Philosophical Interventions: Book Reviews, 1986-2011

By Martha C. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
Dr. True Self

F. ROBERT RODMAN (2003), Winnicott: Life and Work


I

Unlike Freud, Donald Winnicott is not a cultural icon, read in Great Books courses, revered and reviled. Unlike Jacques Lacan, he is not an intellectual cult figure, with a band of zealous disciples and an impenetrable jargon. There is no school of Winnicott; there are no courses in his methods. All this is as he wished it. Nobody was more skeptical of cults and the rigidities that they induced. All his life Winnicott was obsessed with the freedom of the individual self to exist defiantly, resisting parental and cultural demands, to be there without saying a word if silence was its choice. In his own writings he spoke with a voice that was determinedly his own, surprisingly personal, idiosyncratic, playful, and at the same time ordinary. One could not extract a jargon from it if one tried, and one cannot talk about his theoretical ideas without confronting live, complex human beings. That, perhaps, is why he has never had a secure home in the academy, which is so enamored of beautiful scientific or pseudo-scientific structures, and so often fearful of real people and the demands that their complexity imposes. And for these same reasons Winnicott has had an enormous influence on the practice of psychoanalysis, particularly in America.

When Winnicott burst onto the London psychoanalytic scene, an odd rumpled man exploding with ideas—he was like a Catherine wheel shooting off sparks, a colleague remarked—analysts still saw human emotions mainly in terms of Freud’s account of primitive instinctual drives, with sexual gratification as their goal. Melanie Klein was already making her important contribution to Freudian theory by insisting on the crucial importance of the earliest stages of life; but she clung to Freud’s hedonic theory, seeing the infant’s search as aimed at pleasure, which she, apparently along with Freud, understood to be a single undifferentiated experience.

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