Customer Service | Help | FAQ | PEP-Easy | Report a Data Error | About
:
Login
Tip: To review the glossary of psychoanalytic concepts…

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

Prior to searching for a specific psychoanalytic concept, you may first want to review PEP Consolidated Psychoanalytic Glossary edited by Levinson. You can access it directly by clicking here.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Goldman, D. (2013). Vital Sparks and the Form of Things Unknown. Psychoanal. Inq., 33(1):3-20.

(2013). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 33(1):3-20

Vital Sparks and the Form of Things Unknown

Dodi Goldman, Ph.D.

Towards the end of his life, Winnicott kept a notebook for jotting down fragments of personal memory. The first page opens with a prayer: “Oh God! May I be alive when I die.” The supplication is followed by a graphic description of what he looks like to himself after dying: how “the hearse was cold and unfriendly,” and “the lung heavy with water that the heart could not negotiate” (Winnicott, p. 4). But at least his prayer had been answered: He was alive when he died.

It is easy to hear in Winnicott's supplication the desire to be an omnipotent self-preserver. Like the baby who needs the illusion of creating the breast, Winnicott wishes to be protected from awareness of limit. Despite death, he can continue going-on-being. It would be a mistake, however, to confine the understanding of Winnicott's prayer solely to the realm of omnipotence. From a different point of view, what is striking about the prayer is how Winnicott yearns for a psychic space in which he can simultaneously hold both life and death. His desire, in other words, is not simply to omnipotently survive, but to find a way to bridge the ultimate dissociation between life and death. Winnicott is recognizing that aliveness and death have meaning only to the extent that a link can be retained between the two.

Yet what if one allows one's self the latitude of hearing Winnicott as asking a question rather than uttering a prayer? May a part of me live, Winnicott may be asking, while another part dies? Is there, perhaps, an uncanny psychic capacity to die a partial death so as to salvage another part of the self? Or, in another language: What need be done to preserve continuity of being in the face of traumatic disruption?

The opening passage of Winnicott's autobiographical fragments, in other words, offers a window into two central currents of his sensibility: the precariousness of aliveness and the bridging of dissociative gaps.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

Copyright © 2019, Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing, ISSN 2472-6982 Customer Service | Help | FAQ | Download PEP Bibliography | Report a Data Error | About

WARNING! This text is printed for personal use. It is copyright to the journal in which it originally appeared. It is illegal to redistribute it in any form.