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Waddell, M. (1984). The Long Weekend. Free Associations, 1A(Pilot):72-84.

(1984). Free Associations, 1A(Pilot):72-84

The Long Weekend

Margot Waddell

Essay Review of The Long Week-end 1897-1919: Part of a Life by W. R. Bion, Abington, Fleetwood Press, 1982, 287 pp., £9.

The work of the late Wilfred Bion is extremely hard to classify. Among the epithets commonly attached to it, ‘original’ is probably one of the least contentious. He can be located in direct line in the development of psychoanalytic theory from Freud to Melanie Klein, but he branches from that line in a highly individual way — one that is founded in an epistemology which is itself based in emotionality (emotionality, not just in contradistinction to rationality, but somehow constitutive of Bion's theory of thinking).

In this volume, the lay reader is given ready access to a way of thinking which, in Bion's other works, though much more developed, remains to the uninitiated both difficult theoretically and (as in the final three-volume Memoir of the Future) artistically and conceptually arcane. Here, by contrast, powerful strands — personal, epistemological, ideological — interweave with great clarity. One of Bion's concerns is with the impact of the prevailing culture — its values and preoccupations — on the internal world, and with the relationship between that impact and other less accessible determinants of psychic development.

We are given insight into, understanding of, the early part of a life through the lens of a later belief in a very distinctive model of mind — an epistemological one, in which emotion is placed at the very heart of meaning. The account is painful, not just as a record of unhappy and largely (at the time) uncomprehended experience, but for the way it reveals the numbing, destructive effect that this early life has had on the growth of personality and the capacity to conduct intimate relations.

Bion's central concern is with the various aspects of the mind and with how it may be that some of them are in the service of discovering truth and beauty, and others, of mis-understanding and anti-thought. He describes his life with relentless honesty. It is a raw and disturbing read.

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