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Atkins, R.N. (1984). Transitive Vitalization and its Impact on Father-Representation. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:663-676.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:663-676

Transitive Vitalization and its Impact on Father-Representation

Richard N. Atkins, M.D.

"IF WE SUPPOSE THAT PHYSICAL events can be reduced to spatial motion of material particles, we impose on the creations of thought the limitations of the visible and the tangible." So said Ernst Mach, the great Austrian aerodynamicist in 1894. Mach, a contemporary of Freud, was a de rigeur scientist. His name is now synonomous with speeds greater than sound. Yet, like Freud, Mach subscribed to that remarkable European blending of Naturwissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft, philosophies of science that decry simple reductionism: not all that is observed is scientific, nor is science only that which is observable.

With this in mind, I intend this paper to be a contribution to the psychoanalytic study of early child-father relatedness. In it, I intend to show how a child, during infancy and toddlerhood, acquires a psychic representation, or mental image, of his father. I will pay less attention to what children and their fathers manifestly do with each other early in life, althoug, these periods of direct interaction are developmentally important. But, developmental psychoanalysis is not just the study of parent-child interaction. Rather it tries to understand the ontogeny of mental operations—in this case the way in which a child begins to think about his father.

Some might disagree with my approach. Experience, they might argue—or how and what a child and his father do together—and its mental registration are intrinsically wedded. Vital and reciprocal transactions between a father and his infant and toddler are, it is said, the meat and potatoes of any young child's father representation.

But, if we bear Mach's considerable caveat in mind, we would then impose upon the creation of a child's thought the limitations of the visible and the tangible.

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