[xmca] Donald Winnicott 1-5

From: Andy Blunden (ablunden@mira.net)
Date: Fri Apr 14 2006 - 18:27:08 PDT

Comrades and colleagues,

Having completed the philosophical part of my work on The Subject, I am now
turning to psychology. Mike's "Cultural Psychology" turned out to be a
marvellous exposition of the Cultural-historical approach, so I am now
turning to Object Relations theory, and I have started reading Donald
Winnicott. There are some issues I would love to have some opinions from
you all on.

1. Development and the historical method. In "Human Nature" Winnicott says:
"It would be possible to start at the beginning and to work gradually
forwards, but this would mean starting with the obscure and unknown and
only later reaching to that which is common knowledge. This study of
development will start with the child of 4 and will work backwards,
reaching at long last the individual's beginning." I think there is a
profoundly interesting observation here, that we have to start - in our
theoretical investigations, in the study of an individual case, and in
exposition of our theories - with what is accessible more or less here and
now, and work backward by a kind of reconstruction, to earlier stages of
development, before taking the reverse path from beginnings to the thing as
it is. I think this has consequences for how we see the cultural-historical
approach, including the fact that what we know about historical beginnings
is largely guesswork. Does anyone find this controversial?

2. Winnicott's Ontology. Winnicott has a very interesting and different
"ontology." He makes Psyche vs. Soma the fundamental dualism, not mind vs.
matter and he says that Mind "must be considered as a special case of the
functioning of the psyche-soma." And then later he introduces Soul, not to
mention "the mental" and "the intellect." I am having difficulty grasping
exactly the distinctions between Psyche, Mind and Soul.
Can anyone explain his meaning succinctly for me?

3. Emotional Objects and Intellectual Objects. Interestingly, it seems to
me that CHAT is centrally concerned with the intellect. Mike's "Cultural
Psychology" does not contradict this, though his "Child Development" covers
the whole range of intellect, morals, values, character, personality,
temperament, ... So it seems that CHAT and our ideas about activity as
mediated by artefacts (signs, tools, symbols, or whatever it doesn't
matter) are very much about culture and intellect. Winnicott's objects play
a similar role to our artefacts, but they are very different - they mediate
emotions and drives, and allow the subject to build character,
relationships and identity - everything except intellect! In fact,
Winnicott regards intellect as depending solely on the supply of adequate
brain tissue and a matter of indifference in regard to emotional health and
good character, and he just takes in as given for his work. That we have
two theories of mediated activity, one focused mainly on intellectual
development, the other on emotional and moral development strikes me as
quite intriguing and full of potential.
What do you think?

4. Individuality. Winnicott claims that within two weeks identical twins
will have had sufficiently distinct experiences to have developed quite
distinct personalities. This kind of insight into individuality, it seems
to me, would be of great interest for cultural-historical psychologists,
who, I think we agree, by the very nature of our big-picture approach, have
difficulty grasping individuality.
Does anyone agree?

5. Freudianism and Emotions. Winnicott's early works at least are full of
Freudian ideas which I find quite absurd in themselves - eg when an infant
has only just discovered that her father is another subject, she has
already acquired a complete knowledge of 1950s concepts of the role of the
father. Come on! Also, the entire process of development is driven by
defences constructed by the child to protect itself from threats arising
from frustrations or pain in relation to a myriad of innate drives and
instincts. Can someone tell me how much of this stuff about innate drives I
should take as good coin.
Where are we currently at in terms of the nature/nurture pendulum?

I guess that's more than enough!

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