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Parsons, M. (1990). Marion Milner's 'Answering Activity' and the Question of Psychoanalytic Creativity. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 17:413-424.

(1990). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 17:413-424

Marion Milner's 'Answering Activity' and the Question of Psychoanalytic Creativity

Michael Parsons


Marion Milner recently celebrated her 90th birthday, and this paper was given in honour of that event at an informal meeting of a small group within the British Psycho-Analytical Society of which she is a member. Although it has been revised for publication I hope some feeling of the original occasion remains.

This is a personal response to a particular theme in Milner's writing. Inevitably personal, inevitably particular: her contribution has been far too varied to encompass in a single paper, and her writing is so personal that it compels a response at the same level. I start with a look at her three autobiographical books, which are perhaps less read, by analysts at least, than her other work. These are A Life of One's Own, An Experiment in Leisure and Eternity's Sunrise(Milner, 1934), (1937), (1987a). Then I describe an issue to do with technique and creativity in psychoanalysis, and show how I think these books coupled with her paper written in 1952 'The rôle of illusion in symbol formation' (Milner, 1987b; chapter 9) help us to address it.

First, however, some general comments on her writing as a whole. She has a distinctive voice. One would not read far in an unknown text of hers before beginning to suspect who must have written it. Her work belongs to two traditions at once and in each one it is characteristically out of the ordinary. There is a strand in European letters which begins with St. Augustine and runs through Rousseau's Confessions and Wordsworth's Prelude up to, for example, Kazantzakis' Report to Greco in our own day.

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