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Kwawer, J.S. (1998). On Using Winnicott. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(3):389-395.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(3):389-395

On Using Winnicott

Jay S. Kwawer, Ph.D.

I am grateful for the opportunity to think further about one of the great mavericks of psychoanalytic theory, Donald Winnicott. For the umpteenth time, I find myself both charmed and disarmed by his always elliptical, suggestive, frequently obscure prose. Winnicott's writing always lends itself, in my experience, to adoption by readers of various persuasions; like ambiguous cloud formations in the summer sky, Winnicott always offers his ideas in ways that enable us to claim ownership of his thinking with the sense that we can locate him in precisely the place we find him, with the outlines and definition we see in that moment. Yet, he remains elusive, wedded to idiosyncratic language and concepts that fall often just this side of autistic, just barely out of reach, with the hint of profundity, its apparent depth all the more resounding by virtue of its obscurity. I had not previously heard of Rycroft's depiction of Winnicott as a “crypto prima donna,” but I think this may be le mot juste.

Like handfuls of sand at the seashore, just when you think you've got him in your grasp, he slips away, and you reach irresistibly for another handful, only to find it quickly escaping through the cracks between your fingers. And so, we are confronted with an ambiguous legacy. Dr. Kuriloff sees Sullivan in the outlines of the clouds; Dr. Goldman sees Melanie Klein's shadow looming darkly over an ambivalent Winnicott; Mr. Rappaport finds the British Brazelton, above all the pediatrician absorbed in concert with mothers and babies. The richness of Winnicott's contributions allows for such diverse responses. His conceptual fluidity allows for personal shaping; paradoxically, this is its strength as well as its weakness as clinical theory. Here, I am reminded of a reference I once heard Otto Kernberg make to Winnicott as a seductive presence, both in his clinical persona and in his published writing.

Dr. Goldman's searching, balanced, integrative assemblage of personal biography is a masterful tour de force, lovingly executed and beautifully written.

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