The Collage Path:
Scan & grasp

The path continues with scanning, reaching-out, and grasping—perceptually based actions that correspond to the orality of infancy and to the expression of desire in adulthood. These actions open deep reservoirs of psychic hunger, initiating the complex passage from physiological need, to articulated demand, to unconscious desire.


Scan the specially constructed book of public photographs. Let your hand follow the lead of your eyes. Reach out for, and pull out of the book, whatever pictures attract you. Pull out pictures you find appealing as well as ones that irritate you, or that draw your attention in some unknown way. Take whatever non-picture materials you wish from the community chest.


People know far more about themselves than they know how to say. They bear this knowledge non-discursively, in capacities for recognizing, reacting to, and handling (and being handled by) significant images, and in the implicit rules that govern the self’s orienting maneuvers among its objects.

It is the aim of the collage process first to elicit this non-discursive, feeling-laden knowledge, which is vividly expressed in acts of scanning and grasping visual images, and in bodily orientations and movements within an image-configuration, and then to coax this knowledge into less immediate forms of representation. Access to such more distanced forms enables the self to become disentangled from fusions with loved and hated objects, thus providing the foundation for lively desire as well as for liberated conscious choice and will.

The formative trajectory in which the collage images are utilized moves, in its non-discursive as well as its discursive strand, toward expression in articulate speech. The transformations accomplished in the non-discursive strand support the progression toward verbalization. Verbalization actually occurs, of course, only in the therapeutic interviews, in the medium of sound, in Speaking of Collages, not in Making them.

The image strand supports the movement toward speech not only through the logic of its progression, but also through the very resistance that its medium offers to discursive formulation. The difficulty of distinguishing, in an image medium, between signifier and signified, symbolizes the resistance that repressed emotional material offers to thought.

Making psychological-semiotic resistance tangible in the image strand of the collage path enables the defensive functions served by non-articulation to be partially transferred to the inertial weight of the medium itself. When resistance is approached from the side of the image, and when images are utilized in a formative process through which they are progressively symbolized, as occurs in Making Collages, then the resistance offered by the image medium changes sign from negative to positive, and begins to provide a supportive ground for the risky leaps entailed in expression.

An image process that follows the structure of a series of linguistic transformations, even though it never becomes full speech, nevertheless makes a powerful contribution to the coding operations that, finally, enable unconscious meanings to be spoken. This use of images bridges the gap between the imagistic form in which repressed meanings circulate as signifiers in the unconscious, and the verbal form in which they can become conscious and accessible to re-coding.


Coordination among eye, hand and mouth has been called the earliest organizer of the psyche. In the “Scan and Grasp” step, the eye and hand are enlisted in acts of rapid recognition and reaching-out. It is difficult to overestimate the evocative and cognitive depths to which this activity reaches in various psychic zones.

Scan & grasp polylogue