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Unconscious Phantasy

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'There is no doubt that "phantasy" or "unconscious phantasy", as it started to be used in the English translation of Freud's work in the late 1920s and 1930s to differentiate it from "fantasy", is one of the most important theoretical and clinical concepts of psychoanalysis.'- Riccardo Steiner, from the IntroductionIn this outstanding new collection, the vital concept of unconscious phantasy is debated and examined by such luminaries as Joseph and Anne-Marie Sandler, Jean Laplanche, J-B Pontalis, Susan Isaacs and Hanna Segal. Sigmund Freud's seminal paper Formulations of the Two Principles of Mental Functioning heads an impressive collection and provides a welcome reminder of the beginnings of this theory. The inherent difficulties in translating Freud's work have contributed to the conflicting interpretations that are so illustrated so well in the following articles. By collecting together such diverse opinions of Freudians, Kleinians, Lacanians and Neuroscientists on unconscious phantasy, Riccardo Steiner has created a fresh and compelling elucidation of this fascinating subject.

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CHAPTER ONE. Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning

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Sigmund Freud

We have long observed that every neurosis has as its result, and probably therefore as its purpose, a forcing of the patient out of real life, an alienating of him from reality.1 Nor could a fact such as this escape the observation of Pierre Janet; he spoke of a loss of the “function of reality” as being a special characteristic of neurotics, but without discovering the connection of this disturbance with the fundamental determinants of neurosis.2 By introducing the process oi repression into the genesis of the neuroses we have been able to gain some insight into this connection. Neurotics turn away from reality because they find it unbearable—either the whole or parts of it. The most extreme type of this turning away from reality is shown by certain cases of hallucinatory psychosis which seek to deny the particular event that occasioned the outbreak of their insanity (Griesinger).3 But in fact every neurotic does the same with some fragment of reality.4 And we are now confronted with the task of investigating the development of the relation of neurotics and of mankind in general to reality, and in this way of bringing the psychological significance of the real external world into the structure of our theories.

 

CHAPTER TWO. Phantasy and its transformations: contemporary Freudian view

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Joseph Sandler and Anne-Marie Sandler

Now that half a century has passed since the Freud-Klein Controversies (reported by King & Steiner, 1991), we are in a position to look back and see that the controversies within the British Society are significantly different now from what they were then, although in a certain sense they are, of course, derivatives of the conflicts of the past. Inevitably, over the past 50 years the different groups in the Society have influenced one another, and there can be little doubt that much of the impetus for this cross-fertilisation has come from the systematic discussion of clinical material, with the fine details of psychoanalytic theory taking second place. So, for many members of the Contemporary Freudian group, much greater emphasis has been put, over the years, on the importance of the earliest internal influences on the child’s development, on the existence of transference phantasies, anxieties and resistances from the outset of the analysis, and on the need for these to be interpreted from the beginning. In this context, the understanding of processes of projection and externalisation in the transference has been significantly appreciated. Similarly, in the Klein group, we have seen a decreased emphasis on the early interpretation of deep anxieties and, as Elizabeth Spillius (1988) has pointed out, less stress is being laid on destructiveness, there is less use of concrete part-object language, and a variety of other changes. To Spillius’s list of changes we would add our impression that the concepts of defence mechanisms (as opposed to defensive phantasies), and of resistance, are beginning to be discerned in Kleinian presentations, just as the notion of projective identification can be seen in the writings of some members of the Independent and Contemporary Freudian groups.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Do unconscious phantasies really exist?

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Mark Solms

In psychoanalysis today, different analysts use the term “unconscious phantasy” to refer to different things. This is bound to lead to confusion. In this paper I will use the term in the sense that Melanie Klein and her followers used it—with the aim of clarifying from a Freudian point of view what this thing that they call “unconscious phantasy” actually is, and whether it really exists.

“Do unconscious phantasies really exist?” This is not an idle question. When we use the word “phantasy”, we do so in order to contrast it with something that we call “reality”. That is the conventional meaning of the word “phantasy”. We say: that thing is not real, it is only a phantasy. But unconscious phantasy is also supposed to be the basic stuff of what psychoanalysis is about. Unconscious phantasies (in the Kleinian sense of the term) are the essential object of study of psychoanalytic research; and a principle aim of psychoanalytic therapy is to make our patients aware of the unconscious phantasies that lead them to do and feel the things that bring them into treatment in the first place.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. Fantasy and the origins of sexuality

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Jean Laplanche and J. B. Pontalis

From its earliest day, psychoanalysis has been concerned with the material of fantasy. In the initial case of Anna O., Breuer was apparently content to plunge into the patient’s inner world of imagination, into her “private theatre,” in order to achieve catharsis through verbalization and emotive expression. “I used to visit her in the evening,” he writes, “when I knew I should find her in her hypnosis, and I then relieved her of the whole stock of imaginative products which she had accumulated since my last visit (Breuer and Freud, p. 30).”

It is remarkable to note, when studying this case, how Breuer, unlike Freud, is little concerned to recover the elements of experience which might underlie these daydreams. The event which provoked the trauma is considered to contain an imaginary element, a hallucination leading to trauma. There is a circular relationship between the fantasy and the dissociation of consciousness which leads to the formation of an unconscious nucleus: fantasy becomes trauma when it arises from a special hypnoid state but, equally, the panic states it induces help to create this fundamental state by a process of autohypnosis.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. The nature and function of phantasy

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Susan Isaacs

Introduction

A survey of contributions to psycho-analytical theory would show that the term “phantasy” has been used in varying senses by different authors and at different times. Its current usages have widened considerably from its earliest meanings. Much of this widening of the concept has so far been left implicit. The time is ripe to consider the meaning and definition of the term more explicitly. (Ch.N.l.)

When the meaning of a technical term does become extended in this way, whether deliberately or insensibly, it is usually for a good reason—because the facts and the theoretical formulations they necessitate require it. It is the relationships between the facts which need to be looked at more closely and clarified in our thoughts. This chapter is mostly concerned with the definition of “phantasy”; that is to say, with describing the series of facts which the use of the term helps us to identify, to organise and to relate to other significant series of facts. Most of what follows will consist of this more careful study of the relationships between different mental processes. As the work of psycho-analysis, in particular the analysis of young children, has gone on and our knowledge of early mental life has developed, the relationships which we have come to discern between the earliest mental processes and the later more specialised types of mental functioning commonly called “phantasies” have led many of us to extend the connotation of the term “phantasy” in the sense which is now to be developed. (A tendency to widen the significance of the term is already apparent in many of Freud’s own writings, including a discussion of unconscious phantasy.1)

 

CHAPTER SIX. Phantasy and reality

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Hanna Segal

The interplay between phantasy and reality moulds our view of the world and our personalities. I have discussed this subject in earlier papers (Segal, 1957,1978), and in this short paper to commemorate the Controversial Discussions of fifty years ago I will address myself to only two of its aspects: how the interplay of phantasy and reality affects perception (much written about in psychoanalytical literature) and action, a subject rather neglected in the literature.

In an unpublished paper which he gave to the British Society towards the end of his life, Money-Kyrle described his own psychoanalytical development in three stages. When he was in his first analyses, with Jones and Freud, he thought pathology was due to the repression of the libido. After his third analysis, with Melanie Klein, his focus shifted to the conflict between love and hate. Finally, he came to think that the roots of pathology were in misconceptions, and his attention turned increasingly to cognitive development.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. Imagination, play and art

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Hanna Segal

Unconscious phantasy underlies and colours all our activities however realistic. But certain phenomena and activities aim more directly at the expression, elaboration, and symbolization of unconscious phantasies. Not only night dreams, but also day-dreams, play, and art, fall under this heading. They have many elements in common. Freud showed the closeness between day-dream and dream, and day-dream and art. Klein at times compared play with free associations and dreams, and emphasized the crucial role of play in the whole development of the child, including sublimation, and considered inhibitions in play as a most serious symptom. Art and play, however, differ from dream and day-dream because, unlike those, they are also an attempt at translating phantasy into reality.

Play is a way both of exploring reality and of mastering it; it is a way of learning the potential of the material played with, and of its limitations, and also the child’s own capabilities and limitations. It is also learning to distinguish between the symbolic and the real. The child is aware that to play is to “pretend”. The little child who makes pies out of sand sometimes tries to eat them or feed them to others. But it soon learns that pies made of sand are not for eating or feeding: they are “make-believe” pies. In the normal child this will not inhibit his play. He will enjoy the satisfaction of expressing his phantasy of being mother or father cook, and the pleasure of having in reality made a new, attractive object. His play can then become increasingly imaginative: exploring what else can be done with, and be represented by the sand, sand which is not in fact a pie and which therefore can be used in many different ways.

 

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