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(p. 79) Letter to Kate Friedlander 

(p. 79) Letter to Kate Friedlander
(p. 79) Letter to Kate Friedlander

Donald W. Winnicott

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Subscriber: null; date: 16 October 2018

Originally published in Rodman, F. R. (Ed.). The spontaneous gesture: Selected letters of D. W. Winnicott (Letter 3, pp. 5–6). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.
Kate Friedlander (1902–49) was a Viennese psychoanalyst and an associate of Anna Freud.

8 January 1940

Dear Dr Friedlander:

I was very tired last Thursday evening and partly because of this and partly because your paper suggested several different themes I did not say some things I should have liked to have said on the main point brought forward.

Your observation on the way ordinary people reacted to the war by expressing opinions without being willing to discuss them is certainly valid. I am not quite sure whether you attempted to explain the mechanism of this, but one of your questions was quite simply asking whether others have noted what you have noted. I have.

You would, I suppose, agree there is nothing new in the fact that people hold opinions which they must put forward and which they cannot discuss. You mean that the war became one of these themes that are used compulsively, and that, at the time of greatest stress, people who usually can discuss opinions became temporarily unable or unwilling to do so.

I think it is very interesting to try to find out more about the reason for this change.

The uncertainty must itself contribute largely to the individual’s need to employ magic, as Dr Payne said (following Dr Kris’s introduction to the idea of magic). This leads to the question, why is uncertainty alarming? This in turn leads to the idea of control. The greater the uncertainty the greater the need for control, and one method of control is by ideas and statement of (p. 80) words; even evil, when it is predicted is better than the prospect of uncontrolled possibilities.

One would find some individuals who must control in this way, and others who are much less under such a compulsion. A way of classifying these would be to speak of those who need to control (magically) the political situation as those who use the political situation to represent a chunk of their own inner world (or unconscious fantasy) for which they cannot bear full responsibility. This is half way between depression and elation, between carrying the sins of the whole world, and denying responsibility for anything.

In the course of the discussion I said that these people could not brook discussion because they had, in fear of uncertainty and ignorance, made the last possible consultation, they had consulted God. Beyond that is threat of depression or madness, that is, mechanical control or chaos. I put it in this way to introduce the idea that the normal person has ‘people’ inside him, in the fantasy that he localises (unconsciously) inside himself, and that when anxiety is not great these people are human and open to argument; when anxiety is great, however, their magical qualities increase, and they become Gods.

This method of stating things involves this concept of the inner world, the fantasy which is located in the individual’s unconscious fantasy, and which is related to intake, retention and excretion experiences. This in my opinion is the part of the psycho-analytic theory which I do not find represented in the Viennese Group’s way of looking at things, and I believe this special bit of theory will come up again and again for discussion until we each understand exactly where the other stands.

I cannot say how much I value the discussions in the smaller groups such as Anna Freud’s and also my group, where so many points are raised. My regret is that last Thursday I was confused by the number of points you raised, and unable at the time to let you know I appreciated your main point.

Yours very sincerely,