Andre Green at Squiggle: Context and reflections by Jan Abrams

Dr André Green was born in Cairo in 1927. He had emigrated to Paris, France as a boy and after studying medicine, at the age of 30, he started his trajectory in psychoanalysis. He qualified as a psychoanalyst in 1965 and became a member of the Société de Psychoanalyse de Paris (SPP). Almost twenty years later he had become its President. Alexander Newman, the founder and first director of the Squiggle Foundation was always on the lookout for authors making use of Winnicott’s work to invite them to speak at one of the regular Public Lectures. While Green had published scores of papers in both French and English it was not until 1986 that he had a book published in English – On Private Madness – a collection of his translated papers. After reading this collection Alexander Newman invited André Green to give a Public Lecture for Squiggle in 1987. At this time Green was President of the Paris Society, 60 years of age and had been working as a psychoanalyst for over 20 years.

In contrast to Green’s profile I was about half his age and a beginner in psychoanalysis. I was coming to the end of a training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and had only just set up in private practice. This lecture was my first experience of the Squiggle Foundation. And at that moment I had not imagined that I would soon be teaching for Squiggle courses and certainly not dreamt that I would ever become Director or indeed write and publish on Winnicott’s work. All that came much later.

The lecture I heard in 1987 was entitled, ‘Experience and Thinking in Analytic Practice’ (Chapter 1 in André Green at the Squiggle Foundation). In my introduction to the five chapters in that book I describe my memories of that first experience of listening to André Green lecture to a Squiggle audience. Even now as I look back I find myself remembering that sense of a rapt attention. Green spoke slowly as he extemporized from his notes. His passion for the practice of psychoanalysis was inspirational. There was also something about his dedication and conviction in psychoanalysis as a form of treatment that conveyed so much about his approach. Although I was enraptured during the talk – a clear sign of the powerful transference I made to him – I know that I was not able to grasp fully the extent of Green’s originality. I was too much of a newcomer. Retrospectively, and it continues in the present, I am increasingly more able to appreciate the nuance of his thought. I’m not sure I would go so far as Perelberg and Kohon who see his work as a paradigm change in psychoanalysis (Perelberg & Kohon 2017); but there is no doubt Green’s work is high on the list as one of the most original authors of the late 20th Century. In that 1987 lecture, Green introduces his concept ‘the work of the negative’. This term, in its constructive aspect, refers to the psychic work that is instigated by the analytic relationship which in turn contains the potential to bring the unthought known into consciousness (p. 14). In that chapter there is a clinical example, something rare in his writings, to illustrate how psychic change emerges as a result of the analytic relationship. Green writes, “It is only if the patient can experience that feeling of movement in the session that I think he will be able to continue moving and working outside the session in the world” (p. 15). He then refers to ‘actualization’ rather than repetition or enactment and writes, “What goes on between these two partners, analyst and analysand, is a historical process in that it deals with the way in which history is constituted in a person: how it works, how it becomes effective” (p. 2).

In 1990, Green was invited to give a lecture to Squiggle again. By this time his following from Squiggle audiences had grown and I was teaching on Squiggle courses. A year later, in 1991, he visited to give a talk ‘On thirdness’. At that time, Nina Farhi was Squiggle’s 2nd director, and had invited me to become assistant director with Laurence Spurling as another assistant director. In that role I had been organizing study groups and workshops on the work of Winnicott. Listening to the first two Green lectures had been memorable and influential to my work on Winnicott and in the consulting room, but it was this third lecture on thirdness that really caught my attention in a very precise and powerful way. Let me elaborate.

British object relations theory focuses on the maternal especially in the work of Winnicott and Klein. One of the outcomes of this focus is that the paternal receded. It was as if the role of the father did not need to be understood. We knew it. So that with the Kleinian development the maternal in relation to early psychic development came to the foreground in theory and practice. And so, it appeared that the father was neglected in the work of Klein and Winnicott. And along with that, the fundamentals of Freudian theory i.e. psychosexuality, also receded. Val Richards once said, “No sex please we’re British Object Relations!” Val was a Squiggle teacher and later an assistant director, who had edited one of the Winnicott Studies monographs – Fathers, Families and the Outside World – published in 1997. It is example of Squiggle’s interest in exploring the father in Winnicott’s work under Val Richards’ editorship and it may well have been instigated by André Green. Because, in 1991, it was as if André Green was ‘on a mission’ to reinstate the father in British psychoanalysis. The Parisian analyst faced the Squiggle British audience and said emphatically NOT “There’s no such thing as a baby” (a phrase that had become almost a mantra for Winnicott students and scholars), but rather, “There’s no such thing as a mother and baby!” What a shocking announcement! It was several years later that I began to elaborate my own ideas on this in my proposal of the ‘paternal integrate’.

Between 1993 and 1995 while working at Squiggle I had started to prepare The Language of Winnicott. André Green kindly agreed to endorse the book and the first edition was published in 1996, Winnicott’s Centenary Year. For the Centenary celebrations Squiggle organized a series of 6 lectures and Green gave his paper on Winnicott’s book ‘Human Nature’. This is the 4th chapter in the edited book, ‘The Posthumous Winnicott on Human Nature’. Green extemporized again, and highlighted Winnicott’s themes on human nature, written during the 1950s although only published in 1988, seventeen years after the author had died. It is a lecture in which Green demonstrates his scholarship on psychoanalysis and shows how closely he studied Winnicott’s work. This is another reason why, for me, Green’s work is so inspiring. He was always very thorough in his research and it is this scrupulous attention to detail that underpins all his writings.

By 1996 I had become director of the Squiggle Foundation. In that post I initiated a Green conference which took place in 1998 on the occasion of his 70th birthday. There were two papers from Michael Parsons and Juliet Mitchell in the morning and then Gregorio Kohon introduced Green in the afternoon. Green had listened attentively to each presenter before speaking himself. Speaking slowly in an excellent English he extemporized to the papers on some of the themes in his work in the afternoon. After this conference I started to edit Green’s lectures with his collaboration. This was before email and so we corresponded by post. The lectures were first of all typed up and then edited them before sending them to him. The first edition of André Green at the Squiggle Foundation was published in 2000. I’m pleased to say Green was pleased with the result so much so that he had the collection translated into French and published by P.U.F. in 2004.

I was very pleased when Adrian Sutton, the present director of Squiggle, agreed to writing a Foreword for the revised edition of this Winnicott Studies Monograph.

Jan Abram, London 2019.


Abram, J. (1st edition 1996; 2nd edition 2007) The Language of Winnicott a dictionary of Winnicott’s use of words Karnac Books

Green, A. (1987) On Private Madness Maresfield

Perelberg, R. & Kohon, G. (2017) The Greening of Psychoanalysis Karnac Books

Richards, V. (1997) Fathers, Families, and the Outside World Winnicott Studies Monograph Karnac Books

Winnicott, D.W. (1988) Human Nature Free Association Books