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Schimek, J.G. (1975). A Critical Re-Examination of Freud's Concept of Unconscious Mental Representation. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 2:171-187.

(1975). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 2:171-187

A Critical Re-Examination of Freud's Concept of Unconscious Mental Representation

Jean G. Schimek

One of the fundamental concepts of psychoanalytic theory is that of unconscious mental representations, or specific mental contents (images, fantasies, etc.) permanently stored in the unconscious from where they keep manifesting themselves to consciousness in various transformed and disguised ways. Freud's concept of drive is intrinsically linked to that of mental representation. Psychoanalysis, as a psychological theory of motivation, does not deal with drives in biological terms but with their expression as mental representations. It is only through becoming associated with a mental representation that a drive—as a somatic need or quantity of energy—acquires a specific content and becomes a psychological directional force, the wish for a specific object.

In the contemporary re-examinations of Freud's theory of motivation, the main emphasis has understandably been on the concepts of drive and psychic energy and their relation to Freud's scientific and cultural background (Holt, 1967a). The concept of mental representation, its underlying assumptions about cognition, and its influence on most aspects of psychoanalytic theory have been relatively neglected, Piaget (1945) and Wolff (1967) being conspicuous exceptions. One sign of this neglect is the vague and ambiguous way in which the term is used in the psychoanalytic literature. It can mean memory image, idea, concept and sometimes even perception—any content of subjective experience, whether

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