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Halton-Hernandez, Emilia.pdf (6 MB)

Marion Milner’s autobiographical cure

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Version 2 2023-11-20, 08:42
Version 1 2023-06-10, 01:26
posted on 2023-11-20, 08:42 authored by Emilia Halton-Hernandez

This thesis traces the development of British psychoanalyst Marion Milner’s (1900-1998) autobiographical acts throughout her lifetime. It proposes that Milner is a thinker to whom we can turn to explore the therapeutic potentialities of autobiographical and creative self-expression. Milner’s autobiographical books: A Life of One’s Own (1934), An Experiment in Leisure (1937), On Not Being Able to Paint (1950), Eternity’s Sunrise: A Way of Keeping a Diary (1987) and the posthumously published Bothered by Alligators (2013) are read as constituting a life-long engagement with the development of a therapeutic practice located at the site of creative self-reflection. Her experimentation with aesthetic, self-expressive techniques are a means to therapeutic ends, forming what I call her ‘autobiographical cure’. One of the questions this thesis asks is whether Milner’s work champions this site for therapeutic work over that of the relationship between patient and analyst in the psychoanalytic setting.

Milner’s work does not present itself as a unified metapsychology, cohesive theory, or methodology. Her autobiographical books present a loose set of terms (“the Answering Activity”, “bead memories”, the “pliable medium” and the “frame”) and the methods that emerge out of the work recorded in them. It is the aim of this study to bring to light a theory and practice which is latent and sometimes hidden, but which is central to understanding what drives Milner’s autobiographical work. It is by doing this work of elucidation and organisation that this study finds Milner to be a thinker with a unique take on psychoanalysis, object relations theory, creativity, and autobiography, working at the interstices of each. Specifically, this thesis draws out the ideas of a psychoanalytic thinker who proposes that autobiographical acts can provide equivalent caring functions to what object relations theorists like Winnicott (Milner’s colleague and sometime analyst), understand the mother as providing the infant, and the analyst the analysand.

This thesis is divided into two parts. Part One, ‘The Milner Method’, is made up of three chapters which explore the theories and methods I argue make up Milner’s autobiographical cure. Part Two, ‘The Milner Tradition’, consists of two final chapters that examine the influence of Milner’s autobiographical cure on her readers in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.


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Professor Vicky Lebeau

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