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Chodorow, N.J. (2002). Born into a World at War: Listening for Affect and Personal Meaning. Am. Imago, 59(3):297-315.

(2002). American Imago, 59(3):297-315

Born into a World at War: Listening for Affect and Personal Meaning

Nancy J. Chodorow

“Problems of patienthood are caused by outer and inner conditions,” Erik Erikson tells us (1964, 89). Outer conditions of war, politics, economics, and culture affect our thoughts and actions, but they do not, without being filtered through inner life, cause them. Inner conditions of temperamental propensity, affect, fantasy, and conflict predispose us to behave in certain ways, but they do not, apart from encounters with external reality, cause us to do so. This is a duality that challenges psychoanalytic theory and practice, from work with individual patients to psychocultural, psychosocial, or psychohistorical analysis. In another duality, psychoanalysis begins from the individual and provides, in fact, the most comprehensive theory of individuality. Yet from the beginning, in both its accounts of patients and the self-analytic writings of its founders, psychoanalysis has focused on patterns of fantasy, neurosis, character, and development that are widespread and has brought cultural, social, and historical factors into its theoretical and clinical reflections.

My own work follows the Eriksonian precept. In The Power of Feelings (1999), I suggested that people create and experience social processes and cultural meanings not only materially and discursively but also psychodynamically—in unconscious, affect-laden, nonlinguistic, immediately felt images and fantasies that everyone creates from birth about self, self and other, body, and the world.

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