In this article, originally published in the Journal of Analytical Psychology, David Sedgwick examines D.W. Winnicott's famous review of Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and explores the psychological effect the reviewing process had on Winnicott himself.
Last Updated on Sunday, 27 October 2013 20:37
Written by David Sedgwick
Winnicott’s Dream: Some Reflections on D. W. Winnicott and C. G. Jung
Written by David Sedgwick, Ph.D. (Charlottesville, VA)
The author discusses D. W. Winnicott’s 1964 review of C. G. Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, emphasizing the psychological effect the reviewing process had on Winnicott himself. Writing the review constellated Winnicott’s unconscious, and he reported having a healing dream “for Jung and for some of my patients, as well as for myself.” Winnicott’s “countertransference” to Jung helped him personally, and the review was Winnicott’s first written formulation of his theory on “The Use of an Object.”
Originally published in the Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2008, vol. 53 , pp.543–560. (The definitive version is available at www.blackwell-synergy.com.)
In 1964 Donald Winnicott wrote a fascinating and provocative review of C. G. Jung’s then recently published autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. This review (Winnicott, 1964) in the International Review of Psycho-Analysis is well known to those interested both in Jung’s personal psychology and in the intersection of psychoanalysis, particularly Winnicott’s version of it, and Jungian thought.
Less well known is the intense psychological effect reviewing the book had on Winnicott himself: it constellated his unconscious, and he began to dream, as he put it, “for Jung.” More precisely, he said, “I was dreaming a dream for Jung and for some of my patients, as well as for myself” (Winnicott, 1963, p. 229). This unconscious involvement with Jung was a catalyst for important personal healing for Winnicott, helping unify a “dissociation” that he had suffered all his life and his personal analysis had not resolved. In addition, Winnicott’s quasi-analysis of Jung in the MDR review was Winnicott’s first published attempt to formulate his ideas on the “The Use of an Object” (Winnicott, 1969, 1971), ideas which are the cornerstone of Winnicott’s final developmental theories. Although his review of MDR was ostensibly about Jung and Jungian psychology, it was also about Winnicott: it was, as one of Winnicott’s biographers (Phillips, 1988, p. 152) has stated, “one of the most revealing pieces Winnicott ever wrote.”
In his review of MDR Winnicott psychoanalyzed Jung, basing his understanding primarily on the first three chapters of the book where Jung describes his childhood, adolescence, and student years. Focusing on these three chapters, especially the first one on Jung’s earliest years, was a propos, given Winnicott’s psychoanalytic focus and expertise with children, but even more so because these chapters are likely the only ones written exclusively by Jung himself (Elms, 1994; Shamdasani, 1995). Thus they are, as Winnicott points out, authentic Jung: “These first three chapters are genuine autobiography. . . . one has no doubt about the value of these chapters as a truly self-revealing statement” (1964, p. 450).
Though in many ways sympathetic to Jung, Winnicott’s review is highly provocative, especially to friends and followers of Jung. Winnicott (pp. 450-452) diagnoses Jung with “childhood schizophrenia,” “psychotic illness,” and a “psychotic breakdown” at age three. He implicitly criticizes Jung’s mother, citing “maternal failure” and “maternal depression” as the sources of Jung’s pathology. After noting Jung’s (and Jungians’) ongoing struggle with what he calls Jung’s “divided self,” Winnicott goes on to challenge and recast Jungian views on the unconscious and the Self in his own psychoanalytic language. Whether accurate or not—and there is considerable food for thought in Winnicott’s critique—his blunt assessment of Jung’s personality and his rewriting of Jung’s theories in his own image gives a reductionistic impression overall. Accordingly, as Jungian analyst Renos Papadopoulos (1992, p. 310) has noted, “Despite his great effort to be objective and non-judgmental,” Winnicott’s review “did not please many Jungians, who saw it as either insulting or patronizing.”
Questions about Jung’s mental health from psychoanalysis are not new: they began with Freud, who obviously disagreed with Jung’s theories and at the time of their split was prone to calling Jung “crazy.” (Jung, for his part, struck back, calling Freud “neurotic” during their heated, final letters. See McGuire, 1974, p. 375.) Jung’s personality has been the subject of sharp dissection and at least some attribution of psychopathology even by those favorably inclined toward his theories, some of them Jungian analysts (see, for example, Atwood and Stolorow, 1977; Homans, 1979; Ellenberger, 1971; Satinover, 1985, 1986; Skea, 1995). The fact that Jung himself wondered on at least one occasion if he was “menaced by a psychosis” (1963, p. 176), particularly during his “confrontation with the unconscious,” adds some weight to it. Also, Jung’s prescient idea that every psychological theory is at bottom a “subjective confession” gives legitimacy to armchair assessment of theorists via their written works and to what Winnicott dryly refers to at the end of his review as “games of Jung analysis” (1964, p. 455). Jung’s “subjective confession” comment, interestingly enough, was made with direct reference to himself and Freud in a review of their differences that is quite even-handed (Jung, 1929, p. 336).
Thus Winnicott’s critique potentially constellates both the bad blood of the now century-old Jung-Freud split and understandable Jungian sensitivities about attacks on the founding father. More importantly, and whatever Winnicott’s intentions—which seem less like an anti-Jung polemic than a sublimated dose of his own “primitive destructiveness” in the form of analyzing Jung somewhat surgically—the political effect of suggesting a person is or was insane is damaging. There is no surer way to denigrate someone’s ideas.
Jung-the-psychotic-child is not true for most Jungians, who, while acknowledging that Jung had a difficult childhood, would disagree with Winnicott’s (over)diagnosis. Morey (2005), in a wide-ranging review of Winnicott’s review and the potential pitfalls for analytical psychology of Jungian/psychoanalytic syntheses, finds Winnicott’s diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia in Jung “untenable” (p. 340) and a “misdiagnosis” (p. 346). He suggests Winnicott is mistaking a “disturbing childhood” for schizophrenia. Feldman (1992), also a Jungian analyst, echoes this, emphasizing the necessity of Jung’s turning inward to find healing potential in the absence of a secure family or analysis. Storr (1973, p. 16), referring not to Jung’s childhood but to the post-Freud years, concludes that Jung “came near to having a schizophrenic breakdown” but used his “unusually strong ego” and creativity to counteract the “mental upheaval”. Similarly, from a combination self-psychological/Jungian viewpoint, Corbett and Cohen (1998, p. 317) propose that Jung’s mid-life nekyia may have been “prepsychotic” in form but that Jung had sufficient self-structures and selfobjects to integrate it rather than fragment.
Undoubtedly Winnicott’s diagnostic assessment, indeed his whole review, has some of the flavor of a “wild analysis,” as any analysis based solely on a book inherently must. And certainly Jung had a disturbing, if not psychotic, childhood. (It would be difficult to find a future psychotherapist who has not.) But even if he occasionally did not have both oars in the water—he could be obscure, mystical, “out there”—Jung cogently reminds us that “to be crazy is very relative conception . . . a social concept” (1935, p. 35). More importantly, as Jung states in the very autobiography Winnicott was reading: Only the wounded healer heals (1963, p. 134).
Winnicott’s Journey with Jung
All this is not far from what Winnicott said in his review. He speaks of the man “Jung had it in him to be, and then was,” namely, “a remarkable and a truly big personality.” He cites Jung’s “strength” and “exceptional attainment.” Winnicott seemed to like Jung, although he never knew him personally. Winnicott also seemed to be attracted to deep and sometimes unconventional people, and (like Jung) he could work with them, particularly if they were analysts or analysts-to-be: Margaret Little, Harry Guntrip, Marion Milner, Masud Khan (for better or worse), and, via his memoirs, C. G. Jung. Of the latter he wrote in the same MDR review:
I am not running down Jung by labelling him a “recovered case of infantile psychosis”. . . . If I want to say Jung was mad, and that he recovered, I am doing nothing worse than I could do in saying of myself that I was sane and that through analysis and self-analysis I achieved some measure of insanity. (Winnicott, 1964, p. 483)
So it didn’t matter to Winnicott if Jung was a childhood schizophrenic: this was Winnicott’s stock in trade. Indeed, in this amusing and conciliatory comment on Jung’s so-called madness, is there not a touch of envy—and gratitude—in Winnicott’s tone? There certainly is a sense of solidarity. Winnicott and Jung had more than a little in common, including not only this propensity toward a healthy “madness” but a depressed mother, early years as a quasi “only child,” a complex relationship to the psychoanalytic establishment, and an idiosyncratic viewpoint and language for analytic work itself. Finally, as we shall see, at a crucial juncture in both their lives they each dreamed of world destruction. (For an in-depth view of Winnicott’s personal and professional life, see Rudman, 2003.)
Winnicott came to Jung via the his interest in childhood disturbances, via Jung’s autobiography, and before that via his close friendship with Jungian analyst Michael Fordham. Like many, Winnicott appeared to be both fascinated and baffled by Jung’s personality and unconventional theorizing. On the one hand, speaking in a 1959 symposium on countertransference with Fordham, Winnicott could decry Jungian vocabulary:
Some of the terms . . . are not of any value to me because they belong to the jargon of Jungian conversation. . . . I refer to: transpersonal, transpersonal unconscious, transpersonal analytic ideal, archetypal, the contra-sexual components of the psyche, the animus and anima, animus-anima conjunction.
I cannot be communicated with in this language. (1960, p. 159)
On the other hand, here is his comment a few years later in the MDR review on the aforementioned anima, a subject so enticing yet obscure that Jung himself (1951a, p. 267) once suggested its recognition might be “reserved mostly, or at least primarily, for psychotherapists” (i.e., Jungian analysts):
For me, the anima is the part of any man that could say: I have always known I was a woman. (Winnicott 1964, p. 485)
I have always known I was a woman. Any man? This is a striking statement by Winnicott, striking not so much in terms of Jung’s anima theory (though it does ground and advance it in an intriguing way) but in terms of Winnicott’s exploration of his personal and gender identity. He does not say, “Well, I suppose the anima refers to a man’s feminine side or to what he imagines it must feel like to be a woman.” He says, Somewhere I know I am a woman.
The topic of bisexuality and the woman within the man was very much on Winnicott’s mind at the time of his Jung review (see Winnicott, 1989, pp. 168-192). In other writings both before and after this time he presents case material (Winnicott, 1966) that illuminates his ideas on “the split-off male and female elements” movingly and in ways that in fact seem to link quite directly to Jung’s “contra-sexual components of the psyche.” The following description of his work with a male patient, which also brings in the “madness” issue and a revised approach to interpretation he later emphasizes in his “Use of the Object” papers, demonstrates this (along with Winnicott’s imaginativeness, therapeutic subtlety, and relatedness):
On this particular occasion I said to him: “I am listening to a girl. I know perfectly well that you are a man but I am listening to a girl, and I am talking to a girl. . . .”
(It has been pointed out to me that my interpretation in each of its two parts could be thought of as related to playing, and as far as possible removed from authoritative interpretation that is next door to indoctrination.) . . .
After a pause, the patient said: “If I were to tell someone about this girl I would be called mad.”
The matter could have been left there, but I am glad, in view of subsequent events, that I went further. It was my next remark that surprised me, and it clinched the matter. I said: “ It was not that you told this to anyone; it is I who see this girl and hear a girl talking, when actually there is a man on my couch. The mad person is myself.” (Winnicott, 1966, pp. 169-170, italics his)
Winnicott could receive this patient’s message because he had “always known” it in himself. This is the kind of self-knowledge that enabled Winnicott to work in this bold, countertransference-based way, and provides background for his comment “The analyst, by interpreting, shows how much and how little of the patient’s communication he is able to receive” (ibid., p. 169).
Winnicott’s “I have always known I was a woman” declaration in the MDR review is only an aside—it is literally in parentheses—but this mode of expression, like his “I’m talking to a girl . . . I’m the mad one” interventions in the above case example, is classic Winnicott: compact and poetic use of language, a striking statement, a paradox, and, finally, for the reader (or analysand), “Wait a minute, what is he saying here?!” It is aphoristic and cryptic. The idea presented is a challenge, and Winnicott sneaks it in, revealing himself in the process. He is not afraid of the subject matter, not afraid to ask us to join him in considering something radical. It is also Winnicott at play, which he so valued (his final book-in-progress at the time of his death was Playing and Reality). Much like Jung, Winnicott is thought-provoking, seriously playful though sometimes tantalizing, maybe a bit of a trickster. Here, in his single, offhand sentence about the anima, he is playing around with Jung’s theory, but making use of it in precisely his own way.
Winnicott’s Dream: Analyzing Winnicott
I have suggested elsewhere (Sedgwick, 2001), wrongly, that psychobiography and other forms of experience-distant analysis are suspect because a person cannot be truly understood outside of the transference-countertransference field that therapy or analysis provides. But, after all, who knows, who says so, and why not? Why can’t we play, as Jung and Winnicott encouraged? Certainly Winnicott did the same to/for Jung in his review of Jung’s book.
It appears that Winnicott was quite taken, even if ambivalently, with Jung, who was also a psychoanalytic explorer with a unique way of expressing himself. Reviewing Jung’s autobiography provided Winnicott an opportunity to see more deeply into what he found so compelling about Jung (or, alternatively, what made him resist Jungian “jargon” so adamantly—“I cannot be communicated with in this language”). Evidently it forced him to do so. For, in the course of writing his review, Winnicott had a healing dream—what Jungians would call a “big dream”—which he understood, again, as a dream “for Jung and for some of my patients, as well as for myself” (Winnicott, 1963, p. 228, italics added).
Unfortunately, Winnicott never revealed the exact dream itself, only its “metapsychology,” but according to him it permanently clarified a longstanding fantasy about a deep part of his personality that “analysis could not reach.” (Winnicott had had a ten-year analysis with James Strachey, Freud’s translator, and a subsequent five-year one with Joan Riviere, a Kleinian and another translator of Freud). So this fantasy, the dream that spoke to it, and what his analysis could not heal were crucial psychologically for Winnicott. Winnicott disclosed all this in a letter to Fordham at the time of the review. His fantasy was:
I would be all right if someone would split my head open (front to back) and take out something (tumour, abscess, sinus, suppuration) that exists and makes itself felt right in the centre behind the root of the nose. (Winnicott, 1963, p. 228)
This is another extraordinary statement, like his “I have always known I was a woman” fantasy/statement vis a vis the anima. Its significance to Winnicott, aside from his direct declaration thereof, is indicated by its dramatic, graphic imagery and the straightforward admission: there is something sick inside my head, and I need someone to crack my skull and get it out. According to the fantasy, what Winnicott needed was brain surgery (or perhaps some sort of shamanistic or exorcistic procedure to clear out the infectious stuff). It is easy to overinterpret words, but the use of the word “split” or the need to be “split my head open” are notable in light of Winnicott’s theorizing at length in his review about Jung’s so-called split personality. As it turned out, it was Jung himself—that is, the “Jung” whom Winnicott was analyzing—who split open Winnicott’s head and helped him “take out” the sickness. Jung opened him up, blew his mind.
Winnicott was evidently trying to negotiate the same developmental tasks around destruction-omnipotence-survival that he attributes to Jung. According to Winnicott’s analysis, Jung had a problem with “primitive aggression,” which had to be defensively dissociated due to his mother’s depression and literal or psychological absence. (In Winnicott’s terms, the mother was not there to be hated and yet to survive it.) Thus, within Winnicott’s complex developmental theory—which in fact was evolving via his study of Jung’s personality—Jung could not achieve “destruction of the good object because of its being real in the sense of being outside the area of his omnipotence” Winnicott, 1964, p. 454).
But this would appear to be the same unconscious material that Winnicott, in his please-split-my-head-open fantasy, needed to liberate and process in his own psyche. Winnicott actually indicates just that to Fordham in his interpretive summary of the actual dream:
1. There was absolute destruction, and I was part of the world and of all people, and therefore I was being destroyed. . . . 2. Then there was absolute destruction and I was the destructive agent. Here then was a problem for the ego, how to integrate these two aspects of destruction? 3. Part three now appeared and in the dream I had awakened. I knew that I had dreamed both (1) and (2). I had therefore solved the problem, by using the difference between the waking and sleeping states. . . . There was no dissociation. (1963, p. 229, italics his)
Notably, Winnicott awoke in the dream, and as he continued to awaken into outer reality, he had a terrible headache—“a splitting headache,” as he fittingly put it. He also said he could see his head “split right through” with a “black gap” between each half.
This is a complex dream, and his headache and the longstanding wish/fantasy are the only associations that Winnicott provides in his letter. He leaves out “an immense amount of detail that is personal and that can be ignored . . . because once the dream was dreamed and accepted it had done its job, so to speak, and the result is permanently with me” (1963, p. 228). This dream report as a fully understood fait accompli is slightly tantalizing, in that it effectively closes the door on any outside interpretation. Winnicott stresses the dream’s maximum importance but then doesn’t recount the dream. Although this foreclosure tends to preempt further discussion, in the final analysis this is Winnicott’s privilege. The dreamer’s understanding is what matters, which is consistent, of course, with Jung’s (1934) point of view and with Winnicott’s as expressed in the “Use of the Object” papers that come later: “If only we can wait, the patient arrives at understanding creatively, and with immense joy . . . it is the patient and only the patient who has the answers” (Winnicott, 1971, p. 86).
Thus Winnicott gives us the finished product, his interpretation, and his sense of relief that the job had finally been done. He was cured, the long-time split healed, by this ineffable but profound dream experience. There was finally space—the “black gap”—out of which both consciousness and he himself emerged, reunited both in the dream and in the ensuing outer reality. Winnicott’s unconscious and conscious had been linked, and he woke up to himself. In Jungian terms—Jungian “jargon”—all this sounds like an experience of the Self.
Winnicott’s understanding was enough for Winnicott, the final arbiter of his own dream. However, a dream of self- or world-destruction is a strong statement, suggesting the possibility of suicide, anger, or psychosis, or at least of something earth-shaking or radically transformative (for better or worse). We cannot know now—and never will—exactly where Winnicott was in relation to these things (and we cannot really know, nor could Winnicott, where Jung had been in relation to them). But a first interpretive assumption would be that Winnicott was working out something primarily for himself, though possibly for Jung and other “patients” simultaneously.
On the personal level, that is, as a dream about and for Winnicott alone, the depth of Winnicott’s own conflicts around instinctual matters is worth considering, especially the “primitive destructive impulses” he sees in Jung, with whom he evidently became closely identified in the reviewing process. Some of Winnicott’s biographers have stressed his problems with hostility, with growing up the sole male child amongst women, with being “too nice a boy” with a depressed mother and therefore having trouble (as he would have put it) getting to “hate,” and finally with impotence in his never-consummated, 25-year, first marriage (Rudman, 2003; Phillips, 1988). His admirable sensibilities, cited earlier, about his own femininity are relevant here as well. Much of his theory, including the Jung review itself, speaks to these issues and to the consequent False Self accommodations that cover for an authentic but hidden True Self. Whereas Winnicott states that Jung never got to his True Self (in Winnicottian terms) until he found it while writing MDR, it is possible that Winnicott never got to his Self (in Jungian terms) until writing about MDR. At the very least, Winnicott’s work on/with/through Jung was a significant part, or benchmark, of his growth process and ongoing self-analysis.
Interestingly, the radical—apparently archetypal—imagery of Winnicott’s dream of total destruction is reminiscent of Jung’s visions of world destruction and “rivers of blood” in 1913-1914. Again, we do not have what Winnicott actually dreamed, only what he described and had already integrated to his own satisfaction. He also stated that the dream was not nightmarish and “never threatened my ego’s capacity to stand strain” (1963, p. 228), which is different from Jung’s report of his own strain (this is when he wondered if he was “menaced by a psychosis”). However, even if the 38-year-old Jung was more menaced than the 67-year-old Winnicott, the dream/vision material is much the same. Jung, for whom we do have the vision and dream details, first envisioned
a monstrous flood covering all the low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. . . . a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. (MDR, p. 175)
Jung’s “frightful catastrophe” sounds a lot like Winnicott’s “absolute destruction.” Jung had this drastic, psychotic-seeming vision twice, the second time accompanied by an inner voice saying, “Look at it well . . . it will be so.” Then a half-year later he dreamed three times, once per month, that “an Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice. . . . All living green things were killed by the frost.” By the third time Jung dreamed this, however, things had apparently progressed:
In the third dream frightful cold had again descended from out of the cosmos. This dream, however, had an unexpected end. There stood a leaf-bearing tree (my tree of life, I thought), whose leaves had been transformed by the effects of the frost into sweet grapes full of healing juices. I plucked the grapes and gave them to a large, waiting crowd.
Jung’s assorted images remind one of Robert Frost’s 1920 poem “Fire and Ice,” which has a propos references to “destruction” and “hate” that Winnicott would no doubt appreciate:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Either way, hot or cold, it’s the end of the world. The apocalyptic imagery of both Winnicott’s and Jung’s unconscious productions suggests they both were wrestling with fundamental destruction and creation, though their solutions were different, as different as their respective natures and theories. From his point of view, Jung’s solution involved enduring his dreams and visions, seeing them as premonitions rather than personal, and even carrying them forward for “mankind in general.” For Jung all his psychic upheaval ultimately had collective, almost sacrificial reference (specifically in this instance to World War I—“rivers of blood”—which erupted just a month later). This prophetic interpretation borders on the grandiose: Jung, called and chosen by fate (his “tree of life”), suffering for all mankind, dispensing the wine-filled, healing grapes to the hungry crowd (“the true vine…I am the vine, ye are the branches”—John 15:1,5). Appropriately, part of Jung’s subsequent integration and lesson was to warn of the dangers of “inflation” when one runs into archetypal material from the collective unconscious (Jung, 1928a, p. 143). If Winnicott was dreaming “for Jung and for some of my patients,” which seems a little grand, then Jung was dreaming for everybody, or at least saw himself as a conduit for broader psychological issues.
However, it was not just Jung who felt crucified. At almost exactly the same time that Winnicott was dreaming his dream, writing his letter to Fordham (December 29, 1963), and probably writing his MDR review, he sent (November 4, 1963) a deeply personal, deeply depressive poem to his ex-brother-in-law. This poem, entitled The Tree, is highlighted by his psychoanalytic biographers for its portrayal of a (perhaps the) central issue in Winnicott’s own developmental history and professional theorizing: the effects on a child of having a depressed, absent, or “dead” mother.
The poem’s central metaphor is Christ on the cross and it is chock-full of the same New Testament imagery Jung dreamed in and Winnicott had just been reading about in MDR. For example: “I was the source of virtue . . . the grape of the vine of the wine . . . a dead tree…To enliven her [Winnicott’s mother] was my living . . . Suffer little children to come unto me. . . .” and concludes with Christ’s last desperate words, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?” [“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”] (quoted in Rudman, 2003, pp. 289-291). As Phillips (1988, p. 29) has pointed out, “In the poem Winnicott clearly identifies himself with Christ, and the Tree of the title is the Cross.” This identification with the Son of Man was not just a passing matter: “From at least the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, Jesus Christ was clearly a figure with whom he [Winnicott] identified” (Rudman, 2003, p. 291). These longstanding feelings could have been (re)constellated by his recent contact (and empathy) with Jung, Jung’s depressed mother, or Jung’s religiosity.
Jung’s vision and dream sequence, as recounted, ends more optimistically than Winnicott’s single poem, though Jung still had far to go in his intense inward journey. Winnicott’s poem is a snapshot—and as a poem more crafted than a dream or vision—of his despair about maternal, holding failure. And though this is not a poem of Winnicott’s youth but of what turned out to be his old age, his early wounds—as well as some primary sources for his choice of profession and his theoretical directions—are clear. “Primary maternal preoccupation,” of which Winnicott wrote so eloquently, was apparently missing for him personally. As he touchingly wrote to the poem’s recipient, “Do you mind seeing this that hurt coming out of me” (Phillips, 1988, p. 29).
As Jung (1951b, p. 116) pointed out about “the wounded physician” and the analytic vocation, “It is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal.” Both these wounded-healer type of analysts were able to dream for others, or so they thought. Jung’s understood and perhaps healed his “dissociation” by adopting an archetypal, collective perspective and offering the healing grapes to the “waiting crowd” in the form of his psychological explorations and resulting theories. Winnicott’s split was healed by his dream, which came through his psychological engagement with Jung, and by his development of his object-use theory, for which Jung provided a vivid illustration.
In his review, Winnicott cites Jung’s gifts (if not their shared biblical interests) and “remarkable insights,” but also challenges their validity. He also acknowledges Jung’s “self-healing” of his putative childhood psychosis, though he adds, perhaps a bit smugly, “But of course self-healing is not the same as resolution by analysis” (Winnicott, 1964, p. 451). However, self-healing was Winnicott’s predicament too, because his analysis had not “reached” a fundamental place of suffering in him. If Winnicott resolved his lifetime dissociation via his dream “for Jung,” then this too is a non-analytic self-healing (or a self-analytic self-cure). It is just the kind of self-healing he suggests Jung tried to achieve in his lifetime through his theories and came closest to, near the end, in his autobiography. Likewise, Winnicott’s self-cure of the illness at the center of his psyche is something he attains toward the end of his life—with the help, we might say, of Jung and Jung’s autobiography, which touched Winnicott where he was “touched” (i.e., crazy, in pain).
Winnicott insists on Jung’s dissociation and that Jung never quite unified his “divided self.” He also avers that Freud could not have understood Jung, because Freud was not split himself, having the “unit” personality Jung never did. Winnicott’s implication, though, is that he has the unit personality that could have helped Jung. But, while he never overtly admits it—instead wittily noting his own progress, like Jung’s, toward a healthy insanity—it really took Winnicott’s non-unit, or split, personality to understand Jung. Along these lines, one of Winnicott’s biographers speculates that Winnicott experienced Jung as his “twin,” both in the sense of corresponding personal constellations and also of his being a fellow “gentile” heir-apparent to Freud, the Joshua (as Freud had called Jung) who could carry psychoanalysis into the promised land. By this account, Winnicott would have been in competition with Jung to be Freud’s number-one son, and in effect portrays himself as “a kind of undissociated successor to Jung” (Rudman, 2003, p. 288). Jung’s theories, as we have seen, are ultimately given short shrift in Winnicott’s MDR review, and a case can be made that, however much Winnicott unconsciously identified with or even admired Jung’s personality and (incomplete) recovery, he still damns the half-mad Jung with faint praise.
Sibling rivalry aside, in the quasi transference-countertransference field that was created between Jung and Winnicott, it is unclear who or what was healing whom. Jung was dead, actually, in no further need of healing. Winnicott was alive, and needed further healing. Jung, for Winnicott, was a book (combined with whatever he had read of Jung and learned from Fordham), and Jung became a sort of patient of Winnicott’s—perhaps we could call him an involuntary patient. He was certainly an object of Winnicott’s analytic imagination (which is what all patients are and should be) and certainly an imaginary patient to whom Winnicott, as he directly reveals via his dream, had an intense countertransference. Winnicott got into a pseudo-therapeutic relationship with Jung, but one that turned out to be as much for Winnicott as for Jung, as Winnicott so states (“I was dreaming a dream for Jung and for some of my patients, as well as for myself”). As in much deep analysis or therapy, the hunter gets captured by the game.
Jung came alive, and was alive, for Winnicott, and they had a deep, if imaginary, unconscious relationship. And Jung of course speaks of analysis as a reciprocal “psychic infection.” This sheds light on Winnicott’s suggestion of his dream’s multiple reference points—himself, Jung, other patients—and on the intriguing question of how, why, and if one can dream a dream for others. Jung (1928b) would have agreed with Winnicott that this is a possibility. In a therapeutic relationship or analytic field, a dream conceivably may not belong to one or the other participant but sometimes may seem like a mutual dream, or “the dream of the analysis” (Sedgwick, 1994, p. 132; see also Jacoby, 1984, p. 33). The whole process of reviewing and immersing himself in Jung’s psyche became, as has been noted, a therapeutic activity for Winnicott. So through his contact with Jung—Jung ostensibly possessing psychological splits that matched those “right at the centre” of Winnicott’s psyche and fantasy—Winnicott got split open and, as a result, got to the healing he needed, which corresponded to the healing he felt Jung needed (this would have to be the case if he dreamed the dream on behalf of Jung, too). Winnicott seems to have been a wounded healer par excellence, and again, as Jung also noted, “Only what he [the analyst] can put right in himself can he put right in the patient” (1951b, p. 116). It seems possible that Winnicott, reacting to Jung, got it right, finally, within himself, and thus his inner work was also for Jung It could be said too, in a fantastic way, that Jung did this for Winnicott. While it would be a stretch to suggest that Jung came to Winnicott “from the other side” to heal him, it does seem accurate to say that Jung’s words and spirit affected him and that something came from the other side—the unconscious—to heal Winnicott. Perhaps, to put it more conservatively, Winnicott’s unconscious “created” this particular Jung to get the healing he needed.
Ultimately, these are things we can never really know. What Winnicott was struggling with at the time of his review of Jung and before—we can only take his word for it—was to heal this sick part of himself that had not yet been “found.” (Being “found,” like being “reached,” is a consistent and evocative metaphor in Winnicottian language.) And Winnicott was also struggling, either simultaneously or as part and parcel of it, to birth his new conception of the “use of an object.” Part of his healing was in creating the theory—that is, the healing was in creativity itself—and here is where Winnicott, or the spirit of Winnicott, matches up with Jungian conceptions. However, he was not trying to give birth to Jungian theory, as Morey (2005) has suggested; rather, he was trying to give birth to his own “Winnicottian” theory. Winnicott did not understand Jung in Jungian terms, but instead, Jung became his “subjective object” (Winnicott, 1965). In the end, Winnicott understood Jung his own way and used him, rather ruthlessly, for his own purposes, one of which was his theory of object-use.
Winnicott’s “use of an object” theory
Five years after his review of Jung’s memoirs, Winnicott’s two papers (1969, 1971) on “object-relating” and “object-usage” were published (the second one as a chapter in a book shortly after his death in January, 1971). On close comparison, these papers are actually the same paper with only “minor editorial revisions,” as Reeves (2007, p. 371) confirms. The paper, his last major theoretical statement submitted for publication, is considered a classic, central to Winnicott’s final version of his developmental theories (Hamilton, 1996).
The papers themselves have an controversial history. The initial published version (1969) of the paper was based on a lecture Winnicott gave to the New York Psychoanalytic Society in late 1968, immediately after which Winnicott nearly died from what was probably a heart attack and was hospitalized for a month on a cardiac care unit before he could return home to London. In Winnicott lore, a myth arose that a “chorus of criticism” by the New York analysts led to this heart attack (Reeves, 2007, p. 365). In reality, Winnicott was already quite ill from the Hong Kong flu, three previous heart attacks, and his demanding patients; his New York audience was reportedly polite enough but simply did not understand his difficult concepts (Goldman, 1993; Rudman, 2003). Winnicott undefensively recognized this public failure both at the lecture itself and later when he continued work on his paper wrote: “I learned that I had by no means made myself clear, so that the idea as presented then and there was unacceptable at the time. I have revised this paper” (Winnicott, 1989, p. 244).
However, as the essentially unchanged nature of the second version of the paper (1971) indicates, he never did revise it much. In all likelihood the confident Winnicott was more disappointed in the response than dissatisfied with his ideas. He immediately went on in 1969, not to revise the paper, but to work on another article in which the father, “the paternal subjective object,” is brought into his discussion of object use (Reeves, 2007, pp. 370-371; Rudman, 2003). This paper probably would have represented a true revision or an advance on the original. But it was unfinished, unedited, and never submitted for publication, although it did come out in a collection of Winnicott’s writings almost two decades after his death (Winnicott, 1989, pp. 218, 240-246).
At any rate, Winnicott was quite near the end of his life, and his paper on “The Use of an Object” is, again, his final written contribution to psychoanalysis. However, Winnicott’s review of Memories, Dreams, Reflections was his first public statement of “object use” theory, as the editors of his posthumous papers acknowledge (Winnicott, 1989, p. 217). The publication dates tell the story. The letter to Fordham in which Winnicott outlined his fantasy, dream, and the first account of these ideas was written in late 1963. The MDR review was published in 1964. Winnicott’s two formal papers on object usage come five or more years later (1969, 1971). In addition, these two papers that are really one paper are quite short, and many of their essentials are well contained in the Jung review and the Fordham letter. More than a skeletal outline, his review of Jung led the way to Winnicott’s authoritative version in print. So, as he had with Freud, “Jung” helped crystallize an analyst’s theory-creation, though certainly in a different way than he had done with Freud: it was Jung’s personality that Winnicott made use of to create and bolster his theory. In a sense Jung was his first case illustration of the theory, although, as noted, this case study became a vehicle for Winnicott’s own self-study.
Winnicott’s theory on the “use” of objects is not easy to grasp, and this is not the place to try to explicate it fully. That was Winnicott’s job, and if the present-day reader, like the New York Psychoanalytic, cannot understand it, then that is a limitation—ours, his, or his theory’s. Probably the latter. Just as Winnicott did not get certain of Jung’s ideas, others did and still do not get Winnicott’s use of objects theory readily. It is fair to say that Winnicott did not fully develop it: outside of the MDR review he basically published only the one paper on object-use and was still trying to further his own and his audience’s understanding up until his death. He ran out of time. Regardless—or maybe because of this—as Reeve (2007, p. 366) has recently commented, “As a statement of theory it is not one of Winnicott’s best. In places it is far from lucid, . . .and its principal argument is seriously flawed.” Hamilton (1996, pp. 386-387) also remarks that Winnicott “acknowledged that the thesis of the paper was difficult,” and she adds more specifically that part of the difficulty is the “crucial distinction between what he calls, somewhat confusingly, ‘object relating’ and ‘object usage’.”
This “relating” vs. “usage” distinction is indeed problematical, and Winnicott’s ideas in this area overall are not straightforward. Part of the struggle is due to Winnicott’s unique use of language, where so much that “sounds true” is also elliptical and can mislead. For example, object “relating” sounds like an advanced operation, and relating to an established object (though it may be an internal object) would seem to indicate a meaningful, well-established emotional connection (as in “relatedness”). For Winnicott, however, relating is only the starting point of a developmental progression, and of his thoughts. Second, in contrast to “relating,” “using” someone often means just the opposite—something negative or in fact “unrelated.” Winnicott really means “making good use of” the object, a positive thing, and his meaning must be seen against a background of his theoretical statements on ruth (concern) and ruthlessness, transitional objects, good-enough mothering, and so on. But this is confusing, idiosyncratic terminology. Third, his object-use theory says things like: the advance from a projective/subjective position—what he calls object-relating—is accomplished by destroying the object, which, however, is not destroyed but survives to be used (in the positive sense). In Winnicott’s view (1971, pp. 86, 89), this is not contradictory but “extremely simple” or “very simple”:
This change (from relating to usage) means that the subject destroys the object. . . . after ‘subject relates to object’ comes ‘subject destroys object’ (as it becomes external); and then may come ‘object survives destruction by the subject’. But there may or may not be survival. A new feature thus arrives in the theory of object-relating. The subject says to the object: ‘I destroyed you’, and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says: ‘Hullo object!’ ‘I destroyed you.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you.’ ‘While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in (unconscious) fantasy.’ (1971, pp. 89-90, italics his)
While it is unfair to take this intricate set of ideas out of context, overall Winnicott’s thesis does not seem so self-evident. There is an interior logic to the psychological progression described, but the developmental stages are based on subtle subjective experiences and interpersonal interchanges, most of which are unconscious and patently paradoxical. Hence the distinctions and psychodynamics Winnicott describes in the infant’s or in transference experience are somewhat mind-bending. As Hamilton exclaims, “It is certainly a frustrating experience to describe a very specific experience in a language that does not describe that experience!” (p. 386). Just so. Furthermore, these indescribable developments are unconscious, take place in a possibly preverbal child, and thus run up against the arguments that all inferences about infants do. Winnicott is trying to describe something new but very difficult; we can hear his music, but it is wickedly obscure. He had farther to go to make it clear to others. It was “real” to him, however, and he became more real, that is, more integrated, in working on it, beginning with his work on Jung. So what we might call Phase II of his own healing was the creation of the theory itself; he is trying to understand something, for himself and for others, which is also what Jung provided for many in his quite different language and theorizing. But for many, what Winnicott said about Jungian terminology—“I cannot be communicated with in this language”—could equally apply to his object-usage theory, enticing though it is.
Returning Winnicott’s language here to its usual meanings, we can conclude, once again, that Winnicott used Jung’s autobiographical material rather ruthlessly. This conclusion is not meant pejoratively, just as a matter of fact. In other words, Winnicott made full and good use of Jung, and Jung was not destroyed—he could not be, because he was a man in a book and of Winnicott’s imagination. Winnicott took more from Jung than he gave, but that is not a problem, for Jung asked nothing in return and he could take it. Jungians might have some mixed feelings about Winnicott’s “treatment” of Jung, but the treatment, like most analytic interpretations, was as much or more for the analyst than the patient, as this review of Winnicott’s review has attempted to show.
Winnicott in fact gave Jung a pretty fair hearing. He apparently took the trouble to read MDR in the original German (a close reading, to be sure, that honors Jung). In the last paragraph of the review Winnicott even suggests an improvement to the translation itself: Jung’s “erreichten” might be better translated in English as “reached” rather than “attained” (as in “I could never stop at anything once I had reached to it”). Here is Winnicott’s favorite word, “reached,” substituted in for Jung’s word (or Jung’s translators’), and thus here again is Winnicott using Jung for his own purposes. Winnicott’s idiomatic parting thought is that “an error of translation here could queer the pitch for further games of Jung-analysis.” So ultimately it is all a game, and in our own game of Winnicott-analysis, we can say that Winnicott unconsciously reached for something in himself via Jung, and Jung helped him find it.
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