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Aguayo, J. (2018). D.W. Winnicott, Melanie Klein, and W.R. Bion: The Controversy Over the Nature of the External Object—Holding and Container/Contained (1941-1967). Psychoanal Q., 87(4):767-807.

(2018). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 87(4):767-807

Original Articles

D.W. Winnicott, Melanie Klein, and W.R. Bion: The Controversy Over the Nature of the External Object—Holding and Container/Contained (1941-1967)

Joseph Aguayo

The author examines D.W. Winnicott’s multi-layered, dialogue with the London Klein group, most particularly with W.R. Bion and their respective views on the role of the external object in terms of holding and container/contained. When Winnicott earlier on deployed Klein as both a collaborative as well as creative antagonist in evolving a thesis of maternal environment of provision, memorialized in “Transitional Objects,” he expatriated himself from the Klein group by 1953.

In the wake of this split, Winnicott continued a dialogic entreaty with W.R. Bion, attempting to interest another Kleinian in the importance of the external object when he commented on Bion’s papers. Bion initially maintained the Klein line of strict focus on the patient’s internal, subjective, and phantasmic experience of the external object during the early period of his “psychosis papers” (1954-1957). He gradually shifted and altered his clinical focus, taking up in metapsychological terms the infant’s normal development of early thinking when he posited the importance of a containing maternal object to metabolize primitive, sensuous elements into rudimentary thought. The author maintains that Bion in part appropriated aspects of Winnicott’s research trajectory, obscuring this appropriation because of Klein’s injunction that Winnicott’s work not be taken up. The separatist existence of the three major schools of analytic thought in the British Psychoanalytical Society also underscored a widespread disinclination towards comparative psychoanalytic theory. As a result, Winnicott’s theory of holding has stood alongside Bion’s theory of container/contained until recent efforts at comparison. By 1964, Winnicott ended his entreaties to Bion and the Klein group when they continued to ignore his many contributions, memorializing it in his 1965 paper, “The Kleinian Development.” The author concludes with comments on how theoretical and clinical differences between analytic theorists can be both generative and still remain antagonistic at the boundaries of passionately maintained group affiliations.

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