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Rangell, L. (2002). The Theory of Psychoanalysis: Vicissitudes of its Evolution. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 50(4):1109-1137.

(2002). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50(4):1109-1137

The Theory of Psychoanalysis: Vicissitudes of its Evolution

Leo Rangell

The apex of psychoanalysis is its theory. Everything else stems from the understanding this provides, from the technical procedure that derives from it to the huge literature of applied analysis. Since my invitation to write this paper on the state of psychoanalysis was extended on the basis of my seniority and survival, as one of the few living contributors to the first volume of this journal, and because I have been personally involved in the history of this theory for over half of “the Century of Freud,” my aim is to present an overview of its development, an aerial view as it were, of the forest rather than the trees. While details will thus not be the subject, what will be gained is an orientation toward large movements, whose relations to each other are usually obscured from view.

In my title I say “the” theory of psychoanalysis quite deliberately, which brings us at once to the substance of this overview. Against the pluralism widely held today, I believe that the century gave birth to a single unified theory of psychoanalysis, not several or many. That theory stands in contrast to more limited explanations of mental life—organic, cognitive, behavioral, existential—each focusing on one or another aspect of mentation and behavior. Psychoanalysis includes all of these, but as it developed into a superordinate theory, it added a specific, idiosyncratic sine qua non of its own.

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