Hanna Segal Obituary

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  • 7/28/2019 Hanna Segal Obituary


    Hanna Segal obituary


    Psychoanalyst who examined the struggle between

    forces of life and destruction

    David Bell and John Steiner, The Guardian, Thursday 14 July 2011

    Hanna Segal applied her professional insights to subjects as wide-ranging

    as global politics and artistic creativity. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

    for the Guardian

    Hanna Segal, who has died aged 93, was among a handful of

    psychoanalysts whose international pre-eminence was unquestioned. She

    made fundamental contributions to psychoanalytic theory and practice

    and, over a career of more than 60 years, was the leading exponent of

    the ideas of Melanie Klein.

    Segal developed the theory of symbolism, the understanding of the

    nature of creativity, and the establishment of a psychoanalytic approach

    to severe disturbance, including psychosis. She was also known for her

    exploration of the functioning of phantasy (unconscious fantasy) and for

    her detailed elaboration of the inner struggle between forces that strive

    towards living and development, and those that pull towards destruction.

    Segal, Herbert Rosenfeld, Wilfred Bion and Betty Joseph constituted a

    small group of major thinkers whose influence has remained central tothe development of psychoanalysis; but Segal was unique among this

  • 7/28/2019 Hanna Segal Obituary


    group since, in the tradition laid down by Sigmund Freud, her work

    encompassed a very broad span. She was able to demonstrate the

    relevance of psychoanalytic thinking to human knowledge in general, and

    this made her work well known outside the field of psychoanalysis.

    She was born Hanna Poznanska, into a highly cultured family in dz,

    Poland. Her father, Czeslaw, was a barrister, an art critic and a

    newspaper editor. In the early days, Hanna's mother, Isabella, lived the

    life of a typical bourgeois lady but, when life took a downward turn, her

    strength and resourcefulness became manifest. The family moved to

    Geneva, although Hanna returned to Warsaw to complete her education.

    By her late teens she had already read all the Freud that had been

    translated into Polish. Other early intellectual influences included Voltaire,

    Rousseau, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Proust and Pascal.Having witnessed both poverty and lack of political freedom, she joined

    the Polish socialist party and her commitment to the left continued

    throughout her life. Psychoanalysis was, as she put it, "a godsend", as in

    it she found a way of combining her deepest intellectual interests with her

    desire to help people.

    The rise of fascism saw the expulsion of her father from Switzerland, and

    the family, now stateless and impoverished, took up residence in Paris,

    where Hanna joined them in 1939. In 1940 they again took flight, thistime for the UK, where Hanna completed her medical studies in London

    and Edinburgh. In Edinburgh, she met the psychoanalyst WRD Fairbairn,

    which determined the further course of her life. After completing her

    medical education she moved to London, where she played a major part

    in the rehabilitation of mentally ill Polish soldiers. She was accepted for

    training at the British Psychoanalytic Society and entered into analysis

    with Klein, completing her training in 1945, at the young age of 27. The

    analysis with Klein was central to her development. The year 1946-47

    was an extraordinary one as during it she married the mathematician PaulSegal, conceived her first child and presented her first paper, A

    Psychoanalytic Contribution to Aesthetics, to the British Psychoanalytical


    Soon after she qualified, she trained as a child analyst, being supervised

    by Paula Heimann, Esther Bick and Klein, and began teaching students at

    the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Her first book, Introduction to the Work of

    Melanie Klein (1964), in which Klein's ideas were illustrated through

    clinical material from Segal's own patients, became and remains astandard text. Her second book, Klein (1969), in the Fontana Modern

  • 7/28/2019 Hanna Segal Obituary


    Masters series, was also a homage to Freud and Klein. This series was

    meant for a popular audience and Segal put Klein's work in its context by

    reviewing Freud's contribution and showing how Klein built on this and

    extended it.

    In 1952 she became a training analyst and built up an active private

    practice with a variety of patients, including candidates in training,

    psychotic patients and also some artists, who sought help because they

    were blocked in their work. This enabled her to make use of her interest

    in creativity, art and literature, and led to the publication of A

    Psychoanalytic Contribution to Aesthetics, her now famous paper, which

    remains perhaps the most original attempt at a psychoanalytical

    understanding of creativity.

    In this paper Segal did not restrict herself to a study of the psychology ofthe artist. She showed how psychoanalysis can also contribute to the

    understanding of aesthetic questions. Segal puts the capacity to mourn at

    the centre of the artist's work and of the audience's aesthetic response.

    From this perspective, works of art derive their aesthetic depth from this

    inner struggle, the work itself giving it substance and constituting an act

    of reparation.

    During this period Segal wrote her seminal paper on symbolism, Notes on

    Symbol Formation (International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1957), inwhich she distinguished between more primitive and developed forms of

    symbolic function, bringing a necessary clarification to the understanding

    of more disturbed states of mind. Many of the papers written in this

    highly productive period were reprinted in her third book, The Work of

    Hanna Segal (1981), while her fourth, Dream, Phantasy and Art (1991),

    explores afresh the interpretation of dreams and via this route proceeds

    to a deeper discussion of phantasy and symbolism.

    Developments in psychoanalytic theory were combined with her interestin literature and politics in Psychoanalysis, Literature and War (1997). The

    paper The Clinical Usefulness of the Concept of the Death Instinct (1993,

    International Journal of Psychoanalysis), republished in this volume,

    outlines the way the balance between the life and death instincts

    determines the individual's attitude to reality, as exemplified by the two

    possible reactions to states of need. One, driven by the life instinct, is life-

    seeking and object-seeking, leading to an attempt to satisfy those needs

    in the real world, where necessary by aggressive striving. The other,

    under the influence of the death instinct, has as its aim to annihilateexperience of need and the mental pain that goes with it. Here the self, or

  • 7/28/2019 Hanna Segal Obituary


    that part of the self capable of experiencing pain, is inhibited or destroyed

    and, instead of a reliance on reality, the patient turns to omnipotent

    phantasy as a solution and thus leads a highly restricted life.

    In her sixth and final book, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (2010),

    Segal included a fascinating discussion of the Eden myth as presented by

    Milton in Paradise Lost. She argued that, for man, the expulsion from

    paradise is nothing more that a return to the reality of ordinary life.

    However, Milton's account captures a more disturbing human response to

    exclusion Satan filled with envy dedicates himself to a spoiling of

    goodness and especially of creativity.

    Segal believed that the psychoanalytic understanding of the

    pervasiveness of our destructiveness, and the human cost of its denial,

    can contribute in an important way to sociopolitical questions. Althoughshe was criticised for her political involvement, some suggesting it went

    against the neutrality that characterises psychoanalysis, she believed this

    was based on a misunderstanding. Psychoanalytic neutrality, she

    asserted, is a clinical stance for the consulting room and needs to be

    distinguished from "allowing oneself to be neutered as a citizen". Here she

    was clearly in the tradition of Freud.

    She was one of the prime movers behind the formation of a

    psychoanalytic movement against nuclear armaments. Her paper Silenceis the Real Crime (International Review of Psychoanalysis, 1987) remains

    one of the most important psychoanalytic contributions to the nuclear

    debate. Following the end of the cold war, she expressed the fear that the

    west would be unable to manage without maintaining an enemy to fuel its

    paranoid system of thinking and she viewed the post 9/11 context and

    the Gulf wars from this perspective. In 2006 she wrote: "What does the

    future hold? It is p