Psychoanalysis Unit


Idiom, Self and Character

Sarah Nettleton Interdisciplinary Seminar Image


The writings of Christopher Bollas cover a wide field, including psychoanalytic theory, psychopathology and clinical technique, and the complex relationship between the private, internal world and the world of external objects. He has also applied his psychoanalytic thinking to areas such as literature, architecture, history, social anthropology and politics.

This paper will focus on one aspect of his work, in which he puts under the microscope our ordinary experience as human beings. He defines three familiar terms in particular ways: 'idiom' is the irreducible, defining kernel of the individual; 'self' refers to the network of relationships that exists within our internal world; and 'character' involves what happens when two selves meet.

By exploring these three interrelated aspects, we shall hope to arrive at an enriched conceptual vocabulary with which to consider the nature of the human subjectivity that underlies all the phenomena we encounter in the consulting room.

Speaker biography

Sarah Nettleton is a psychoanalyst (BPA) in private practice in London. Originally she studied music, working for many years as a piano accompanist, and for her Masters dissertation at the Tavistock she wrote on the psychodynamics of musical giftedness. Her more recent work includes papers on Schubert's song cycle Winterreise, on the effects of sound and voice in Beckett, and on the relationship between voice, creativity and metaphor. For the past decade she has edited the new writing of Christopher Bollas, and she has taught postgraduate seminars on his work extensively in the UK and in Norway, Israel, France, America and Turkey. Her book 'The Metapsychology of Christopher Bollas: an Introduction' will be published by Routledge in 20