Key to Bion’s work is the idea that people need to express what would become a “nameless dread” if it were to stay outside of the field of society and specifically, socially rendered intelligibility. Bion’s is a dualistic model of the mind, just as Lacan’s is, but there is much more of a direct metaphysical continuity between Bion’s “unconscious” and the articulate, socially structured mind, than there is with regard to Lacan’s viewpoint.
For Bion, the unconscious is experiential reality that hasn’t been articulated. Indeed, the unconscious can never be fully articulated because it is multidimensional (has, in effect, more dimensions to it than we can simultaneously process with our rational minds). Articulation, therefore, is always a process of simplifying (indeed, oversimplifying for the sake of managing) that which is irreducibly complex. From my reading of Lacan, there is a complete transition from the prearticulate level of the infant’s experience of the world, to the articulate social interpretation of the experience. His is a more complete mind-body dualism — dividing the rational from the irrational aspects of experience, in a way that is designed to be practically impossible and thus makes place for the Catholicism of “sin” as an automatic part of the human experience, since we must all fall short of the Ideal.
But for Bion, the unconscious is the damming up of experiential reality, and the work to be done is in the further interpretation — the actually simplifying — of memory, to make it manageable, and to reduce the feeling of “nameless dread” (as it were, by giving the dread a name and a social context and meaning). The naming of the “nameless dread” is the social contextualisation of it by means of an objectively recognised form (in words). This is like opening the floodgates to allow the water to go through the wall of the dam.
But we can see the role of the artist in all of this — to convert nameless dread into something that is socially meaningful. Thus the interpretive movement between the “paranoid-schizoid position” of disintegrated self and inarticulate experience, towards the “depressive position” (of simplified and linguistically reduced meanings, which, nonetheless “make sense” socially).
The Bion model is also shamanistic: the subject mediates between the multidimensional space of the unconscious field** (in some senses the “spirit world”) and everyday, limited three-dimensional reality, which can be articulated and can be expressed rationally.
One might add to this understanding Bataille’s perspective. So long as one does not express oneself in language, one keeps hold of the unbroken whole of experiential reality: this splinters as one speaks of it.
Bataille takes his understanding of the nature of subjective experience and its oftentimes antagonistic relationship to language from Nietzsche, who says:
Ultimately, what does it mean to be ignoble?—Words are sound signals for ideas, but ideas are more or less firm image signs for sensations which return frequently and occur together, for groups of sensations. To understand each other, it is not yet sufficient that people use the same words; they must use the same words also for the same form of inner experiences; ultimately they must hold their experience in common with each other. That’s why human beings belonging to a single people understand each other better among themselves than associations of different peoples, even when they themselves use the same language; or rather, when human beings have lived together for a long time under similar conditions (climate, soil, danger, needs, work), then something arises out of that which “understands itself,” a people. In all souls, a similar number of frequently repeating experiences have won the upper hand over those which come more rarely; people understand each other on the basis of the former, quickly and with ever-increasing speed—the history of language is the history of a process of abbreviation. On the basis of this rapid understanding, people bind with one another, closely and with ever-increasing closeness. The greater the danger, the greater the need quickly and easily to come to agreement over what needs to be done; not to misunderstand each other when in danger is what people simply cannot do without in their interactions. With every friendship or love affair people still make this test: nothing of that sort lasts as soon as people reach the point where, with the same words, one of the two feels, means, senses, wishes, or fears something different from the other one. (The fear of the “eternal misunderstanding”: that is the benevolent genius which so often prevents people of different sexes from over-hasty unions, to which their senses and hearts urge them—and not some Schopenhauerish “genius of the species”!—). Which groups of sensations within the soul wake up most rapidly, seize the word, give the order—that decides about the whole rank ordering of its values, that finally determines its tables of goods. The assessments of value in a man reveal something about the structure of his soul and where it looks for its conditions of life, its essential needs. Now, assume that need has always brought together only such people as could indicate with similar signs similar needs, similar experiences, then it would generally turn out that the easy ability to communicate need, that is, in the last analysis, familiarity with only average and common experiences, must have been the most powerful of all the forces which have so far determined things among human beings. People who are more similar and more ordinary were and always have been at an advantage; the more exceptional, more refined, rarer, and more difficult to understand easily remain isolated; in their isolation they are subject to accidents and rarely propagate themselves. People have to summon up huge counter-forces to cross this natural, all-too-natural progressus in simile [advance into similarity], the further training of human beings into what’s similar, ordinary, average, herd-like—into what’s common. [my emphasis]
**Godwin, Robert W “Wilfred Bion and David Bohm: Toward a Quantum Metapsychology. .” Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 14.4 (1991): 625-54