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Revisiting Destruction In “The Use Of An Object”

The Psychoanalytic Quarterly

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“The Use of an Object” (1969a) has been widely recognized as among Winnicott's great papers and has deservedly received a good deal of attention. Much of that attention has focused on the importance that the paper gives to the role of destruction in bringing about the experience of externality. Yet the nature of that destruction has too often been assumed based on Winnicott's earlier writings. In the view that follows from that, destruction is equated with the aggression that fails to destroy the object, and the experience of externality is regarded just as the result of that failure. In offering a rereading of “The Use of an Object,” the author suggests that, while this aspect of aggression/destruction indeed plays an important role in the establishment of externality, it is only part of the story, and that the central contribution of “The Use of an Object” is Winnicott's attempt to offer a new theory of primitive destruction, one that provides an impulsive basis for separation/externality itself. This theory and Winnicott's ongoing attempts to develop it after “The Use of an Object” led him to rethink the very nature of the drives.