Response by Vincenzo Bonaminio
Article first published online: 25 FEB 2013
Copyright © 2013 Institute of Psychoanalysis
The International Journal of Psychoanalysis
Volume 94, Issue 1, pages 124–127, February 2013
How to Cite
Bonaminio, V. (2013), Response by Vincenzo Bonaminio. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 94: 124–127. doi: 10.1111/1745-8315.12048
- Issue published online: 25 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 25 FEB 2013
In this brief comment I wish to be deliberately provocative and possibly controversial, something that is lacking in our three original contributions. Rereading our contributions as a whole set of papers, one can rightly ask oneself: where is the controversy? Let's go and search for it between the lines, with the hope of finding something controversial, at least with respect to the current panorama of psychoanalytic positions. My impression is that our papers were too cautious about comparing the revolutionary approach of Winnicott with the other main theoretical and clinical approaches.
We cannot understand Winnicott's innovations if we do not recognize that they were in (sometimes polemical) dialogue with the leading mainstream theory and clinical technique of his time: his “natural” interlocutor, Melanie Klein.
Just to cite a few examples, I would like to point out that the concept of interpretation is radically different in Winnicott compared with the Kleinian tradition of the time. The same goes for holding as opposed to containment in spite of the literature that draws attention to their similarity. Containment is a pivotal concept that Bion developed from the early, nascent, intuition of Klein. And Klein's concept of projective identification is used by Winnicott in a different way and only for limited clinical situations.
According to Winnicott, holding, in the clinical situation, is what promotes and sustains the patient's tendency to regress in order to find himself (“the true self”); the patient needs to rely on the analyst's presence and stability for psychical growth. In such states the analyst is a subjective object for the patient, and has to maintain this position for a long enough time. At this level, the patient could experience the analyst's interpretation as a stimulus to “react”: either he would lose the growing sense of cohesion or he would transform regression into withdrawal, or he would respond positively to the analyst's interpretations, only to ensure himself of the analyst's love, as he did with his mother's requests. A “false self” is re-established in the clinical situation, but this time it is an ‘iatrogenic’ false self. The analyst's over-interpreting would give rise to the false self and result in a false analysis. This, briefly described, is Winnicott's implicit criticism of the Kleinian technique.
In contrast, in the Kleinian technique, by way of interpreting the analyst tries to prevent the patient's regression, which is thought to run counter to the psychoanalytic process. It is, according to Klein, akin to a negative therapeutic reaction.
There are also important differences between the Kleinian orientation of Bion's container and Winnicott's holding. Bion's “container” is a thing, an object which performs a function of gathering: the semantic reference is a sunken, concave space. The semantic reference of the term “holding”, on the other hand, is bodily posture. Here, again, Winnicott's prevailing attention is to the psycho-somatic matrix. Another element of consideration might be the “dreaming” function implied in Bion's wonderfully evocative expression of maternal “reverie”. This refers, again, to a “mental” dimension, to that aspect of reverie that invests the domain of thinking. If we consider a Winnicottian equivalent of Bion's concept – namely, that of “primary maternal preoccupation” (Winnicott 1956) – we see how it focuses on a more affective and bodily dimension of experience. What it evokes first of all is, in fact, the apprehension of a breathing mother who watches over the sleep of her child.
Klein's projective identification centers on the child projecting into the other his bad feelings, especially his fear of dying, in order to be rid of them – only to find himself persecuted by the return of these feelings. But Winnicott's form of projective identification is a more sophisticated and later defense and is always the consequence of a rupture of the sensual coexistence between the infant and the mother or the rupture of a sense of intimacy between the analytic couple.
Winnicott's approach is still alive and active in many psychoanalytic communities in Britain and around the world. For our papers to not emphasize Winnicott's difference from the Kleinian tradition is, in my opinion, a way of understating the controversy that Winnicott originated. Removing the word “independent” eases Winnicott's absorption into mainstream psychoanalysis, inevitably making his contribution sound ordinary rather than revolutionary. For me, one matter of controversy is – to summarize – that Winnicott's independent thinking and innovation originates from these distinct departures from Klein.
Jan Abrams' scholarly and deep knowledge of Winnicott texts is internationally well-known and her “reference text” The Language of Winnicott, has contributed to making psychoanalysts aware of Winnicott's innovations.
In my view, however, her approach to the progression of Winnicott's original and revolutionary ideas relies too much on his developmental point of view, presenting him as mainly a theoretician and a child developmental psychologist, and not a revolutionary clinician. My point of view is the opposite. I give much more importance to what I have called “the clinical Winnicott” than to his theory of development, even though the two are intertwined.
I have found the words with which Michel Eigen casts his uncommon and unconventional paper touching: his reflections on how Winnicott changed his way of thinking about psychoanalysis and how he reverted his way of approaching the patient. I also appreciated the way in which Eigen seems to fully understand the revolutionary approach of the late Winnicott in “The use of the object”. But having been trained from the beginning in a “Winnicottian approach”, perhaps I cannot fully appreciate and evaluate what it means to change one's way of approaching the patient after the “encounter” with Winnicott.
Finally, there is no such thing as a Winnicottian school; such a notion would imply a contradiction with respect to Winnicott's independent thinking, which goes against the notion of a homogenized set of principles, ideology or true beliefs that would preclude any deviation. The notion of a school is also linked to the concept of orthodoxy, which implies that the theory, principle, and rules of that school ensure the true practice of the discipline and the continuation of it, that is of psychoanalysis. For example, “This is true psychoanalysis because the transference interpretation is the central task of the analyst, regardless if the patient is in a mental state capable to taking-in that interpretation” or “if you do not put yourself as a self-object for the patient the analysis fails” (Kohut). I think that since the beginning Klein's followers were implicitly asked to gather together as a scholastic group, or even a phalanx, to defend the word of the founder. This finds expression in the controversial discussions and later in the writings of the “London Kleinians.”
In contrast, in the present psychoanalytic panorama it would be difficult to find a group of practising analysts who declare that they are “followers of the Winnicottian school”. Winnicott clearly appreciated Klein's revolution but wanted to find his own ways of thinking in psychoanalysis: an independent thinking. His theory is a theory always in progress, as clinical findings evolve. Winnicott offers no general instruction about how to treat a particular technical difficulty, but always his own way of treating it. He stimulates the reader to feel free in approaching the patient because the patient, not the theory, is at the centre of his interest. The content of his theories and his clinical observations, such as the concept of the transitional area, also promote this independence. His theories and clinical observations are a sort of maieutic discourse, never mystical like in Bion, which create a place for the analyst's spontaneous gestures. Consequently, each reader will have his own Winnicott.
In her introduction to the Controversy Rachel Blass says: “the question at stake is not only what did Winnicott add, but where do his additions stand in relation to what one considers as essential to psychoanalysis. This question – of the boundaries or definition of psychoanalytic theory and practice – lies at the heart of many of the central controversies within our field” (Blass, 2012, p. 1440).
My response is yes, Winnicott was revolutionary in his technique with adult patients, even, more or less, within the mainstream of psychoanalysis. In my view his innovation didn't go beyond the boundaries of the psychoanalytic, especially since it hard to say what these boundaries are. He was, however, independent and courageous enough to go to its limits, so to say, and to explore the horizon beyond. And he invited us to be independent too, to creatively explore new territories, without prejudices, and promote a personal, idiosyncratic way of approaching the patient, with spontaneity and authenticity.
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- 1956). Primary maternal preoccupation. In: (1958). Collected papers, through paediatrics to psychoanalysis. London: Tavistock Publications. (