The Language of Winnicott
Winnicott's original contribution to psychoanalysis is alive and well and living in the pages of this book. This second edition is predicated on a decade of further research to make Winnicott's thought even more accessible. It is offered in the spirit of the first edition - to guide impartially, so that the reader may personally discover the intricate aspects of Winnicott's celebration of human nature. The capacity to be true to one's Self, and to feel real and live creatively are at the heart of Winnicott's endeavour.
Who was Winnicott? Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) was one of the early Freudian psychoanalysts of the British Psychoanalytical Society in the early 1930s. For almost forty years he was a dedicated Society member and elected President on two separate occasions. Winnicott felt 'Freud was in his bones', and this is hardly surprising since he spent ten years in analysis with James Strachey, one of the Society's first Training Analysts whose own analysis had been conducted by Freud himself.
For Winnicott, his work as a paediatrician alongside his training in psychoanalysis, for him vindicated Freudian theory. In the early 1930s he enjoyed a close collaboration with Melanie Klein, who was one of his supervisors as he completed his analytic training as a child analyst. Impressed by his clinical capacities Klein referred her son to him for analysis, and it is clear from her correspondence that she was always grateful for his help. At that time Winnicott was also treating one of Ernest Jones' children.
By 1945, in the wake of the 'controversial discussions', Winnicott found that he was amongst the majority of indigenous psychoanalysts who chose not to align with either Anna Freud or Melanie Klein as the training was divided into two groups. Instead he began to focus on his own ideas, 'settling down to clinical work.' Later these non aligned analysts became known as the 'middle group', but it was not until much later, in 1973, that the Independent Group was officially formed (Kohon 1988). Winnicott is often identified with this group even though it was formed after his death. The truth is well documented - Winnicott would not have joined any group, even the Independent Group. He wanted to remain non-aligned like many psychoanalysts, even today, although of course his allegiance was firmly to Freud and psychoanalysis.
So why a dictionary for Winnicott's writings? Winnicott's very particular use of the English vernacular evokes a strong emotional response. His use of ordinary, evocative language in the many talks and broadcasts he gave to lay audiences render his ideas immediately recognizable to the reader with no psychoanalytic background. However, underneath the apparent simplicity of a phrase or sentence lies a Freudian labyrinth of complex theory. Between 1931 and 1970 Winnicott wrote over 600 papers that were addressed to diverse groups as well as psychoanalysts. Each paper is a unique explication of the many themes that preoccupied him concerning how we live our lives.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of reading Winnicott, referred to by Thomas Ogden in his Foreword, is that the paradoxical nature of Winnicott's thought resists definition. Ogden concludes therefore, about this second edition, that 'this book is not a dictionary in the same way that the OED is not a dictionary.' As the title conveys, the idea was inspired by Laplanche and Pontalis (1973), and motivated by a strong desire to mine the texts. Each of the twenty-three entries, with their various sub sections, offers a selection of the writings in chronological order and lets Winnicott speak for himself. This structure enables the reader to track how the conceptualisations evolved so as to explore their own resonances.
Does Winnicott's work constitute a paradigm shift in psychoanalysis? Sigmund Freud's development of psychoanalysis instigated a scientific revolution. It is Freud's work that remains the radical theory and constitutes the original Kuhnian paradigm shift. Subsequent theories that have built on Freud's model of the mind contribute to an overall significant development in psychoanalytic theory and technique. However, there has always been dispute as to whether any given development extends or negates the fundamental tenets of psychoanalysis. This question was the central issue in the 'controversial discussions' of the British Psychoanalytical Society between 1941-45.
Winnicott's focus, throughout the whole of his work, is on the paradoxical nature of the earliest intrapsychic development and how this comes about via the interpsychic relationship ie: the parent-infant relationship. While it is clear that his perspective offers a significant and particular contribution to object relations theory, there is no question that Freud's metapsychology and the centrality of the psychoanalytic symbolic matrix ie: Oedipus and the primal scene, constitute the foundations from which Winnicott's thought builds (Abram 2004). For example, compare and contrast Freud's 'Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning' (1911) and his later theory of helplessness (1926) with Winnicott's 'The theory of the parent-infant relationship' (1960), and see how Winnicott builds on Freud's theory while offering refreshing new perspectives. Every concept of Winnicott's can be traced back to a Freudian root. This clarifies André Green's assertion that Winnicott's recapitulation continues Freud's work - 'He did not break off with Freud but rather completed his work' (Green 1996).
Is Winnicott's work compatible with the work of Melanie Klein? Winnicott was of course influenced by the work of Melanie Klein. However, he increasingly found himself disagreeing with the Kleinian development and in diverse ways this fuelled his thinking and brought further ideas to fruition. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that his critique of some of the Kleinian developments did not amount to the repudiation of her work. The dictionary throws light on some of the fundamental differences as well as areas of compatibility with the post Kleinian development, especially as seen in the work of Bion.
Winnicott's work is not only a testament to the sustaining value of Freud's metapsychology, but also illustrates and leads a particular strand of psychoanalytic development emerging from the British Psychoanalytical Society. The dictionary shows how Winnicott's unique and humane rendering of psychoanalysis, with its strong Freudian roots, heralds new directions in psychoanalysis for the 21st Century.
Abram, J. (2004) Does Winnicott's work constitute a paradigm shift in psychoanalysis? (unpublished context statement for PhD by published works)
Kohon, G. (1988) The British School of Psychoanalysis: The Independent Tradition
Kuhn, T. S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Freud, S. (1911) The Formulation of two principles of mental functioning (SE X11 p. 220)
Freud, S. (1926) Inhibitions, symptoms and anxieties (SE XX p. 87)
Green, A. (1996) The posthumous Winnicott: on Human Nature
Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J-B. (1973) The Language of Psychoanalysis
Winnicott, D.W. (1951) Anxiety associated with insecurity
Winnicott, D.W. (1960) The theory of the parent-infant relationship
Jan Abram is a psychoanalyst in private practice; Associate Member of the British Psychoanalytical Society; Honorary Archivist of the Winnicott Trust and General Editor of the forthcoming Collected Works of D.W. Winnicott
By Jan Abram