1st Edition

Ruthless Winnicott The role of ruthlessness in psychoanalysis and political protest

By Sally Swartz Copyright 2019
    166 Pages
    by Routledge

    166 Pages
    by Routledge

    Ruthless Winnicott is an extended exploration of the role of ruthlessness in psychic development. That survival is of no use unless it is preceded by a ruthless attack is one of D. W. Winnicott’s most resonant paradoxes. The book links this with the search for subjective freedom for those traumatized by colonialism, and in doing so draws on the work of Algerian psychiatrist and revolutionary psychoanalytic thinker Frantz Fanon.

    Sally Swartz examines essential pieces of Winnicott’s work on ruthlessness as central to the emergence of concern for the Other. She illustrates, with clinical examples, ways in which the ruthless use of the psychoanalytic psychotherapeutic space allows the patient either to enter fully into a process that allows growth, or to defend ruthlessly against the anxieties provoked by psychic change. Ruthless Winnicott also maps decolonial challenges to psychoanalytic theory, and the role of ruthlessness in protest movements demanding radical subjective change. Swartz’s exploration of ruthlessness as both zest and defense in individual development and in protest movements illuminates processes of psychological collision and change. It traces links between individual trauma and collective turbulence, and maps ways in which ruthlessness is essential to subjective change.

    Ruthless Winnicott will be of great interest to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists, as well as scholars of colonialism, decolonization and post-colonialism.

    Introduction; Chapter One: We want to be eaten; Chapter Two: Ruthlessness and idealization; Chapter Three: Having a good peep; Chapter Four: The weeping couch; Chapter Five: Masks slipping; Chapter Six: Rhodes falling; Chapter Seven: Ruthlessness and the missing middle as thirdness in times of polarizing conflict; Chapter Eight: Decolonizing psychoanalysis


    Sally Swartz, PhD, is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and academic, teaching, supervising and practising in Cape Town, South Africa. She has an enduring interest in the traumatic effects of colonialism, which was the subject of her monograph, Homeless Wanderers: Movement and Mental Illness in the Cape Colony in the Nineteenth Century (2015). Ruthless Winnicott brings together her interest in the history of colonialism in South Africa, psychoanalytic psychotherapy and the decolonial turn.

    "Deeply immersed in both psychoanalysis and the ubiquitous turbulence of de- and post-colonization, Swartz applies her usual mental rigour and humanity to examining the discourse between individual psychic trauma and its relevance in collective trauma. Deconstructing and elaborating on Winnicott’s paradoxical notion of ‘ruthlessness’, she perspicaciously tracks its relevance in the pursuit of subjective freedom and the achievement of a complex state of "ruth". Swartz achieves much in this elegant and sophisticated exploration of theory and lived experience in the dark shadows of colonial horror, finding novel ways of reconceptualizing the challenges we face as psychoanalysts and scholars immersed in deconstructing the long and tragically traumatizing effects of othering and colonization. Ruthless Winnicott is a must read."-Hazel Ipp, PhD, Joint Editor-in Chief, Psychoanalytic Dialogues

    "With innovative theoretical commentary and helpful clinical illustration, Sally Swartz offers a unique must read of Winnicott’s concept of ruthlessness, contextualized effectively with Fanon’s conception of the impact of the social register on psychological suffering always understood within categories and hierarchies of power concerning race."-Steven Knoblauch, PhD, author of The Musical Edge of Therapeutic Dialogue

    "In Ruthless Winnicott, Sally Swartz comes brilliantly to the urgent call for relational psychoanalysis to contribute to the psycho-social-political turmoil of our times. Unmissable."-Victor Doñas, MD, psychoanalyst, Santiago, Chile