The Infinity of the Unsaid: Unformulated Experience, Language, and the Nonverbal, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Infinity of the Unsaid

Unformulated Experience, Language, and the Nonverbal, 1st Edition

By Donnel B. Stern


190 pages

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Paperback: 9781138604995
pub: 2018-09-04
Hardback: 9781138605008
pub: 2018-09-04
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pub: 2018-09-13
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The theory of unformulated experience is an interpersonal/relational conception of unconscious process. The idea is that unconscious content is not fully formed, merely awaiting discovery, but is instead better understood as potential experience—a vaguely organized, primitive, global, non-ideational, affective state.

In the past, the formulation of experience was most commonly understood as verbal articulation. That was the perspective Donnel B. Stern took in 1997 in his first book, Unformulated Experience: From Dissociation to Imagination in Psychoanalysis. In this new book, Stern recognizes that we need to theorize the formulation of nonverbal experience, as well. Using new concepts of the "acceptance" and "use" of experience that "feels like me," Stern argues for a wider conception of "meaningfulness." Some formulated experience is verbal ("articulation"), but other formulations are nonverbal ("realization"). Demonstrating how this can be so is at the heart of this book. Stern then goes on to house this entire set of ideas in the commodious conception of language offered by Charles Taylor, Gadamer, and Merleau-Ponty.

The Infinity of the Unsaid offers an expansion of the theory of unformulated experience that has important implications for clinical thinking and practice; it will be of great interest to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists across all schools of thought.


"Stern is famous for confronting our "Hard Question:" What were our patients’ meanings before they were worded, and how is that affected by those and subsequent words? Almost every question in psychoanalysis leads there, making Stern’s book indispensable for the practitioner, who will gain a realistically hopeful view of their daily work from Stern’s picture of the relationship between words, life, and the expressive states in between. And Stern’s account of his progressive revisions is a virtual education in how to think about the human condition."-Lawrence Friedman, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Weill-Cornell Medical College

"Don Stern is a theoretician’s theorizer and a clinician’s right-hand. He writes of realms that elude our grasp yet are where we need to go - the space between words, that ineffable sense that ‘vibrates’ with the spoken word. He is a poet of the nonverbal, unformulated, unsaid - the real - and writes in a conversational yet highly sophisticated style. Talking therapy has thus expanded as Stern takes his rightful place among the leading psychoanalytic thinkers of today, depolarizing their global reach. Read this book, it will help you."-Andrea Celenza, Ph.D., Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, author of Erotic Revelations: Clinical Applications and Perverse Scenarios

"In this exciting new book Donnel Stern extends his earlier creative and courageous inquiries into the nature of meaning and meaning-making. Meaning is not contained simply in what is or can be put into words or symbolized, Stern teaches. Rather, meaning is like the air we breathe, we are immersed in it without being able to point to it. As his title promises, Stern guides us to appreciate the "infinity" of our potential experience, the limits of what we can know at any moment, and the awe we feel when we glimpse what might have been understood but never will be. The book is a guide not only for psychoanalysts and other therapists, but for anybody who can appreciate the richness and complexity of what it is to be human."-Jay Greenberg, Ph.D., Editor, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly

"The imaginativeness and depth of Donnel Stern’s contribution to contemporary psychoanalysis is fully on display in this book. We have the extraordinary opportunity to join Stern in returning to his groundbreaking conceptualization of unformulated experience. This journey is one filled with nuance and depth regarding verbal and nonverbal experience and how translating unformulated experience can lead to spontaneous creative living. Stern displays great subtlety in putting our experiences as patients and analysts into words. Through his considerable capacity for syncretic thinking, he invites us to consider his contributions in relation to a number of theorists. This is a book not just to read but to study."-Steven H. Cooper, Ph.D., Associate Professor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, USA

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Meaningfulness: More than Just Words Chapter 2: Articulation: The Formulation of Verbal-Reflective Meaning Chapter 3: Realization: The Formulation of Nonverbal Meaning Chapter 4: Manifestation: The Underlying Unity of Verbal and Nonverbal Meaning; Appendix

About the Author

Donnel B. Stern is Training and Supervising Analyst, William Alanson White Institute, New York City and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychology and Clinical Consultant, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is the founder and editor of the Routledge Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series and author and editor of many articles and books. His most recent authored book is Relational Freedom: Emergent Properties of the Interpersonal Field (2015).

About the Series

Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series

When music is played in a new key, the melody does not change, but the notes that make up the composition do: change in the context of continuity, continuity that perseveres through change. Psychoanalysis in a New Key publishes books that share the aims psychoanalysts have always had, but that approach them differently. The books in the series are not expected to advance any particular theoretical agenda, although to this date most have been written by analysts from the Interpersonal and Relational orientations.

The most important contribution of a psychoanalytic book is the communication of something that nudges the reader’s grasp of clinical theory and practice in an unexpected direction. Psychoanalysis in a New Key creates a deliberate focus on innovative and unsettling clinical thinking. Because that kind of thinking is encouraged by exploration of the sometimes surprising contributions to psychoanalysis of ideas and findings from other fields, Psychoanalysis in a New Key particularly encourages interdisciplinary studies. Books in the series have married psychoanalysis with dissociation, trauma theory, sociology, and criminology. The series is open to the consideration of studies examining the relationship between psychoanalysis and any other field – for instance, biology, literary and art criticism, philosophy, systems theory, anthropology, and political theory.

But innovation also takes place within the boundaries of psychoanalysis, and Psychoanalysis in a New Key therefore also presents work that reformulates thought and practice without leaving the precincts of the field. Books in the series focus, for example, on the significance of personal values in psychoanalytic practice, on the complex interrelationship between the analyst’s clinical work and personal life, on the consequences for the clinical situation when patient and analyst are from different cultures, and on the need for psychoanalysts to accept the degree to which they knowingly satisfy their own wishes during treatment hours, often to the patient’s detriment.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health