Marion Milner: Milner on Walsby

In IC26, under the heading “The Ideology of a Psychologist,” we printed some comments on “An Experiment in Leisure” by Marion Milner. George Hay has now sent in the following extract from another book by the same author: The Suppressed Madness of Sane Men; Forty-Four Years of Exploring Psycho-Analysis (London & NY, Tavistock Publications, n.d. c. 1974; [1987] p. 261). It is reprinted here by permission of author and publishers.

The passage occurs in a chapter entitled: “Some Notes on Psychoanalytic Ideas About Mysticism.” Already at school in 1916, when discussing the nature of thinking with a friend, Milner had realised that “it thinks you.” In the 1930s she began reading about mysticism – Suzuki on Zen Buddhism, Lao Tze, Patanjali, Silberer’s “Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism” – and later, in practicing psychoanalysis, found that her patients’ accounts of their experiences linked up with mysticism, especially with themes of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ blankness, Keats’ ‘negative capability,’ and Reich’s association of mysticism with sexuality.

It was in 1952 that I was brought back to the subject, as the result of being present at a discussion directed by Harold Walsby (not a psychoanalyst and working almost entirely outside academic circles) whose ideas as expressed on these occasions have not, so far as I know (he died in 1973) appeared in print. He spoke about the difficulties of equating intellect with logic and how the technique of formal reasoning and its assumptions enable us to manage the inanimate world but is incapable of dealing intelligently with the territory of the self and other selves, since these require a dialectic approach; that is the capacity to embrace the very contradictions that formal logic avoids. Walsby claimed that this other kind of thinking, which can be called mystical just because of its capacity for letting go the clinging to the distinction between subject and object, became relegated to the sphere of religion and so was alienated from what should be a complementary interplay with the ways of thinking based ,on the rules of formal logic. He had gone on to illustrate some of his ideas from the sayings of LaoTze in the Tao Te Ching.

Although I had felt when first reading the “Tao Te Ching,” in the 1930s, that it meant a lot to me, I had not, as I have said, been able to relate it to psychoanalytic theory when I began to train as a psychoanalyst. The two streams of thought had therefore remained separate in my deeper preoccupations; but after hearing Walsby it had seemed it might be possible eventually to bring them together. And now, in 1973, I remembered that I had, in 1952, acquired a different, more modern translation of the Tao Te Ching, in fact the one used by Walsby, in which I had marked some of the aphorisms which had been especially mentioned by him as to do with what he called ‘dialectical thinking.’

It was here that I remembered how, in my 1934 book, when finding much ambiguity in my ideas about the word god and having searched for an alternative term for ‘ultimate reality,’ I had myself quoted from Lao Tze the aphorism, ‘The TAO of which we speak is not the real TAO.’ And now, when I looked at some of Walsby’s markings about the TAO I found the following (I have added [first] the earlier translation):

It goes back to non-existence
It is called the form of the formless,
And the image of non-existence.

This is the appearance of the Non-Apparent
The Form of the Non-Existent
This is the unfathomed mystery.

from Ideological Commentary 32, March 1988.