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Stern, D.N. (1992). The ‘Pre-Narrative Envelope’: An Alternative View of ‘Unconscious Phantasy’ in Infancy. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 15(4):291-318.

(1992). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 15(4):291-318

The ‘Pre-Narrative Envelope’: An Alternative View of ‘Unconscious Phantasy’ in Infancy

Daniel N. Stern

I. Frame of Reference

This work grows out of a continuing effort to understand the nature of the infant's representational world and, in particular, to imagine how this world is created. Such a creation within the infant's mind would be easier to envision if we had a ‘basic unit’ of subjective, psychic experience of psychodynamic relevance to work with. Such a unit would serve as the building block for constructing the representational world. In psychoanalysis, the ‘basic unit’ of psychic experience is the ‘unconscious phantasy’. This article proposes the ‘pre-narrative envelope’ as an alternative way to view such a basic unit, especially its origin in early infancy.

Why is an alternative view needed, and what directions might it take? The point of reference for the concept of an ‘unconscious phantasy’ is contained in Freud's earlier views of a ‘primal phantasy(1916-17) and in the Kleinian view of an ‘unconscious phantasy (Isaacs, 1948). In these conceptions, ‘unconscious phantasies’ are inherited scenarios containing an object, aim and goal.


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