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Hughes, R. (1981). The Szondian View. Am. Imago, 38(3):323-342.

(1981). American Imago, 38(3):323-342

The Szondian View

Richard Hughes, Ph.D.

When Leopold Szondi published Die Triebentmischten in 1980, he re-opened an issue raised by Sigmund Freud sixty years earlier. In 1920, Freud had presented a theory of two instinctual drives. One drive represents sexuality, self-preservation, and a sublimated form. It is called Eros, and it combines substances into more inclusive relations in order to protect the organism from external assaults. The other drive, called Thanatos, includes sadism and the tendency of the organism to return to a pre-organic state. The two instinctual drives represent the fundamental polarity of love and hate, attraction and repulsion in the universe.

In The Ego and the Id, Freud clarified how the life and death drives interact. They are fused together in ordinary experience: “It appears that, as a result of the combination of unicellular organisms into multicellular forms of life, the death instinct of the single cell can successfully be neutralized and the destructive impulses be diverted on to the external world through the … muscular apparatus…” Normally, the death drive is silent, unless it is projected onto the environment in destructive aggression.

But in the same essay, Freud admits that the drives can disintegrate. “Once we have admitted the idea of a fusion of the two classes of instincts with each other, the possibility of a—more or less complete—‘defusion’ of them forces itself upon us.” He makes the same point in another essay. “Corresponding to a fusion of instincts of this kind, there may, as a result of certain influences, be a defusion of them.” Yet he concedes that he does not understand how they dissolve.

Freud thus links the problem of aggression with the breakdown of the drive.

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