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Britton, R. (2013). Commentary on Three Papers by Wilfred R. Bion. Psychoanal Q., 82(2):311-321.

(2013). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 82(2):311-321

Commentary on Three Papers by Wilfred R. Bion Related Papers

Ronald Britton

At the time of their original publication, I did not hear of or read these three papers: “On Arrogance(1958), “Attacks on Linking(1959), and “The Psycho-Analytic Study of Thinking(1962a). By the time I started my training at the Tavistock Clinic and the London Institute of Psychoanalysis in 1970, they had been published in a book (Bion 1967). This book included a second part, “Commentary,” which was Bion's own detailed reflections on his 1950s papers in the light of his new ideas on the psychoanalytic process, in practice and in theory.

However, the original dating of these papers is important in understanding the evolution of Bion's psychoanalytic thought. The first two (Bion 1958, 1959) were the climactic finale of his '50s clinical papers, based mainly on his application of Klein's theories to the analyses of psychotic and borderline patients. They are groundbreaking—or ground-seeking—papers.

In “On Arrogance(1958), we see the genesis of Bion's concepts of container/contained and the alpha function in infantile development, on the basis of the analysis of borderline patients. In “Attacks on Linking(1959), we see his clinical delineation of psychotic intolerance of links to perceptual reality and its internal representatives in psychic reality.

The third paper, “The Psycho-Analytic Study of Thinking(1962a), is different: it is a condensed account of Bion's emerging new metapsychology,


Ronald Britton is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a Distinguished Fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

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