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Twemlow, S.W. (1998). The Clinical Thinking of Wilfred Bion. By Joan Symington and Neville Symington. New York: Routledge, 1996, viii + 198 pp., $59.95 hardcover, $17.95 paperback. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(4):1281-1284.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(4):1281-1284

Subjects and Objects

The Clinical Thinking of Wilfred Bion. By Joan Symington and Neville Symington. New York: Routledge, 1996, viii + 198 pp., $59.95 hardcover, $17.95 paperback

Review by:
Stuart W. Twemlow

In this intelligently and creatively written volume Joan and Neville Symington, two psychoanalysts in practice in Sidney, Australia, survey aspects of Bion's clinical work, including an explication of Bion's famous (or infamous) grid. Jock Sutherland, in his many visits to the Menninger Clinic, occasionally spoke of Bion, emphasizing his imposing stature and breadth and depth of mind that tended to stun those of lesser education and intensity. Over the years, many have attempted to understand Bion, and some remain, as I do, in a state of suspended idealization, thinking that his work indeed has a breadth and depth that may shake the foundations of human existence, but not yet quite grasping his concepts. At the other end of the continuum are those who find Bion obfuscating and irritating and do not care to discuss his work at all. However, even the preface of this book illuminated some of the problems I have had with Bion's writing. For example, I found there the helpful explanation that Bion's thinking does not follow a causal line (which I am accustomed to) but instead demands that readers grasp its essence (rather than the pathway along which he arrived at it). The intention of this book is to create a mindset in the reader that grasps the complexities of Bion's thinking without oversimplification. The authors wisely do not promise to make things clear or easy for the reader; they set out only to “explain things as best we can, clear away as much rubbish as we can” (p. xi).

In the first chapter they briefly take on the differences between Bion, Freud, and Klein, stating clearly that they consider Bion to be even more original and creative than Freud. I wish they had elaborated this section into several chapters. Perhaps they will in future work.

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