Blackett-Milner, Marion (1900-1998)

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Marion Blackett-Milner, a British psychoanalyst, was born in London in 1900 and died there on May 29, 1998.

Born into a scientific familyher brother Patrick Blackett won the Nobel Prize for physicsshe first took an interest in education after graduating as a psychologist from the University of London. In 1938 she wrote a book based on her research in educational child psychology, The Human Problem in Schools. She married Dennis Milner in 1927 and gave birth to a son in 1932.

Her first book, A Life of One 's Own, published under the name Joanna Field, appeared in 1934. It was in fact her diary, beginning in 1926, in which she recounted in a remarkably authentic style her observations and discoveries about herself. Her future destiny is already discernible in this autobiographical work. It was followed by two other autobiographical books: An Experiment in Leisure, in 1937 and, fifty years later, Eternity 's Sunrise in 1987. In 1950 she published On Not Being Able to Paint, in which she develops a method that consists of allowing one's hand to wander freely over the paper in order to see what it produces. The drawings thus produced represent not only external objects but also the structure of one's own feelings and thoughts.

She began to train as an analyst in the 1940s while also becoming an enthusiastic painter. She was analyzed by Sylvia Payne, qualified in 1943 and began to practice in London. The Hands of the Living God, published in 1969, is one of Milner's most remarkable contributions as a psychoanalyst. It is the complete, marvelously well-written and illustrated story of the treatment of a very ill patient, a moving account of the way in which she communicated her emotions through the medium of drawing whenever words failed her. In the meantime in 1952 she published an article on "the role of illusion in the formation of symbols," in which she does not limit the meaning of the word symbol to a defensive function (Ernest Jones) but stresses its creative potential. She insists on the function of a "malleable" environment in the process leading to recognition of the world outside oneself. She developed the idea of a "medium" between the reality created by oneself and external reality: a sort of modeling clay for the mind, the intermediary between representation and figuration, a malleable substance by means of which impressions are transmitted to the senses and with which we can give shape to our fantasies. Patients model their own creative process through therapists, who recognizes as well in themselves an inside and an outside, a part that is separate and another that is a part of the patient.

Her theories about the separability of the object complement Donald Winnicott's work on the transitional object and the creativity of the baby. In her last work, The Suppressed Madness of Sane Men. Forty-Four Years of Exploring Psychoanalysis, published in 1987, she sums up her principle observations and her articles on the relationship between psychoanalysis and creativity.

On May 29, 1998, Marion Milner died in her London home at the age of ninety-eight, while working on another publication. She contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms of symbolization and interpenetration between the subjective and objective world both in art and psychoanalysis, and deepened our knowledge of the processes by means of which the psyche is born of the soma, and of the way in which we really learn to live and communicate with our bodies. Masud Khan used to say that Milner had "an inexhaustible reserve of energy for living, working, writing, and painting." She was extremely original and inventive in her own self and in her thinking, as well as being a member of the Independent Group of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. She was passionate about esthetics, creativity in art and analysis, and the role of symbolism in the thinking process. Both her autobiographical and psychoanalytical writings constitute, as Harry Guntrip said about Winnicott, with whom she was very close, "the natural expression of [her] personality." In it she manifested a total commitment to exploring the inner world and the farthest reaches of the being, at the frontier of the Self and non-Self.

Didier Rabain

See also: Representation of affect visual arts and psychoanalysis.


Milner, Marion. (1969). The hands of the living god. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1987). The suppressed madness of sane men. Forty-four years of exploring psychoanalysis. London, New York: Tavistock Publications.

Parsons, Michael. (1990). Marion Milner's 'answering activity' and the question of psychoanalytic creativity. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 17,4.

Rayner, Eric. (1991). The independent mind in British psychoanalysis. London: Free Association Books.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1988). Winnicott studies. The journal of the Squiggle Foundation. A celebration of the life and work of Marion Milner. London: The Squiggle Foundation.

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Blackett-Milner, Marion (1900-1998)

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