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Likierman, M. (1991). Closely Observed Infants. Edited by Lisa Miller, Margaret Rustin, Michael Rustin and Judy Shuttleworth. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co, Ltd. 1989. Pp. 200.. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 18:103-106.

(1991). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 18:103-106

Closely Observed Infants. Edited by Lisa Miller, Margaret Rustin, Michael Rustin and Judy Shuttleworth. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co, Ltd. 1989. Pp. 200.

Review by:
Meira Likierman

A longer care man's helpless kind demands, That longer care contracts more lasting bonds. (Alexander Pope: An Essay on Man 1733.)

The capacity to observe children with insight appeared early in Western history but only as a random, inconsequential activity, noted very occasionally as an aside in writing on other subjects. Not surprisingly, the nature of children's mental life was hardly understood, and some very strange versions of it abounded until our own century (Stone, 1979). More seriously, such versions, often based on religious creeds distorted by adult pathology, formed the basis of some theories on child-rearing and education: 'break the will of your child, to bring his will into subjection to yours, that it may afterwards be subject to the will of God' (J. Wesley, 1783, Sermon on the Education of Children).

Needless to say children suffered, and on a scale which makes horrendous reading.

Why should this have been so, and the obvious logic of learning from observation missed for so long? One possibility emerges from Margaret Rustin's chapter 'Encountering primitive anxieties' in Closely Observed Infants. Margaret Rustin shows that infant observation cannot but draw us into a contact with the primitive emotional aspect of the mother/infant interaction. This in turn threatens to resurrect painful states left behind in our own infancy which we may not wish to encounter again, even at the distanced situation of a strange family. Such emotional involvement is a necessary part of responsive observing; this may explain why it has been evaded for so long, especially in view of the additional obstacle created by a high infantile mortality rate before our own century. With a general blunting of sensitivities to the realities of infantile mental life, it is not surprising to learn that the first individuals to engage in what Michael Rustin terms 'holistic' (p. 52) observations of it were themselves sheltered in an analytical environment.

Closely Observed Infants marks 42 years since Esther Bick's introduction of infant observation to the training of child psychotherapists at the Tavistock Clinic in London.

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