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Levenson, E.A. (1984). Harry Stack Sullivan—The Web and the Spider. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:174-188.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:174-188

Harry Stack Sullivan—The Web and the Spider

Edgar A. Levenson, M.D.

I AM DEEPLY'HONORED TO BE PARTICIPATING in this occasion, which represents for me the happy culmination of more than 30 years of professional and personal relationships at White. It is only fitting, on this fortieth anniversary, that the subject of my presentation be Harry Stack Sullivan. He was one of the founders of the White Institute and certainly the seminal force in the development of an American interpersonal psychoanalysis.

But why my odd subtitle, "The Web and the Spider"? Spiders, after all, carry for most people an unpleasant, even ominous, connotation. They have also had, alas, a very bad psychoanalytic press—you know, "spider equals bad mother" (Mothers haven't been too well treated by psychoanalysts, either). Of course, the unfortunate proclivity of the larger female to make a postnuptial lunch of her smaller, presumably trusting, mate does lend a certain credence to this prejudice. But the spider is much more: It is, as Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, said, "An engineer, a divine watchmaker." The spider, as web-maker, is a maestro of kinesthetics and relationship, exquisitely attuned to and extended into its surrounding world. It is this attunement, this sense of connection and relationship, of syncretic network, which characterizes Sullivan's position, as I shall elaborate it.

Not only will "The Spider and his Web" serve as a unifying trope for many aspects of Sullivan's interpersonal theory, but, by happy non-coincidence, it is also the subject of the only dream of Sullivan's which we have had reported in detail, one which took place at a critical juncture in his career.

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