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Ogden, T.H. (2001). Reading Winnicott. Psychoanal Q., 70(2):299-323.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 70(2):299-323

Reading Winnicott

Thomas H. Ogden, M.D.

In its first century, psychoanalysis has had several great thinkers, but from the author's viewpoint, only one great English-speaking writer: Donald Winnicott. Because style and content are so interdependent in Winnicott's writing, his papers are not well served by a thematic reading aimed exclusively at gleaning what the paper is about. Such efforts often result in trivial aphorisms. Winnicott, for the most part, does not use language to arrive at conclusions; rather, he uses language to create experiences in reading that are inseparable from the ideas he is presenting, or more accurately, the ideas he is playing with.

The author offers a reading of Winnicott's (1945) Primitive Emotional Development, a work containing the seeds of virtually all the major contributions to psychoanalysis that Winnicott would make over the course of the succeeding twenty-six years of his life. The present author demonstrates the interdependence of the life of the ideas being developed and the life of the writing in this seminal paper of Winnicott's. What Primitive Emotional Development has to offer to a psychoanalytic reader cannot be said in any other way (which is to say that the writing is extraordinarily resistant to paraphrase). It has been this author's experience—which he hopes to convey to the reader—that an awareness of the way the language is working in Winnicott's writings significantly enhances what can be learned from reading them.

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