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Tziyon, M. (2010). Primitive Mental States: A psychoanalytic exploration of the Origins of Meaning. Jane Van Buren & Shelley Alhanati, eds. New York: Routledge, 2010. 228 pp.. Mod. Psychoanal., 35(1):138-142.

(2010). Modern Psychoanalysis, 35(1):138-142

Primitive Mental States: A psychoanalytic exploration of the Origins of Meaning. Jane Van Buren & Shelley Alhanati, eds. New York: Routledge, 2010. 228 pp.

Review by:
Michal Tziyon

Decades have passed since psychoanalytic inquiry broadened its interest beyond the classical Freudian hysterical or obsessional neurotic to include regressed, preoedipal states. This development began with Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott, who, in their work with infants, children, and mothers, contributed to theories of development and expanded their observations to adult mental states. In the contemporary practice of psychoanalysis, we see the full spectrum of mental states, from the troubled neurotic seeking to work through a conflict to the severely regressed narcissistic patient. With the expansion and evolution of theory and practice, psychoanalysts now work extensively with these primitive mental states. In studying these states we recognize that they are alive and well in us all and that the coexistence of multiple modes of experience are essential to stable functioning (Ogden, 1989).

Primitive Mental States, A Psychoanalytic Exploration of the Origins of Meaning offers a context for working with these early states. The editors’ opening words, in the preface and introduction, focus on the changes that have occurred in practice and theory. The collection includes 12 papers that address the subject from various perspectives: clinical material with adult regressed patients, theoretical elaborations that veer into philosophy, a touch of myth, a consideration of biology, a delving into the meaning of conception, and an exploration of clinical work with mothers and babies. While wide-ranging in topics, the clinical and theoretical orientation is homogenous, rooted in the British object relations school, Kleinian technique, and Bionian theory. Both editors are training analysts in California psychoanalytic institutes dedicated to the study of Bion. The opening paper, “Orphans of O: The Negative Therapeutic Reaction and the Longing for the Childhood that Never Was,” was written by Grotstein, a renowned psychoanalyst and Bionian who was analyzed and trained by Bion.

For those with an interest in Bion, this book provides an elaboration of his ideas and examples of the application of these ideas in his clinical work.

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