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Britton, R. (2008). A Beam of Intense Darkness: Wilfred Bion's Legacy to Psychoanalysis by James S. Grotstein London: Karnac; 2007, 382 pp.. Fort Da, 14(2):117-123.

(2008). Fort Da, 14(2):117-123

Book Reviews

A Beam of Intense Darkness: Wilfred Bion's Legacy to Psychoanalysis by James S. Grotstein London: Karnac; 2007, 382 pp.

Reviewed by
Ronald Britton, M.D., FRCPSYCH

Bion had a mission and so does James Grotstein. Bion wanted to clarify and communicate his new understanding of the practice of psychoanalysis; Grotstein wants to ensure that Bion's legacy is passed on including the effects on his own thinking of his former analyst.

Grotstein has his own “take” on the ideas of Wilfred Bion and in this book he generously, unabashedly, shares them with us. He says that “over and over again Bion would remind me that I should be more focused on my own responses to what he said rather than on him and his words” (p. 5). With that injunction from Bion, Grotstein, with his own characteristic enthusiasm, embarks on his quest. But before doing so he arms himself by reading and re-reading Bion, by reading and talking to many other interested parties, by recollecting his own analysis with Bion, consulting his own clinical experience, and reflecting on his own thoughts.

Bion has many strands of thought and, like Freud, he does not knit them all into one final inclusive pattern. This means that in both cases different strands will be taken by different followers and knitted into patterns of their own. Grotstein is not content to simply do this; he gives himself the task of putting forward Bion's ideas comprehensively, commenting on how they have been interpreted by others and making clear his own understanding and further elaboration of them. This makes it a more formidable undertaking for the writer and a more demanding one for the reader. Whilst resembling, therefore, a contemporary textbook, it has underneath it the quality of a narrative of a mental journey taken by Bion, followed and subsequently extended by Grotstein. I used the word quest above with its immediate associative harmonic of “Holy Grail”; if that has any meaning it would refer to the pursuit in this book of Bion's category “O” or perhaps the “O” of Bion.

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