The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought

Elizabeth Bott Spillius, Jane Milton, Penelope Garvey, Cyril Couve and Deborah Steiner.

Based on A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought by R.D. Hinshelwood.

Routledge, London and New York. (2011)

This “new dictionary” of Kleinian Thought freely acknowledges the importance of Hinshelwood’s valuable work in having compiled its predecessor “A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought”, published in 1989 and again in 1991 – some twenty years ago. I was interested in the respective uses of the indefinite article “A” in the title of Hinshelwood’s dictionary and the definite article “The” in “The New Dictionary ...”. What to make of this ?

Let me say at the outset that for those “newer” comers to psychoanalytic thinking who may not have purchased Hinshelwood’s dictionary, this volume is an important source of modern Kleinian thinking. For “older” hands, who already own Hinshelwood’s book, the main interest will be to cross reference the entries to see what may – or may not – have changed.

The new dictionary is structured along similar lines to the old: there are 13 “main entries” in the old, and 12 “main entries” in the new. In the ‘new’ dictionary, the following EIGHT topics are “shared” with the ‘old’ – but in significantly different order: Unconscious phantasy, Internal objects, Paranoid-schizoid position, Depressive position, Oedipus complex, Superego, Envy and Technique.

“Technique” has been ‘demoted’ from first in the old list, to last in the new. “Projective identification” has moved ‘up’ from thirteenth in the old, to seventh in the new. “Paranoid-schizoid position” and “Depressive position” were eleventh and tenth (note this order) in the old, and are respectively fourth and fifth in the new.

“Main Entries” missing from the old list are: “Aggression, sadism and component instincts”, “Femininity phase”, “Early anxiety situations” and “Primitive defence mechanisms”. New “Main Entries” include “Child analysis” (at number two), “Symbol formation” and “Pathological organisations”. Thus, four “older” topics have replaced by three “newer” ones.

Each of these “Main Entries” comprise significant “essays” on their respective topics. In Hinshelwood’s case, clearly all were authored by himself; in the “new dictionary” it is likely that each of the topics were authored primarily by one or other of the five listed authors, together with likely significant contributions from senior colleagues acknowledged in the “acknowledgements” section. All this is to say that it is evident that each of the main topics and the general entries will likely be up to date versions of modern Kleinian Thought on a vast array of issues.

The earlier “structure” of the “Main Entries” is followed to some extent in “The New Dictionary”: a definition of a topic is followed by a list of ‘Key Papers”, and then a “Chronology” of the development of the topic.

The “General Entries” – some 150 or so of them – which follow the “Main Entries” in each volume are in alphabetical order (as befits a dictionary!) and largely – but by no means completely - overlap with each other. Some of the topics are reproduced un-changed from the “old” dictionary. Others are dealt with afresh. For owners of the earlier dictionary, it will be fascinating to compare old and new entries in both substance and style. For newcomers to ‘Kleinian Thinking’ the book is a valuable treasure-trove of sources and explications of complex topics.

Of course, very many of these ‘general entries’ are not “owned” by ‘The Kleinians’ – but each has a distinctive Kleinian ‘take’ on the topic.

Future historians of psychoanalytic thought will find a detailed comparison of the way these many listed topics are dealt with in the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ dictionaries a source of many scholarly productions.

Let me offer a thought along such lines: of the new additions to the “Main Entries”, only that on “Pathological organisations” provides more than one or two ‘new” key papers (i.e papers published post-1989, Hinshelwood’s cut-off year). In the case of this “new topic”, clearly significant “advances” in Kleinian Thought have been achieved. The key papers of Rosenfeld, Segal, Betty Joseph, Eric Brenman, Spillius, Steiner and Edna O’Shaughnessy are prominent on this list. “Pathological organisations” is a quintessential ‘neo-Kleinian’ concept in a manner as was “Paranoid-schizoid position” and “Depressive position” in the early Klein years.

Kleinian Thought itself has developed from ‘early’ Klein, through post-Kleinian and neo-Kleinian to Contemporary Kleinian and Modern Kleinian. This volume of “Kleinian Thought”, authored by members of the British Psychoanalytical community, represents this history – and its current state of development as the mainstay of British Psychoanalysis and crystallises British Psychoanalysis’ contribution to our international discipline.

Dr. Ron Spielman

Paddington, NSW.