscious, your unconscious doesn’t just turn off. It’s still humming, in the background, like your refrigerator.
I think about that cringey video of David Hasselhof blacked out eating a cheeseburger. His daughter filmed him and after returning to his conscious state he watched the video and admitted to the press that he had a drinking problem. Is transference that daughter filming a soon to be viral video of you, shirtless, picking up half of a soggy bun from the carpet floor and plopping it into your already open mouth? Is this also the goal of analysis? To allow you to view your unconscious acts from a place of greater consciousness? If the point of transference and countertransference is for the therapist to acknowledge and work with that unconscious material, then why, within a contemporary clinical setting, would we shy away from this material? It’s pure psychic gold.
Freud’s treatment of transference is slippery- its chaotic yet deterministic. Your reactions are not elicited by what you believe is your present stimuli, rather they are drawn from some obscure dominion of a blurry memory. Or further still, not even a memory but a plot of land inside your psyche, a hidden space claimed by secret tennants. In turn, Jung injected a sense of humanity into the transference phenomena. He believed that transference and countertransference were products of a desire to relate and expanded on the concepts through the reverie of the kinship libido.
Jung writes, “It wants human connection. That is the core of the whole transference phenomenon, and it is impossible to argue away, because relationship to the self is at once relationship to our fellow man, and no one can be related to the latter until he is related to himself” (CW, 2014, 233-243). This sentiment places transference at the heart of human relations, and at the core of transference resides ego position. If the projections are so great that the transference cannot be recognized, then the individual cannot place themselves within the collective. They cannot relate.
“I can no longer associate myself.” These words are scribbled on parchment in blue ink at the beginning of Rosemary’s Baby. When Rosemary enters the vacant Manhattan apartment with her slimy and charismatic husband, she glances down and reads the sentence. In doing so, we understand she has lost her relationship to the other. While this note eventually has narrative significance, from a Jungian perspective, this is the moment that reveals Rosemary is disassociated from her own ego.
Rosemary is blinded by her transference and unable to recognize that Minnie and Roman Castevet are not her mother and father but rather her Satanist neighbors who have impregnated her with the devil’s seed. During the initiation scene, in which she is poisoned, tied down and raped by Satan, she flows in and out of a dream state. In the dream she is on a boat and told by the captain,“You better go down below, miss.” This is in reference to her union with the shadow. In the dream she becomes one with the darkness, but in a conscious state, she denies it. She rejects that what is growing inside of her is a part of a greater whole, a part of the community. She clings to the belief that there are no others, that what is inside of her is hers alone. Her pain arises when she is unable to relate to herself nor to the other characters in the film. The demonic pregnancy pain originates from a refusal to be a part of the collective. Her inability to locate herself within the transference makes her sick.
It is only after she is able to unscramble Roman’s name, revealing that dad is actually coven leader Steven Marcato, that she begins to acknowledge that those around her are not just her own projections. Rosemary needed his true name before she could release him as her father. The coven itself is called the United Mental Force, in Jungian terms, the collective unconscious. It is only at the very end when she is finally overwhelmed by the kinship libido that she can accept others around her and finds peace within the collective.
In the final scene, as she accepts that she is baby-satan’s mother, she connects with her shadow and can finally associate herself. She finds solace in the kinship libido, joining her new coven. She can see those around her for who they are and she accepts herself as a part of the United Mental Force. The film concludes not in a frenzy of horror but with a moment of peace. She is not tethered to the past in the year 1968, but rather is tracking in the present, in year 1. Rosemary can finally locate herself within the group and loves her baby as something outside of herself. She breaks free from both the oedipal triangle and the holy trinity. As the eerie lullaby signals the end of the story, the camera pans out, reminding us that the problems of transference belong to everyone.
There have been major technological advances since the time of Freud and Jung that offer a complexification of the transference phenomena. The human mind is no longer in isolation. Our attention is never really in totality. We shift in our seats and glance at our phone. We read a text and sign a petition and watch a video of a dancing dog, but all that never really happened because we are in class, on zoom, learning. So what does it mean if all of those experiences happen at the same time? How does this affect the therapy? How does transference work in a technologically jacked up and logged in world?
As our capacity for multiple concurrent conversations has increased, an inherently splintered subjectivity evolves, and our capacity for transference multiplies. Guattari fleshed out the concept of a schizophrenized transference with the concept of transversality. Transversality, driven by group desire, is responsible for the unconscious action in the group. This is evident within the contemporary group called the internet.
Unconscious motivations reach enunciation within the group through transversality. In increasingly isolated environments, the sword of popular piety has resulted in cancel culture. All the sudden, individual jerks such as your old boss or your old boyfriend can be nominated for social guillotine. A single personal narrative becomes absorbed, without exegesis, through the kinship libido… liked, reposted, woven into the social tapestry of internet culture with a political thread.
Another contemporary example of transversality at work is the phenomena of the bait bricks. During the height of the protests against police brutality this past spring, a single post circulated with tenacity, warning of bait bricks: piles of bricks placed in front of vulnerable store fronts, put there by police in order to prompt and promote property damage and thereby discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether or not the police actually baitied protesters with bricks is beside the point. (We already know that our government pushed crack into disenfranchised neighborhoods in order to subvert political counter-activity, so whether are not they are responsible for bait bricks does little to invalidate the actual claim of corruption.) The point is through the rapid reposting, recycling of the same image over and over again, the unconscious desire of the group, the transversality, actually changed our reality.
As a group, we transferened our distrust of the government onto piles of cement. A previously innocuous construction site, with the fervor of transversality, is transformed into a devious governmental plot to destroy political uprising. Yes, this is also paranoia, but it is justified. Transversality unpredictably fuses our group desire and spills it out onto social media platforms for open participation.
As an active, creative agent within internet culture, we cannot deny the powerful projections of transversality. In the same way clinicians can approach transference as an opening into the unconscious, as a group connected through the internet, we can seize transversality in order to uncover the unconscious motivations of our society. Transversality can become a major force of liberation. Physical isolation, political unrest, an narcissistic tyrant shutting down modes of communication… What a better time than now!
If kinship libido denotes our desire to connect, to be a part of the group, how can we work with that desire towards not just therapeutic alliance but for crises such as climate change and facism? Transference exists in every ecstatic moment. The delirium derived from devil’s progeny or the drunkenness of forgotten cheeseburgers, transference is actively navigating our experience. We can go beyond the other, the amorous projection of mother and father and connect with our Satan. Beyond our projections we can grasp the absurdity of high society, of good doctors and performative politics. On the lobe of every good father there exists a hole. We just need to work with transference in order to see it.