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Tip: To see Abram’s analysis of Winnicott’s theories…

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In-depth analysis of Winnicott’s psychoanalytic theorization was conducted by Jan Abrams in her work The Language of Winnicott. You can access it directly by clicking here.

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Ross, N. (1965). Topography and Systems in Psychoanalytic Theory: By Merton M. Gill. Psychological Issues, Vol. III, No. 2. Monograph 10. (New York: Int. Univ. Press, 1963. Pp. vii + 179. $5.00.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:254-256.

(1965). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46:254-256

Topography and Systems in Psychoanalytic Theory: By Merton M. Gill. Psychological Issues, Vol. III, No. 2. Monograph 10. (New York: Int. Univ. Press, 1963. Pp. vii + 179. $5.00.)

Review by:
Nathaniel Ross

It does not seem extravagant to say that this is one of the most brilliant pieces of scholarship to appear on the psycho-analytic horizon in a long time. Lucidly conceived, tightly organized and richly documented every page of the way, Dr Gill's monograph dispels an important confusion in psycho-analytic theory, and in the process of doing so, introduces a wealth of ancillary clarifications.

Since Freud introduced the structural theory in 1923, as the tripartite systemic (not systematic) division of the personality, to replace the topographic one, the latter concept has occupied a vague and shifting position in the framework of psycho-analytic theory as a whole. Freud himself, as Gill points out, occasionally used the latter term as though he were still referring to a theory of systems, and other writers still do so. It is to clarify the place of the topographic concept in psycho-analytic theory that Gill has written his monograph. From his argument there emerges the conclusion that the most useful and unambiguous meaning of the term 'topographic' is that of the relationship of particular psychic phenomena to consciousness, and that, since one can subsume this relationship under each of the five metapsychological points of view—dynamic, genetic, economic, structural and adaptive—'the topographic point of view cannot be considered as an independent metapsychological point of view on a par with them'. To be sure, says the author, despite this logical (and to me, methodologically sound) consideration, one may still wish to include the topographic point of view in the metapsychological pattern at the highest level of abstraction, but he believes that his is the more 'parsimonious and heuristic' choice.

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