Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?: A Memorial to W.R. Bion

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All the contributors to this compilation knew Bion personally and were influenced by his work. They include: Herbert Rosenfeld, Frances Tustin, Andre Green, Donald Meltzer and Hanna Segal.Wilfred R. Bion has taken his place as one of the foremost psychoanalysts of our time, yet it is only within recent years that the impact of his achievements are being felt. His death has stilled his pen and voice but demands a restatement of his view by those who have been most influenced by him. Bion's greatness lay, not only in the odd vertices of his incredible observations, but in the resources of his epistemological vastness, his respect for truth obtained in the disciplined absence of memory and desire, and his paying such scrupulous attention to and interpreting of recombinant constructions he achieved with mental elements their functions, and their transformations. His was the Language of Achievement, which is the tongue begotten by patience. Of note is his introduction of Plato's theory of forms and Kant's categories into psychoanalytic metapsychology, to say nothing of his mathematical, group and religious theories.The contributors to this memorial all knew him either as analysands, supervisees, or colleagues. Virtually all of the psychoanalysts-analysands of Melanie Klein are represented as well, bearing testimony to his importance as a pathfinder for post-Kleinian thinking, to say nothing of post-Freudian. Their contributions can be thought of as prisms which refract Bion's profound but often recondite Language of Achievement into the differentiated color spectrum of sensible meaning for clinical reflection and practice.Contributors include: Ignacio Matte Blanco, Robert H. Gosling, Andre Green, Leon Grinberg, James Grotstein, Martha Harris, Betty Joseph, Sydney Klein, Robert Langs, Isabel Menzies Lyth, Donald Meltzer, Roger Money-Kyrle, Michael Paul, Frank Philips, Herbert Rosenfeld, Richard J. Rosenthal, Hanna Segal and Frances Tustin.

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A Personal Reminiscence: Bion, Evidence of the Man

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Frank Philips

My long association with Wilfred Bion, first in analysis with him, subsequently through long years of friendship, brings me to a realization of many matters. First, to describe them rather loosely, he understood psycho-analysis, found it to be in many respects inadequately used and set himself to do something about it. Thanks to his unusually penetrating insight and his need for truth and intolerance of alternatives to it, he brought to bear a cultured capacity for applying thought and common sense in rendering psycho-analysis not something more, but something much more. In achieving this, and in publishing the successive stages of his findings, he revealed to every psychoanalyst who really cares seriously for the matter the presence of an area of mind and personality that can be known and an immense area which can only be unknown for the time being, hence can only be conjectured to exist. For all this he will not be loved, human beings-many psycho-analysts of course included-being what they are. Fortunately a tiny minority will have found more truth about the matter of psycho-analysis through his work and genius.

 

On the Analyst's 'Sleep’ During the Psychoanalytic Session

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Richard P. Alexander, M.D.

Commenting on the present state of psychoanalytic knowledge, Bion has been known to often state that inasmuch as we are engaged in a field which has been in existence for only some 100 years, that “we have just scratched the surface.” The psychoanalytic contributions of Dr. Bion, however, have gone far, I feel, to lengthen and deepen this scratch and help us in finding our way. I have found this particularly to be the case in regards to the subject matter presented in this paper, where the application of a number of his theories and suggestions have shown themselves to be quite useful.

In a previous paper (1976), I drew attention to the relationship between the pathological withdrawal of the patient during the psychoanalytic session, leading to states of stupor and sleep—to those states of mind experienced by the analyst during the session, leading to his loss of interest or temporary lapse of consciousness. Relatively little appears in the literature on this latter situation, which will be the subject of this paper.

 

To Practice One's Art

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Bernard W. Bail, M.D.

Le soleil ni la mort ne se peuvent regarder fixement.

La Rochefoucauld

While direct access to the truth is available, it would seem, to poets and mystics only, those less fortunate have finally been able, in this century, to take advantage of the most remarkable heuristic device of modern times: psychoanalysis. Yet Freud’s discoveries rapidly became frozen into a rigid body of laws not to be transgressed at any cost. Thus, knowingly or not, Freud implicitly allowed those who followed him to reinstate the bliss of ignorance, and a series of “thou shalt not’s” grew up around the original insights that should have opened up more pathways into the human psyche than has been the case. The extraordinary persistence to this day of such interdictions can be gauged with respect above all to the “narcissistic neuroses,” deemed unamenable to analysis. We are still warned against analyzing schizophrenics, manic depressives and adolescents—despite the fact that these admittedly onerous tasks have been undertaken and a great deal learned in the process. What irony instead resides in the fact that, having given us the tools to understand this awful, forbidding conscience which terrorizes, constrains us to prayer, and virtually addicts us to superstition, Freud should somehow have given consent to successive generations of analysts to maintain this terrible force and keep it from perishing!

 

Bion and Babies

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Susanna Isaacs Elmhirst

Bion has meant, and will mean, a lot to babies. This may come as a surprise, especially to those many, perhaps most, people working in the field of human psychology who believe that the activities of Bion’s complex mind are so abstruse as to be incomprehensible and are thus irrelevant to the day-to-day reality of life, even to that of a working psycho-analyst, let alone to babies.

In these musings, offered in this Memorial to Bion, I want to consider the role of his work in furthering our understanding of the interaction between an infant and its environment in mental development. In that sense the title of this short essay may be misleading, for it does scant justice to the importance of those on whom babies depend. However, I hope to be able to demonstrate Bion’s contribution to the solution of the nature versus nurture controversy as it applies to the growth of the mind from birth onwards.

My own first close contact with the man whose mental growth and productivity we are celebrating was as a candidate of the British Psycho-Analytic Society:

 

Toward the Experiencing of Psychic Pain

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Betty Joseph

“People exist who are so intolerant of pain or frustration (or in whom pain or frustration is so intolerable) that they feel the pain but will not suffer it and so cannot be said to discover it … the patient who will not suffer pain fails to ‘suffer’ pleasure.” This description of Bion’s is central to my thinking in this paper. I want to describe a type of movement and a type of pain that I think is experienced at periods of transition between feeling pain and suffering it—a borderline situation. Some of our patients describe to us a certain type of pain which is, from their point of view, indefinable. The quality or nature of the pain is not comprehensible to them and they often feel that they cannot convey the experience to the analyst. It may appear to be almost physical, it may be connected with a sense of loss, but it is not what we would define as depression; it may contain feelings of anxiety, but it cannot just be seen as a sense of anxiety. It is, as our patients point out to us, “pain.” It is this apparently indefinable phenomenon that I want to discuss here.

 

Autistic Phenomena in Neurotic Patients

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Sydney Klein

In recent years there has been an increasing awareness amongst analysts that behind the neurotic aspects of the patient’s personality there lies hidden a psychotic problem which needs to be dealt with to ensure real stability. This was particularly highlighted by Bion (1957) in his seminal paper on the differentiation of the psychotic from the non-psychotic part of the personality. However, I do not feel that this is still fully recognized. In the course of a periodic review of the progress of my analytic practice, and particularly of my patients’ habitual modes of communication, I became aware that certain among them whom I thought of initially as being only mildly neurotic, some of whom were also analytic candidates, revealed during the course of treatment, phenomena familiar in the treatment of autistic children. These patients were highly intelligent, hard-working, successful and even prominent professionally and socially, usually pleasant and likeable, who came to analysis either ostensibly for professional reasons or because of a failure to maintain a satisfactory relationship with a husband or wife. It gradually became clear that in spite of the analysis apparently moving, the regular production of dreams, and reports of progress, there was a part of the patient’s personality with which I was not in touch. I had the impression that no real fundamental changes were taking place. There is an obvious parallel with what Winnicott (1960) has called the false self, and which Rosenfeld (1978) has termed “psychotic islands” in the personality, but I do not think these terms quite do justice to what may be described as an almost impenetrable cystic encapsulation of part of the self which cuts the patient off both from the rest of his personality and the analyst. This encapsulation manifests itself by a thinness or flatness of feeling accompanied by a rather desperate and tenacious clinging to the analyst as the sole source of life, accompanied by an underlying pervasive feeling of mistrust, and a preoccupation with the analyst’s tone of voice or facial expression irrespective of the content of the interpretation. There is a constant expectation of hostility and a tendency to become quickly persecuted at the slightest hint of the analyst’s irritation or disapproval. Consciously the analyst is idealized as an extremely powerful and omniscient figure who also occurs in this guise in the patient’s dream. As a concomitant, the patient denies his persecutory feelings in spite of the evidence subsequently given by dreams and other analytic material. For example, one patient offered to raise her fees as she felt so well, and I accepted her offer. The next night she dreamed of a large white vampire bat and of a baby wriggling to escape from a tube being put into its foot for a blood transfusion. It was obvious that although she had offered to raise the fees herself she experienced me as a vampire-like breast who was sucking her dry instead of filling her with life. Nevertheless her fear of me led to a firm denial of her persecutory feelings.

 

Using Bion's Grid as a Laboratory Instrument: A Demonstration

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Frederick Kurth

On the morning of May 12, 1889, Freud found his patient, Frau Emmy von N., in a surprising state. He writes,

Contrary to my expectation, she had slept badly and only for a short time. I found her in a state of great anxiety, though, incidentally, without showing her usual physical signs of it. She would not say what the matter was, but only that she had had bad dreams, and kept seeing the same things. ‘How dreadful it would be,’ she said, ‘if they were to come to life.’

Freud reports his experiences with this patient in Studies on Hysteria. In this monograph he describes also, for the first time, the phenomenon of transference, that dreadful coming to life from feelings of “estrangement,” or “dread of becoming too much accustomed to the physician personally,” or “frightened” at transferring distressful ideas to the figure of the physician.

Just a few pages before reporting his observations on transference, Freud noted a phenomenon which occurred while working with a hysterical symptom.

 

The Suffocating Super-Ego: Psychotic Break and Claustrophobia

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A.A. Mason

Introduction

This paper is an expression of gratitude to Dr. Wilfred R. Bion who supervised the first psychotic patient I treated by psychoanalysis eighteen years ago. His support and understanding helped me to complete a successful analysis of that case. This encouraged me to continue the psychoanalytic treatment of psychosis in ten further cases, eight of which continued analysis unto completion.

One of the findings of this experience is presented here with the hope that another generation of analysts might be encouraged to pursue the treatment and investigation of these disorders.

The Suffocating Super-Ego: Psychotic Break and Claustrophobia

This paper has arisen from my experience with two different clinical problems: First, the acute psychotic breakdown arising spontaneously or in the course of psychoanalysis. Second, the treatment of claustrophobia.

I found at times that these two apparently separate clinical problems unexpectedly turned out to be different facets of a similar problem. Patients who develop psychotic breaks suffered anxieties, symptoms, and defenses which had a marked similarity to those experienced by patients who had been treated for acute claustrophobic anxiety. Similarly, these claustrophobic patients frequently developed symptoms and anxieties of a psychotic nature. This, quite often, was especially noticeable when the claustrophobic anxiety diminished.

 

On the Psychology and Treatment of Psychotic Patients (Historical and Comparative Reflections)

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Dr. H. Rosenfeld, London

On this occasion I shall try to give some picture of the development of the psychoanalytic treatment of psychotic patients in England, but will concentrate mainly on Wilfred Bion’s work and my own on this subject. Basically our work has much in common but we have frequently focussed on different aspects of the clinical problems we encountered. This is not surprising as the treatment and the research into the psychopathology of psychosis is a never ending source of making new connections and new discoveries. Both Bion and myself were profoundly influenced by our personal analyses with Melanie Klein and particularly by her views which she presented to the British Psycho-Analytical Society.

In December 1946, Melanie Klein discussed there in detail the development of the infant during the first three to four months of life,a phase which she named the paranoid-schizoid position and described for the first time the splitting mechanisms of the early ego, projective identification and the turning of the aggression against the self. She pointed out that there was a primary danger of the infantile self being destroyed by destructive impulses within. The external object, the mother in the feeding situation, and the libidinal impulses within the organism were acting as a defence against this destructive danger. However neither of these defences is generally successful in warding off the danger and under the pressure of this threat the ego tends to fall to pieces. She states: “The primary anxiety of being annihilated by a destructive force within with the ego’s specific response of falling to bits or splitting itself may be extremely important in all schizophrenic processes.” She also described in some detail the weakening and impoverishment of the ego resulting in excessive splitting and projective identification as a process where good and bad parts of the self were split off and projected into external objects. She stressed that the weakened ego became unable to assimilate internal objects who were then felt to dominate the ego. The weakened ego was also incapable of taking back in itself the parts projected into the external world. She again emphasised that these processes seemed to be at the root of some forms of schizophrenia.

 

Psychological Birth and Psychological Catastrophe

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Frances Tustin

Introduction

Inspired by Dr. Bion’s work this paper is based on psychoanalytic therapy with psychotic children and with the psychotic residues in neurotic children. It will suggest that the situation described by Dr. Bion as a “psychological catastrophe” is the result of a premature or mismanaged “psychological birth “ and that this causes the cognitive inhibition and dysfunctioning which are outstanding features of psychotic states.

Psychological Catastrophe

From his work with adult patients, Bion has likened the situation which confronts a psychoanalyst, when working at depth with a psychotic patient, to that of an archaeologist who comes upon a ruined city, in the course of the excavation of which, due to the collapse and movement of rock strata, shards and other objects from earlier stages are found jumbled together with pottery and fabrications from later stages (Bion 1962). The appropriate nicety of this metaphor is well borne out by work with children. Clinical work at depth inevitably takes us back to the early stages of infancy. When working with psychotic states we find that, in infancy, developmental phases seem to have telescoped. Later stages seem to have been experienced precociously and out of phase, alongside current and earlier stages in a confused and disordered fashion.

 

Raskolnikov's Transgression and the Confusion Between Destructiveness and Creativity

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Richard J. Rosenthal

Crime and Punishment is generally regarded as one of the world’s greatest psychological novels. Most frequently, Raskolnikov is thought of as a man driven by his sense of guilt to get caught, to confess, and to be punished. I do not feel, however, that this is borne out by the text, at least not in the way it is usually understood. Nor do I go along with the oedipal interpretation of the novel that has been put forth by a series of psychoanalytically-minded writers. The first of these is assumed to be Freud (1928), although the only novel of Dostoevsky’s that Freud specifically referred to was his last, The Brothers Karamazov. Joseph Frank (1975) has written a highly regarded article which reviews the factual errors found in “Dostoevsky and Parricide.” It is Frank’s contention (1976, pp. 25-28) that a number of the legends about Dostoevsky originated with or have been perpetuated by Freud’s essay. In offering my reinterpretation of this great novel, I hope to not only address myself to formal elements within the narrative structure, but to suggest how the confusions found in reading Crime and Punishment reflect one of its central themes.

 

New Theories: Their Influence and Effect on Psychoanalytic Technique

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A.B. Bahia, Rio de Janeiro

Controversy is the growing-point from which development springs, but it must be a genuine confrontation and not an impotent beating of the air by opponents whose differences of view never meet (Bion, 1970, p. 55).

I

In his introductory note to Freud’s first six works on psychoanalytical technique, James Strachey (1958) points out the relative scarcity of texts on this theme by the creator of psychoanalysis. He goes on to remark that Freud never ceased to maintain that mastery of psychoanalytical technique could only be achieved through clinical experience, never from books. Strachey adds: “clinical experience with patients, no doubt, but, above all, clinical experience from the analyst’s own analysis.”

The cornerstone of technique is, thus, experience from the analyst’s own analysis which, according to Freud (1937a, p. 249), should be periodically resumed “at intervals of five years or so.” Based on his own experience of undergoing or re-undergoing analysis without idealization, the analyst realizes the problems of the development of psychoanalytical technique better than anyone. Such development has to be limited to “exercises with ideas,” following trends of thought which have stemmed from Freud’s first discoveries.

 

A Psychosemiotic Model: An Interdisciplinary Search for a Common Structural Basis for Psychoanalysis, Symbol-Formation, and the Semiotic of Charles S.Peirce

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Alfred S. Silver

Introduction

The elaboration of symbols may be the most universal but also the most enigmatic of accomplishments of man’s cultural development. Small, curiously shaped artifacts have been uncovered at sites in Syria dating from Neolithic times, probably tenth millenium down to the third millenium, B.C. These tokens which represented partcular animals, plants, and articles of economic importance to the nomadic tribesmen of the region remained essentially unchanged until the third millenium when in the region of Ebla they appeared inside clay bullae in which they had been sealed after having had their form and design impressed on the exterior of the soft clay container. This development led rapidly to the realization that the actual tokens were no longer needed. The bullae were flattened into tablets, and the figurative impressions evolved into “word” markers. These in turn were abstracted into alphabetical (digital) symbols. These developments were associated with the explosive emergence of an urban civilization. If these events are taken as a possible beginning of a history of which the present crises of civilization are a continuation, then it may be agreed that clarification of the nature of symbol formation is of great importance.

 

Negation and Contradiction

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Andre Green

He had spoken the very truth and transformed it into the veriest falsehood.

It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each one renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow.

Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

THINGS AND “NO”

At the December 1974 meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association S. Abrams and P. Neubauer presented a paper entitled “Object-orientedness: the person or the thing.” Using all the resources of psychoanalytic ego-psychology in the comparison of two children, faithfully and regularly observed in minute detail, their paper studied two types of object-orientedness: toward people and toward things. The discussion contrasted the child whose object relationship bound him mainly to persons, and the child whose object-relationship was bound to things. As I listened I was struck, apparently more than were the authors of the communication, by one fact. At a given age, each child possessed a vocabulary of five words. At least on first catching the ear, so to speak, there was no notable difference as far as four of these words were concerned. They designated persons who normally were around the children: Mommy, Daddy, little sister or brother, the maid, etc. But they differed significantly on one point: the child whose object relationships created a bond between him and things said ‘This” while the child whose object relationships were oriented toward persons said “No.” I was struck by this connection between the predominant interpersonal (or intersubjective) relationship and the use of negation.

 

The 'Oedipus' as a Resistance Against the 'Oedipus' in the Psychoanalytic Practice

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Leon Grinberg, M.D.

What I am going to set out in the following is the description of my transformation of some of Bion’s ideas concerning the Oedipus myth which I am trying to apply to the psychoanalytical process, considering them as much from the analyst’s point of view as from that of the patient.

Myths can be compared to a many sided mobile polyhedron which, according to the angle we see it from or the view point from which we observe it, demonstrates different faces, vertices and edges.

Some myths have deeply influenced psychoanalytical thought, particularly the understanding of the early human emotional experiences. One example of this is the Oedipus myth, told with mastery in Greek tragedy, and which was elaborated by Freud and his followers in his theory of the Oedipus complex (Freud, 1913, 1921, 1923). Myth, tragedy and theory are, without doubt, important elements in the understanding of a number of repressed situations, repeated and reactualised in an “undesirably faithful” way in the relationship between the patient and the analyst, and allowing its clarification, the lifting of the repression and filling of the “mnemic lakes” and the modification of symptoms through the analysis of the transference.

 

Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream and Who is the Dreamer Who Understands It? [Revised]

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James S. Grotstein

A Psychoanalytic Inquiry Into the Ultimate Nature of Being [Revised]

In his sleep, Vishnu dreamed the dream of the Universe.

-The Bhagavad-Gita

All life is a dream and the dreams are dreams from a dream.

—Calderon de la Barca

… For we know in part, and we prophecy in part.

But when that which is perfect is come, then that

which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child: but when

I became a man, I put away childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then

face to face: now I know in part; but

then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;

but the greatest of these is charity.

-The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 13:9-13

The Dream

When Freud (1900) bequeathed to us his legacy-the understanding of the dream-psychoanalysis, patients, and laymen generally became so intoxicated with this new unraveling of the content of unconscious communication that the staging of the dream took little notice among scholars and dreamers generally. I believe the dream stage is a very important psychic container which has important and intricate relations with its content, the dream. Bion’s concept of the container and the contained has so wide an application in psychological and biological phenomena generally that I believe it amounts to a new natural law (Bion 1962, 1963, 1965, 1970, 1975). Since Bion himself has not stated it so formally, I myself should like to state it as follows: all living phenomena can be viewed as content existing in the framework of a container which circumscribes and describes its content, and, reciprocally, the content has great influence in transforming the nature of its container. In other words, a reciprocal relationship exists between the container and the content of natural phenomena existing in the biological series. I should like to isolate a single instance of this biological vastness, the dream, to demonstrate the importance of the dream framework and its relationship to its container.

 

The Aims of Psycho-Analytic Treatment

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Elliott Jaques

I

Wilfred Bion has been among those writers who have been most clear and explicit about the differences between normality and abnormality, a difference he has expressed so sharply in his distinction between each person’s psychotic and non-psychotic personalities (1957). It is this distinction which is essential for the formulation of the aims of psycho-analytical treatment and of the criteria for the termination of treatment. This theme may, I hope, be a suitable contribution for this occasion of recognising Wilfred Bion’s long and distinguished contribution to psycho-analytic theory and practice.

II

It has always been easier to say what is abnormal in human behaviour than to say what is normal; easier to specify or diagnose symptoms of illness than to specify the signs of health. The difficulty is that as soon as we turn to normality it is hard to avoid producing a long list of moral and ethical values-such as being capable of work and of love. And when we do produce these values, it begins to seem as though to be normal is to be filled with goodness and virtue. It then becomes impossible to know whether our conception of normality is merely a relative protestant, or capitalist, or socialist, or bourgeois, or some other kind of religious or political ethic, or whether we are considering something more fundamental in human nature.

 

Philosophical Issues in Bion's Thought

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Melvin R. Lansky, M.D.

I

Any inquiry into the philosophical significance of Bion’s work requires some explanation because Bion does not consider himself a philosopher, nor his works as a philosophical system. He is not trained philosophically in any formal sense and sees his major philosophical debt to Kant and to Paton, with whom he had conversations about Kant in his years at Oxford. Any thinker, a theoretical one especially, may be looked at philosophically; and Bion, who deals with abstractions, essences, discussions of knowledge, reality, and the passions, is more philosophical in style of thought than almost anyone writing, in English at least, of the psychoanalytic theorists. Nonetheless, there are more specific reasons for considering Bion’s work philosophically. These include his work on the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis; his similarity to analysts who were also philosophers in seeing the basic issues of analysis in terms of the analytic process itself; and his refinements and theoretical extensions of Melanie Klein’s contributions to analysis that serve to clarify major philosophical currents in the so-called Freudian-Kleinian dispute. These will all be seen to converge and the last named, that is, Bion’s work in the light of the Freud-Klein controversy will be the major focus of this discussion.

 

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