Excerpts from Thomas H. Ogden’s “Subjects of Analysis”

Narratives – Part 3

Thomas H. Ogden, MD, is a contemporary psychoanalytic theorist who addresses time and space in his work and is known for the theoretical construct, “the analytic third.” In his writings, he continually challenges clinicians to broaden their thinking about how an analyst and an analysand impact one another. Dr. Ogden has given us permission to quote from the opening pages of his book, Subjects of Analysis, as a way of introducing visitors to the Time and Space Gallery to his concept, ”the analytic third.” The following excerpts illustrate how he thinks about the analyst’s and analysand’s effect on one another in the time and space of the analytic hour.

Ogden begins the book by comparing the role of author and reader to that of analyst and analysand. He addresses the reader directly.

It is too late to turn back. Having read the opening words of this book you have already begun to enter into the unsettling experience of finding yourself becoming a subject whom you have not yet met, but nonetheless recognize….You, the reader, must allow me to occupy you, your thoughts, your mind, since I have no voice with which to speak other than yours. If you are to read this book, you must allow yourself to think my thoughts while I must allow myself to become your thoughts and in that moment neither of us will be able to lay claim to the thought as our own exclusive creation….

Reader’s struggle with the writer

You, the reader, will oppose me, deny me, perhaps humor me, but never entirely give way to me. This book will not be “understood” by you; you will not simply receive it, incorporate it, digest it, or the like. To the degree that you will have anything at all to do with it, you will transform it. (The word transform is too tepid a word to describe what you will do to it.) You will destroy it, and out of that destruction (in that destruction) will come a sound that you will not fully recognize. The sound will be a voice, but it will not be one of yours that you have heard before, for you have not previously destroyed me as you will encounter me in your reading of this book. The sound that you will hear is certainly not my voice since the words on this page are silent, composed as much by the white shapes around the black markings as by the markings themselves.

Battling one’s self identity

What I am describing is at the same time one of the most mysterious of human experiences and one of the most commonplace—it is the experience of doing battle with one’s static self-identity through the recognition of a subjectivity (a human I-ness) that is other to oneself. The confrontation with alterity will not let us rest; that perception of the other I-ness once perceived will not allow us to remain who we were and we cannot rest until we have somehow come to terms with its assault on who we had been prior to being interrupted by it. This book is a disturbance, a disruption to you. You may decide to put the book down, but that would only be a postponement of something that has already been set in motion….

Analyst and analysand, collision of subjectivities

If you decide not to postpone the confrontation posed by this book, you will know something of the experience of the analyst as he begins the first meeting (and every subsequent meeting) with an analysand. The analyst must be prepared to destroy and be destroyed by the otherness of the subjectivity of the analysand and to listen for a sound emerging from that collision of subjectivities that is familiar, but different from anything that he has previously heard….The destruction of analyst by analysand and of analysand by analyst (as separate subjects) in the collision of subjectivities must not be complete or else the pair has fallen into the abyss of psychosis or autism. Instead, the analyst must listen to (through) the roar of the destruction from its edge, not ever being certain where that edge lies….

The analytic third

In the same moment that analyst and analysand are created, a third subject is generated that I shall refer to in this volume as the analytic third, since it is a middle term sustaining and sustained by the analyst and analysand as two separate subjects. More accurately, analyst and analysand come into being in the process of the creation of the analytic subject. The analytic third, although created jointly by (what is becoming) the analyst and analysand, is not experienced identically by analyst and analysand since each remains a separate subject in dialectical tension with the other. Moreover, although the analytic third is constituted in the process of the mutual negation/recognition of analyst and analysand, it does not reflect each of its creators in the same way any more than the third created in the experience of reading reflects the reader and writer in the same way. In other words, the transference and countertransference reflect one another, but are not mirror images of one another.


The analytic third is not only a form of experience participated in by analyst and analysand, it is at the same time a form of experiencing I-ness (a form of subjectivity) in which (through which) analyst and analysand become other than who they had been to that point.

Ogden, T. (1994). Subjects of Analysis. New York: Jason Aronson, pp. 1-5.


Thomas H. Ogden, M.D. is the author of eleven books on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, most recently Creative Readings: Essays on Seminal Analytic Works; Rediscovering Psychoanalysis; and This Art of Psychoanalysis: Dreaming Undreamt Dreams and Interrupted Cries.  His first novel, The Parts Left Out, was published in English and Italian in 2014.  Dr. Ogden was selected for the Sigourney Award in 2012.  He teaches, supervises, and practices psychoanalysis in San Francisco, California.

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3 thoughts on “Excerpts from Thomas H. Ogden’s “Subjects of Analysis”

  1. arnold richards

    Tom Ogden was awarded the 2014 Hans Loewald award yesterday by the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education His paper which revisited Loewald,s ideas on the Oedipus Complex was read to the attendees

  2. Joe

    Hi there,

    does anyone have thomas ogden’s email? I would like to email him and ask him about his description of the three modes of experience. The Kleinian view appears to be that splitting, denial, omnipotent phantasy and projective identification are predominantly used as defences in the paranoid-schizoid position. In contrast, the manic defences are predominantly used in the depressive position. Also his contribution his the autistic-contiguous position, which uses defences that are based around what he terms as secondary skins formations. However, in regards to these three positions that a person occilates between where does the mature ego defences that evolve around repression come into this theory?

    yours sincerely,


  3. jane hall

    I think thet what Thomas describes occurs in all relationships.. To the degree that we allow the ‘other’ in we change. Somehow chemistry is involved, even on the written page and I think it has to do with the passion in our words. We seem to envelop the ‘other’ in our fantasy life while at the same time adjusting our fantasies. This can be for better or worse but connection is like sunshine – we all need it to grow. Thomas’ words are charged with energy and new ideas which the reader internalizes thus changing her/him. However, I am not sure if the third applies because he does not hear replies to his writings. Doesn’t the creation of a third require exchanges between two? I may change/grow from reading a book but unless there is a dialogue it cannot be called a third. All the more reason for writing to an author to create an exchange of sorts. Even fan mail and applause allows the author or musician or actor to feel connection. Just some thoughts.
    Thank you editors.


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