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Pine, F. (1986). Margaret S. Mahler—1897-1985. Psychoanal Q., 55:493-495.

(1986). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 55:493-495

Margaret S. Mahler—1897-1985

Fred Pine

On October 2, 1985, Margaret Mahler died at the age of eighty-eight. She lived to see her work become a major factor in the enlivening and enrichment of psychoanalysis that has taken place in the last quarter century. She was a central figure on the world stage of psychoanalysis.

Mahler's contribution, like most major contributions, stemmed from a fortuitous blend of circumstance and personality. The circumstance was her opportunity to observe mother-infant interactions close-up during her work in a well-baby clinic in pre-World War II Vienna, this coincident with the observational opportunities provided by clinical psychoanalysis. And the personal contribution came from an intense creative drive coupled with an exquisite sensitivity to certain features of the human condition—a sensitivity that could only be a product of a deeply personal history and which, to our gain, she was able to transform into creative thought.

As is well known, the central thrust of her major work took shape four decades ago with the study and explication of what she referred to as "symbiosis" and its place in certain severe pathology of very early childhood. This evolved into the study of normal development of mother-infant pairs, an effort which, in turn, led her to the formulation of a separation-individuation process with its now-familiar subphases: differentiation, practicing, rapprochement, and object constancy. A clinical-observational researcher and theorist in the best sense, she always had a respect for data and continued to refine and alter her thinking—even into her last years and months.

While her mode of thinking was very much that of a pioneer, Mahler nonetheless always comfortably placed herself and her work in the mainstream of psychoanalysis.

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