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Mitchell, S.A. (1996). Merton Gill: In Appreciation. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:177.
(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:177
Merton Gill: In Appreciation
Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.
I GOT TO KNOW MERTON GILL only late in his life. During most of the time I knew him, he struggled with severe illnesses of various sorts. Because we lived in different cities, I was able to spend a very limited amount of time with him. And yet, reflecting on my experience with him in response to a request from the editors of Contemporary Psychoanalysis to write about Merton from a personal perspective, I realized that his intensity as a person and the power of his intellect had an enormous effect on me. I am sure that he will be a lasting presence for the rest of my life, and I hope that by describing some of my encounters with him I will be able to evoke something of what made him so extraordinary.
I first met Merton in 1982, when he came to New York to deliver a paper at the White Institute. At that time in the evolving culture of the Institute, these occasions were not always greatly rewarding. When someone was invited from outside the interpersonal world of which the Institute is the hub, they often seemed oblivious of our community and of our efforts in psychoanalytic theorizing. So, a paper would be presented—something along the lines of British object relations theory, or self psychology, or perhaps in some related area or an adjacent discipline—with little appreciation of the contributions of White community members. The favor would often be returned by a discussant who would reaffirm the priority of some interpersonal author who, it would be suggested, had anticipated and perhaps even obviated the presenter's contributions. The whole business often seemed to be a sterile exercise in institutional isolationism and politically based noncommunication.
Merton's reputation did little to forestall my apprehensions about what the evening would be like. He was known as a fierce partisan—clinically, theoretically, and politically. Decades before this event, when there was some negotiation between the White Institute and the American Psychoanalytic Association about the Institute joining the American, Merton was among those who had visited White. He took it upon himself to deliver