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Williams, M.H. (1992). Hanna Segal, Dream, Phantasy and Art, London: Tavistock/Routledge, 1991, 120 pages, pb. Free Associations, 3(2):306-310.

(1992). Free Associations, 3(2):306-310

Hanna Segal, Dream, Phantasy and Art, London: Tavistock/Routledge, 1991, 120 pages, pb

Review by:
Meg Harris Williams

In this book Hanna Segal expands, in the broader context of the history of Kleinian theory, the essence of the two seminal papers she wrote on symbol formation in the 1950s, which made a well-known and valued contribution to the cultural links which were then beginning to form between psychoanalysis and aesthetics. Melanie Klein's view of phantasy as a vehicle for psychic realities rather than as daydreaming ‘fantasy’ entailed a revision of Freud's view of symbols as having fixed universal meaning. Symbol formation, and failures in symbol formation, came instead to be seen as integral to the emotional and intellectual development of the individual in his struggle to move between the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. A whole world of analogies thereby opened up between the individual (whose inner life happened to be under observation in the process of psychoanalysis) and the artist who was using other techniques to observe and encourage the same phenomenon of mental development.

In both fields, the key factor could be seen to be symbol formation, associated with the achievement of the depressive position (in Kleinian terminology) or of the revelation of inner truth (in the traditional language of aesthetics, art, religion). Failure to achieve symbol formation might take a variety of forms, associated in Kleinian theory with the paranoid-schizoid position, which Dr Segal elaborates extensively in this book, drawing on her earlier formulation of ‘symbolic equations’. She links her symbolic equation/symbol distinction with Money-Kyrle's description of stages in cognitive development from the concrete to the abstract, with Adrian Stokes's descriptions of the complementary merging and separating factors in aesthetic experience, and with Bion's beta and alpha elements.


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