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Elmhirst, S.I. (1980). Bion and Babies. Ann. Psychoanal., 8:155-167.

(1980). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 8:155-167

Bion and Babies

Susanna Isaacs Elmhirst, M.D., FRCP

I was recently surprised but charmed when a colleague, on seeing the title of this paper, asked “What is a Bion?” His natural thought that a Bion was perhaps a biological substance led me to think of “Bionic” and to how often Bion appears in my patients' dreams as a highly desirable alternative to me, more biological (physical) or more bionic (magical). “Beyond the beyond” was a patient's recent association to a dream. My colleague's unawareness of Bion's work led me to realize how little WRB is known in psychoanalytic circles outside the area where he works, Los Angeles, or beyond the more consciously “Kleinian” community which is strong in South America as well as in England, Italy, and Spain.

Freud was well aware, at times painfully aware, that his work was greeted with a great deal of hostility. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he had merely discovered, not invented, some unwelcome impulses in human beings, young and old. He also knew, as he wrote in the paper about Little Hans, that “when we cannot understand something we always fall back on abuse” (Freud, 1909, p. 27).

His findings about the sexual fantasies of children and about the child unconsciously alive in each and every one of us undermined people's cherished notions of themselves as innocent children developing into that different species-adult. Much of the hostility which Bion's analyst and teacher Melanie Klein faced, and which her work and those developing it are still liable to encounter, is similarly stimulated. She further eroded the cherished illusion of ourselves as the perfect baby, in an ideal relationship with a perfect mother—or at least driven from purity by evil external influences.

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