Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Complete Works of W.R. Bion

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Complete Works of W.R. Bion

Article excerpt

edited by Chris Mawson; consultant editor, Francesca Bion Karnac, London, 2014; 16 vols, 4,352 pp. £750


The culmination of years of painstaking work, research and re-editing, the publication of The complete works of W.R. Bion represents both a psychoanalytic and publication milestone that will be long remembered. Chris Mawson, the main editor, who was invited by the Bion family to undertake this project, for years made innumerable trips down the road from Radnage (in Buckinghamshire) to Farmoor (near Oxford), in order to work and collaborate closely on this project with Bion's real-life and literary widow, Francesca Bion, who also served as the consultant editor. Before and after Bion's death in 1979, Francesca Bion had worked tirelessly to preserve and disseminate her husband's work, and produced one edition after another of his later works, memoirs and Clinical seminars. The Complete works thus reflects how Bion himself would have wanted his life's work to be remembered and represented. It was also an accomplishment that Francesca lived long enough to celebrate at the book launch of this 16-volume work in London in November 2014.

A narrative overview of Bion's Complete works

Turning to the structure of the Complete works itself: arranged thematically in roughly chronological order, we straight away appreciate not only having Bion's works collected in one edition, but we also benefit from the technological advances of the digital age insofar as the invaluable Volume XVI, the 'Reference and general index', affords innumerable search and research possibilities. There is no comparison between the exact details that are generated by the results of computerized searches over and above older methods, such as hand-collated indices. In the Complete works, one can look up virtually any topic, author or colleague known by Bion, which demonstrates how much more thorough and complete the 'General index' of the Complete works is than previous editions of Bion's works, some of which had no indices whatsoever. It is thus possible to have in one's hands a research volume that enables what Mawson terms "a previously unavailable degree of access to the breadth and depth of his thought" (CW, I, p. vii).

The First World War - reminiscences

Turning to an overview commentary on distinctive aspects of the volumes themselves: Volumes I-III cover the period of the First World War, during which Bion wrote War memoirs, 1917-1919, which recounted his daily experiences of combat and life in the trenches and the open field of tank battle (Vol. III). It is the only narrative account Bion wrote of the Great War on the eve of its conclusion. Volumes I-II, however, collect Bion's writings about the World War I period, which in addition to War memoirs itself, represent all of Bion's posthumously published writings on this topic (Bion, 1982, 1991, 1997). The return to unintegrated aspects of his traumatic and heretofore unrepresentable mental anguish and experience of war - along with his childhood years in India through his university days at Oxford - is recalled decades later, beginning in the late 1950s, in Volumes I and II.

Nearly all the volumes have illustrative paintings done by Bion as frontispieces (color plates), which also evoke our appreciation and understanding of his other gifts. In this instance, we see (Vols. IV and V, frontispieces) informing contrasts of the dismal, barren squalor reminiscent of life in no man's land - even when Bion painted decades after the Great War, he was still haunted by it. Yet there are also other lush, impressionist-like paintings - such as a colorful sky of luminous sunlight, which reminds us of the happier, later years with Francesca and their three children, Julian, Nicola and Parthenope (the only child from Bion's first marriage with Betty Jardine). These later, warmer times are amply documented in numerous family letters (The other side of genius) that form the second part of Volume II. …

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