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Letter to Dr Michael Balint, 6 May 1954 

Letter to Dr Michael Balint, 6 May 1954
Letter to Dr Michael Balint, 6 May 1954

Robert Adès

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date: 25 May 2020

Michael and Enid Balint Archives - University of Essex at Colchester, UK.


S. W. 1.

6th May 1954.

Dr. Michael Balint,

7 Park Square West,


Dear Balint,

Right at the end of the discussion last night1 I began to see what the contribution was about and it was no good my pretending that I could see it when in fact I could not. Sorry I took so long to get there, but the rather discursive manner which was forced on you by the fact that you had not had time to prepare the paper was probably sufficient for those who were quite close but not good enough for those who were in the back of the room. I probably heard nearly all the words you spoke but the strain of catching the words probably made it impossible for those who were at the back to sort out your main point from all the things you were bringing forward for thought which were not exactly relevant. All that business about the origins of a whole lot of words seemed at the back of the room to be irrelevant although of course interesting. I must confess that I dislike your Greek terms. I can be converted to them if you get a Greek scholar to vet them. My own knowledge of Greek is very slight but enough to make me suspicious and I had to go all through the evening thinking that your second word, which I have forgotten, meant love of shrinking, because you used the word shrink and I seemed to have missed the other word which was a synonym of cling. I still do not know where shrinking comes in. i am saying all this to show that my difficulty was not just to do with me and in fact this was not one of the evenings where I went to sleep, in spite of Stengel’s joke, which I enjoyed.

What I seem to understand now is that you are saying that you can divide humanity into two; those who can operate in a highly regressive state in relation to a world that is not yet differentiated from what will eventually become the individual self. There is therefore no question of danger except in so far as there can be rude recovery from regression which happens if something goes wrong. The other opposed group do not so easily get to this regressed state of primary identification but cling to a later phase in which there is an object to cling to, in other words, an object that is differentiated from the self. The people in this latter group are in a world full of dangers and I suppose you are here describing something that Melanie Klein means by the paranoid position.

If this is at all the sort of thing you mean then I did at least manage to get something out of what you said, which joins up with the sort of things that I can feel to be real, in which case I can now say that I enjoyed your paper which frankly I did not enjoy at the time. I still find it quite impossible to see the relevance of most of the things you were talking about to the main theme which I feel I have now been able to appreciate.

I do very much hope that you will have these Greek terms vetted by a Greek scholar, however much you are a Greek scholar yourself.

All the best,



D. W. Winnicott.


1 This letter is a response to Balint’s paper ‘Fun Fairs, Thrills and Regression’ given at the Scientific meeting at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 5 May 1954